Wednesday, 17 March 2021
Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021; Second Reading
As I was saying before we ran into a hard marker earlier today, when I was just getting warmed up, it's no surprise at all to see, under the cover of a pandemic, that the ideologically driven neoliberals have come in here to do the bidding of their corporate masters, and of course the people who are going to wear the pain for this are Australian workers. Before I go to the detail of the bill, let's have a look at where four or five decades of turbocharged neoliberalism has brought us to today. We are cooking the planet. The climate is breaking down around us. We are in the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the Earth. An entire generation of young Australians are being priced out of the great Australian dream of owning their own home. Millions of Australians are unemployed, underemployed or in insecure work, with women, young people and migrant workers bearing the brunt. And instead of working to increase job security, to create more jobs, to lift wages—which is what the government should be doing—they are pushing through a bill that will further entrench insecure work, will suppress wages, will give more power to businesses at the expense of workers and will undermine the role of unions. The neoliberals have an awful lot to answer for.
The pandemic has highlighted the inequality that's been allowed to flourish as a result of neoliberalism and as a result of insecure work in Australia. Casual workers were hit hardest during the pandemic, accounting for about two-thirds of the people who lost their jobs in early 2020. Those casuals who still had a job were amongst the lowest-paid and most-insecure workers, with no access to paid leave entitlements. And we can't forget the role that insecure and casual workers played in spreading COVID-19 across the country, as workers without paid sick leave were forced to choose between their health and their income. Many employers have built insecure work into their business models. While they turn a profit, workers have had no work or income security. The changes in this bill will further entrench insecure work in Australia. They will exacerbate wealth inequality in our country and in our industrial relations system.
I want to quote from Alison Pennington, from the Centre for Future Work, regarding the bill. She says:
Casual work has dominated employment growth in our post-COVID recovery. Between May and November, 62 per cent of all jobs created were casual. That's 400,000 jobs in six months, or 2,200 every day. It's the fastest growth in casual work in our history. What that shows is, first of all, that claims that there is a lack of confidence among employers to engage in hiring casual work is not credible. It also shows that the pandemic is intensifying and entrenching the use of insecure and casual work in the economy.
Instead of passing a bill that will entrench insecure work, reduce wages and increase the power of employers, we need to outlaw insecure work and ensure the right of all workers to a safe, meaningful, well-paid and secure job with good conditions. Those are the things that we should be doing.
I also want to make the point that during the pandemic Australia's billionaires did very, very well indeed, increasing their wealth on average by over 20 per cent in the year that we've been living in a global pandemic, increasing their wealth on average by over 20 per cent when hundreds of thousands of Australian workers lost their jobs, increasing their wealth on average by over 20 per cent while most of the rest of the country had to tighten our belts and do it tough. It's about time that billionaires were forced to make a bigger contribution to government funds so that we can fund the public services, the extent of public services and the quality of public services that Australian people expect from their government. We should be making the billionaires and the big corporations pay their fair share of tax so that we can provide more Australians with a dignified life and with safe and secure work and lift people out of poverty. That's what we should be doing, not bringing legislation like this one into the house.
The definition of 'casual' in this bill will give employers all the power to determine whether a worker is casual and will allow businesses to classify workers as casual at the start of their employment regardless of the number of hours they actually end up working. The bill clarifies that, to avoid any doubt, the question of whether a person is a casual employee is to be assessed on the basis of the offer of employment and the acceptance of that offer, not on the basis of any subsequent conduct of either party. There it is, colleagues: it's in black and white. Not only does this new definition do nothing to prevent the continued abuse of casual workers; it actually facilitates it by allowing businesses to hire workers as casual and give them full-time hours without requiring them to pay entitlements or provide any job security.
This is one of the great challenges facing our country today. But what do you get in this place when the agents of the big corporations and the super wealthy in the Liberal and National parties come into this place? They move legislation like this which will entrench insecure work, suppress wages and continue to ensure that millions of Australians live in poverty, in rental stress or in mortgage stress.
What we should be doing is making sure—and we do have the capacity to do this—that we put in place public policies that lift wages and that reduce and ultimately eliminate the number of Australians in casual and insecure work. We are a rich enough country to make sure that every Australian who wants a decent job can have a decent, safe and dignified job. These are not pipe dreams. These are not pie-in-the-sky philosophies. We are a wealthy enough country to generate full employment.
The number of times I hear the Liberal and National parties come into this place and talk about jobs—well, I've got to say, on their own test they are abject and epic failures. They come in here every day and talk about the importance of jobs. I've been in politics for nearly 20 years, and I've never seen the unemployment rate significantly under five per cent. We know there are large numbers of Australians who simply don't participate in the labour market because they've given up all hope of ever landing a job. We should be aiming unabashedly for full employment, where every Australian who wants to work has a job. Yet we get these hypocrites in here. They come in here every day, thump the tub and talk about jobs.
I say to the government: you've failed your own test. And why have you done that? Because you've deliberately chosen to put in place policies where the number of people who are looking for work far exceeds the number of jobs available, and you've done that in order to drive down wages. It's a simple supply-and-demand equation, and you've done it deliberately. Yet you come in here and you hypocritically bang on about how important jobs are and how jobs are your No. 1 focus. I tell you what: if jobs are your No. 1 focus, I'd hate to see what your No. 5, No. 10 or No. 20 focus issues are, because you've abjectly failed at what you describe as your No. 1 focus—that is, generating jobs in this country.
This legislation will create a new class of de facto casual workers by robbing part-time workers of hours and income security by allowing businesses to effectively treat them like casuals, with the power to increase and decrease workers' hours. The bill introduces simplified additional-hours agreements, which allow part-time workers in industries that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality and retail, to be employed on contracts that offer a guarantee of only 16 hours a week, with their employer able to increase their hours without paying overtime. This applies to 12 modern awards. However, the minister will have the power to make regulations to include or exclude modern awards. Workers will be forced into a false choice: to accept a contract with minimal guaranteed hours and agree to additional hours at lower pay or risk losing the job offer or additional hours to one of the over two million people who are currently unemployed or underemployed. This push from government turns what should be secure, well-paid jobs into insecure work with no guarantee of regular hours or take-home pay.
While we're cooking the planet, while the climate is breaking down around us, while a million species are on the road to extinction in the sixth mass extinction event in the history of our planet, while there is a war on nature, while an entire generation of young Australians is being priced out of the housing market because this government allows the RBA to print hundreds of millions of dollars at a time and bung it into the banks—who, instead of lending it to productive businesses, lend it to housing speculators—while we have millions of Australians in insecure work who are underemployed, many of whom are unemployed, and while all these absolutely solvable social and environmental issues exist, what do the government do? They come in here to do the bidding of their corporate masters. And why do they do that? Because they benefit from the institutionalised bribery of dirty political donations. They know that when their time is up in this place many of them will roll out the revolving door and into cushy, well-paid jobs as CEOs, senior managers and board members of those very same corporations. It is nothing other than blatant corruption; that's what it is. What we're seeing here today is yet another example of the old adage, 'If you want to know what's going on, follow the money,' and of the other adage, 'If you scratch most things in politics, the first thing you will expose is self-interest.'
I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021 on behalf of the many hardworking Tasmanians who are worried about the impact this legislation will have on them and their rights at work. I also wish to highlight the impact this legislation will have on the heroes in our fight against COVID-19: the aged-care and disability-care workers and other frontline health workers. This bill, which has been amply addressed through some of the contributions to this debate, does absolutely nothing to address issues around job security and exploitation—in fact, it does quite the opposite. This bill does nothing to address wage insecurity. This bill seems to assume that employers are not already casualising permanent work. This bill assumes that employers need even more flexibility with rosters. It says nothing about the certainty and security our key health and social services workers need and deserve. And all this is being done by this government, who, every time they have an opportunity, attack workers' rights, entitlements and security. They've done it before. They do it every time they get the opportunity. This time it's even worse, because they're doing it under the guise of a recovery from COVID-19. Under the guise of a recovery from COVID-19, this government is looking to increase casualisation, enable more job insecurity and cut take-home pay. That is what this bill that we are debating here today will do. If it is passed into law, it will make wages less secure, jobs less secure and take-home pay less.
As the Health Services Union said at the Senate inquiry:
When health and care workers don't have secure work, our most vulnerable community members miss out—people with a disability, older Australians and those with mental illness.
We know that is the case. It's the case now, and this bill seeks to make that position worse, exacerbate that position. What will happen is that those most vulnerable in the community will again miss out. We need look no further than the devastating evidence given to the aged-care royal commission to understand the impact that current employment practices are having on older Australians. Aged-care workers are already ending shifts in tears because they are short-staffed and overworked and haven't been able to provide the care that aged-care residents need. What is the government's answer to this? This is after the aged-care royal commission and all the evidence that has been taken and completely ignored by this government. What's the answer? To introduce legislation that will give employers even more flexibility, that will deliver increased job and wage insecurity. Our most vulnerable Australians and the hardworking Australians who care for them deserve so much better than this.
It is estimated that, currently, 40 per cent of workers are in insecure work, while more than one million of our fellow Australians are underemployed and want more work. Surely the cornerstone of any workplace relations legislation should be that workers are entitled to a fair opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. How does this bill do that? The short answer is: it doesn't. Instead, if this bill is passed, the number of people trapped in insecure work will increase. This bill further erodes the rights of casual workers and will broaden the use of casual workers throughout our economy.
This bill has come along after years of advocates and employment spokespeople talking about the casualisation of the workforce. The casualisation of the workforce is even greater, and insecurity in work is growing. It's really quite unbelievable that those on that side think this is an opportunity for them to erode those rights even more and to make casual work even greater in Australia. I'm sure that they would know how difficult it is to care for your family when you're a casual worker, how you're not able to rely on a regular pay cheque, how you're not able to access loans and how difficult it is to secure rental housing. This is the reality. This is what people are dealing with. And your answer is to make it even harder for them. I'm not really sure that you've talked to casuals and long-term casual workers who work the same hours as a permanent part-time position or even, indeed, a full-time position.
People take these jobs and accept those conditions because they need to take care of themselves and their families and to pay their bills. Let's not think that it is easy for these people. They do have issues around being able to secure rental housing and loans. This bill further erodes the rights of those casual workers and will broaden the use of casual workers throughout our economy. Casual and insecure workers experience unpredictable and fluctuating pay, limited or no access to paid leave, and insecurity over the length of their employment. It's at the whim of their employer. Wage increases are irrelevant for insecure workers if they don't have a shift the next day, week or month.
Creating and protecting secure jobs and decent working conditions should and must be our collective top priority. I don't understand why it isn't for this government—or maybe I actually do. Every time the government have had an opportunity to cut workers' entitlements, to cut workers' conditions and to cut workers' pay, they've taken it. Work Choices was the opportunity that they took. That was wholesale destruction of the industrial relations system at the time.
What we're seeing now is the government taking this opportunity under the cover of the COVID-19 recovery; they seem to think this situation should be borne by those least able to afford it. Seriously, get out there and talk to casual workers and talk to employers, because there are plenty of employers that are doing the right thing. What the government is doing is making it harder for these employees and harder for those employers that want to do the right thing by their employees. That's what you're doing right here, right now.
Instead of protecting secure jobs and decent working conditions, this bill is about the growth of casualisation, particularly in industries like hospitality. It is now clear that insecure work is not a stepping stone to permanent employment. Work practices like labour hire, sham contracting, casualisation, gig platforms and more have all thrived under this government and will now become entrenched if this bill is passed. I really hope that that is not the case, but I fear it will happen. It will be the casual workers and their families who will bear the brunt of this legislation. Just look at sham contracting: it's used by employers to disguise employment relationships as independent contracting arrangements. This is usually done so the employer can avoid responsibility for employee entitlements. These contracts are rife in the horticultural, security and cleaning sectors and in the trades. Sham contracting shifts all the additional employment costs, like insurance, onto the worker.
During COVID, Australians got to learn about the employment arrangements and conditions of private security guards. Many of the employees in this sector are overseas students. They were particularly vulnerable during the pandemic as they were excluded from the government's JobKeeper and JobSeeker arrangements—another hard-hearted action by this government. The private security sector has seen increased profitability and growing rates of employment, but that employment comes at a cost. It is a sector littered with extremely poor job and income security. Employees pay up to $1,700 to qualify as a security guard and then earn as little as $13 to $15 per hour. Little wonder they take as many shifts as they can and work across more than one location and for more than one company. I don't think anybody here would like having to bring up a family on that sort of money, or even to keep body and soul together on that sort of money. There's no superannuation, no long-service leave, no sick leave, no overtime loading, no penalty rates for working on weekends or public holidays; it's just a flat rate of $15 an hour. These workers were at the forefront of keeping our communities safe by restricting the spread of COVID.
At the heart of insecure work is the issue of power. Employers know that insecure workers have limited power to speak up and assert their rights. Without job security, workers cannot speak up without risking their job. The legislation before us today makes bargaining for better wages and conditions harder. Make no mistake; that's an actual fact. There won't be any bargaining. The legislation will allow cuts to wages. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it brutally clear that the paid work of women in sectors such as aged care and disability services is fundamental to our economic and social survival. Over 90 per cent of aged-care sector workers are female, and they will bear the brunt of this piece of legislation. That's what's going to happen. It's written to affect this group. The government knows that that is what's going to happen if this legislation is passed into law. This bill marks a return to the us-versus-them mentality that was at the heart of Work Choices. If passed, it will further entrench low wages growth. It represents a return to the let-the-market-rip approach to workplace relations that lies deep in the heart of the Liberal Party. For these reasons and for many more, this bill should be and needs to be rejected.
I rise to speak in debate on the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021. I cannot support this bill in the form in which it has been presented. I do note that in the last probably three or four minutes One Nation have circulated a number of amendments. What I would say is, even though I'm always open-minded about amendments and will have a look at things, there is no time to look at them properly. That's the tragedy of the way in which the government has managed this legislation. They'd only really secured two crossbench votes this afternoon to the point where amendments had been circulated, giving no-one any time to consider what those amendments do. I know many people have spoken before me on some of the defects in the current bill, and I'm not going to repeat what those defects are because they've been covered quite significantly by other speakers. What I do want to talk about is alternatives.
I'm going to start by talking about the Governor-General's speech on the first day of the 46th Parliament. I'm going to be careful not to breach standing orders, so I'll have to say that the Governor-General's speech is, in fact, the Prime Minister's speech and so I'm not being critical of the Governor-General when I criticise what was said. I will say that that speech was quite uninspiring. It was about carving up the current economic pie, rather than growing it. There could have been a Labor election win and I might have heard the same sorts of things: talk about education, talk about social housing, talk about Defence—a whole range of different portfolio conversations, but none of them inspirational. I found it quite troubling that there was no vision in that particular speech. Then we got hit by a pandemic. We saw threat to life, we saw threat to basic supplies, we saw loss of jobs. But we all came together to get through COVID. Now we're almost out and on the other side of the pandemic, although I won't say we're completely out.
We're almost out and just starting to come back from some of the most dramatic health, economic and social events of recent times, caused by a global pandemic with massive consequences, disruption and dislocation, and what does the coalition do? What's the first item on their agenda? They immediately reach into their bottom drawer, or maybe it's the drawer of the Business Council of Australia, and pull out—surprise, surprise—an industrial relations package, a so-called reform package that would, if enacted in full as originally proposed, be to the very considerable disadvantage of many workers and their families. Instead of learning from COVID, instead of growing the pie, instead of building in resilience, they went back to the traditional battlegrounds that they typically have with the Labor Party. I guess it's a case of 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' or perhaps, in the case of the Liberal Party, 'old dogs only know one trick'.
When I look at the big picture of what is happening in Australia at the moment, I can see that companies are faring pretty well. Certainly, if the ASX200 index is anything to go by, some of that wellness has been fuelled by taxpayer funded JobKeeper allowances or subsidies that have been used contrary to their legitimate intent. We've seen some businesses behaving quite poorly throughout all of this. On the other side of the ledger, we have seen stagnant wage growth. The wage growth index has been plummeting over the last decade, and that has to be of concern. Now, I'm not a person who says we don't let businesses profit. I actually am a strong believer in those taking a lead in business and taking a risk doing well from that; good on them. But there needs to be some sharing of wealth and prosperity; that's the way it has to be. That does not appear to be happening.
I can listen to people talk about trickle-down economics over and over again, but then I look at the data and it's not working. So I think to myself, 'Where are the policies that talk about how we assist business to grow?' Rather than trying to take the current pie that we have and carve it up in a different way, how do we make this pie bigger? How do we make it tastier? That's missing. There are a number of things we could do. Government procurement is an example. We could give some emphasis to Australian businesses in government procurement. I remember that one of the first things we did as we were dealing with COVID was to give our COVIDSafe application to a foreign entity. Rather than injecting that money into a local capability that would help retain jobs, we put ourselves in a situation where we gave it to an overseas entity. Indeed, that created some problems because of the US CLOUD Act. But when you do that, when you don't support Australian industry, not only do you give the foreign entity money, which they then reinvest in their own company to be better able to compete against Australian companies; you end up giving a double negative whammy to Australian companies.
We need to think about the way in which we do procurement. Clause 4.7 of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules allows government officials to take account of the economic benefit of contracting with a particular party. That doesn't mean it has to be an Australian party, but you look at the party and you say, 'How many jobs are they creating? What capital investment are they making? What's the supply chain effect of the procurement?' We can use that to inject government money back into our own economy, stimulating jobs, helping with the wealth that we want to see here in Australia and doing other things like helping in relation to national resilience—something that, as a result of the pandemic, we have learnt we need to have regard of.
Now, the government says we can't do this. There's a whole bunch of people who are fanatics in relation to free trade and they say, 'Well, we've got to have free trade,' and I get that we're a trading nation. I'm not discouraging us from being a trade nation, but when we procure things we can't look at a foreign entity and try to compare them with the Australian entity, because the Australian entity may have to pay minimum wages, they may have to pay a leave loading, they may have to pay long service leave, they may have to comply with occupational health and safety requirements and they may have to comply with environmental requirements. All of those are good things, but they drive up the cost of the business. The government basically mandates those things, but then doesn't recognise it when it compares a product that comes from another jurisdiction where they don't have all of those things that make our society what it is today. So the government needs to stop pretending that there is a level playing field or that it likes to have a level playing field in procurement, because it simply doesn't. There is no level playing field.
Where are the plans to support value-adding? We need to stop just exporting our rocks. We need to stop just exporting lithium and, rather, export batteries. Where's the government's plan on doing that? Where's the legislation that has been brought forward that allows and permits us to do that sort of activity? Don't just export iron ore; export steel. Value-add. Grow the jobs. Develop intellectual property. That's what happens when you do that value-adding. Again, the government doesn't want to do it, because they think they're going to skew the market. Well, let's look at what's happening in Whyalla at the moment. Because we're not backing Australian companies, Australian industry, we've got the situation where Whyalla may well face a company going into administration. I don't blame the government for that, but having the policies that enable us to stand up and support our industries is extremely important. Again, it's growing the pie, not carving up the existing pie.
With respect to infrastructure policies: we had a $10 billion boost in infrastructure programs, but what most people don't understand is that the government places requirements on infrastructure contractors that mean only tier 1s can get the big jobs. Here's the sad news: there are no Australian tier 1s. We actually have a policy, implemented by this government, that mandates the use of foreign companies. Those foreign companies, of course, subcontract here in Australia because the work has to be done here, but they squeeze the supply chain. They squeeze the profit out and it goes back to the head company. They get rid of it overseas, by way of transfer pricing, licensing—a whole range of different accounting tricks—to low-tax jurisdictions. Why aren't we fixing that?
Indeed, while I'm on tax, we know there are so many companies that are paying no tax at all, not contributing. It's money that could come into consolidated revenue and be employed to assist small businesses, doing much more than this legislation would do, but it's all missing. As some senators will be aware, together with Senator Lambie I have circulated amendments to the bill which effectively block almost everything in the bill, except for the wage theft and enforcement provisions. Those would remedy situations where we have wage theft, and we do have to deal with that wage theft. Will my amendments be acceptable to government? I don't know. I don't think so. Unfortunately, the Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations is still on leave, so we probably won't have any authoritative response from him in respect of whether or not the amendments are palatable. Again, I don't think they will be, because they really do gut the bill. But it's the only way that I can see that the bill can be supported at this point in time.
It is clear that One Nation are on board. We've now had Senator Roberts circulate amendments, so one presumes that they are on board. Again, they're very late and it's almost impossible to do the analysis to work out whether or not you can support them. We also don't know how those amendments might interact with the other player who's left, Centre Alliance's Senator Griff. I won't speak for Senator Lambie but, noting that she has co-sponsored my amendments, we're in a situation where ultimately this will come down to Senator Griff—informed, of course, by his colleague in the other place, Ms Rebekha Sharkie. They have all the cards. The government have time pressure here because they want to deal with this between now and tomorrow, so Centre Alliance are in the box seat. They'd better use that position well. They'd better use it to get some really good amendments that strike the right balance between business and workers, because right now the bill doesn't do that.
Unfortunately, we don't actually know what Senator Griff is doing and what Ms Sharkie's views are because Senator Griff is not on the speakers list. That, to me, is in some sense disrespectful. He has the casting vote on this but is not prepared to come into the chamber and explain to the people of South Australia, whom he represents, exactly what his position is. In all of the bills I get involved in where there's controversy and I might have a casting vote or a significant say in what happens, I stand in this chamber and tell people what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I think that needs to happen. In closing, my message to Senator Griff is: come into the chamber and explain yourself. You clearly feel a particular way about this bill, but you need to stand up in the second reading debate and explain to the people of South Australia what your position is and why.
For most of my working life, I've worked in the trade union movement, and I've proudly worked for United Workers Union. It went through a number of amalgamations in all the time that I worked there. But there are some things that have never changed. It is the union which represents some of the lowest-paid workers in this country—cleaners, security officers, aged-care workers, childcare workers, hospitality workers and so on. These are people who don't have the luxury of flexible working hours. These are people who were the heroes of our pandemic. These are the aged-care workers who were in this place yesterday begging those few on the other side who actually met with them to do something about the royal commission into aged care, to start to really lift the lives of people who find themselves in aged care. These are workers who earn around $22 or $23 an hour. They work part time. But, these days, they work in insecure work. Most of them are at the beck and call of their current employer. Most of them have to work two and three jobs to survive. And that's the story of my working life as a proud trade union official at United Workers Union.
Of course, as a trade union official, I've seen these sorts of bills be presented by conservative governments over and over and over again. I have never seen a conservative government put forward an industrial relations bill which benefits workers in this country—never. And I would challenge those opposite to stand up and prove me wrong, because that has been my life's work. I worked for United Workers Union for more than 20 years. I'm very proud to be in the Senate. But to suggest somehow that, in 2013, when I left United Voice, as it was called then, I forgot about those workers, that I left those workers behind—that I forgot about the 20 years that I worked alongside, acted on behalf of and advocated for these workers and stood in picket lines in the rain and the heat with them—you are sadly mistaken. They are in my veins and they're in my heart, and I will defend the rights of workers until I take my last breath, because that is ultimately who I am.
During the Court Liberal government days in Western Australia, I saw the first wave, the second wave, the third wave of industrial relations reform. I saw a Liberal government reduce the wages of low-paid women—low-paid cleaners, low-paid early childhood educators, low-paid aged-care workers. I watched as their award rates tumbled down. And what happened to that Court government? Workers will only take so much. They rose up and voted that government out of office. As bad as the Barnett government was when it came into power in Western Australia, it didn't go near workers, because it had learnt its lesson—that, when you start to reduce the take-home pay of low-paid workers, you will wear the consequences of that at the ballot box. Of course, while I was standing alongside workers at the rallies and in workplaces and everywhere else, we were also fighting under Mr Howard's regimes, under his individual workplace agreements. And, gee, I wish someone would get those old ads out and play them. Remember those ads? Workers were going to be better off. Workers were going to be able to directly negotiate with their boss. Who could forget the individual contracts? What did we see?
Once again the casualties of those individual contracts, the workers with the least power in this country, were the low-paid workers; women workers; insecure workers. We saw them, once again, suffer the indignity of losing more money. This time it was their penalty rates. Suddenly, their penalty rates were gone because they had to sign an individual contract.
I remember Mr Howard and Mr Reith saying over and over again, 'No-one will be forced to sign these contracts.' What a load of rubbish! We all know how it works in the workplace when the boss has got all the power. You get called in and you get told, 'Sue, if you want a shift next week, here's your new agreement.' It's a one-on-one conversation. And of course there was no recourse to the Industrial Relations Commission for any worker who signed an individual contract, no recourse at all. And they were secret agreements, so if you were a 16-year-old worker, guess what? You couldn't even take that home and show it to mum and dad. That was outrageous legislation. And, whilst Mr Howard might have tinkered at the edges, it eventually cost him his seat and it eventually cost the Howard coalition government in Australia. As we saw in Victoria at the time, when similar legislation was put into place there to what we saw in Western Australia, those Liberals were voted out of office. In Western Australia, those Liberals were voted out of office. Federally, Mr Howard, the first sitting Prime Minister since Stanley Bruce to lose his seat, was voted out of office. Make no mistake: you will be voted out of office for this legislation because, despite what you say, this legislation will cut workers' wages at a time in this country when we have industrial relations legislation—yes, it absolutely needs to be reformed. You stood over there, and Mr Porter stood in the other place and said, 'We accept workers need more protection.' Well, this legislation doesn't deliver it.
In fact, the working lives of low-paid workers are much worse since I left the union in 2013. We've got the gig economy. We've got the Uber drivers. We've got all of those workers who deliver meals or who you can get to fix your tap by using an app and negotiating how much you pay them. It's disgraceful. These are human beings trying to earn a living. They should be entitled to some basic protections. They should be entitled to an hourly rate that gives them the ability to live a good and decent life. They should know, from week to week, how many hours of work they have. They should not receive a text from their boss telling them, 'Come in tomorrow,' or 'Don't come in tomorrow.' And that doesn't just happen in the gig economy. That happens to workers in the disability sector looking after some of the most vulnerable people in our community. That's how they get their work, via their mobile phone. 'Oh, there's a two-hour shift available for you tomorrow.' That is not a dignified existence. It's not a dignified existence for the person who's subjected to that kind of summonsing to work, and, in my view, it's certainly not the dignified way for the person with a disability to receive the care that they are absolutely entitled to, but that's what we're seeing in this country.
Right across Australia—even in the public service—we have casualised, contracted, insecure work. It used to just be the domain of members of the United Workers Union and the SDA—shop assistants and so on—who were seen as low paid, not very well trained and poorly educated, so therefore you could treat them with disrespect. Well, they are some of the most honourable people I've ever had the privilege to meet in my life, and many of them are friends of mine. Jude Clarke was here yesterday. She's an aged-care worker that I signed up to the union a long time ago—too long ago to remember! Jude and I have been through a lot together. The first industrial action that Jude took was when she was working in a nursing home in Geraldton. If you met or saw Jude yesterday, she was the aged-care worker with the pink hair; that's Jude. Why did she go on strike? Not for pay. Not for conditions. Not because some bully union official like me told her to. She went on strike because the residents in that nursing home—I still remember it as if it was yesterday, but it was a long time ago—had disgraceful beds.