Thursday, 18 March 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading
In the remaining five minutes in my contribution to this debate on the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021 I want to focus on the elements of the bill that Labor finds unpalatable—well, we find the whole bill unpalatable—particularly the casual worker clause. Seriously, I recall the Attorney-General saying at the start of this conversation that this was about making it fair for workers. It seemed to me at that point that the Morrison government had recognised that workers on the frontline during the pandemic—aged-care workers, early childhood educators, cleaners, security officers, paramedics and a whole lot of people—had very precarious employment. Many were employed as casuals and many had less than full-time work.
We've seen that with security officers in charge of our hotel quarantine. I thought at that point there was some hope that the Morrison government—once and for all—was going to fix up the casual worker clause. But, sadly, I've been mistaken. Disappointingly, so have thousands and thousands of workers across Australia, who saw the opportunity that the Morrison government might fix this and fix their employment. Sadly, if this bill goes through this place today, each and every one of those Morrison government senators and MPs who vote for this bill, along with whoever supports them from the crossbench, will be the ones who condemn Australian workers—casuals in particular—to continued insecure employment and continuing in not knowing how many hours a week they're going to get. They can get a text message from their employer, saying, 'Come to work,' or, 'Don't come to work'.
This is not a respectful way to treat workers. It is time in this country—and we like to pride ourselves on saying we're a fair country—that we treated the lowest-paid in our community with fairness, with respect and with dignity. Today I would urge those on the crossbench who, from all accounts in the media, have yet to make up their minds that it's not too late to do the right thing by Australian workers. Do you know what? Bosses will survive this—they will. Their businesses are not going to crash to the wall because they have to give permanent employment to casuals after a period of time.
At the moment, what's being proposed by the Morrison government—and it's a sham—is that you can be made permanent after six months. But if the boss doesn't do it you have no recourse; there's no recourse for you to go to a court and argue in a fair way to get a fair go. In this place today we have the opportunity within our hands to fix life for casual workers, to fix it once and for all and to make it secure. Those people who took this country forward during the pandemic deserve at least that.
There are a lot of other things wrong with the bill, but in my experience as a union official what stands out to me is seeing women scraping by, looking after families, not knowing from week to week what their take-home pay will be. We know that in this country there are way too many children living in poverty. If the Morrison government agree to this casual clause today, and if those on the crossbench agree with them, they will be condemning a generation of children to poverty. I urge them to take a long, hard look at this and change it.
We want fairness. That's where this debate started—with trying to make the pandemic better for employers. The trade union movement agreed at that time to some temporary changes, but now it seems we're trying to lock those changes in forever. That is not on. I say to the government: if you do that in here today the Australian public will punish you at the voting box, and you will deserve to be punished for condemning low-paid workers to insecure work forever and a day. It is not on. Do the right thing. Do the fair thing. I urge the crossbench not to agree to the amendments or to the bill the government wants to put up today. Listen to the ACTU. Listen to workers out there. There's so much on social media today about people's personal stories, about how life is so hard for them. Don't do this to yet another generation of workers.