Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021


Job Security Select Committee; Report

5:19 pm

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

I present the third interim report of the Select Committee on Job Security on labour hire and contracting. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Before I even had an opportunity to table this report in the Senate the Morrison government had already stated its position on labour hire. Last week in question time in the other place Mr Morrison's minister covering industrial relations in the House, Minister Fletcher, said labour hire is 'a made-up issue'. I'm sure many labour hire workers we heard from throughout the inquiry, their families and local community members in Central Queensland, the Hunter and Western Australia—across the country—will feel very disappointed to hear that from their government. But it sums up the attitude of Mr Morrison and the government to the issue.

Over the last eight years there have been absolutely no improvements for those workers. If you're shoved out of your job with a labour hire firm on lower pay as a casual then Mr Morrison and his government don't see any issue at all. They see it as a made-up issue. Here are the facts, as reported in this report. According to the ABS, when the government entered office in 2013 there were 540,622 labour hire workers. In 2019—that's the most recent year data is available for—that number was 797,710. That is a 48 per cent increase in just six years of Liberal governments. No wonder we have wage stagnation. When Minister Fletcher and others in the government get up and say it's a made-up issue they are covering up the extraordinary increase in labour hire in the Australian workforce. Labour hire has a legitimate place where it's used for legitimate surge workforce needs, but does the Morrison government really expect us to believe that there has been a 48 per cent increase in surge workforce needs in six years?

It's insulting to claim that this is a made-up issue. Why is there an explosion in the use of labour hire under this government? Employers, particularly in industries like mining, meat processing, construction and transport, have realised that if you offload your workforce to a labour hire company you aren't really legally required to pay them the same rate as your own employees. In fact, you can replace well-paid permanent jobs with low-paid casual jobs.

The industry that has been hit the hardest by labour hire rorts is the mining industry. Just ask BHP, Australia's largest mining company. BHP admitted to the committee that they have half of their mining workforce nationwide working for labour hire or other contractors. Across their operations that jumps to 71 per cent. So 71 per cent of BHP coalmine workers are not BHP employees. BHP have set up their own sham labour hire company called Operations Services to undercut their own workers. When BHP has outsourced almost all of its own workforce and set up its own sham labour hire firm, how can Minister Fletcher say this is a made-up issue?

The fact is that the Liberal and National parties have abandoned CALD workers. Wayne Goulevitch, a mine worker in Queensland, told us:

I started out like everyone did back in my day, as a labour hire employee … Back then … crews were made up of 40 full-time employees and about five labour hire workers … within 10 years, labour hire had ballooned to about 120 workers while full-time employees remained around 40 … My crew has not had a full-time employee join our team in over seven years.

That's not a made-up issue, is it? It's a 'made' issue. Those are literally comments right from the coalface.

The Minerals Council, the lobby group for mining companies, admitted that, on average, labour hire mine workers are paid 24 per cent less than workers employed by the mining companies. This is a 24 per cent cut for every labour hire worker in Australian mines. With the full cooperation and support of the Liberal and National parties, Anne Baker, who is mayor of the Isaac region up in Central Queensland, told us:

It is our view … that this is nothing short of a pandemic. We talk about a COVID pandemic. We are actually living a casualisation pandemic … there can be absolutely no mistake that this completely undermines the socioeconomic health of our regional and remote communities and is an offensive insult that continues to be allowed to happen …

I'm sure that local Queensland MPs are standing up against labour hire, right? Well, here it is. The member for Dawson, George Christensen, said earlier this year about labour hire: 'The unfortunate answer, for everyone, is nothing can be done.' Well, there you go. The message from the Liberals is it's a made-up issue, and the message from the Nationals is nothing can be done. The message from Labor is that this is a serious issue that needs urgent, urgent attention. Last week, Mr Anthony Albanese, the opposition leader, introduced a 'Same job, same pay' bill.

The committee's first recommendation is that such a law must be passed. The only hurdle in the way is a government that won't even acknowledge there is a problem. Chad Stokes, another coalminer, told us:

I have been in labour hire … for seven years, and there are just no permanent jobs being offered anymore. I work the same roster and shift as the permanent workers on my crew, but I have no job security. I get paid less, and it is really hard to take time off.

Here is an idea for Minister Fletcher, or anyone else who thinks this is a made-up issue: why don't you get out of your bubble and go to Central Queensland or the Hunter or Western Australia and talk to workers like Wayne and Chad who are actually living this every day?

Of course, it isn't just the mining industry. Qantas are the most antiworker company in Australia. Qantas also set up its own internal labour hire company, Qantas Ground Services, to undercut its agreement with its workforce. It was an agreement that Qantas workers negotiated in good faith. Alan Joyce betrayed those workers almost immediately after that agreement was struck. Alan Joyce illegally outsourced more than 2,000 jobs last year, in the middle of a pandemic, while receiving almost $2 billion in public bail-out money to keep those workers in their jobs. It's one of the dirtiest acts of corporate bastardry Australia has ever seen. One of the committee's recommendations makes clear that can never be allowed to happen again.

The final industries I want to talk about are horticulture and meat processing—two industries now mostly staffed by underpaid and overworked temporary migrants employed by shonky labour-hire outfits. Since the report was drafted we've learnt that nine Border Force agents have raided the home of a Christian minister who was helping exploited farm workers near Bundaberg. The search warrant, amongst other things, demanded: 'any correspondence with the High Commissioner of Vanuatu'—in breach of every obligation under the UN Vienna convention. This really sums up the evidence this committee received, that this government is not interested in tackling modern slavery, this government isn't interested in tackling labour hire rorts and this government isn't interested in growing wages or making jobs secure. It's more interested in attacking unions and anyone else who tries to help. It's quite clear that this government needs to read this report and give it proper consideration. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

5:29 pm

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

I too rise to speak on the Senate Select Committee on Job Security's third interim report on labour hire and contracting. First of all, I would like to thank the committee chair, Senator Tony Sheldon, for the incredible amount of work that he and his team have done on this really important committee, and thank my fellow committee members for the work that they are continuing to do. I would also like to thank the witnesses, particularly the working people who came and told their stories to us, people who've given us evidence throughout this inquiry. That has been absolutely critical to this interim report.

The committee has held 20 hearings since it was established at the end of 2020. Throughout this time we've heard from workers and employers across a number of industries and workplaces. If anybody takes one thing from this inquiry, it must be that there is a crisis of insecure work in this country, without question. It's a crisis that is leaving Australian workers without good, secure jobs and decent pay. It's leaving too many workers without the ability to even do the basics, like get a loan or pay their bills, and it's forcing workers to continue working when they are sick, because they don't have any other option. It's a crisis that has gone on for way too long, one that has only gotten worse under eight long years of the Morrison government.

Throughout the hearings we have heard about the growing use of labour hire throughout various industries. We've heard from some employers that labour hire is a useful tool for managing fluctuating demand, but what we are seeing in too many workplaces and hearing from too many workers is that labour hire is being used by companies to avoid paying basic minimum standards. Labour hire is being used to weaken the bargaining power of people through their unions and undermine pay and working conditions across the workforce. We've heard from casual labour hire workers that have been employed for years but have not been offered a permanent role, required to work side by side permanent workers of a parent company, doing the exact same job but for much less pay.

Earlier this year, Mr Chad Stokes shared his story with the committee. He has been employed as a labour hire worker in the coalmining industry for seven years, and he told the 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 …

We also heard from Mr Wayne Goulevitch, who started off as a labour hire worker in 2010. He told the committee that, back then, labour hire was used as intended—to supplement labour from to time to time, to fill in for permanent employees when they're on leave. He noted that, in 2010, crews were made up of 40 full-time employees and about five labour hire workers. As Senator Sheldon noted too, Mr Goulevitch told us that labour hire has now ballooned to 120 workers, while the number of full-time employees has stayed at just 40. So this is not about meeting short-term challenges. Mr Goulevitch stated:

My crew has not had a full-time employee join our team in over seven years. That is why I need 'same job, same pay' just as much as casuals in the industry.

I also want to share the story of Mr Rob Foot. Mr Foot worked in a permanent mining job in Central Queensland for 14 years before he retired. He told the committee that one day he and his fellow workers were told that they had to start working for WorkPac, a labour hire company. Mr Foot told us that, in his permanent role, he was paid $150,000 per year, but with the labour hire company he was put onto a casual role and offered less than half that amount, despite continuing the same work that he had been doing. Despite the apparent inclusion of a casual loading, his salary was more than halved. On top of this, Mr Foot told the committee about how he was now required to foot the bill for a range of things that he didn't have to pay for before: transport, accommodation, training, safety and trade certificates, and medical passes. All of those things had previously been covered by his employer. He told the committee:

As a consequence, I finished my working life about four years earlier than I really wanted to.

This is the reality in the coalmining industry and it is the reality in many industries. These are the stories that we are hearing from real people, real people who are out there in these industries, facing the crisis of job insecurity every single day, whether they are casual workers, like Mr Stokes or Mr Foot, who are paid less for doing the same work while having fewer entitlements, or whether they are permanent workers, like Mr Goulevitch, watching their industry become more and more casualised, left wondering whether their job security is at risk. Labour hire is one of the key foundations, the key pillars, of the insecure work crisis in this country and, without a real plan from this government, labour hire will continue to be used to undermine the pay and conditions of Australian workers.

Last Thursday in this chamber, I invited the government to front up to this final week of parliament—to front up with a plan to fix the crisis of insecure work. But this government still does not even recognise that this crisis exists. We have seen government senators on this committee write in their dissenting comments that it is 'a Labor lie that job insecurity is an issue in this nation.' Just last week, Minister Fletcher stood up in the other chamber and called job insecurity and labour hire 'made-up issues' and Labor lies. Despite what they themselves were hearing from these workers, the very workers whose stories I and Senator Sheldon have told today, they say that this is all Labor lies and made-up issues. This is despite the evidence right in front of them.

This government denies reality. It denies the reality of working people today. But this government has one last chance to act on this crisis this week. It could support the 'same job, same pay' bill that Anthony Albanese has introduced into the parliament. It's a bill which will address the issues we've seen in labour hire throughout the numerous hearings of this committee. These are problems which see workers like Mr Stokes paid less as a casual coalmining worker than his permanent counterparts who are doing the same job.

But we know that working people aren't holding their breath. If the Morrison government can't even admit that this is a problem, how could it ever be trusted to fix it? Workers deserve better than the Morrison government; they deserve better than a government which denies their reality. They deserve a government that actually has a plan to address insecure work. This government has absolutely no such plan—no plan to create good, secure jobs across the country and no plan to get wages moving. Working people deserve better than a government that's totally incapable of imagining a better future, let alone creating one.

Instead, Australian workers deserve a government that is on their side; a government that faces the realities of insecure work and has a plan to fix it. They deserve a government with secure work at the heart of its agenda. That is what an Albanese Labor government will deliver: a real plan to create the good, secure jobs that allow workers to plan for their futures with certainty—a plan that includes pathways to permanent work and which ensures that workers doing the same job are quite simply paid the same rates. Labor is always on the side of workers, and a Labor government will always put good, secure jobs at the heart of everything it does.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.