Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill 2017; Second Reading

12:55 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

to make a decision, taking what we consider to be an absolutely flawed position. Senator Williams says that we established it, and that's true. The Fair Work Act was voted on in this parliament—and supported by you, too, Senator Williams, I must say, and I thank you for that. It was to replace Work Choices. So let's just understand the low floor that the Fair Work Act was replacing. For those who might have forgotten Work Choices, it was a system where—don't worry about enterprise agreements—we were going back to an individual bargaining system, where it was take it or leave it. That is not too different to many circumstances that we're faced with now, but, as an individual, you were told to absolutely take it or leave it under Work Choices. We saw, as a result of that, penalty rates basically disappear in all those Work Choices agreements.

So the government's finally getting their way: they are clawing back penalty rates; they want penalty rates to be less. We've heard the Prime Minister say that he supports the decision of the Fair Work Act to start reducing penalty rates for some people in some industries. We think that's the thin end of the wedge. It will continue to happen.

The government will have an opportunity, in this bill, to actually protect those penalty rates—if it wants to protect working people in this country. We know that around 700,000 people, all low-paid workers, are likely to be affected by this decision, and the government has an opportunity to support the amendments that I understand we'll be moving in the committee stages of this bill to protect those penalty rates—to put them back; to acknowledge that the Fair Work Commission has got it wrong in this instance.

We'll hear lots of squawking about, 'You've got to accept the independent umpire's decision'—as if that's what they've always done. Well, we say: when they get it wrong, that's what we're here to do, as legislators—to fix those wrong decisions. But when those over there didn't like the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal's decision, not only did they rush in here a bill to overturn that decision; they then abolished the whole tribunal! We see the crocodile tears from the government; we hear them saying, 'You should accept the decisions of independent tribunals,' but their track record has been not just to rush legislation in to overturn decisions they didn't like but to abolish the whole tribunal.

We say with absolute confidence that we don't believe that the lowest-paid people in this country should be punished by having their penalty rates cut, and this government has an opportunity to do something about it. They're the bills that we should be dealing with. We should be dealing with bills that are fixing the exploitation that is allowed under the Fair Work Act—the exploitation not only of vulnerable workers but often of workers who are very highly skilled, in highly unionised areas, because the tools that are at the employers' disposal now are so far weighted in favour of employers against employees that the objects of the act are failing. They are fundamentally failing.

We don't have a system which is providing fair and just outcomes. We don't have a system that's encouraging people to negotiate agreements in good faith to improve productivity—which is, by the way, at an all-time high. We don't have an act and a system that's encouraging those things to happen. So I wait. I think it'll be a forlorn hope, but I do wait in hope that the government will start bringing those sorts of constructive bills—bills that work and improve the lot and the working conditions of the low-paid workers in this country.


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