Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


Wages and Cost of Living

5:01 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

At the request of Senator Gallagher, I move:

That the Senate—

(a) notes:

(i) the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics wages data show that real wages went backwards by $700 over the last year,

(ii) the 2021-22 Budget reveals real wages will go backwards over the next four years, and

(iii) the cost of housing, petrol, childcare and healthcare continue to rise, putting additional pressure on Australians' household budgets; and

(b) agrees that the Prime Minister is out of touch with the reality that Australians face every day due to his Government's mismanagement of the economy over eight long years in government, given that real wages are going backwards while costs of living continue to rise.

I rise to speak on this very important motion from Senator Gallagher today. After eight long years of this government—three terms, three prime ministers and three deputy prime ministers—Australian workers and families are asking themselves: 'What has this government done to help the cost of living over the last eight years? Are my wages going up enough to cover that rising cost of living? Are my wages going up at all under the Morrison government? Am I going to be better off under another term of this government?' The Morrison government want people thinking about the cost of living as they look to the next election. Well, we want them to be thinking about that too because you cannot think about the cost of living and how people cope without talking about wages as well. Under this government we have seen eight long years of stagnant wages, eight long years of wages not keeping up with the cost of living and eight long years where it has become harder and harder for people to make ends meet.

The government have admitted in their own budget and their own projections that they will not deliver real wages growth before 2025. That is what we can expect from another term of this lot—no hope of wages going up. In fact, under this government, workers will continue to be thousands of dollars a year worse off. Research by the McKell Institute shows that the average Australian worker would be $250 a week better off under a Labor government—$254 a week, to be precise. That's over $13,000 a year for families, or $13,000 a year worse off under the Morrison government. If this government wants to run an election campaign on the cost of living then bring it on. This is the number that Australians will remember, because there is absolutely no hope of keeping up with the rising cost of everything under this government when you have $13,000 a year less in your pay packet.

But low wages are not the only problem. Under the Morrison government, the cost of living is going up. The gap between how much you earn and what you're paying for everything is increasing. Prime Minister Morrison has implored voters to pick the team with the right track record at the next election. You may never hear me say this again in this chamber, but on this question he is right. We have all seen the track record of this government. In the past year, wages have gone backwards by $700 and, during the same time, petrol has gone up by $900. You do the math and see what is happening to the average household out there in our country. In my home city of Melbourne, petrol prices are 23 per cent higher than they were a year ago, and of course that gets even worse as you get out to regional Victoria and regional Australia. Under this government, petrol prices have gone up, prices in general have gone up and wages have gone down. This is the track record of the Morrison government: petrol prices skyrocketing, real wages going down, working families going backwards.

It's not just petrol prices that are unaffordable under this government. Let's talk about housing costs and the housing crisis. Across this country, workers who have jobs are still not earning enough to find decent housing. One of the many aged-care workers who has bravely spoken out about their wages and the impact on the housing situation is Sherree. I've told Sherree's story a few times in this place, because it's a story that cuts pretty deep and it's a story that is echoed across our country. Sherree has worked in aged care for 20 years, but she is contracted to work only 16 hours a fortnight. While she consistently works more than that, those hours are not guaranteed and her wages are low—close to the minimum wage. That means she can't convince a real estate agent to give her a lease and she can't convince a bank to give her a home loan. She is forced to live in temporary accommodation, in a caravan park, and she has noticed that in the caravan park she lives in there are seven other aged-care workers who are providing essential service to our community and who are in exactly the same situation that she is—they are on low wages, with no prospect of a wage rise under this government, and stuck in short-hour, insecure jobs. They are locked out of secure housing because, under this government, they don't have good, secure jobs with decent wages.

There is a crisis of insecure work in this country. It's a crisis that is driving wages backwards at the same time as the cost of living is going up. It's a crisis that this government not only have no plan for but don't even admit is real. The Senate Select Committee on Job Security has heard about this crisis of insecure work across the country, from workers across a range of industries and a range of regions. Workers have told us about their struggles with low wages, with not getting enough hours of work and with having to face the rising cost of living on top of that job insecurity.

Of course, there are government senators serving on this committee—government senators who have sat there, as I have, and listened to the stories of these workers, who have bravely told us about what it's really like to have an insecure job with low wages. What is the government's response to this, when evidence of the crisis of insecure work is right in front of their eyes? The government senators on this committee wrote in their dissenting report that it is 'a Labor lie that job insecurity is an issue in this nation'—a Labor lie. Well, tell that to workers like Sherree who are struggling on short-hour, insecure jobs with low pay that just doesn't cover the cost of everything they need in order to provide for themselves, to make ends meet. The government persists in the idea that job insecurity is a Labor lie, even when the evidence is right in front of their eyes, even when workers are literally telling their stories about it to these government senators.

This is a government that cannot admit that job insecurity even exists. This government is seriously out of touch. Even this week we've heard Morrison government ministers in the other place call issues of job insecurity in labour hire 'made-up issues'. Minister Fletcher thinks that labour hire workers getting paid less than their co-workers doing the same job is a made-up issue. Well, perhaps Minister Fletcher should have a chat to his colleagues in this chamber, Senator Canavan and Senator Small, both of whom attended the committee hearings earlier this year, where we heard from the labour hire workers who are paid less for doing the same work.

We heard from Mr Chad Stokes, who lives in Rockhampton, and who has worked in the coalmining industry for 10 years, but for the past seven years he has been employed as a casual labour hire worker. Mr Stokes told our Senate committee: 'I work the same roster and shift as the permanent workers on my crew, but I have no job security, I get paid less …' Once again, even when this government come face-to-face with the stories of real workers, they still deny reality. Workers are sick of this government ignoring the real issues that they're facing. They are sick of seeing this government with its eyes shut and its fingers in its ears, pretending insecure work just doesn't exist. Workers know that if this government can't even admit that there's an issue then they can't be trusted to come up with a plan to fix it.

The Morrison government have no plan to fix insecure work in this country. They have no plan to deliver good, secure jobs that pay enough for workers to afford the rising cost of living. They have no plan to ensure working families can make ends meet. Instead, they come to this place totally divided, unable to decide which way is up on any given day, let alone how to move forward. This government still have another week left in parliament for this year, so they still have a chance to come back here and tell us exactly how they plan to fix the crisis of insecure work, how they plan to fix the flat wages that Australians have been suffering under eight years of this government. How do they plan to deal with rising petrol prices? How do they plan to deal with getting wages moving? I encourage the government to come back to us next week with that plan.

But on our side of the chamber, Labor will not be holding our breath, because the last eight years have shown us that this government does not have any plans to help workers in this country. In fact, this government has admitted, famously, that low wages growth is a deliberate design feature of its economic plan, and has spent the last eight years trying to weaken the power of working people, stopping them from fighting for fair wages, keeping them in insecure jobs, making it harder for workers to actually stand up for themselves and demand better.

But working people in this country are fighting back. They are not taking the complete lack of action from this government lying down. They are joining their unions and taking a stand every single day, standing together and fighting for decent wages and better working conditions. In the last week or so, we have seen that in many workplaces across the country. I give a particular shout out to the workers at Country Road Group—low-paid women workers, many of them casual, who decided to stand up and win proper pay rises and fairer conditions, with no thanks to the Morrison government. Workers have taken it upon themselves to fight against low wages and job insecurity. Labor are on their side, because an Albanese Labor government will deliver a plan for more job security and better pay for working Australians. We will legislate same job, same pay, and we will make sure that there is a proper pathway for casual working into jobs that are permanent and more secure. Labor is always on the side of working people, and a Labor government will always put good, secure jobs at the heart of everything we do. There is no future for this country if we do not have a plan for good, secure jobs, and there is no plan for good, secure jobs under the Morrison government.


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