Monday, 22 February 2021
Matters of Public Importance
Who else, Senator Scarr? Well, I believe Maurice Blackburn. Maurice Blackburn, a law firm that bills itself as the friend of the worker, as the industrial relations experts, as the labour lawyers—and you can write that in two ways and still mean the same thing! Maurice Blackburn was found to have underpaid wages for hundreds of its junior employees. I don't cast stones. I don't call it wage theft. I say maybe we've got a systemic problem. Maybe we've got a problem where our awards system is actually so complex that the largest most sophisticated human resource systems in Australia cannot get it right. And we expect small businesses to, where the human resource department is one person—it's the husband or the wife, the brother or the sister. It's the employer who's handling three different parts of the business. They're not departments; they're individuals. They're individuals struggling to keep up with a system that is extraordinarily complex.
Are companies that do the wrong thing a target for this government? Absolutely. This government is actively working to strengthen protections for employees, to strengthen criminal offences for dishonest and systematic underpayments of one or more employees. We're increasing penalties—four years imprisonment in fact. That is a pretty significant penalty in anyone's book, with $1.11 million worth of fines—again, a very significant penalty in anyone's book. We're increasing the maximum civil penalties for underpayment. We're introducing new prohibitions to stop employers advertising jobs with pay rates below national minimum wages and clarifying that the courts can make adverse publicity orders where appropriate. But Labor are not going to support this. Why? They might say, 'Oh, it doesn't go far enough.' Fine. They need to mollify their union mates. That's all well and good. But these changes directly impact the wellbeing of employers across Australia in a system that is undoubtedly overly complex.
Again, I ask all senators to think about those mums and dads, those small-business owners, those single employees who have to operate in this environment, an environment of extraordinary complexity, an environment where the likes of Maurice Blackburn, the labour lawyers, cannot get this right.