Senate debates

Wednesday, 28 September 2022


Workplace Relations

7:48 pm

Photo of Nita GreenNita Green (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the lead-up to the Jobs and Skills Summit that was held here in Canberra, throughout that summit and in the preceding days, the overwhelming feedback that we received as a government, from workers and employers alike, was about the complexity and impracticality of our current bargaining system. It's a system that hasn't delivered real wage increases for workers for almost a decade. We know that under the Liberal-National government the system had become so complex that regulation or legislation dangled the carrot of supposedly fair bargaining but never delivered for workers. In fact, it was never intended to under the previous government, who were so cosy with the idea of reducing workers' wages that they joined a case in the High Court to try to overturn a ruling about same job, same pay. The LNP believe that giving workers the right to fairly bargain would somehow up-end business, but the truth is that low wages are hurting businesses and our economy.

As senators in this chamber may recall, since I was elected, I've raised on multiple occasions the plight of workers in Central Queensland who have been subject to BHP's so-called in-house labour hire provider called Operation Services. This is an absolute example of where people are working the same job but not getting paid the same wages. It has not happened overnight; this has been going on for years.

In 2018, BHP set up two $1 shelf companies registered as OS MCAP Pty Ltd and OS ACPM Pty Ltd—they were really trying to show their cards there by using those letters. These companies are the employing entities of Operation Services workers.

These companies submitted two proposed enterprise agreements to the Fair Work Commission—the Operation Services maintenance agreement and the Operation Services production agreement 2018—and both agreements were voted on by a small number of workers in the iron ore industry in WA. In fact, the group was so small, there were about nine people altogether voting on these agreements.

That seems to really indicate to me that something wrong was going on here. It is dodgy. But what is even dodgier is this: since these agreements were made, the full bench of the Fair Work Commission thought that they were dodgy, upheld an appeal by the CFMMEU and the AMWU to have the unfair enterprise agreements thrown out, yet BHP still maintains that Operation Services is improving job security. But we know that that simply isn't true.

In 2020, I raised the case of workers at one of the mines near Moranbah who were told that they would have to choose to work on Christmas Day and that workers in Operation Services would be paid a different wage. It is clear to anyone who looks at these agreements that they have been written up and intended to circumvent enterprise agreements that have been fairly bargained.

Since that time, BHP have now been required to form a new agreement with Operation Services workers. They have been told to go back to the drawing board. It would be helpful if I could come to the Senate and say that, after all these years and after all this time, BHP have decided that they would finally like to do the right thing by their workers. But I can tell you that almost two years later—they started bargaining for these new agreements in December 2020—they have still refused to put a good-faith agreement forward for workers. For BMA, the other agreement that is being negotiated, they have been bargaining for 15 months.

My message to BHP tonight is to bargain fairly with your workers. My message to those organisers, those delegates and those workers in Central Queensland is to stay strong and to stay united. For a change in this place, you have a government that is on your side and you have a government that knows that if— (Time expired)