Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 April 2020


Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Payments and Benefits) Bill 2020, Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Bill 2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2019-2020; Second Reading

6:12 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I want to explain what today means for casual workers—casual workers in sectors like hospitality, where around 80 per cent of the workforce is casual. Last month, as we all know, the hospitality sector in this country essentially shut down overnight. This is a sector that employs a huge number of Australians—nearly a million workers. It employs permanents as well as casuals: women and men, young and old, people just starting out and people with families to support. It employs Australians and it employs people who've come from overseas to work and study for a few years in the hope of making a better life. For so many hospo workers, the JobKeeper package is great news. It is because of the work of the union movement and Labor working together and lobbying for this wage subsidy that hundreds of thousands of workers can have their jobs and incomes protected in this sector, along with many millions more workers around the country.

This bill offers hope. Because of unions and Labor, hundreds of thousands of permanent hospo workers will feel safer in coming months than they feel right now, today. And for casual workers who have been with the same employer for 12 months, today's bill offers real hope too. But let's face it: sectors like hospitality have been built on the backs of casual workers and migrant workers for years. Hospo is a sector where people move from casual job to casual job to make ends meet. There are casual workers in hospitality who have been working in the sector for five, 10 or 15 years, working 30, 40, 50 hours a week and more. They've been supporting themselves and their families on this work, but right now, today, they've been employed with their current employer for less than 12 months. Those workers are excluded from this wage subsidy package. That is a real shame. With no amendment to this bill to include them, these workers will be left behind.

I'm talking about people like Madison, a casual supervisor in hospitality, who says: 'As a casual hospo worker I live week to week. I have no long-term financial stability. I don't know when I'll be able to get a job again.' I'm talking about casual hospo workers like Peter, who says: 'I'm now in the position where I can either pay another week of rent or buy food and other supplies.' So not only were casuals the first workers to be laid off in this crisis, and not only were they then told by the government that they should have saved enough on their minimum-wage jobs to prepare for this pandemic, but now over a million casual workers across Australia won't qualify for the government's wage subsidy. If we want to save jobs in this country through this crisis, we need to accept the reality that one in four Australians are casuals. Casual workers need to put food on the table too, they need to pay the rent too, they need to support themselves and their families too, and they need to stay with their employers through this crisis just as much as the next person.

The same goes for hundreds of thousands of temporary migrant workers. Think about the thousands of chefs in Australia who have come here on skilled working visas. Their jobs have been shut down overnight. They don't qualify for the JobKeeper payment, and they also don't qualify for a Centrelink jobseeker payment. How are they meant to survive? How are the hundreds of thousands of international students who came here to work and study in Australia meant to survive? What about the refugees on bridging visas who have lost their jobs, or people on working holiday visas who have lost their jobs? Many of these workers have absolutely no way of getting home. They have no way to travel back to their home country. They are trapped in Australia. They are here with us in this global pandemic. These are the people who pick our food on farms across the country. These are the people who make food in our restaurants. These are the people who wash dishes, back of house, in restaurants and cafes. These are the people who deliver food around our cities. These are the people who are the backbone of life in this country today. Now the government is confirming that they're not eligible for this wage subsidy, and they're not eligible for unemployment benefits either. According to this government, they should just go home.

This is the message from Scott Morrison to migrant workers in Australia today: 'We invited you here. We wanted you here to pay your tuition fees. We wanted you here to wash our dishes, to cook our food and to deliver our food. We wanted you here to pay taxes, but now we want you to go home. Go home when you can't get a flight. Go home when borders are closed. Go home when it's not safe to do so.' This is not right. It is just not right. I'm talking about people like Santiago, a hospo worker who has been in Australia for three years. He said: 'I've lost my job. This is real. I have to pay rent. I can't go back to my own country.' I'm talking about people like Neil, an international student, who said: 'I am so stressed, and I am so scared. I feel I've got nowhere to go to ask for help. I just want to be treated like other citizens since I have been paying tax and enormous school fees in Australia for over two years.' Their situation, like that of so many other workers around Australia, is dire, and they need support now.

Let's be clear: workers who are in desperate need today are going to miss out on this wage subsidy. As the Prime Minister often likes to remind us, Australia is the country of the fair go. Well, these workers are calling on the government to give them a fair go. We're all in this together, so let's stand with them and give them the support that they need. Let's make sure that no worker is left behind. I foreshadow that I'll be moving the second reading amendment circulated in my name.


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