House debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Questions without Notice

COVID-19: Economy

2:38 pm

Photo of Nicolle FlintNicolle Flint (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the minister outline to the House how the Morrison government is working on reforms to support industries hardest hit by COVID-19 so they are able to regrow lost jobs and become stronger as we chart our comeback to a postpandemic Australia?

Ms Templeman interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Macquarie is now warned!

2:39 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for her question. As the Treasurer indicated in his earlier answers, there are obviously parts of the economy that are harder hit than others during COVID-19 and they'll be a particular focus of the government. Through the working group process, where we've looked into key areas of potential industrial relations reform, we've had the benefit of data from the Fair Work Commission, which is a combination of both payroll data and survey material unique to the Fair Work Commission data, and that data confirms what common sense would tell us—that some of the key areas in the most distress have been the accommodation and food services sector, the retail trade sector, the arts and recreation sector and the aviation sector.

Another fact that's clear is that small businesses, particularly in the accommodation and food sector and also very much the retail sector, have the highest level of award reliance. So in those most distressed industries with the greatest award reliance there is a real capacity to assist those industries in their comeback by looking at the relevant awards. One part of the key awards that has varied considerably from industry sector to industry sector is with respect to the flexibility that the award might allow employers and employees, relating to restrictions on how they can work together to agree on more hours, on a needs basis, for permanent part-time workers on usual wage rate payments. In some awards, that can be agreed fairly simply. In other awards, even if you have complete agreement between the employer and the employee, there are very significant restrictions that discourage that type of agreement for extra hours being made, so hours never get offered by the business and everyone loses out.

Say you've got a situation, for instance, in the hospitality award, where there's considerable flexibility for more hours at usual wage rates to be given to permanent part-time employees, but in other awards, like in the retail sector, which is very hard hit during COVID, you don't have that flexibility. The difficulty is that where you do have that flexibility it also flows through into the enterprise agreements, and where you don't it doesn't flow through. So where you have enterprise agreements with flexibility, like Coles and Woolworths, and they have this flexibility to offer extra hours to permanent part-time employees, they actually have 75 per cent of their employees on an ongoing—permanent—rather than casual basis, which is well over 10 per cent above the industry average. If, in this process, we can find a way to ensure that where businesses are coming out of the COVID recession and there are more hours to offer they can do that simply by reasonable and fair agreement with their own part-time permanent employees, so they can get extra hours at their usual rates of pay, that would represent a barrier to more work, more permanent work, and more hours that through this process we can conceivably take down.