Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


7:42 pm

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

This Friday is Black Friday, the biggest shopping holiday in the United States. It's also becoming increasingly popular in Australia. Ahead of Black Friday, I'm standing with the Transport Workers Union, the SDA and unions and MPs from around the world who this week are calling for an end to appalling working conditions and low wages for Amazon workers. Amazon believes that it is too big to worry about pesky little Australia, that it doesn't need to respect Australian laws, that it doesn't need to pay Australian taxes, that it doesn't need to treat Australian business fairly and that it doesn't need to give Australian workers a fair go.

Amazon believes it can import the very worst of the antiworker and anti-union behaviour from the United States. As long as this wretched and incompetent government is in power, maybe it's correct. Let's look at what Amazon has been allowed to get away with in Australia so far. The ABC revealed back in 2019 that Amazon paid just $20 million in Australian tax in 2018 on a revenue of more than $1 billion, because Amazon shifts its Australian revenue to tax havens. When giant companies like Amazon make billions using infrastructure paid for by the Australian public—Australian taxpayers—and then don't pay their fair share of tax, that is theft.

Then there are the biggest victims of Jeff Bezos's regime: the Amazon workers themselves. I want to commend the work of the SDA, the union for Amazon's online retail workers, and the TWU, the union for drivers making Amazon deliveries. While the Morrison government is asleep at the wheel, the SDA and the TWU have been working tirelessly to reveal what is really going on at Amazon. There are Amazon Flex drivers who are being paid a flat $27 an hour, and that's without superannuation, fuel costs, maintenance costs, insurance costs or paid leave. That isn't a living wage. It's also $13 an hour below the minimum recommended rate for a courier using their own car in Victoria. The Victorian rates schedule for owner-drivers puts the minimum rate at $40.71.

Amazon continues to lie and say that it is fully compliant on pay. But when I asked Amazon at the Select Committee on Job Security inquiry how the $27 hourly pay complies with the $40 hourly recommended minimum, Amazon refused to come clean. In fact, Amazon refused to even answer any of the most basic questions.

When the TWU officials attempted a legal right of entry at an Amazon site, Amazon called the police. When the SDA officials tried to speak to workers at their Moorebank facility, Amazon managers monitored their conversations. In fact, we know that globally Amazon monitors the social media activity of its workers and pays union busting firms to monitor and intimidate anyone who raises concerns or talks about organising.

Alex Ayliff, an Amazon flex driver in Melbourne, told the ABC earlier this year: 'They've created an atmosphere of fear.' Well, over my dead body will Australia become a country where this corporate thuggery is accepted. We've seen reports that Amazon workers are forced to urinate or defecate in bags because they don't have time for a break, Amazon workers being hired through labour-hire companies like Adecco at even lower wages, and overheated Amazon workers being carried out of warehouses on stretchers. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos told the media he wants Amazon to be 'the earth's best employer'.

When unions across the world attempt to help workers stand up for their rights, Amazon engages in the most vicious misinformation and harassment campaigns you've ever seen. For what—so that Jeff Bezos can fly himself into space? As Bezos said to his workers when he landed back on earth: 'You guys paid for all this.' I think Amazon workers have paid enough. It's time to make Amazon pay.