Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Workplace Relations

3:24 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Prime Minister (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Sterle today relating to workplace relations.

They said it quite clearly: they will not guarantee individuals won't be worse off. This is the whole strategy of this government—less pay and less job security at the very same time we need to build the confidence of the Australian people to spend and build the economy to make sure that businesses are successful and able to employ hardworking Australians. Don't worry about believing this from me. In 2017, the Reserve Bank said the exact same thing and made it very clear that we have to heed their warning about wages being too low.

Of course, what we hear from the government is more of the same: to turn around and start slashing and burning individuals' rights and individuals' wages and incomes across this country. Let's look at what they're oversighting right at this moment: pre-COVID wage stagnation, and now we see wages' share of national income, for the first time in 50 years, dropping below 50 per cent. What's their answer to workers' rights? You have to look at their history. When it came to casuals in the mines being ripped off, who did they back? The big miners—surprise, surprise, surprise! 'Let's cut workers' rights and let the miners double-dip against those hard workers'—those casual workers who were getting paid up to 40 per cent less than the permanent workers working right beside them. Of course they intervened, because they took the side they always take, against the Australian public and the Australian working community, and backed the side of the ruthless companies that exploit these sorts of workers.

Let's look at another example, Qantas. Do the government intervene in cases of importance, such as when it comes to Qantas? I'll quote Josh Bornstein, who took these people on before during the waterfront dispute. He took legal action to hold them to account when they conspired, using ex-military personnel from our own armed forces, to try to destroy wages in this country. Here is what Josh Bornstein said about the Qantas dispute, in a claim that's now been made on behalf of 2,000 hardworking Australians who worked at Qantas, many of whom worked in the electorate of the Prime Minister—but no noise from him, not a word of support. Josh Bornstein said: 'Any employee in any sector could suffer the same fate. We need to have a conversation in this country about companies like Qantas profiting by cannibalising workers' wages.' So why doesn't the government intervene for those hardworking Australians? Why doesn't the Prime Minister intervene for his own community? Because they're not well paid executives of highly profitable companies.

Of course, what the government has set up is another scenario, with their suggestions on IR and what they should be doing about the BOOT test: agreements that won't last two years but will last way beyond two years, and individual agreements that mean people can be paid less. What choice do you have when the boss says to you: 'Guess what? Take less or I'll outsource you like Qantas. I'll outsource your job to somebody who'll do it if you won't do it'? What choice is that? That's choice at gunpoint. They're economic standover tactics that this government is empowering employers to use. Of course, the government won't intervene in matters that affect the interests of hardworking Australians.

I want to recall a very important comment that was made by Sean, who's a baggage handler who came to this parliament, sat down in the House of Reps and listened to the Prime Minister. He said this in his plea for justice and intervention—I know he's not a big miner, so he doesn't get their ear. He said: 'I have a wife and three young girls. How can I tell my three girls that you can work hard but can be replaced by a company that will pay people less?' Well, this government is actually enshrining it. This government is getting rid of the BOOT test, which says that people cannot be worse off. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.


No comments