Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Bills

Fair Work Amendment (One in, All in) Bill 2020 [No. 2]; Second Reading

5:10 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that have been allowed to flourish under our existing labour laws. And unfortunately, it is not surprising that this government's flagship policy, the Jobkeeper scheme, has in some cases further exacerbated this inequality and insecurity.

There is no denying Jobkeeper is helping millions of workers and thousands of businesses across Australia to deal with the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19. However Jobkeeper has significant flaws which the government refuses to fix despite its considerable power to do so.

Although the scheme is running considerably under budget, the government remains determined to exclude over 2 million workers, has decided to prematurely cut off workers and educators in the childcare sector and is actually considering Labor's call to reduce the payment for low paid workers.

Even workers who are lucky enough to be eligible for the payment don't have a guarantee they will receive it.

What happens when an employer is registered for Jobkeeper but decides that some of their workers are not eligible and refuses to pay them? What can workers who believe they are eligible do? This is a question many unions have been asked by their members, and one that the Fair Work Commission and the Australia Taxation Office have been asked by thousands of workers across Australia.

The answer is they can do nothing. At the moment, there is no recourse available to these workers. There are no avenues available to workers who wish to challenge decisions made by their employer about eligibility for the Jobkeeper payment.

This is despite the government's 'one in, all in' principle which is supposedly a key feature of the scheme and one that aims to ensure the integrity of the Jobkeeper payment.

The 'one in, all in' principle requires that employers participating in the Jobkeeper scheme must ensure that all eligible workers are nominated for the payment. However, the decision about whether a worker is eligible or not is entirely at the discretion of the employer with no oversight or enforcement.

When the government established the Jobkeeper scheme, they left a gaping hole where support for workers should have been. The government has denied workers the ability, the power and the recourse to challenge decisions that would exclude them from the payment.

The jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission has been limited to cover only a small number of issues. The Australian Taxation Office is only responsible for the administration of the scheme and does not have the power to rule on eligibility disputes. Some workers have been advised to make a tip-off to the ATO if they have any concerns however privacy laws prevent the ATO from providing updates or outcomes as a result of tip-offs, let alone help resolve individual cases.

This has created a very troubling situation, one that continues to leave workers behind. Workers who, if given the opportunity, could legitimately argue that they are entitled to receive the Jobkeeper payment. As there is no formal process for these workers to follow, it is extremely difficult to determine the number of people who have incorrectly been denied access to the Jobkeeper payment. An unknown number of workers have been excluded from financial support they are legally entitled to. We have to ask ourselves whether the government is deliberately hiding the scale of this problem.

Questions have been asked during the Senate COVID-19 committee hearings, there have been reports in the media about well known employers denying their workers access to Jobkeeper. The government is certainly aware of this issue and they have decided not to act.

'One in, all in' could also be taken to mean 'no one left behind', but that is certainly not what we are seeing from this government. Workers are being left behind and that is why I am introducing this bill today. The Fair Work Amendment (One in, All in) Bill 2020 amends the Fair Work Act to give the Fair Work Commission the power to deal with disputes relating to workers' eligibility for the Jobkeeper scheme.

This Bill will allow the Fair Work Commission to deal with disputes about whether a worker of an employer participating in the JobKeeper scheme is eligible for the JobKeeper payment. An application must be made by an employee, an employer, an employee organisation or an employer organisation and the dispute can be dealt with by arbitration, mediation or conciliation.

To the extent it is possible, when dealing with these disputes, the Fair Work Commission must give effect to the "one in, all in" principle and can make orders to this effect including orders:

          This is time limited so the Fair Work Commission cannot make an order on or after the end of the Jobkeeper scheme which is 28 September 2020.

          This is something the government should be fixing, but instead they have turned their back on workers yet again. Denying workers a voice won't make this issue go away.

          This bill will ensure that workers can go to the Fair Work Commission and formally challenge their employers decision to exclude them from the Jobkeeper payment. This bill will give workers a voice and make sure they are receiving the financial support they are legally entitled to.

          There is no excuse, the government's $130 billion scheme is incredibly under budget and it is only supporting half the number of workers the government claimed it would.

          Incredulously, the government's review of the scheme will look at cutting payments for low paid workers, but doesn't appear to be looking at how it can be improved to actually pay the workers it claims to support.

          Between March and April 2020, the number of people who were forced to work fewer hours than usual because there was either no work, or not enough work available almost quadrupled. In April 2020, there were around 5.6 million people who worked fewer than their usual hours.

          As we hurtle towards the September cliff when the government will rip away the financial support so many are relying on, we can certainly expect these numbers to go even higher. For the limited time the Jobkeeper scheme exists, it cannot continue to rob workers of the payments they are entitled to, the payments that workers need to support themselves and their families.

          We must not allow the government to continue its complacency and to deny workers access to legal recourse. This scheme already leaves so many people behind, we cannot stand by as it leaves workers in the lurch.

          I commend the Bill to the Senate.

          I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

          Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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