Tuesday, 28 November 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Watt. Can the minister comment on the concerns raised by BHP in their submission regarding the same job, same pay policy, particularly in relation to the estimated $1.3 billion annual financial impact on their operations and the potential broader economic consequences, including inflation and productivity?
Thank you, Senator Van. I have certainly seen the media reports of BHP's claims as to the extra costs that they would incur under the government's legislation. But I make absolutely no apologies for us, a Labor government, seeking to close the types of loopholes that large multinational corporations, like BHP, like Qantas and like a number of others, have exploited and which have resulted in the pay and conditions of their workers being undermined.
One of the reasons I feel very confident in saying so is that I have met, personally, labour hire workers engaged at BHP mines in Central Queensland who have talked to me about the fact that they are paid significantly lower wages, with worse conditions, than the BHP permanent employees they work alongside.
What has actually happened here is this. BHP has taken it one step further by effectively setting up an in-house labour hire firm, where, again, the employees of that labour hire firm, the parent company of which is BHP, are paid lower rates and conditions than the full-time BHP workers that they work alongside. I've met these people. I've talked to them about the fact that they can't afford the same things for their families as the permanent employees they work alongside. I think it is wrong, and the Albanese government thinks that it's wrong, that a large company can enter an enterprise bargaining agreement with its workforce, negotiated with the union—which is what BHP and others have done—and then get around that enterprise agreement by forming an in-house labour hire company or by bringing in labour hire from outside paid on lower rates and conditions than that company has itself negotiated. That is wrong. That is un-Australian. And we want to crack down on it.
Could the minister provide insight into how the government plans to address the fears of significant job losses and the reduction in competitiveness in the mining sector, as highlighted by BHP, due to the financial implications of the same job, same pay policy?
Thank you, Senator Van. I'd be obviously very happy to introduce you to some of those miners who I've spoken to and to take you through what's happening in the Queensland coalfields, and, no doubt, the Hunter Valley and other places as well.
I may not have the most up-to-date information on this, but I certainly remember: when we had Senate estimates recently and I was briefed ahead of that, my understanding is that BHP have not provided any of the evidence to back up their claims as to what the extra costs on them would be. They've certainly provided information to the media, which have run their stories about the so-called extra costs that BHP will incur.
But the other point here is that often the claim is made by these companies and members of the opposition that this is a cost to the economy to try to fix this up. Actually, what it's about is where the money goes. And what we're saying is: the money should go to the workers who produce BHP's profits, not end up in bigger profits for BHP and its shareholders. Fair is fair. Workers should get a fair deal as well.
Government senators interjecting—
Order! Order! Order! Senator Van, I think we—
Government senators interjecting—
Order! We need to start the clock again, and we are wasting time here because I have called people to order and you continue to be disorderly. Minister—or Senator Van, please start the question again.
Thank you for the promotion! In light of the concerns about increased labour costs and economic uncertainty, can the minister explain the rationale behind the same job, same pay policy approach, especially considering Australia's position as a major mining nation with already-high labour costs?
Thank you, Senator Van, and I have to say: I didn't see you at the Mining and Energy Union Queensland branch 115-year anniversary dinner the other night in Brisbane, but maybe you were there up the back. It was a very good night, I'm sure you will agree, if you were there!
But on a serious note, Senator Van, the rationale for this is as I have explained: that we don't believe—and I don't think most Australians believe—that a company should have the right to enter an enterprise agreement with its workers, negotiated with the union, to pay certain rates and conditions and then be allowed, under the law, to either bring in labour hire workers who are employed by a another entity on lower wages and conditions, or to set up their own in-house labour hire firm, which is what BHP have done.
That does sound like a loophole, Senator McAllister, and it's a loophole that is resulting in workers, who work really hard in really difficult conditions, getting ripped off, to back-up the profits of large corporations. We obviously support profitable corporations, but we don't think that their workers should be exploited, and that's what's going on right now. (Time expired)