Senate debates

Monday, 22 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Job Security

4:18 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

This is a very important motion for the Senate to be discussing today as we seek to rebuild and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. From an economic point of view, what the coronavirus pandemic has shown us is that insecure work can have a significant impact not only on our economy, not only on our society, but also on our public health.

The Morrison government's failure to address job security is giving companies that exploit workers an unfair advantage against honest employees. We know that there are good businesses out there that do the right thing. There are a lot of good businesses that are trying to keep up, but this government's policies have allowed other businesses to exploit workers and undercut good businesses. Not only do the policies of this government hurt workers but they hurt businesses that are doing the right thing.

There are many examples of exploitation of workers in our country and a few come to mind. Of course, wage theft is one of the biggest ways that workers are exploit. The wage theft laws we have in Queensland at the moment were introduced by the Palaszczuk Labor government in its last term of government. They were fought for incredibly hard by the union movement, by young workers. The Young Workers Hub in Queensland did a fantastic job of communicating to young people out there why these wage theft laws were necessary, because time and time and time again we saw that the policies from this government were allowing wage theft to occur in businesses all across Queensland. It was particularly rampant with young workers and particularly rampant in places in South East Queensland, where wage theft went unchecked.

In my previous employment I worked for the AMWU and we had apprentices who had suffered from wage theft. It's a complicated process to go through to get back that money. But the Queensland Labor government's criminalisation of wage theft means that those workers are now protected and those bad businesses are on notice that they cannot get away with wage theft anymore.

The government has introduced a bill that purports to deal with this issue in some sort of way. But, make no mistake about it, the federal government's policies will water down the hard-fought wage theft laws in Queensland, because they're not as strong as the Queensland laws. So when you hear those opposite talk about the fact that they want to introduce laws to criminalise wage theft or do something about wage theft, something they should have done in every other year of their government, be very clear about what these laws will do. If they will water down the hard-fought wage theft laws in Queensland then they're not good enough, and the Senate shouldn't pass them. Those opposite should not try to mislead people in Queensland that their laws are as strong as the ones already in place.

The other form of exploitation that we see most often in Queensland is the use of labour hire to undercut workers' pay. This comes back to this idea that good businesses do the right thing; they employ workers directly and they pay them on a permanent basis. But you've got some businesses out there who, under this government's policies, have seen labour hire as a loophole. Dodgy labour hire companies are used as a loophole to reduce the wages and conditions of hardworking Queenslanders. Businesses that do this get away with it because this government has continually not stood up to those businesses. It has become so rampant that now it is a business model in some parts of Queensland to employ your workforce under labour hire arrangements, sometimes as casual workers, sometimes on short-term contracts. But how can good businesses compete when other businesses are using labour hire arrangements to undercut workers' pay and conditions? Well, they simply can't. And this government has let businesses like that get away with it.

I often hear comments from the various LNP MPs and senators from Queensland in this place and in the House of Representatives come down here and say one thing but, once they get back to Queensland, it's a totally different story Because they have been under pressure from the labour movement and from the Labor Party over the last seven years to do something about labour hire. We had George Christensen out there in 2018 saying that mining companies need to start shifting away from labour hire as unemployment rates plummet or risk being unable to attract workers. He is happy to say something like that when he's standing up in Central Queensland but not happy to come down here and do anything about it. Senator Canavan, we know, has got a real flair for dressing up as a miner and smudging make-up on his face and pretending he cares about the plight of working people. He has said, 'In my short time in politics I have had to fight against 100 per cent FIFO and the increasing casualisation of the industry.' He hasn't fought very hard, because it is still going on. They can make statements like that up in Central Queensland and North Queensland, but, when it comes to being here, it's the policies they implement that are letting companies get away with this exploitation.

Scott Morrison was asked in question time what he thought about these arrangements and whether, if you're working next to someone and doing the same job, you should get the same pay and workplace conditions. But he wasn't really able to answer that question, was he? The first time, he refused to answer the question altogether. The second time, he just said, 'It's complicated.' That's exactly what Christian Porter said last week when he was asked whether gig workers should get the minimum wage: 'It's complicated.' It's too complicated for this government to do the right thing, to step in and protect workers and the good businesses that choose not to exploit them.

We know there have been many examples of exploitation in Far North Queensland and Central Queensland. There was the Operations Services debacle, where BHP literally went out and created a new EBA, got a couple of people in Western Australia to sign up to it, even though it was less than the EBA in Central Queensland, and then sought to apply that EBA, which no-one had ever seen, to the thousands of workers in Central Queensland. And this government's policies have let them get away with it. We know there was a Federal Court case that tried to intervene, to make sure that people who were permanent casuals would have protection under the law. What did the government do? They intervened in the court case, not on the side of the workers but on the side of big businesses and the company that was seeking to exploit workers.

Labor thinks that if you do the same job you should get the same pay. It's pretty simple. I can come in here and say that but the senators opposite cannot. Labor has a policy to make sure that if you do the same job you get the same pay. At the moment, there are too many workers in Australia subject to unfair labour hire practices. They're treated like second-class citizens, with lower wages, worse conditions and no job security. While there are workers who like the flexibility that labour hire provides, often it's not their choice—not their first choice, anyway. Their first choice would be to have job security, to get a good job, to be able to get a mortgage, to plan holidays with their family, to plan for the financial security of their family. Because of this government's policies, they're not able to do that.

Labor in government will legislate to ensure that workers employed through labour hire or other employment arrangements, such as outsourcing, will not receive less pay than workers employed directly. It's a pretty simple idea. Labor's on the side of workers who have been exploited through labour hire under this government's policies.


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