Senate debates

Thursday, 18 March 2021


Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021; In Committee

12:45 pm

Photo of Ben SmallBen Small (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

to offer that really carefully, on the basis of private consultations that they've been having around Australia with employees, employer associations and unions. This has fallen to those crossbench colleagues who come to this place with an open mind and a motivation to see Australians earn more money and keep more of the money they earn for themselves and for their families. For that, I commend Minister Cash, Minister Birmingham and those other colleagues on the government benches who have recognised those contributions from our crossbench colleagues.

Let's turn to some of the detail that seems to be lost in translation here today. The double dipping of $39 billion in entitlements is an affront to any fair-minded assessment of what it means to do business in Australia today. This is not a liability that is just levelled at big corporations and labour hire firms—and that's certainly what we hear from over there. Instead, it falls to those small businesses, which Minister Cash advocates for so fearlessly on a daily basis. They're the ones who stand to lose their homes with this egregious double dipping on entitlements. You only needed to read the Financial Review just yesterday to hear stories relating to a drycleaner in Melbourne, where a small business owner stands to lose their house with the entitlements that have been rightfully paid to those casual employees who got a 25 per cent loading on the wages that they were paid. These are the sorts of people who the Morrison government stands up for. These are the people who those honourable colleagues sitting on the crossbench are prepared to fight for.

Instead, what do we get from over there? We get what the unions tell them to do, because it's the unions who stand to lose by empowering Australian workers to make their own choices. They put forward this idea of permanent casualisation somehow being illegitimate where a worker so chooses; frankly, we believe in the capacity of Australians to make that choice for themselves, and, in fact, they make that choice for themselves on a daily basis. Nine per cent of private sector employees choose to pay their hard earned money to the union movement. How else could they do it? They go around to industry super funds, as my colleague Senator Bragg pointed out. In fact, by 2030, $30 million a year in donations is likely to flow from the union super funds through to those unions. We're not interested in that; we're interested in ensuring that Australians get the opportunities they deserve, they get rewarded for their effort, and they're incentivised to strive. So far, the track record of the Morrison government speaks very strongly for this.

Our employment numbers show a 5.8 per cent unemployment rate in the Australian economy. But we're not done yet, Senator Rennick. These reforms offer those permanent part-time employees who work in the hospitality, accommodation and food services sectors and the retail sector the opportunity to work more hours, for the very first time, under the protections that permanent employment offers them. Those extra hours would be worked with leave entitlements accruing, with protections from unfair dismissal and with the sorts of protections that we are affording those workers. Instead, with the Labor Party voting against such a sensible, measured, incremental, non-ideological change, the Labor Party seeks to entrench casual employment in the Australian economy. Well, we won't stand for that. That is why this government has sought to expand the flexibility in the Australian workplace relations system that those opposite so fiercely oppose.

We're not solely focused on flexibility and, indeed, offering those casual employees in Australia the ability to convert their employment status for the very first time. We've also focused on the, frankly, broken agreement-making process in this country. With just nine per cent of Australian workers in the private sector choosing to fork out for union membership, as I mentioned, that means that 91 per cent of Australians see no role for the Australian union movement in their workplace. So why is it that the union movement continues to obstruct non-union agreements being moved through the Fair Work Commission? Those very same agreements have put 69 per cent more earnings in the pockets of hardworking Australians. Well, this government is seeking to make changes that expedite that agreement-making process, with 21-day approvals. We've heard the criticism that that is a tick-and-flick exercise. But that fundamentally ignores the fact that the Fair Work Commission, under these sensible reforms, has the capacity to extend the period of approval, where the merits of the case so confirm. However, have we heard a single evidence based, factual reflection on that provision from those opposite? No, we have not.

When we come to wage theft, wage exploitation and underpayment in Australia, we have been clear that the Morrison government will not stand for it—

Senator Pratt interjecting—

The CHAIR: Order, Senator Pratt!

so we have sought to increase the provisions relating to criminal and civil penalties on those employers that do the right thing. I'm sure that's something Senator Pratt would be so proud of, if she could bring herself to support those workers with the Morrison government. For the very first time there would be a criminal penalty, but you have decided to vote against it.

Honourable senators interjecting—

So, at the end of the day, we've got a government that is on the side of those employees who have been exploited, who have been underpaid.


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