House debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021


Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:28 am

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that the bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Watson has moved as an amendment that all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question. I give the call to the member for Fowler in continuation.

11:29 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before the adjournment of the debate on the second reading of the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 last night, I was trying to give those opposite a bit of a gratuitous history lesson on industrial relations. At that stage, I was talking about their efforts in relation to Work Choices. Just briefly, I would like to continue with that lesson if I could, because what Work Choices did was to establish such a degree of uncertainty in the minds not just of workers but of parents, grandparents and particularly kids who were either graduating from school or about to join the Australian workforce, when they saw what was possible under Work Choices—that is, that people could be paid at less than award rates of pay, for the first time in our history. Collectively, the decision was made throughout the community that Work Choices was not just bad legislation and an attack on workers and workers' rights but fundamentally un-Australian.

Here's a tip for those opposite: workplace relations is not just about workers. It is also about their families and their communities, and it's about looking after people. What we saw in the first iterations of this bill was an attempt to inevitably draw back to their experiences with Work Choices. Sure, they tried to make amends for that yesterday by restoring the BOOT test, but, by and large, you really have to look at the detail of what is in this bill and set it in your own mind. I invite those opposite to do the same. Is this what you want to be seen as the way you represent working families in your own local communities?

Putting that into some perspective, you might have noticed yesterday that, whilst the minister was pretty free with his words in throwing guarantees around the House, it was not so for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was nowhere when he was asked to give a guarantee that no worker would be worse off. He wanted to talk about anything else but that. It's probably for very good reason, because he probably has a bit of an inkling of what's in this bill.

This bill as it stands still allows for workers' pay to be cut. It makes it easier for employers to casualise jobs. It makes it almost impossible for a casual worker to be made permanent, except at the instigation of the employer. Unbelievably, if a casual worker at a fast food restaurant or something like that wants to pursue the notion of being a permanent employee, they have to go to the Federal Court. There are enough lawyers in this building to know that, when you do that, you go through your solicitors and, if you're in a jurisdiction like New South Wales, you take your barrister with you as well, and you enter into this legal costs jurisdiction. So, as a casual employee, you'd better hope that you win, because otherwise you'll have the employer's costs awarded against you. And they want to say that's fair arbitration! Casual workers, in my experience, are not well-paid workers. They are, as described, casual workers. Their bargaining rights are somewhat limited compared to those of an employer. So, despite this mealy-mouthed stuff the government want to say about how you have the prospect of going to arbitration and you can go all the way to the Federal Court, they know that's not just a reality, or at least I hope they do. Otherwise it reflects on the mentality of those opposite if they think this is really a prospect in real life.

The other thing this bill does to employees is to make bargaining for better pay even more difficult than it is currently, and where jurisdictions have criminalised wage theft, as many around the country have done, it actually overrides states' jurisdiction in that respect, obviously because of constitutional supremacy. It weakens some ordinary punishments for the crime of wage theft as it stands.

Another thing that's near to my heart, having worked in setting up agreements in industries, particularly in hydrocarbon and oil areas, is that, leading from manufacturing into production, sometimes you will have greenfield sites set up. Instead of having industrial complications, you will try to get a situation where there are some known industrial outcomes for employees. Under their provisions, they can set their greenfield agreements up for a period of eight years. You can set up so there is no pay rise capable of being negotiated throughout the whole period of that greenfield agreement. So it is something that they have failed to take account of—that there's a real situation out there. They have failed to take into account that we're not talking about the top end of the labour market and they've failed to take account of our collective responsibility in looking after people in need.

The reason why we have industrial regulation is to protect those that are in work. The government like to talk about the individual and the individual's ability to go out and negotiate. We heard all that from John Howard onwards. The simple fact is that all these fellows here, including on our side, don't go and individually negotiate their parliamentary salaries. It is all done in one job lot. You can't think that a casual worker can simply go out and take on their employer. You know what will happen? They simply won't get any more shifts. They would be engineered out of the workplace. This is making it harder at that end.

I think most in this place gave speeches genuinely of thanks to all those workers that have helped us through the pandemic—the shop assistants and the truck drivers that ensured the logistics were taken care of and that our shelves were as full as possible. Our cleaners have had an extraordinary responsibility throughout this period. They're just a couple of the types of frontline workers. Clearly there are many others—police, ambulance officers and emergency services workers, of course. But the ones I mentioned earlier—the truck drivers, the shop assistants and the cleaners—are not high-paid workers. But they're the ones who are effectively the targets of this legislation, because they are principally the ones you'll find on casualised employment. It does make a difference to them whether they have a regularised income. It certainly does make a difference to them if they can be permanent.

Under this legislation, after 12 months the employer can offer to transition someone into permanency in their employment—can. But you could be there for 12 months and the employer could take the view, 'It's not reasonable because I don't think your job is going to be in existence in 12 months time.' That at face value could be seen as a reasonable justification not to make that person permanent. That person can't go to a bank and get a loan or a mortgage. It affects not only the stability of the person in employment but the person's ability to further provide ongoing sustenance to their family in terms of living and what secure employment would do in giving security to a family within a community. I ask those opposite just to think about it.

The change to the BOOT test was interesting. They put it in there probably thinking: 'If John Howard could do it, why shouldn't we? Those are our colours. We're members of the Liberal Party, so this is what we do.' It's a bit like the story of the scorpion and frog: halfway across the stream, the scorpion stings the frog. When asked why, the scorpion's view is: 'Well, that's what we do. That's in our nature.' I think to some extent the BOOT test, like Work Choices, was in their nature. However, they should actually go a little bit past ideology and think about why they became members of parliament. I would hope that everybody in this place came here to help make their communities a better place and, in doing so, that means looking after people, particularly those in need, those falling through the cracks. That's not what this legislation does. It not only identifies the cracks but widens them and does things to people at the lower end of the employment scales. These are the people who need all of our collective support. Those not just from Labor on our side but those in government should take the responsibility seriously about helping protect people in need.

Quite frankly, we are a community in need at the moment. We are rebuilding and recovering from the worst pandemic in 100 years. We need everybody to find security of employment and be confident that they can spend in our economy and, as a consequence, that will generate other jobs. Let's not make it harder for our own domestic economy by doing things like this. It might fit with the ideology, but it doesn't fit with the economics, it doesn't fit with looking after people. I would've thought collectively in this place that our sworn responsibility is protecting people in need. Consequently, we'll be voting against this legislation.

11:42 am

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Since Labor's Fair Work Act of 2009 was passed, the world has changed immensely. In a post-COVID economy, we need to work together to build a more effective industrial relations system which helps job creation rather than hindering it and ensures more Australians are able to enjoy more of the rewards of work.

The Morrison government's response has been timely and it's been constructive. Last June the Minister for Industrial Relations gathered employers, industry and the unions in a four-month process to reach a consensus around trying to find a way forward. The union movement, through the ACTU, was involved in this process. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Business Council of Australia all took part. All sides had a role in the development of the reforms.

The government consulted widely and in depth, because we knew how important it is to put our political differences aside and avoid playing the usual political games at such an important time. Sadly, not all members in this House take this mature attitude. There is a crew of wreckers in this place who insist on continuing to throw a partisan spanner in the works and hold back the interests of workers to put themselves first. I'm speaking of course about the Australian Labor Party.

The issues could not be more important. Jobs growth, underemployment, job security, the underpayment of wages and the total failure of Labor's enterprise bargaining system to improve wages and productivity growth are front of mind for millions of employers and employees today.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yet it's become clear that the Leader of the Opposition and those members opposite, some of whom are interjecting right now, intend to do all they can to delay action. They are fighting the reforms set out in this bill because they don't want this problem solved before the next election, not when they think they can get some political advantage out of it.

I have some gratuitous and unsolicited advice for members opposite. Australian workers aren't interested in who it is that makes the changes we need. They don't care who makes the changes. They just want the changes. They don't care who sets up an industrial relations system which will improve flexibility, regrow jobs and help them to secure better pay and conditions. They want to see us get this done, and they will not forgive those who hold back progress. The reforms Australia needs to get the economy going are already on the table in this bill. All members opposite need to do is vote for them.

The bill contains a statutory definition of what it means to be a casual worker. Employees and employers alike need a clear picture of what their rights and responsibilities are, and workers need to know exactly how to identify which category they fall into. Under this bill, an employee would be categorised as casual based on the offer of employment they accept. Employees will know what they can expect, and employers will avoid the risk of having to pay the same worker twice because their classification is not clear. This sort of double dipping is estimated to cost employers up to $39 billion, which they could be using to help more Australians into work. I don't know how many employers have spoken to me in the last 12 months about their concerns about the issue of double dipping. There are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of employers—small-business employers, mums and dads—who are worried about having to pay casual workers these additional costs, which and actually factored in to their casual rates of pay. That's of course as a result of a Federal Court decision. There are small businesses out there that will close the doors if this issue is not resolved.

In contrast, the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor government failed to provide any useable definition of 'casual worker' in the Fair Work Act 2009. In the 12 years since, Labor have failed to let Australian workers know what their definition is. In his so-called big speech last week, the Leader of the Opposition promised only that Labor would get around to writing a definition at some unspecified time in the future. There is a sensible, workable definition of casual work on the table right now in this bill. All members opposite need to do is vote for it.

The bill introduces for the first time a statutory obligation on employers to offer their ongoing casual workers the opportunity to become permanent employees. I would have thought those opposite would think that was a pretty good thing. Under the bill, this offer will have to be made after 12 months of employment unless there is a compelling business reason not to. Employers will also be required to provide new casuals with a casual employment information statement from the Fair Work Commission to ensure they are fully informed about their rights. In contrast, when they wrote the Fair Work Act in 2009, Labor provided no statutory path to permanent work for casual employees. Let me say that again: Labor provided no statutory path to permanent work for casual employees. And they make out that they are the champion of the worker. In his speech to the Press Club last week, the Leader of the Opposition said that Labor would offer contract workers a path to job security after 24 months. The Morrison government can do much better than that. In the bill before the House today, there is a plan to give casual workers certainty after 12 months. All members opposite need to do is vote for it.

The bill before the House introduces new flexibility into the industrial relations system to ensure that part-time employees under an award who want more hours can get them whenever they're available. Does that sound like a big deal to you, Assistant Minister?

It doesn't sound like a big deal to me. At present, many awards in sectors that have been hard hit by COVID-19 allow additional hours to be granted only to permanent employees when a formal alteration of the pattern of hours is agreed. This makes it cheaper for many employers to take on a casual worker rather than giving their existing employees the hours that they want. This bill would allow employers in retail and hospitality to give their loyal staff more work and make taking on permanent employees more attractive. Further, the bill introduces flexibility to ensure that new enterprise agreements can be made quickly and in a way that suits the specific circumstances faced by a given employer and their workforce. New enterprise agreements have been few and far between in recent years because of drawn-out approval processes and narrow technical assessments. Under this bill, agreements will be approved, where practicable, within 21 days. Procedural requirements will be simplified and employees' voting rights clarified to encourage more agreements to be made.

More enterprise agreements will mean there is the certainty that employers need to put on more staff as well as better pay and conditions for their workers. Of particular importance are the reforms this bill makes to greenfield agreements. More foreign investment in the construction sector could create thousands of new jobs in this country. However, the requirement to renegotiate greenfield agreements during the construction phase of large-scale projects is a major handbrake on these sorts of investments. They cause costly and unpredictable delays that many investors simply will not take the risk on. This bill will allow the Fair Work Commission to approve long-term major project greenfield agreements with an expiry date of up to eight years if the projects are valued at over $500 million or have declared national significance. At the same time, the bill stipulates that longer-term greenfield agreements must also guarantee annual pay increases, while the existing requirements for dispute settlement will remain in place so that these agreements will not only increase foreign investment but also help to create jobs and drive growth.

In contrast, Labor have a plan to impose a massive new investment-killing administrative burden on employers which would make hiring a casual employee significantly more difficult and ensure that far fewer jobs are available in our economy. Labor want to create an unnecessary and vastly bureaucratic portable leave system. They would give casual workers access to long service leave at the cost of making it much less likely that a job will be available for them at all. It's this pathological issue that Labor has with cutting off their nose to spite their face. They want to continuously say that they are creating all of these weird and wonderful things, but what they actually do is result in less jobs. There is so little detail available on Labor's big spending idea that estimating the cost of Labor's policy is difficult. However, the department of the Minister for Industrial Relations has calculated that Labor's scheme would cost up to $20 billion a year. There's a plan in the bill before the House to make creating jobs and increasing hours far easier and more attractive, ensuring that thousands of Australians will have the opportunity to get back to work, earning the income that they need. All that members opposite and on the crossbench have to do is to vote for it.

Finally, this bill will strengthen the Fair Work Commission and ensure that it can deliver a real deterrent against exploiting vulnerable workers. I wouldn't have thought that those opposite would be against that. When workers have been underpaid, the bill makes it easier and cheaper for them to recover their wages. The bill introduces a new criminal offence for dishonest and systematic wage underpayment, as well as increasing the size of civil penalties that apply for noncompliance with the Fair Work Act.

For employees who want to recover their entitlements, the bill increases the cap on small claims processes to $50,000, ensuring the Fair Work Commission can handle all but the largest of cases. In contrast, Labor not only opposed the Morrison government's efforts to strengthen the Fair Work Commission but also want to get rid of two of Australian workers' other strongest defenders—the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

If members opposite, and on the crossbench, are serious about strengthening the institutions that protect Australian workers from exploitation, the reforms we need are right here in this bill before the House. All they need to do is vote for the bill. But they won't. Ever since the coalition government was elected, we have acted time and again to protect workers' interests and defend them from exploitation. With the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act, the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the Registered Organisations Commission, JobKeeper and our Ensuring Integrity legislation, this government has stood up for workers time and time again. Labor have stood up only for themselves and their union mates like the CFMMEU, the same organisation that continues to bankroll the Labor Party, the same organisation that has been criticised up hill and down dale as being the largest recidivist organisation in this country for breaking industrial laws in this country.

In the bill before the House we have a suite of fundamental reforms, created through extensive consultation, which will see jobs created, more security and better pay and conditions for more Australian workers. Members opposite have an ill-judged thought bubble that won't do much for them and will do even less for the workers they claim to represent. It's time for Labor to put the interests of ordinary Australians behind their own political gain and support the much needed reforms in this bill. I commend the bill to the House.

11:57 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I came to this place I spent 12 years working as a lawyer in employment, industrial and public interest law, looking at exactly these kinds of laws. When a bill like this comes before the parliament, you've got to look carefully at what the words will actually do in practice. If this bill passes, insecure work will spread like wildfire across the country. That's because this bill does three key things. Even after the better off overall test was dumped—which may have been an ambit claim from the government; I don't know—this bill does three key things. The first is that it lets employers call you casual even if you're not, and there's nothing you can do about it. The second is that it spells the beginning of the end of full-time work contracts, because it introduces into the system a new form of contract where the employer can employ you part time and then put your hours up or down as the employer wants. And the third thing it does that the government doesn't tell you about is take an already difficult process of bargaining for better wages and conditions and tilt it even further in the employer's favour, making it harder for you to ask in your workplace for what you're entitled to.

The bill does a number of other things as well, but I want to spend a bit of time talking about these three key things, because the government won't tell you about them. Those three things, if they pass in this bill, will spread insecure work like wildfire across the country and change the face of the labour market in one of the most significant changes we've seen for decades. Firstly, what does the bill do about casual employment? We already know that insecure work is a massive problem in this country. And we've seen that during COVID. We've seen people who are stuck on casual or insecure contracts being forced to make that terrible decision: 'Do I come to work knowing I'm sick and potentially put myself and others at risk or do I stay home but miss out on pay because I'm a casual employee and I'm not entitled to sick leave?' And we've seen that the awful choices people have been forced to make contribute to the spread of this virus. But we also know that casual and insecure work over many years is a virus for people's lives, because it makes it difficult to plan—not only to plan what you're doing from week to week but to plan your whole life. It makes it difficult to go to the bank manager and try to get a mortgage. It makes it difficult to make plans about a family if you don't have a secure income. So we know it's a problem already. This bill's going to make it worse.

The first thing it's going to do is allow employers to say you're a casual employee, even if you're not, and, once the employer has said you're a casual employee, you can't challenge it. This bill's definition of 'casual employee' says that, if the employer says you're a casual, you're a casual. That's basically it. That means that the problem of insecure work is going to get worse, because, even if you work a regular span of hours for someone and in ordinary circumstances you should be entitled to get sick leave, annual leave, and all of those entitlements that come from being a part-time employee or a full-time employee—even if, by law, you're entitled to those things—it won't matter, because the employer will have said at the start of your employment, 'You're a casual,' and then, under this bill, what the employer says goes. We've seen exploitation of people. People who should be entitled to some sense of security and to some decent conditions like holiday pay and sick leave are going to be denied it simply because the employer says so. So that is reason No. 1 that this bill should be opposed.

Reason No. 2, which hasn't got a lot of attention but deserves to get a lot of attention, is that this bill is the beginning of the end of full-time employment contracts. At the moment, if you work more than 16 hours a week—say you work 25, 30 or 35 hours a week—you might sign a contract or respond to a job ad that says your job is a 25-, 30- or 35-hour-a-week job, and you then get all your pay and conditions on that basis. If you're asked to work more, you should get overtime or you have the right to say no. But you know that that's how many hours a week you're going to get. This bill introduces a new form of employment contract that says the employer can put you on a minimum of 16 hours a week and they can then go up or down after that, basically at their whim, and you're not going to get any additional entitlements for working those extra hours, even though it actually counts as overtime. Not only is it going to hurt people who already work these part-time arrangements, because they're going to end up with less money in their pockets, but it's a threat to people who have full-time jobs as well, because all of a sudden an employer, instead of advertising a 30-hour-a-week job or a job that has decent hours, can now just offer a 16-hour contract and say, 'Oh, look, from week to week, I'll give you the odd day here or there, basically at my whim.' That is going to make it impossible for people to plan their lives. That is going to make it incredibly difficult to go and get a mortgage. Forget about a mortgage; if you don't know from week to week how much you're earning, it becomes even more difficult just to pay your rent.

So this problem that we have in Australia at the moment, where only four out of 10 people working are under standard employment arrangements, is going to get worse because, firstly, if the employer says you're a casual, you're a casual, even if you're not; and, secondly, if you want to work a job with decent hours, the chances of doing that have just been diminished because the employer has access to this new part-time flexible arrangement that's going to turn full-time or close-to-full-time jobs into a form of insecure work.

In a context where the government and the Reserve Bank and everyone say, 'Jeez, we'd like wages to be higher to get the economy going and for people to have their money in their pockets,' this bill is going to drive down wages, because people are going to feel less confident about coming and asking for the payment that they're entitled to, because the employer is going to hold all the cards. Indeed, it's going to give them even more of the cards, and that's the third problem with this bill. Under this bill, when you go and negotiate an enterprise agreement—because the government says, 'Well, that's your way to negotiate yourself above this really low award'—the employer no longer has to even show you the full agreement. You could be asked to sign up to something without the employer having to show you what the whole agreement actually is. All the employer needs to do under this is say, 'When it comes to hours of work and changing your hours of work, you've got to abide by company policy.' And you might think, 'Well, I want to know what the company policy is before I sign.' They don't have to tell you, if this bill goes through. You're signing your rights away and giving the employer a blank cheque.

You might think: 'Well, I'll tell you what: that doesn't sound fair. I want to go and talk to my union and get advice about whether I should sign this agreement or not.' What the government is doing under this bill is extending the amount of time before the employer has to tell you that you're allowed to go to the union. It's going to go out by a couple of weeks, from 14 days to 28 days, during which time the whole agreement might have been completed. In other words, the employer is able to say: 'Here, sign this deal. You've got to sign it. This is the only way you're going to get a modest pay rise.' You might be signing your rights away. They don't have to tell you that you've got the right to see a union. They'll tell you a month later that you can go and see a union, but, by that time, it might all be done and dusted. So there is less that they have to tell you. They don't even have to tell you what the agreement that you're signing up to is. They don't have to tell you, before the bargaining may well be, in fact, concluded, that you can go and join a union.

But, also, if you do enter into one of these agreements, when you take it to the Fair Work Commission to get it approved, there's a sneaky little clause in here about the so-called minimum conditions of the National Employment Standards, which are meant to be the legal minimum that everyone is entitled to. The commission can now basically apply a pretty rubbery test about whether the agreement goes below those. So they're changing the test about whether or not the agreement even meets the legal minimum in this country.

That is why I say—and I think anyone who understands industrial relations law and employment law and looks at this clause by clause can come to no other conclusion—that this bill is one of the biggest threats to secure employment that we have seen for a very long time. This bill will spread insecure employment across this country like wildfire, even as, at the moment, insecure employment is at peak levels and posing a threat to people's ability to plan their lives. We already have too many people suffering from insecure jobs. When the government say, 'It's okay; unemployment is coming down because we're getting more people into jobs,' what they don't tell you is that a big part of the growth in jobs is in crappy jobs where you work an hour or two a week. People may not know this, but, if you're employed for one hour a week, it counts in the statistics as being employed. So we're seeing more and more people being put in these crappy, low-hours, insecure jobs, and this bill is specifically designed to make it worse.

So this bill has to be rejected. I say to the members of the crossbench who are thinking about how to vote on this bill now that the BOOT test has been dropped: if this bill passes, there's going to be a flood of constituents coming in, once this starts to bite, saying, 'Why can't I get a full-time job anymore?,' 'Why am I only guaranteed part-time hours of work?' or, 'Why is it that I'm not a casual but I'm told I'm a casual, and I can't go to court or to the Fair Work Commission to challenge it?' That's what will happen if this bill passes.

The devil is in the detail, and the detail is devilish, because it will change the face of the labour market in this country, in the biggest reform that we've seen since Work Choices, in a way that is designed to spread insecure work, drive wages down and drive conditions down. Sober analysis of this bill, even if you're someone who doesn't sit on a union or on an employer side but you just look at this and ask what's best for workers—as someone who has spent 12 years working in this area, I'll say this—shows that the legislation does a lot more than the government is saying. It attacks some of the most fundamental things that we take for granted here about how work is organised in this country. It is going to hurt people, if this passes.

I think we need to scrap this bill and start again. We need to outlaw insecure work in this country. Insecure work has spread to the point where people don't have the ability to plan their lives in the way that they used to. We need to outlaw insecure work and get back to the point where every job is presumed to be ongoing unless there's good, sound business reasons otherwise. If you are running a small business, an ice-cream shop, and it is only open over summer, then yes, sure you can put someone on for three months to work over summer as a casual on a short-term contract. Of course there are always going to be sensible reasons for it, but it has gone too far in this country.

I remember someone coming and giving evidence to an inquiry when I introduced a bill to tackle insecure employment several years ago. She worked at a university for close to 10 years without being entitled to a day of sick leave, even though she did the same job in basically the same department for 10 years, because she was called a casual for all of that time. There are so many people in this situation who are doing rolling contract after rolling contract and who are doing a bit of work here and a bit of work there. It's not just Uber drivers or food delivery drivers; it's happening everywhere now. It's happening in the aged-care sector. Carers are being asked to care for someone in the morning and then care for someone in the afternoon and they don't get paid for the time in between. It stuffs up their whole day. They can't work or go and do another job, and they only get paid for a couple of hours either end. We need to outlaw insecure work in this country. We can't let insecure work spread like wildfire, which is what will happen if this bill passes, so we've got to oppose this bill.

12:12 pm

Photo of Angie BellAngie Bell (Moncrieff, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to remind the member for Melbourne and those opposite that this bill is about urgent industrial relations reform. Like so much of the Morrison government's work, it's about protecting jobs and creating jobs. It's about boosting wages and enhancing productivity. It's about synergy for employees and employers. It's about our national economic growth. For me, it's ultimately about Moncrieff businesses booming—which is very important to my local electorate—and families flourishing. In my maiden speech I mentioned that it was one of my goals for my time here: to make sure that that actually happens.

The impetus for reform can come from a wide range of influences. The support for our continued recovery from the pandemic has accelerated the importance of these incremental and commonsense changes and updates. Through modest reforms, the government is building upon the same cooperative spirit the country has so successfully embraced in our approached to overcoming the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flaws in Labor's Fair Work Act are depriving wages growth and stifling job creation. The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 will address many of the issues to clean up Labor's mess, which was frankly sloppy and at other times truly ideologically myopic. Allow me to elaborate on some of the issues and how they will be addressed by this bill. The bill defines 'casual employee' to provide the clarity that businesses and employees need. It will give eligible casual employees a statutory pathway to permanent full-time or part-time jobs, if they wish. It addresses some inflexibilities in the act around duties and location of work that the pandemic has highlighted, in the retail and hospitality sectors, by extending our successful JobKeeper flexibilities so that employers and employees can continue to work together to recover from the pandemic. I've worked in the areas of hospitality and retail, and I understand the need to have that security of a full-time position. The bill increases the likelihood of secure part-time work by boosting the confidence of employers and facilitating workers to get the additional hours they want. It smooths the enterprise-agreement-making pathway to drive wages growth and increase productivity.

Megaprojects create jobs. We know that. And this bill will encourage investment in megaprojects so they are more likely to proceed. It will do this by allowing the construction of major projects to be covered by a greenfield agreement for up to a maximum of eight years. It also bolsters compliance and enforcements under the Fair Work Act to protect workers from wage underpayments, simultaneously supporting businesses to comply with their obligations through a free advisory service for small business. It will ensure that employees can recover their correct entitlements faster. This is good news. The changes that I have outlined are the result of significant consultation by the Morrison government with a broad range of stakeholders, including unions, employers and industry.

Unfortunately, as Labor do, they chose divisiveness for political gain over the authentic needs and wants of all Australians. In Moncrieff, it's vital that we address issues like job growth, underemployment, job security, underpayment of wages and the failure of Labor's enterprise bargaining system to drive wages and productivity growth. Labor are opposing all of these incremental changes, but, as seems to be the norm, aren't presenting a realistic alternative. We don't see one coming from the other side.

Of course, from time to time, there will be disputes, but one of the great achievements of Australia has been our maturing industrial relations stability in a way that has been a net positive for employers and employees. It's also an understatement to say that workplaces have changed significantly over the past decades, let alone under the sudden changes induced by the pandemic. They have indeed changed. It is deeply disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition and Labor generally have failed to evolve to keep pace with the modern Australia. In Moncrieff at least—and, I suspect, nationally—people expect the parliament to deliver reforms that keep pace with our workplace realities and our economic circumstances. To those members opposite, I say: if you really are a friend of workers then work with the government to deliver the reforms that the nation needs. Advocate within your party to modernise Labor's stance to become a constructive contributor to reform or, alternatively, simply vote for this bill.

Let's delve into a little more detail about casual employees. The more we can do to reduce uncertainty for business the more confidence businesses will have to invest in jobs. That seems pretty obvious to me and surely to those members opposite. Confidence is what we need right now. Businesses tell me that the single thing they need the most in Moncrieff and on the Gold Coast is confidence, and I'm sure it's the same across the country. This bill delivers greater certainty to businesses about their obligations. It delivers casual employees stronger rights to convert to permanent employment if they wish to.

It's bordering on shameful that Labor refuse to support fixing their own failure to define casual employees a decade ago. We are introducing today a clear definition of what it means to be a casual employee. Under this bill, both employers and employees will have certainty about when a person is a casual employee and the clear rights and obligations in those circumstances. One of the sensible reforms in this bill that should achieve bipartisan support, in my view, is the establishment for eligible casual employees of a new statutory pathway to permanent employment on a full-time or part-time basis through a legislated casual conversion entitlement. This delivers choice to eligible casual employees regarding their ongoing full-time or part-time employment. The Morrison government firmly believes all employees should be classified and paid correctly. That's consistent with the innate sense of fairness that Australians have. If you have a go, you will get a go. We know that. It's a very important part of our values on this side of the chamber.

Australians also know that fairness is less achievable when some people get to double-dip. We don't like double-dipping. What the Morrison government knows and the good people of Moncrieff expect is that employees can't be paid a casual loading as compensation for not having leave entitlements and then, on top of that, be paid those leave entitlements as well. Small businesses, other employers and the legion of workers who earn their entitlements every week by receiving a standard hourly rate without a loading will be outraged if the parliament allows such an obvious gross unfairness to continue. What a confidence-destroying signal to business it would be if we were to do that. That's really at the heart of the way Labor often operates. There's an arrogant indifference on the other side. We shouldn't be surprised. This attitude comes from the same party that treated retirees with contempt on franking credits.

This bill will implement an important safeguard. In the event that an ongoing employee is misclassified as casual, the bill will ensure any casual loading amounts paid to the employee can be offset against claims for leave and other entitlements, to address any potential for double dipping. The Morrison government is acting to fix the double-dipping problem and prevent unfair outcomes in situations where employers could effectively have to pay an employee twice for the same entitlement. Businesses in Moncrieff and across the country will be saved from Labor's roughly $39 billion double-dip hit on employment. Those opposite, in good conscience, should support this bill for workers. They should not be against casual employees who want to become full-time or part-time employees. Why on earth does Labor want to keep casual workers in casual roles even when they prefer permanent roles? Wouldn't Labor prefer them to be in permanent roles?

This bill sets out much-needed incremental reform on the award system. Greater flexibility will be introduced into awards in some of our hardest-hit sectors. This will drive retail and hospitality jobs, which are so important on the Gold Coast. It will drive jobs growth in those sectors and it will tackle underemployment. This is very important for driving down unemployment in Moncrieff, which is among the highest in the country. We know that Queensland is the state with the highest unemployment. On the Gold Coast it's worse than the Queensland average. The Gold Coast needs this reform to support the continuation of our recovery as we moved forward.

The JobKeeper flexibilities protected thousands of jobs during this pandemic—10,500 businesses in Moncrieff were on JobKeeper. It supported so many people in their jobs, and it needs to continue across key awards for a further temporary period of two years to improve the precarious position of the retail and hospitality sectors. These flexibilities include those relating to duties and location of work. For clarity I will quickly list some of the awards that this affects. The Business Equipment Award 2020, the Commercial Sales Award 2020, the Fast Food Industry Award 2010, the General Retail Industry Award 2020, the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2020, the Meat Industry Award 2020, the Nursery Award 2020, the Pharmacy Industry Award 2020, the Restaurant Industry Award 2020, the Registered and Licensed Clubs Award 2020, the Seafood Processing Award 2020 and the Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award 2020 will all be affected by these industrial relations reforms.

This bill brings employers and part-time employees together in the economically vulnerable retail and hospitality sectors, as I mentioned, to work together to agree on additional hours of work for part-time employees who want them. This will help to increase working hours and wages and encourage employers to offer more permanent, secure roles with benefits, including paid sick leave, over traditionally more flexible forms of employment like casual roles. This will help people like my brother in Cairns, who has worked for decades in a butcher shop making sausages. For at least one decade he hasn't had a break over Christmas. He has to work through Christmas because he's a casual employee. I think it would be great if he became a permanent employee and he had a couple of weeks off over Christmas. That would be nice, wouldn't it? He could spend time with his grandson and his family over Christmas. It would be great. Very many workers will have improved entitlements under this bill.

The sectors we are addressing combine to employ over a third of all casual employees, so the scale of this will be meaningful for the economy, just as it will be for the individuals and businesses it involves. Stats from the ABS tell us that more than 100,000 part-time employees aren't getting the hours they want. Around 30 per cent of part-time employees in the retail trade industry and about 40 per cent of part-time employees in the accommodation and food services industry would prefer more hours and are available to work more hours, but they won't get the extra work without this very important reform.

This bill is one of the actions the Morrison government is taking to reduce underemployment. Reducing underemployment will help young people in Moncrieff get a better start in life, and it will help Moncrieff families meet their needs. Employees will be able to agree to additional hours of work at their normal rates, provided they already regularly work at least 16 hours per week and provided various other important safeguards are satisfied. This removes barriers to part-time work for recovering businesses and facilitates additional hours of work for part-time employees who want them.

If Labor members vote against this bill, they are denying thousands of workers extra hours. They are actively working against those they have in the past called their own hardworking Australians. The opposition leader likes to talk about underemployment but won't support the government to reduce it and has no credible plan of his own. Secure jobs with paid sick leave and more hours are what many workers want. Why does the Opposition Leader want to impede that by voting against this bill? It's beyond me; I don't understand.

Enterprise agreements encourage job creation, wage increases and productivity growth, but you have to get the agreements in place. Drawn-out approval processes and the risk of agreements being denied on narrow technical grounds are thwarting the success of those agreements. There will be faster agreements targeting a 21-working-day turnaround. That lets employers refocus on their business operations and employees get better pay and conditions sooner.

The better off overall test will continue and be improved to reflect the more collaborative reality we see on the ground that I mentioned earlier. This simplification of procedural requirements will ensure that genuine agreement requirements continue but will eliminate unnecessary delays and complexity. The Morrison government knows that greenfield agreements need to be improved to attract investment with the potential to secure thousands of Australian jobs as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

Under this bill, the Fair Work Commission will be able to approve longer-term major project greenfields agreements by allowing the nominal expiry date to go up to eight years. There will be criteria that apply, and I don't have time to go through them all. This bill will protect workers. This bill will reform industrial relations in this country. The Morrison government is delivering the sensible reforms that will benefit employers, employees and our economic recovery. Labor, those opposite, should support this bill.

12:27 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today so that I can put on the record my complete and absolute opposition to the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020. The reason I oppose this bill is simple: I care about workers. But not only that: I also care deeply about our businesses, and this bill will hurt both, no matter how the government wants to package it, no matter what bow they put around it. Things like hurting workers, cutting pay and making jobs less secure hurt our entire economy. It is bad for the country and I can tell you it is bad for my electorate of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast.

Before I talk about the aspects of the bill that I am most concerned about and the impacts this will have on workers, I want to talk a little about the economy on the South Coast. The New South Wales South Coast is beloved around the country. It is a beautiful place to visit and an absolutely amazing place to live. We have beaches, mountains, wineries, boutique food outlets, festivals and more. TripAdvisor named the Shoalhaven as the eighth top emerging travel destination in the world, and I couldn't agree more. The outcome of this is that our economy is largely centred around tourism. It is largely seasonal, with our population doubling, tripling or more in school holidays and on long weekends. Tourism permeates every aspect. Even if a business might not be directly related, it will still feel the peaks and troughs that this seasonal economy brings to it. Even our essential workers like our nurses and hospital staff are impacted, as are our police and other emergency services. I could go on.

The impact of this for local workers is that they rely on casual and part-time employment. Sadly, we have seen what happens when that seasonal economy fails. It started with the bushfires, with workers across the South Coast suddenly left without an income. I will never forget the cleaner who contacted my office in the immediate aftermath of the bushfires. She normally cleaned holiday rentals, but with no-one coming to the coast she was suddenly without an income. She didn't know how she was going to pay her bills. She didn't know how she was going to feed her kids and she was so terrified about the consequences of speaking up about this that she would not leave her name. She couldn't afford to risk losing her job. This bill is going to make that situation worse. It is going to make more people like that cleaner terrified and unable to pay the bills because, at its heart, this bill seeks to cut workers' pay, attack workers rights and will leave those that rely on a seasonal economy worse off.

After the bushfires came COVID: even more people out of work, even more people feeling insecure about what was going to happen. Whenever restrictions allowed it, I spent my time visiting with local businesses across the coast—hundreds of them. The local butcher, the local post office, the local book store, the local cafe: I heard a similar story from each of them that might surprise some people. JobKeeper and the COVID supplement for JobSeeker saved them. Yes, absolutely, because it helped them keep their workers on. But there was another reason. Local people had financial safety and security. Even for a short period of time they had a little bit, perhaps more than usual, in their wallet. They could afford to go to their local butcher. They could afford to buy a coffee in their local cafe. Spending in the local shops was keeping local shops open, meaning more people had jobs, meaning more people had money to spend in local shops. And so it goes on.

My electorate has traditionally had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Our youth unemployment rate has been unacceptably high, and we have seen unacceptable levels of underemployment. People struggle with housing affordability, something that is getting even more out of control. People rely on support services like the wonderful Salt Care or the Red Door hall lunches, because $40 a day is not enough to get by on when you're struggling to get work or you're between jobs. We know that. It isn't a secret. My point is that it's completely counterintuitive to say that if you cut workers' pay and remove their job security then you help business. You don't. You hurt business. Hurting workers hurts businesses. I know it does in my electorate, I have seen it. From my perspective, the entire premise on which the changes in this bill are based is completely unfounded.

Let's explore what this bill is actually trying to do. This bill will make it easier for employers to casualise jobs that would otherwise be permanent. It will decrease the bargaining power of workers and stop unions from helping the Fair Work Commission to ensure an agreement is fair. It will cut workers' pay. It will remove the rights of blue-collar workers on big projects. It will make work less secure and it will hurt our economy.

The government have thankfully backed down on their plan to remove the better off overall test. That is great news, welcome news, but the truth is they didn't do it because they realised it was unfair. They didn't do it because they changed their mind and decided this wasn't a good way to go. They did it because they knew they couldn't get it through. They still believe this change should be made and, if given the chance, the Liberal-National government will try this again. At the end of the day, the Liberals want to cut workers' pay. They have proven it time and time again. They are proving it again now. Make no mistake, that's their endgame. This is a change that the people on the New South Wales South Coast cannot afford. Our workers certainly can't afford it, but our businesses also can't afford it. If our workers get their pay cut, if they can lose their jobs more easily, where will they end up? On JobSeeker, which, from the end of next month, will be back at $40 a day—not enough to live on, not enough to pay the bills, certainly not enough to let you buy from the butcher or the local coffee shop. Does that help businesses? Clearly the answer is no.

Earlier I touched briefly on the bushfires our community experienced last summer, and I want to return there for a moment. The bushfires were a harrowing time for everyone in our community. It was something we went through together, and it had a profound impact on us all. But what I witnessed, and what many people continue to remark on, was a unique rallying of our human spirit. That human spirit was embodied in our essential workers, our community heroes no doubt: firefighters, emergency service workers, police, council workers, nurses, doctors, ambulance workers—the list goes on. That was even before the pandemic, when these heroes took on even more and continued to earn our admiration, our respect, and our thanks. They have done an amazing job helping and protecting local people at huge risk and cost to themselves. They have been there for us every day, working long hours, working hard in terrible conditions and they deserve to be paid fairly for it, but not according to this bill.

These are the workers that will be left worse off under these changes, our amazing essential workers, the heroes of 2020. This is how the government chooses to thank them: attacking their rights and cutting their pay. How is that fair? How is that right? To be frank, I am outraged and I just will not stand for it. The risks in this bill are too great for essential workers. The new simplified additional hours in the bill will allow a part-time employee to work additional hours at their ordinary rate—that is, without overtime. This means they will receive a lower rate for their annual leave, superannuation and personal and carers' leave. It will allow a standard 16-hour commitment to be normalised with simplified additional hours being used to top up on an as-needed basis. This reduces job security and will effectively casualise part-time work. It is frightening and it is completely unacceptable to me.

When COVID hit and JobKeeper was introduced, the government made changes that allowed for stand down directions to be given. These were meant to be temporary, an emergency provision needed for an unprecedented emergency situation. Labor was always nervous that this was a slippery slope and that the government would move to make this permanent, and here we are. The bill will extend the ability for all employers covered by the identified awards—including those employers that never qualified for JobKeeper—to give an employee a direction about their duties and location of work. The government has pushed and pushed the boundaries on this condition and now we see the true endgame.

The government's changes to workplace bargaining will also deliver wage cuts to workers. Workers will no longer be assured that changes to their enterprise agreement will leave them better off. They'll be stripped of the right to a comprehensive explanation of an agreement, and they'll be then asked to vote on it. They can be notified that bargaining has started a month after it has happened. The Fair Work Commission will have less time and less power to ensure that an agreement was genuinely agreed to, and unions will no longer be able to play a role in helping the commission to ensure an agreement is fair if they were excluded from bargaining.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the movies. I went to the wonderful Roxy Cinema in Nowra, an independent cinema which has been left, like many independent cinemas, without adequate support from the government to deal with the pandemic—a different issue, granted, but worth a mention. Anyway, I went to the Roxy to see a film made by local woman, Robynne Murphy. The film is called Women of Steel and it tells the story of a group of women from the 1980s who took on BHP, a steel-making giant in the Illawarra, to fight for jobs for women. They spent 14 years on this crusade, and they changed workplace law in Australia. They were supported by the Australian Workers Union. Not only did these remarkable women win jobs for women; they also fundamentally changed the workplace. With the help of the union, they improved workplace health and safety laws, introduced maternity and paternity leave and flexible working, broke the ceiling for women and paved the way to fairer working conditions. It is incredible viewing, and I would like to congratulate Robynne on her work putting together this important film. I encourage everyone to go and see it. But it is also incredibly timely viewing, because this bill flies in the face of what Robynne and her band of warriors fought so hard for. It winds back rights for workers and it hurts women, who we know are disproportionately represented in casual and part-time employment. We have spent years and years fighting for these rights. It is something many people can too easily forget, the rights that workers have now have not always been there, and they didn't get there overnight. They were hard fought for by people like Robynne, by our unions, by Labor, and we will not see them so easily stripped away by this government or any government.

Changes like this will hurt for generations. We already know that young people are being left behind. It's harder and harder for young people to buy a home, it's harder and harder for young people to find jobs. They have to be supported by their parents for even longer. This is the first generation where children will not be better off than their parents. In fact, they will be worse off, and the changes in this bill will make that even worse. How can we expect young people to buy a house, keep a job and move ahead if we take away their rights and make their work more insecure than it already is? How can we expect them to get a loan when they can't guarantee their pay? The government is once again turning its back on young people.

We also know that one of the fastest-growing demographics of unemployed are women over the age of 55. What does this bill do to help them—our cleaners, childcare workers, nurses and retail workers? We know these industries are disproportionately represented by women. We know women's superannuation balances are a huge problem, particularly for older women. This bill will see that problem get worse, not better. From every angle I look at it, this bill is bad news. It's bad news for people in my electorate, bad news for our economy and bad news for Australia. I won't support it. I will do everything in my power to stop it. The Liberals cannot be trusted when it comes to workplace relations. They cannot be trusted to help workers and protect their rights. Only Labor can be trusted to do that, and we will. I will. I will be here every day, standing up for workers in my electorate, because I know that standing up for workers means standing up for businesses. You can't help business by hurting workers. It is counterintuitive. It doesn't work, and the people of the South Coast will not stand for it.

12:41 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020. I support the amendment moved by the member for Watson and endorse the comments of my colleagues. The bill represents the government's industrial relations reform package, and it is the outcome of months of consultations with employer groups, businesses and unions through a working-groups process. When announcing this process, back in May last year, the Minister for Industrial Relations claimed that the reform areas dealt with 'specific known problems in the system which all parties agree inhibit job growth or job creation or are causing issues in the system that prevent jobs being saved'. He went on to identify five areas for reform: casual and fixed-term employees, award simplification, enterprise agreement-making, compliance and enforcement, and greenfield agreements for new enterprises.

Labor's test for the bill from the outset—and we were clear—was: will it create secure jobs with decent pay? We were, as others have said, prepared to support measures reflecting what was agreed in the working groups. But, from the first meetings in June, the deliberations of the groups were highly secretive. All participants and third parties signed confidentiality agreements and were told they would be removed from the process should they breach these rules. It now appears that the working groups did not reach a great deal of consensus on any one issue and that the government is proceeding with its own reforms in the absence of consensus. The result of this approach by the government is a bill which makes workers less secure and cuts pay in the middle of a global pandemic. I'll quote from the ACTU:

The Bill fails the Government's own test: workers will be worse off.

…   …   …

The Government's changes will make jobs less secure; they will make it easier for employers to casualise permanent jobs and allow employers to pay workers less than the award safety net. This is the opposite of what the country needs.

Let's look at what the bill does, in particular to casuals. The government has ignored years of common law and overturned the recent Federal Court decision on what it means to be a casual. Under these laws, if a worker agrees to be employed as a casual at the start of their employment, they remain as a casual regardless of their actual work pattern, so long as the employer employs them on the basis that they make no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work. If a court finds later that they are in fact a permanent, any casual loading they receive will be offset against any permanent entitlements they are owed. Both the definition and the offset apply retrospectively. Under the government's own figures, this involves cancelling an estimated $18 billion to $39 billion in back pay that would otherwise be owed to casuals.

As part of the National Employment Standards, employers must make a written offer of conversion to permanent employment to casual employees after 12 months if there has been a regular pattern of work for the last six months. However, the employer does not have to make the offer if there are reasonable grounds not to. An example would be that the employer has reasonable grounds to think the job might not be there in 12 months. This reasonable-grounds defence has the capacity to undermine any path to permanent work. Employers cannot manipulate hours to prevent them from having to make the offer, although there is no civil penalty for a breach. There is no arbitration of disputes other than by agreement. If an employer does not make a casual conversion offer, there is a residual right for the employee to request conversion. Again, the employer can refuse if they have reasonable grounds. The Fair Work Ombudsman must prepare and publish a casual employment information statement which employers must provide to employees when they commence employment. Part-time workers will also face the prospect of job casualisation. Under the simplified additional hours measures, employers could reduce part-time work to a 16-hour weekly minimum, with future hours on a casual basis, risking the job security for employees on these contracts.

What particularly troubles me about this legislation, and it's what I'd like to turn to now, is the significant impact of this legislation that the government appears to have overlooked, brushed aside or ignored—the very real mental health impacts of insecure work. In the National Suicide Prevention Adviser's interim advice it was recommended that the government should:

Develop a Commonwealth process for reviewing new policies or initiatives to ensure they assess any impacts (positively or negatively) on suicidal risk or behaviour.

I wholeheartedly agree. A mental health lens should be cast over this legislation, which is being introduced at the very same time as the government is winding back COVID-19 support, like JobKeeper. The Prime Minister has consistently said—and I believe that he's genuine—that mental health is a priority of this government. But the government can't continue to ignore the impact of its actions in workplace relations, housing, education or social services on the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians. The link between insecure work, financial distress and mental health crisis is well established. As soon as the sector you work in is at risk, your mental health is at risk. As the demands of your work increase and the control you have over your circumstances falls, the risk only continues to grow. This was highlighted in Suicide Prevention Australia's Turning the Tide report in March last year. As I said earlier, the link between unemployment, financial distress and suicide is, sadly, well established. The report points to a global analysis of suicide population economic data which found that the rate of suicide for people who were unemployed was nine times that of the general population.

Australian studies, including a recent analysis of male suicide rates, have found periods of unemployment and underemployment, particularly in insecure forms of work, are strongly correlated with an increase in the suicide rate. So we know that, if you're unemployed, underemployed or in insecure work, there is a strong correlation with an increased risk of suicide. Over the past 12 months, we've seen hundreds of thousands of people find themselves out of work as businesses folded, companies collapsed and jobs have been shed. Many of those people are experiencing mental health problems for the first time. As the Black Dog Institute said at the very start of the pandemic:

Common consequences of disease outbreaks include anxiety and panic, depression, anger, confusion and uncertainty, and financial stress, with estimates of between 25% to 33% of the community experiencing high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics.

What particularly troubles me about this legislation is the very real mental health consequences to people and to our economy. We know, because the Productivity Commission has estimated it, that mental ill health affects all Australians, directly or indirectly. Almost one in five Australians experience mental illness in any given year. Black Dog have estimated that 25 to 33 per cent of the community will have, or will be experiencing, high levels of worry and anxiety during this pandemic. We know, as I pointed out, that some Australians are more likely to experience mental health problems, including those who are underemployed and unemployed or who find themselves in insecure work.

Of course, this is a significant risk for individuals and families in our community. It is also a significant risk to our economy.

We know from the Productivity Commission final report into mental health that mental health is costing the Australian economy about $200 billion to $220 billion a year, which the report considered a conservative estimate of the cost. It's no surprise that mental ill health has been described by some as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. My concern is that this legislation runs the risk of directly impacting the mental health of those who are caught up in this reform and at the same time increasing the cost of mental ill health to the Australian economy. It flies in the face of the recommendations of peak bodies, advocates and experts, including Suicide Prevention Australia, who have called for urgent action to provide gig workers with relief during a period when their livelihoods are at risk.

They recommended a two-pronged approach, and the first was to provide Australian gig workers and independent contractors with relief and ongoing support through the COVID-19 crisis. This is the exact opposite of what this legislation will do, and I'm very concerned about the real human consequences of this legislation. I urge the government, as the interim advice of the Suicide Prevention Adviser to the government has said, to consider the suicide and behavioural risk consequences of any action they take.

I'll turn now to what this means to my local community. I grew up in a regional coastal community just an hour and a half outside of Sydney, and there's always been stubbornly high unemployment, particularly for younger people. But at the height of the pandemic there were 36 jobseekers for every job vacancy on the Central Coast. While I'm relieved that this number has decreased and some sectors of the economy are recovering, some are still hurting, and they'll continue to hurt, like events companies.

I spoke earlier this week about Peter Rubin, who runs a mid-size events company in my electorate. He's really worried about what will happen when JobKeeper ends in March. We know that on the Central Coast at the height of the pandemic there were 4,902 businesses employing 18,734 people who were supported by the JobKeeper wage subsidy in my electorate. We know the government didn't want to introduce a wage subsidy and that it was Labor, the union and others that pressed for it. Then they were going to cut it off in September. They rolled it out for another six months to March; however, the Treasurer's been very blunt and he's ruled out the possibility of extending JobKeeper, stating, 'It was always a temporary measure.'

What I'm concerned about, as I've pointed out, is the known and clear risk between underemployment, insecure work, financial distress and mental health crisis, and the consequences of that. I was pleased to hear the Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe, when he was expressing his concern about job shedding after JobKeeper, talking about this as a moral obligation. Thousands of people in my electorate, as I've mentioned, have benefited from JobKeeper. It's protected their lives as much as their livelihoods. As we continue to have this patchy recovery, particularly in certain sectors of the economy, like the events industry, higher education and tourism, there are many people—hundreds of thousands of people—across Australia who are at risk.

At the same time, in my local community last Friday the Centrelink at Ettalong on the Central Coast closed for the last time. I was there with Senator Deborah O'Neill and the state member for Gosford, Liesl Tesch, on the day it closed. They're not just doing this on the Central Coast; they've done it in Newcastle in New South Wales and Newport and the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. At the same time as they're winding back COVID support, cutting JobKeeper and not giving any indication what they may do about the rate of JobSeeker, they're closing Centrelink shopfronts where people in communities like mine can go for help and support.

Before I came to this place, I was a chief pharmacist and a mental health worker. I worked in the adult acute mental health inpatient units in my local community for almost 10 years. I saw the very real risk when people came in in crisis—financial distress, relationship breakdown—where they had nowhere else to go but a public hospital mental health inpatient unit. They came because it was the only place where they could get a meal, a shower and a safe place to sleep. In a generous country like Australia, why is the government taking actions in workplace relations, housing and social welfare that leave vulnerable people stranded and at risk?

Labor would have a different approach, and our plan would include making job security an object of the Fair Work Act, so it becomes a core focus of the Fair Work Commission's decision. We would also extend the powers of the Fair Work Commission to include employee-like forms of work, allowing it to better protect people in new forms of work from exploitation and dangerous working conditions. We would legislate a fair and objective test to determine when a worker can be classified as a casual, so people have a clearer pathway to permanent work. There have been many statements in this House about people on the front line of COVID-19—those people who have put themselves in harm's way, working in aged care, in disability care and in hospitals—and some of those very same people will be caught up in this so-called reform. And, as the aged-care workers told me recently, the time for cupcakes and applause is over. What they really need to see is genuine support from this government and real action to improve their conditions, to make sure that they are safe and protected at work, and to make sure that they're not having to work across multiple workplaces, which, particularly in the time of COVID-19, presents a very real risk to them and the people they're trying to support.

We really need to see a different approach from this government. We need to see this government cast a lens on the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians in any actions they take. I urge the government to consider seriously the very real risk to the mental health and wellbeing of Australians when they're putting forward legislation like this that poses a very real risk to the most vulnerable people in our society.

12:56 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020. It's as simple as this: workers will be worse off. The casualisation of the workforce does not create more secure jobs. As stated in the explanatory memorandum, this bill will help employees engaged as casual employees who work regularly to become ongoing employees if that is their preference. While the Attorney-General can call it an important right for workers, the fact is that workers will have fewer rights and these rights will be filled with qualifications.

The new amendment to the Fair Work Act states that an employer must offer full-time employment to the employee, the employee must also be employed with that business for at least 12 months, and must have worked at least six months on an ongoing basis. These changes may be subtle, yet the underlying issues are written between the lines. An employee must complete 12 months of service. However, an employee would be working permanent full-time hours up to a year and still be labelled as a casual employee under this legislation. That doesn't give any power to the employee. The employee must also work on a regular pattern of hours on an ongoing basis, but most employees don't have control over the hours they work. Therefore, it is the employer who is in control of the so-called regular pattern of hours on an ongoing basis. Also, the employee must work these regular hours on an ongoing basis without 'significant adjustment'. This allows the employer to easily declare that workloads will be changing, therefore constituting a significant adjustment. This again does not give the employee more rights or power. Perhaps the government has mixed up the words 'employer' and 'employee' in this relationship. The employer is clearly benefiting, which is odd because the Attorney-General continually says that it's the employee who will be better off.

The government and the Attorney-General can spin words all they like, but the facts are that, under the coalition government of the past seven years, there has been a history of stagnating real wages, higher cost of living and more insecure work. Real wages in Australia were almost one per cent lower in 2019 compared to 2013. In 2019, Australia sat in third-last place out of 35 OECD countries for wage growth. Australia's record on real wages sits well behind those of comparable economies like Germany, Korea, Sweden, Denmark and the United States. And now the government is making the insecurity, inequality and wage stagnation even worse. This restricts a lot of Australians from achieving their goal. A goal for many people in Australia is owning a home. That goal is becoming increasingly unobtainable, largely due to stagnating wages and wealth insecurity. And, if you're working casually, you certainly can't get a housing loan. According to the OECD, Australia is the third most unaffordable housing market within the OECD, because house prices have risen much faster than Australia's income. Wage growth has not yet kept up with the cost of living. Increasingly, inequality has allowed the well-off to drive up property prices, while Australians are facing declines in wages and more insecure part-time employment. Therefore, affordable housing is harder than ever to find, which should not be surprising, as we're in the middle of the lowest sustained wage growth since World War II. Taking power from employees and casualising the workforce will lead to even harsher statistics, and that is a national disgrace.

In Werriwa, 23 per cent of the workforce is already without paid leave entitlements, 16 per cent identify as a casual worker and 35 per cent of all workers do not have guaranteed hours each week. Industries such as retail, health care, social assistance, transport, postal and warehousing are at the highest risk of being affected. These industries represent one-third of employment in Werriwa. Over 60,000 workers will be worse off; over 60,000 people will have their jobs, conditions and job security attacked. Tragically, that is the minimum number of workers in Werriwa who will have their jobs effected. Accommodation, food services, arts, recreation services and administration and support services are among the top five industries whose workers in Australia already work without paid leave entitlements. These workers are being forced into casual work—not permanent, not secure.

Automation is a major challenge for many industries. In Smeaton Grange, Coles is automating its workers out of a job and plans to shut down the warehouse within the next three years. After a 24-hour strike in November last year, Coles have indefinitely locked out their 350 warehouse workers at the distribution centre, with no sympathy for their workers or their workers' families. These workers were the ones keeping the supermarket shelves stocked throughout the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, while Coles experienced more than a seven per cent increase in their profits, with net profits equalling almost $1 billion. Their workers lost their income over Christmas, meaning children missed out because their parents were locked out.

Workers all across Australia need work that will come with protections, protections such as sick leave, family leave, annual leave, penalty rates and work transition packages for jobs that won't exist in the near future as the world changes around us. You can't raise a family, buy a home or build for the future if you do not have a secure job with these protections. This legislation does not provide a means to deliver secure jobs with decent pay. The reality is that the Australian economy was not in a good state prior to the pandemic. The growth of insecure work and wage stagnation were major issues for Australian workers. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed this fact. Too many people in this country work in low-paid, insecure appointment. That includes casuals, contractors, freelancers, labour hire workers and gig workers. These workers were vulnerable. They were the first to be hit by the pandemic. They were the ones who could least afford it. These workers were on edge and the pandemic pushed them over.

The issue doesn't fully lie with COVID-19 and nor should the blame. These workers knew they were vulnerable before the pandemic, as did the government; however, the government did nothing to help these workers. COVID-19 has now presented an opportunity to learn from neglecting low wages and insecure work and the issues those interdependent problems create, but this government has done the opposite with this legislation. It is making it easier for businesses to employ people as casuals even when they work like permanent workers makes employees worse off. Changes to part-time work that will effectively end up casualising it makes employees worse off. And, in aged care, where people need to work in a number of settings to make ends meet, this has caused so many issues for both them as workers and the people that they look after.

Allowing enterprise agreements to not have the better off overall test for two years or longer makes employees worse off. Letting businesses cut wages and conditions by allowing agreements to cut penalty rates, shift allowance and other entitlements makes employees worse off. This is the Prime Minister's and the Attorney-General's answer to the twin problems of insecure and low-paid work: casualising essential workers who carried Australia through the pandemic. Childcare workers, aged-care staff, cleaners, supermarket workers, truck drivers and other essential workers on the front line put themselves at risk to keep our economy going and keep us safe. Now they are facing a pay cut and fewer rights. The last time the government cut penalty rates for retail, fast food, pharmacy and hospitality workers, it failed to deliver a single extra job. Are Australians expected to believe that cutting more penalty rates, cutting overtime, cutting shift loading and cutting allowances will create jobs? What would be different this time?

The legislation fails Australian workers. Fair wages and good working conditions are staples of a functioning society. Neglecting the issues of insecure work and low wages is bad enough, but pairing these issues is inexcusable. For Australia to recover from the COVID recession, we need people to have a secure income and the confidence to spend money back into the economy. Secure work, fair wages and good work conditions is a foundation for that confidence. Allowing employers to pursue wage reduction strategies will not create confidence. People will continue to be too afraid to buy things, because they can only just make ends meet.

This is why Labor will legislate job security as a key objective of the Fair Work Act, which will bring job security to the forefront of decisions made about rights at work. Labor will define what an employee is and ensure that all workers have access to employee protections and entitlements that are currently denied to them. Labor will restore the Fair Work Commission to the centre of workplace relations. Labor will limit the number of consecutive fixed-term contracts an employer can offer for the same role. Australian families deserve better. Australian workers deserve better. They deserve protection, good conditions and fair pay. This government wants to take that away. It is not on your side. Under Labor, workers will not be left behind.

1:07 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Australians know that we debate this bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, in uncertain times—Victorians, in particular. We aren't through this pandemic yet and we still have a very long way to go in our economic recovery as we navigate the path ahead. But, at this point, it's worth looking backwards for a moment to those people who have gotten us through the most acute stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, those frontline workers we have relied on as part of this health crisis.

In Victoria, where I myself was locked down for over 100 days with my family, we gained a very firsthand experience of how much we relied on people who weren't able to do their jobs from home during the lockdown but whose presence in the workplace during a health crisis, during a pandemic, was necessary to enable our society to continue to function. Obviously, there are the frontline health workers—doctors, nurses, epidemiologists and GP clinicians who are running respiratory centres in my electorate. But also there are the workers who were involved not in the health response but in the logistics of keeping the society operating—people working in the logistics sector, people working in our supermarkets, people stacking shelves overnight to ensure that people had what they needed to get through the pandemic.

I have spoken to many of these people during this pandemic. It was tough going out into the community, particularly at the height of the second wave in Victoria, concerned for their safety and concerned about what would happen if they became sick. These concerns were particularly acute because many of these retail and hospitality workers, those we relied on the most during the crisis, are in insecure work. They don't have the benefits and they don't have the security that many of us take for granted. We were relying on them, the heroes of this pandemic, at a time where they were confronting incredible insecurity. This bill will see them worse off. It is a sad reality that the government is now using this pandemic as a smokescreen to pass a bill that could reduce the conditions, pay and job security of these workers, these heroes, when they can least afford it.

Labor approached this bill with a fairly simple test. We asked: will it create secure jobs with decent pay? The answer was certainly no in December and the answer, unfortunately, is still no today. While the Attorney-General has removed the most extreme part of this bill, with the suspension of the better off overall test for two years, even without this the bill represents a fundamental attack on the rights of workers that hasn't been seen since John Howard's Work Choices. These are the workers who got us through the COVID-19 pandemic, the heroes of the pandemic. We relied on all of them and we owe them better than the bill before the House today. The Attorney-General has removed the most politically contentious part of this bill, the extreme better off overall test provisions. He said they detracted from the rest of the bill, so he'll remove them and then we can focus on the rest of the bill.

Unfortunately, the rest of the bill is still bad. It still makes jobs more insecure and can still lead to pay cuts. It makes it easier for employers to casualise jobs that could have otherwise been permanent. It makes bargaining for better pay and conditions more difficult than it currently is. It allows for wage cuts, takes rights off blue collar workers on big projects, many of whom are in my electorate, and weakens wage theft punishments in jurisdictions like Victoria that led the way in deeming this most repugnant of acts a criminal offence.

We shouldn't be surprised by this, as shocking as it is, because this government has form on the way that it is engaging with workers over the last 12 months. They've been trying to erode the rights of workers and make things worse for working families in Australia throughout this pandemic. They've already cut penalty rates for many workers in Australia. They had to be dragged by Labor and the Leader of the Opposition to implement the JobKeeper program at the height of the pandemic. Can you imagine where this country would be today if the Prime Minister had stuck with his original insistence that we did not need JobKeeper in the face of a global pandemic? It was similar for JobSeeker at the start of the pandemic, and now they're letting both JobKeeper and JobSeeker fall off a cliff in March.

As a Victorian I can tell you that we're not through COVID, and withdrawing and cutting the rates of JobSeeker and JobKeeper will have significant impacts. The newly pre-selected Liberal candidate for Menzies, in a recent interview—maybe he's more in touch with the community than his colleague who is already in the chamber—noted that the cuts to JobSeeker and JobKeeper would create an extremely challenging period for Victoria going forward. Well, that's a challenging period created by a decision of the government. They don't have to do it. This government has told young people they should mortgage their future by raiding their super if they found themselves struggling during the pandemic. And now they're using the cover of the pandemic to introduce a bill that can cut wages, undermine conditions and create more insecure work.

They haven't seen a workers' conditions and pay package that they don't want to cut. We saw it on full display in question time yesterday. The Prime Minister was asked on three separate occasions whether he would guarantee that no worker would be worse off under this bill. The Prime Minister is a renowned expert in marketing and he knew that he couldn't say the words. He refused to make that guarantee not once but twice. He had a very simple opportunity to say that, regardless of all the political controversy you hear about this bill, no worker will be worse off as a result of this bill. He refused three times. The third time was in response to when we put the question to the Minister for Industrial Relations, and the minister—maybe his marketing savvy isn't as sharp as the Prime Minister's—waded into it. He said:

Members of the opposition and their claims that anyone will be worse off under the government's bill are absolutely 100 per cent wrong.

He didn't read the room there, the Minister for Industrial Relations. So, in the next question, the Labor leader put it to the Prime Minister, saying:

Now that the Minister for Industrial Relations has been prepared to guarantee that the industrial relations legislation will leave no worker worse off, will the Prime Minister give the same guarantee that his legislation will leave no worker worse off?

And, come in spinner, the Prime Minister replies:

I completely reject the assertion that has just been made by the Leader of the Opposition.

It's not often in question time that the fish jumps onto the hook or jumps into the back of the boat, right? The marketing man knew that he couldn't get away with explicitly guaranteeing that no worker would be worse off under this bill, but he also knew that he couldn't allow the assertion that his industrial relations minister had led him into stand, because it's not true.

You really can't believe what many members of the government say about the way that this industrial relations bill works. We've seen it earlier in this debate. Government members can't even seem to understand the way that the casual conversion provisions work in this bill. The member for Dawson, in particular—a lion in his local electorate, a mouse in this chamber—suggested that, just because someone can request to become permanent under this legislation, casuals will automatically become permanent employees, as an absolute right. He was discussing these provisions and he said that the legislation 'will ensure that it is an absolute right for those workers'—that is, to convert to permanent work. He said:

I've heard all these stories that come up. They say, '… It's unenforceable.'

They're presumably stories from people who have read the bill and understand the way it works.

That's nonsense, nonsense and more nonsense.

The member for Dawson went on to say that, if a casual made a request to be converted into a permanent role and that wasn't acceded to by the employer, the worker would 'have the backing of the Fair Work Commission'. You don't. There is no arbitration process; there's no Fair Work involvement in that process. The member for Dawson is completely wrong, and what he is telling his constituents about this bill is completely wrong.

The member for Dawson says that, as a result of this, the boss will have to offer permanent employment to that person. That is just not right. There is no provision for Fair Work Commission arbitration. The only option for a worker confronted with that situation will be to go to the Federal Court. It's just one of those things that you do on every day ending with a Y: get the financial resources together to mount a Federal Court challenge. These are casual workers, remember—workers whose hours and conditions are contingent on their relationship with their employer. They would risk that relationship by mounting costly legal action, apparently, and then they will be able to convert their casual position into a permanent position, if they are able to convince the Federal Court. This is fantasy-land stuff. Government members do not understand the provisions of their own bill.

I also want to make a brief comment on the wage theft provisions in this bill. I've spoken about wage theft in this chamber many times since I was elected in 2013, because I think it is one of the great scandals that have been allowed to emerge in our society in this period. Exploitation, particularly of temporary migrant workers and international students, has become endemic in a range of industries—hospitality, services et cetera—and that does not just have impacts on those workers who are being exploited. I can tell you: I've had many conversations with temporary migrants, and I've heard of the most appalling exploitation you can imagine—not just working at half the pay rate they're entitled to but exploitation of their visa status, the most appalling sexual abuse and the most appalling threats towards their family in their home country. These are vulnerable people being treated in the most reprehensible way. That's why I was extremely pleased when the Andrews Labor government moved to criminalise this, and the Palaszczuk government has taken action as well, because this is literally taking money out of the back pockets of the most vulnerable workers in our community.

This bill purports to create a compliance and enforcement framework for wage theft. It purports to increase penalties for wage underpayments and job ads that advertise below the minimum wage. It prohibits employers from advertising jobs specifying a rate of pay less than the national minimum wage—I see these all the time, particularly in languages other than English, targeting particular communities. Acting on this issue is good, but again you get to the detail about the operation of this, and that is when the catch comes. This bill inserts a definition of 'dishonest' requiring that for wage theft to be criminalised, 'the employer dishonestly engages in a systemic pattern of underpaying one or more employees'. That definition of dishonest is a twofold test:

(a) dishonest according to the standards of ordinary people; and

(b) known by the defendant to be dishonest according to the standards of ordinary people.

You don't have to be a lawyer to know that's going to be a very high bar to meet. Trying to prove that level of intent—although I can tell you, there is plenty of it out there—will be extremely difficult. The Victorian legislation gets this; it only includes that first provision, 'dishonest according to the standards of ordinary people', an objective test. That's where the bar should be, but unfortunately this bill, whilst purporting to act on wage theft, undermines the existing state based wage theft provisions. It's just not good enough.

Labor, on the other hand, is on the side of working Australians and their families. While the government is trying to make it look like they have got a plan that will help workers in Australia, Labor actually has a secure jobs plan released by the Labor leader in recent weeks. An Albanese Labor government is on the side of workers and working families and we want a recovery from COVID-19 built on secure work, better conditions and local jobs. We want a recovery built on job security that means that workers can plan for their future and have confidence to spend their money; a crucial part of the recovery. We want workers to be able to get a loan to buy a house and have their super so they can retire with dignity. Our plan will mean that those currently in insecure work will get better minimum pay and conditions and that workers can't be on a rolling fixed-term contract for years. Our plan will give an objective definition of 'casual', not the unbalanced agreement that this bill provides. While the Morrison government is focused on cutting workers' pay and conditions, undermining job security, Labor is focused on delivering good, secure jobs for the reconstruction after COVID-19.

1:22 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor gave the government a very simple test for this legislation. We wanted it to provide secure jobs and decent pay. Well, it fails that test; it fails it dismally. Part of failing that test, as we argued, was their intent to weaken the better off overall test. They have said they will amend the bill with regards to weakening better off overall test because, let's face it, if you weaken a better off overall test, then people are not going to be better off overall. They have said they will think about amending it. They said they were going to do this not because it would make the bill fairer, which is why you'd think they would do it, nor because it would make life better and people would actually be better off overall. No, they have said they're going to do this because it is pragmatic. It is an act of pragmatism.

I'm sure every worker out there will be thrilled to know that their government, the law makers of this country are basing their legislative changes on pragmatism, not on good, decent legislation that will make peoples' lives better. Pragmatic or not, removing those provisions will not make this bill acceptable in any way. Yesterday, we heard the Prime Minister absolutely refuse to guarantee that this legislation will not guarantee that workers will be better off. He would not say that no worker will be worse off. He weasel-worded his way around the issue, conflating job security with job creation.

When I was president of the ACTU I ran an inquiry into the scourge of insecure work because we believed that while you could create jobs, not every job was a decent job. It's not a decent job if it doesn't give you the dignity of decent pay. It's not a decent job if it doesn't ensure secure income week to week, month to month. We have seen the rise in Australia of insecure work, and that inquiry that we ran at the ACTU showed just how perilous insecure work is. Casualisation is part of it, yes, but there are also private contractors, short-term contracts, zero-hour contracts, single-client contracts for tradies. I don't know if anyone on that side of the House could actually know what it's like to have to try to live a life of insecurity, a life of anxiety, but that's what insecure work delivers for a large proportion of our workforce.

The ACTU inquiry uncovered an underbelly of our workforce that live incredibly anxious lives. I would like to share with the House some examples of what it's like to live with insecure work. One woman who gave evidence to the inquiry was a piece worker. Now piece workers receive pieces of material from companies that they then have to sew and put together and make garments. This worker, Mrs Phan, told us she got paid a pittance in terms of what these dresses and clothing items that she made were actually sold for in the shops. Sometimes it was hundreds of dollars difference for a single item. She was set KPIs to make them. If she didn't meet those KPIs she wouldn't get paid. If she made a mistake, she would be charged, she would be penalised the retail price of that garment—not the minuscule hourly rate that she was being paid for making that garment. She told us that sometimes, to meet the KPIs, she would work all night, she would sew all night, until she was exhausted. When the commissioners asked her how did she get the strength and the energy to do that, do you know what she said? She said the thing that drives her is fear—fear of not getting paid, fear of not making those KPIs. The driver behind her work was fear.

We heard stories from people who worked for cable TV installers who once would have been employees with sick pay, holiday pay, with all the benefits that come from a good job. But they were sold a story of becoming a self-employer, of getting your own ABN, having your own life and being flexible. 'Life could be a pleasure.' 'You could work when you wanted to.' But they were sold a story that wasn't true. A lot of these tradies told me they had to borrow money from the company to buy the truck and all the equipment to put the cable TVs up. They only had one client, and that client set terrible contracts for them, cruel contracts where they had to meet daily KPIs—again—for the number of things they installed. If they didn't meet those, they didn't get paid. If they were sick, they would have to find somebody else to do their workload for that day. They would get harsh penalties. There were harsh penalties for wanting to get out of the contract, so they were stuck. Their lives were anything but better. I know such contractors aren't covered by this legislation, but I am trying to paint for this House what life is like out there for a huge proportion of our workforce in insecure work.

University lecturers who've signed hundreds of contracts throughout their lives never once being offered permanent tenure. TAFE workers who get employed from March to the end of October, which is the academic year, never being able to accrue entitlements like sick leave and holiday pay and even maternity leave. Call centre workers who once used to be employed but were sacked and then offered their jobs back, exactly the same jobs, but they would have to rent the desk, rent the phone, rent the computer and all the equipment that once was provided as part of a good, secure job. Of course they got no superannuation, no sick leave, no paid holidays. Or not being able to say no to a shift as a casual worker because you're frightened you won't get a shift next week. This means you have to work whenever the boss offers you a job; you're sitting by the phone waiting for that call. You miss out on birthday parties. You miss out on your kids' sporting events. You miss out on family gatherings. You miss birthdays, because you're too scared to say no to a shift. I had one young man tell me that he took his girlfriend away for a weekend for her birthday. He said no to some shifts and, consequently, he didn't receive any shifts from his employer for a whole month, purely as a punitive measure. This is what life is like when you have insecure work. You sometimes have to work three jobs just to make a living. There are such things as zero-hour contracts in this country where you can't get three jobs because you sign a contract to say you will wait for a shift to come from that one employer, a shift that may or may not come. You can't get a loan for a car. For many people, if you don't have a car, you don't have a job. And then of course there is the gig economy.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate will resume at a later hour. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.