Thursday, 18 March 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading
As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I say: what a mess! Industrial relations in Australia is a mess. But there has been unexpected universal agreement that the real problem is the Fair Work Act. The Fair Work Act is the culprit. Union bosses agree with me. Dave Noonan, the national secretary of the CFMMEU, was in my office two days ago, and he agrees with me that it is a mess. He said, 'The Fair Work Act has not protected wages and conditions.' The ACTU's Sally McManus and Michele O'Neil, in my office yesterday, agree with me. Major employer groups agree with me. Small business agrees with me. How the hell can a small-business person and employees, good workers, possibly recognise what their rights and entitlements are? The Gillard-Rudd Fair Work Act has led to union decline, poor business leadership and management and a loss of worker rights. These business and union leaders agreed to an invitation from me to continue this discussion.
As the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021 is, though, we cannot support it. We have many substantive amendments and many technical amendments that will need to be accepted before we can consider this bill. Let's have a look at some key facts. Australia's largest employer of workers is small business—830,000 workers. In Australia we have, across many sectors, 2.5 million casuals, with diverse needs, including flexibility and options. Unions in the private sector now account for just nine per cent of workers. We will protect that nine per cent and we will work for the rest of the 100 per cent and for small business. Remember, only investors, employers and workers create jobs.
We have three aims in addressing this bill: to protect honest workers, to protect small business and to restore our productive capacity in Australia. We want jobs, confidence, certainty, security, workers' rights, protections and fairness. We've invited more than 80 groups to come and talk to us. We've invited them in writing. We've talked to more than 100 groups, some twice. We are listening widely. We've had ideas from the ACTU, unions and employers. We asked, 'What about small business?' There was a hushed silence. I want to point out something else, too. We have rejected the government's Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity No. 2) Bill 2019. We were slammed in the media and slammed by the government, and now employers are coming to us and saying that we did the right thing. In the past we also took the other view, and we supported the ABCC, the ROC and the ensuring integrity bill No. 1. We don't take sides. We get the facts.
There are five key areas in this bill. I will talk first about casuals. Everyone has ignored this problem for six years—Labor and Liberal. Simon Turner is now totally and permanently disabled. Others in the Hunter Valley were crushed emotionally, and some crushed physically—discarded. Stuart Bonds came to their rescue in the Hunter. I grew up in the Hunter. I've worked as an underground coalface miner and as a mine manager. I worked with the Hunter Valley CFMEU in the 1980s as a member and then as a manager and argued with them, and we respected each other.
Coming back to the present, I've pushed for justice and entitlements for Simon Turner for 21 months and will continue pushing. He suffered under a dodgy initial employment breach of award, then under an enterprise agreement that came out of a faulty process. Yet the Hunter Valley CFMEU approved that enterprise agreement and surrendered rights to complain. Joel Fitzgibbon, the Labor member, ignored six letters from Simon begging for help and then he misrepresented me and the problem in the Hunter. The Labor Party has failed. I acknowledge that Senator Sheldon has done some work in that area, but he has come up against a brick wall. The Liberals and Nats have failed, although I acknowledge the Attorney-General and Senator Marise Payne for doing something there. Senator Murray Watt has blown in from Queensland and now mentions the Hunter Valley and Newcastle. Where was he for 21 months? Where was he for the last six years? The union has failed, the Liberal and Nats New South Wales ministers have failed, the employer groups—the New South Wales Minerals Council and the Minerals Council of Australia—have failed; they're not even interested. But there is a shining light: Alex Bukarica, the CFMEU mining division's legal counsel. I applaud his courage and integrity, because he has acknowledged my words about what's happening in the Hunter and how the workers have been sold out.
Let's talk about the Hunter Valley CFMEU. Back in the eighties, when I was a mine manager, they started casuals and then became an employer. They had good intentions but they became an employer. Later they became a major shareholder in TESA and negotiated enterprise agreements for TESA. The Hunter Valley CFMEU made big money when it sold its company to TESA. It reportedly sold enterprise agreements with shelf companies. It approved enterprise agreements that exploited miners. It facilitated, negotiated, approved and recommended more than 300 enterprise agreements containing casuals, yet the Black Coal Mining Industry Award has no casuals working in production, only permanents. The Hunter Valley CFMEU enabled casuals, drove casualisation and now denigrates casuals, while not protecting them in their claims of injuries and serious safety violations. I have lost respect for the Hunter Valley branch of the CFMEU. It also shows that the industrial relations system is broken.
Let's look at the bigger picture. The CFMEU fought for amalgamation and now the mining division wants to pull out. What's going on? The CFMEU funded GetUp, whose main campaign is to stop coalmining and destroy jobs. Look at the Heydon royal commission findings on the CFMEU, the HSU scandal—stealing from their own members who are some of the lowest paid workers in the country—the SDA doing dodgy enterprise agreements and selling out to multinationals and the AWU doing the same. Under the Fair Work Act the unions have failed; workers have lost their protections. In Queensland, the CFMEU, in the mining division, has been admirably honest. Shane Brunker in Townsville said they have to start doing better with casuals. Jim Lambley, union delegate and vice-president in the CFMEU mining division in the 1990s, said then that the union was being overtaken by politics and personal agendas and needed to get back to service. Speaking of service, a union growing rapidly in membership, despite Annastacia Palaszczuk trying to pull them back, is the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland, which focuses on service and lower fees.
How did casuals start? Small business uses casuals quite well and many employees want to be casuals, hundreds of thousands of them, because today workers want options and flexibility. Small business needs options and flexibility—everyone won on that one. Small business needs a big cut in paperwork. Then the grubby, globalist BHP—with its history of managerial incompetence in the coal sector, laughed at in coal by suppliers, workers, unions, labour hire and its own workforce—adopted casuals as a way of getting around this. We've now seen managers in many industries focusing not on making work easier or more productive but on complying with rules. Australian business leadership is poor. It doesn't listen, it doesn't connect; instead, it goes on rules.
The root cause of Australia's industrial relations law complexity—and the industrial relations club live off this monster—is the Fair Work Act. It's the core problem, not the solution. Lawyers, union businesses driving a personal agenda, executives driving a personal or career agenda, industry bodies, HR consultants, some union bosses and industry groups work together, with conflicts of interest. The IR club serves vested interests to get money and power. The IR club is about power with little or no accountability. The IR club makes workers unproductive and strips entitlements. It is a parasite on workers and employers. The complexity makes it easy for the IR club to rule. The complexity makes it difficult for small business and workers to know their rights. It hurts, supresses and harms workers. It robs young people of a fair go to buy a home. This is the core industrial relations problem. Michael Wright, the senior ETU lawyer, and Alex Bukarica, the CFMMEU mining division lawyer, said that we need fewer lawyers involved in IR, and employers agree.
Laws are written to cover the one per cent of bad employers and workers. The Fair Work Act is based on what we don't want, not what we want. We need a positive approach instead, based on needs and principles. We need to focus on the 99 per cent good and have severe penalties for the bad. Long term we need to restore the workplace relationship between employers and employees. That is the core relationship.
With this new bill we can witness our country being squeezed in the IR club's vice. Whichever way we go, there are hazards. Doing nothing is not an option, because it will throw potentially tens of thousands of people out of work. Doing something is difficult, but at least it will give coalminers a pathway to permanent work. We need to make the best of this bill to make sure it protects workers and small business.
The first section is casuals. Casuals are considered in three parts. The pathway to permanency, the conversion, is welcome. Thanks to our work in the Hunter Valley and the government listening, there is now a pathway to permanency in the coalmining industry. The award didn't have it. Remember that there are diverse needs—mums and dads; corner stores; small businesses; McDonald's, with 110,000 largely casual employees; mining; retail; and hospitality. Employees and employers today want flexibility and options. Workers need to apply for the conversion in small business to take the load off small business paperwork.
The definition of a casual is now tight and strong. We were considering making minor modifications. We've one minor modification in the amendments. It's very difficult here to make sure that there aren't future unintended consequences. The government has agreed to our amendment that we will have a review in 12 months.
The third aspect of casuals is the offsetting section. That's to prevent double-dipping. Don't listen to the scare tactics. Double-dipping is when someone is paid a casual loading instead of entitlements and then claims entitlements and are paid twice. No Australian would say that's right. No fair dinkum Australian would say that. This offset clause makes that clear, but the offset says that you still get entitlements. It just means that you can't be paid twice. Protections are built into this amendment in the bill. We checked. It protects workers' rights. We checked the government's application to the High Court. We checked that workers' rights remain intact regarding pay rates. Any legal cases underway continue and are not excluded by this. Don't listen to the lies.
The second section is compliance. We agree with the stiff penalties for deliberate systemic wage theft. We also acknowledge that we are working and discussing with the government a moratorium for small business. That's too complex for this bill, so we're not interested in pushing that today.
The third section is greenfields. We want to cut the maximum duration for an EA from eight years, which the government wants, to six years. That's based on project length evidence. We want to protect workers during those six years by making sure that wage adjustments are based on the percentage increase of the national minimum wage. That's fair. We want to raise the lower limit of projects that are considered large from $250 million to $500 million. We want to remove ministerial discretion to regulate. In future we want the government to provide more opportunities for Australian-owned construction companies. We will be watching to make sure that the government doesn't open up to foreign workers, just like Labor did under the Rudd-Gillard-Shorten years.
The fourth section is enterprise agreements. The government has already agreed to our demand to drop the changes to the BOOT—flat; it did it in the early days. We want to include three months notice before the expiry of zombie agreements. We are making sure that employee protections are preserved, as they are in this section on enterprise agreements. Simplified additional hours agreements, which are common in many awards already, help business recovery. We want to make part-time permanent workers more secure. We want to give them more secure work. We want to make sure there is conversion after 12 months to regular hours. If they have had a simplified additional hours agreement for 12 months then they should be incorporated in regular standard hours. We want safety to be considered in flexible work arrangements. We want a review after 12 months, as I said, and the minister to report to parliament.
This bill is before us. We need to protect small business and honest workers. Governments and the parasitic industrial relations club leeches need to get the hell out of the way so workers can be protected and productive. We need the productive workers in our society to get a fair go. We invite all parties to come together and engage in a bipartisan approach based on principles and workers' needs. Workers have diverse needs: flexibility and options, a fair go, protection and security. Employers have diverse needs: flexibility and options, which will enable them to employ more people. Only investors, employers and workers create jobs.
We need to restore the core workplace relationship between employers and employees. We need to simplify and clarify the industrial relations act—hopeless. We need to do a very good job on this so that it protects and supports workers and gives workers and small businesses flexibility—a system that exposes and holds poor managers accountable and which rewards honest and fair managers and honest and fair workers.
One Nation will work with all parties and the government to support workers and small business in the future, once this bill is out of the way and we can get on with the real job of fixing this. We will continue to work for our three aims in supporting Simon Turner. I'll just mention that if we do nothing then tens of thousands of people will be out of work. (Time expired)