House debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Workplace Relations

12:38 pm

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The expression 'never waste a crisis' has never been used so many times in so many contexts this year. Of course, the Liberals and Nationals have truly taken this to heart. Yesterday, the second-last day of the parliament, the Prime Minister came and gave working Australians a Christmas present. It was not a thankyou to the heroes of the pandemic: the aged-care workers, the nurses, the supermarket workers, the cleaners, the farmhands and many others. It was a desire to cut their take-home pay. With the industrial relations bill, Prime Minister Morrison has given employers permission to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to lock in wage cuts. No wonder the Prime Minister in question time this week repeatedly refused to say that workers wouldn't be worse off or left behind; he knows they will be.

The proposed changes to enterprise bargaining and the better-off-overall test are designed to make it easier for businesses to undercut one another by paying their workers less. The changes provide minimum scrutiny of these deals both by workers and their representatives and by the Fair Work Commission. The government's industrial relations working group covered five areas the government believed needed reform: casuals, awards, enterprise bargaining, wage theft and greenfield agreements. But nowhere did they say they wanted to address the fact that under their watch, for seven years, growth in wages has flatlined. Nowhere did they say that, under their watch, insecure work has increased, including gig work, which regularly sees workers in our country being paid well below the minimum wage and in unsafe working conditions without bargaining rights. Over one in 10 women are now forced into underemployment under this government's watch. We have an unacceptably high number of casual and insecure jobs. Half a million casuals lost their jobs in the first wave of the pandemic, and the vulnerability of casual workers was the weakest link in our battle to stop the spread of the virus. And nowhere did the government say that under their watch, in 2019, workplace deaths increased for the first time since John Howard was Prime Minister, with 183 people dying in the workplace. That is 183 families directly losing a loved one.

Labor set a test for the government's proposed industrial relations legislation: that it would help secure jobs and decent pay. This was our test. But we cannot forget the heroes of the pandemic: the essential workers, who rely on our workplace laws to protect them. These and other workers have already sacrificed the most and have paid a very high price. As I said, we now have a million unemployed and 1.4 million are underemployed. These are some of the results that we're seeing through this pandemic. WorkChoices 2.0 is taking industrial relations back to the dark old days of the Howard era. This pay cut is Prime Minister Morrison's Christmas present to the workers who got us through this pandemic. The government are undermining paying conditions in a stealthy exercise to make people work for longer and get less money. We heard that ourselves yesterday: they will cut penalty rates but increase the base rate. So for you to earn the same amount of money, you've got to work a lot more hours. What a great incentive for people—go to work for longer, and get paid the same amount of money! It's not fair, and it's not right. As we heard the member for Fenner point out in relation to superannuation, while we all sit here with our 15 per cent superannuation, the government is voting to say to people in the workforce: 'You do not deserve the same conditions that we get. You do not deserve the same support.' It's unfair and it's wrong. That's why we should be fighting this.

Australian workers should know, straight-up: this government is not their best friend. The party that cut penalty rates, the party that froze superannuation and the party that produced the original WorkChoices has now introduced legislation to cut pay. Cleaners, supermarket workers, truck drivers, childcare workers and aged-care staff will all lose money under this nasty scheme from this nasty government. The Morrison-McCormack government is trying to turn the protection that ensures workers are better off into an attack that could leave them worse off. Australians need a government that delivers, especially on the back of this horrendous year that so many casual workers have been dealt. Instead of trying to get Australians back into work, the Prime Minister is leaving people behind—leaving them to go it alone. Australia is in the deepest recession in almost a century. Let's remember, two-thirds of our debt and deficit was built up prior to the COVID pandemic. The Prime Minister's always good at being there for the photo op, but never for the follow-up. He's making decisions that are worse for hardworking Australians.

This bill fails the test, and we will fight it. Last Christmas, Prime Minister Morrison went off to Hawaii to abandon Australians in the middle of our worst bushfires. This year, his Christmas present to all Australians is legislation to cut your pay and conditions. Shame on this government!