Senate debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020


7:42 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Christmas season is nearly here. Of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Australians will be buying gifts online this year. Many will be using Amazon Australia for the first time, a company with an extremely concerning record on taxation, environmentalism and workplace rights. In 2019, Amazon's retail arm made $562 million in Australia but only paid $2.5 million in income tax for that year—that's an income tax rate of 0.4 per cent. At the same time, the personal net worth of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, was a whopping $185 billion. It's disgusting that any person should earn so much, while his company fails to contribute to taxes around the world. It's worse that billionaires like Jeff Bezos have earned so much during COVID, while our income for the community's hospitals, education and security misses out.

The company's record on workplace rights is also deeply alarming. Warehouse workers across Europe were shocked to learn last week that Amazon had hired the notorious Pinkerton agency to gather intelligence on union activities, including going undercover as spies on Polish warehouses. In the United States, Amazon released a training video to managers teaching them how to identify warning signs of union activity. Workers have been sacked for speaking out about company failings surrounding COVID-19. This kind of Big Brother behaviour has no place in modern society. And this grubby company should be held to account for their practices.

Amazon's reliance on insecure work is another deeply concerning issue. Currently, the SDA and their state secretary in New South Wales, Bernie Smith, is supporting an Amazon worker who will soon be in the Federal Court pursuing their rights. Amazon led one of their labour hire employees to believe that, because of her diligent work, she would become a permanent employee of the company, directly employed by Amazon. Then she told Amazon that she was pregnant. She said that she would be giving birth by Christmas—something that should be a joyous time for a young mother. But, of course, suddenly the job disappeared. Amazon will say it was not about that; they will say it is about some other flimsy excuse, but we do know the truth. Unionised workplaces don't get away with this. That's why these companies resort to casualisation and anti-union behaviour.

Amazon, of course, has big ambitions in Australia. They plan to make $23 billion a year in retail revenue from their Australian operations by the end of this decade. They will be larger than Qantas, Lendlease and Macquarie Group and almost the size of Telstra. But we know their business model—dodge paying tax, bust up the workers' voice, sack any staff who raise concerns and pollute the environment. This is why I am urging others, including politicians here, to join unionists, the Transport Workers Union and the shop assistants union, religious figures and activists around the world to support a campaign called Make Amazon Pay.

Make Amazon Pay is an international movement to ensure that Amazon does the right thing by communities and its employees. This movement says that Amazon can absolutely afford to pay its fair share in Australian taxes; Amazon can absolutely afford to pay its workforce appropriately, including sick leave and adequate breaks; and Amazon has no right to import anti-union activities, American activities, into its business-community-busting strategies—a rapacious business model that puts profits over people. When it comes to workers' wages, Amazon rips them off. When it comes to owner-operators and contractors, Amazon rips them off. Amazon is one big rip-off.

The Morrison government can make a difference right now by legislating for rights for contract labour and digital taxation. The choice for the government is whether they stand with businesses that pay their taxes and pay their workers or whether they stand by rip-off merchants like Amazon. It's time to make Amazon pay. (Time expired)