Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2024


Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023; Second Reading

6:53 pm

Photo of Maria KovacicMaria Kovacic (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No evidence is required for unions to exercise their right-of-entry powers. The National Farmers Federation is right to be concerned about the new rights of entry without notice, which would allow union reps to enter farms unannounced. For most farmers, their workplace is also their family home. The farm is their kids' backyard. Union reps should not be able to waltz in unannounced, and this begs the question: what does this mean for small businesses that operate out of their owners' family homes? Does this bill give union representatives the right to enter a family home purely based on a fear that an underpayment has occurred? No-one knows the answer to this question. Perhaps we will have to rely on the Prime Minister and his word as his bond if he tells us that it's not the case. How on earth does this provision balance the rights and liberties of employers and employees fairly?

Running a small business in this country is not a crime. It is something that should be celebrated. It is the embodiment of our entrepreneurial spirit and our aspiration as Australians. Instead, we have a government and a minister that, with the support of Senator David Pocock, have allowed the dreams and aspirations of hardworking Australians to be crushed.

It is clear that around $100 million in donations made by union bosses over the past decade have ensured that the Australian Labor Party has sided with them rather than with the Australian public, which is where its obligations should lie. One of the most egregious parts of the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023 is the introduction of a new definition of casual employment that will replace the existing definition.

6:56 pm

Photo of Barbara PocockBarbara Pocock (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. Australia must have a fair and equitable workplace relations system that upholds the rights of all working people. We need a system that appropriately protects workers in a changing world. This bill is a modest but important step in the right direction. We in the Greens support this bill, given the important changes that have been agreed.

Minimum standards for employee-like workers in our gig economy are important. Standing up for casual workers, putting an end to sham contracting and strengthening union entry rights for suspected worker underpayment are all important. In particular, the Greens support better protections for gig workers and a stronger pathway to permanency for casuals. These are meaningful measures that are long overdue, but much more needs to be done.

The Greens are proud to have already passed an amendment to the first closing loopholes bill that ensures that superannuation theft is now a criminal offence alongside wage theft. Super theft is a form of wage theft, and it will now be treated as that under workplace law. The Greens have also amended the bill before us, with improvements to intractable bargaining provisions and protections for casual workers at schools and universities. But the bill lacks a key improvement, which is the right for workers to disconnect.

As we all know, Senate committees are powerful resources for gathering evidence from stakeholders across our country. We heard both during the inquiry for this bill and in the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care that workers are crying out for a better, fairer workplace relations system. Over the last couple of decades, the quality and security of jobs in Australia has been severely eroded. One-third of workers are now employed in insecure jobs as casuals and independent contractors—so-called—in labour hire and gig work. All of those are on the rise and now very significant in our labour market. Job insecurity brings with it unpredictable working times and hours and takes a toll on our health, our household budgets and our capacity to plan for the future.

This bill will allow the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards and offer increased dispute resolution for employee-like digital platform workers. Our employee-like workers or gig workers are still just that. They are workers. They're entitled to minimum protections, including a minimum wage, paid sick and holiday leave and a safe workplace.

The committee inquiry into this bill heard that injury among gig workers is endemic, especially for those who deliver our food and our parcels. The evidence is very confronting. Seventy-three per cent of food delivery workers fear serious injury or death while at work, and no less than one-third have been seriously hurt or injured. Tragically, at least 13 delivery drivers have died on Australian roads in recent years. This is unacceptable in a civilised country.

Gig workers are often immigrant workers, who are among the most powerless in our workplaces. I've heard testimony from family members talking about the loss of their children, of their nephews and of their kids in unsafe working conditions. These are workers who have paid for their jobs with their lives in delivering our food and our goods. It's not good enough, and we have to do much better. We cannot run our labour market on the lives of those gig workers. We cannot have them doing the work, systematically, year after year, on wages that are so far below the minimum wage. Big corporations such as Uber and DoorDash have exploited their workers and profited at their expense for far too long by taking advantage of loopholes in Australia's workplace relations law. Well, no longer. Gig workers deserve better, and it's so important to see real change in this very significant area of workplace relations.

This bill will also make changes to the Fair Work Act to strengthen protections for casual workers. It does this by strengthening the conversion pathways for casuals whose jobs resemble permanent jobs and are casual in name only. These are positive developments. However, we know that they're not enough. We know that Australia has one of the highest rates of insecure employment in the OECD. A third of our workforce are now insecure and working in precarious work. Too many casual workers lack knowledge of what hours and pay they will have tomorrow or next week. Too many work regular hours year after year on low pay, even including the casual loading, and don't get paid holidays or paid sick leave in real terms. We know that the casual loading does not compensate for job insecurity or a lack of leave entitlements. It barely compensates for the insecurity alone of your job in terms of what it does to your life and to your earnings.

In addition to the measures in this bill, there are other ways in which we can improve working conditions for our casual workers in this country. We've previously called on the government to establish a right for all workers, including casual workers, to have pro rata sick leave and holiday leave. We also need incentives for businesses to create ongoing, secure positions rather than relying upon precarious forms of employment.

The Australian Greens support greater protections for casual workers, and this is why we've supported amendments in the lower house to protect teachers and university lecturers from a double-barrelled disadvantage. The problem is that many people in these organisations and workplaces have been classified as casuals or put on short-term arrangements and, come the end of the semester, find themselves out of a job and out of an income. They're often employed the year or the semester afterwards, providing their skills continuously but with broken employment contracts that make it really hard to put together a life and to do the work that so many of them love.

Teachers and lecturers on those fixed-term contracts will now be excluded from the definition of a casual worker, as supported by the National Tertiary Education Union. Workers in schools and unis who are not ongoing employees will either be classified as fixed-term employees or casuals—not both. In reality, this will mean increased job security for thousands of staff in our schools and in our universities. It is very relevant to the matters we were just discussing around the quality of education in this country.

The Greens have also fought to improve intractable bargaining provisions that were introduced in the secure jobs, better pay act. In this act, the government introduced provisions for the Fair Work Commission to intervene in bargaining that has reached an impasse. The purpose was to prevent protracted bargaining disputes, by giving the Fair Work Commission the power of compulsory arbitration. This is a good provision, but it's had some unintended consequences. Concerns have been raised that employers have been advised to wait out negotiating periods in order to get a backdoor result by going through the commission and ratcheting down conditions. Our amendment ensures that, if you end up in arbitration, you can't go backwards. It maintains the spirit of the underlying principle of the act, which is that agreements remain in place until a new one is negotiated. It fixes a loophole in Australia's arbitration system, protects workers and puts integrity back into the bargaining process.

I now turn to the issue of the right to disconnect, which has generated a lot of lively discussion in recent days in our media and in many of our communities. Workers are no longer able to knock off when they clock off. Too many workers have their leisure time and their family time interrupted by calls and contact from their workplace, which results in them working unpaid working time. They feel obliged to do it, and they pay a price, as do their families. Time is our most basic human resource. It is our life. It's the only true resource we have, and Australian workers give away, on average, five hours and 20 minutes of unpaid work a week. This is seven weeks of unpaid time every year. The average worker loses over $11,000 in unpaid overtime, and this cannot be allowed to continue.

We Greens have long called for a right to disconnect. We were pleased to see that the Senate inquiry report for this bill recommended a legislated right to disconnect in the Fair Work Act, supporting the development of clear expectations about contact and availability in workplaces and after your paid working hours are finished. The issue of unpaid overtime and of what many people call 'availability creep' is persistent and systemic. It affects workers in all industries and occupations—public and private, all kinds of work—and in organisations both big and small. The proliferation of communication technology in our working lives means that workers are now always contactable. Seventy per cent of workers in Australia regularly perform work outside their agreed working hours. Work is encroaching into every facet of workers' lives, and the workplace relations system has been inadequate at protecting a work-life balance.

I've written a few books about this and done a lot of research and interviewed many, many workers. My first book, called The Work/Life Collision, was published in 2003. That's 21 years ago, and here were are playing catch-up to give workers some protection around the actual boundaries of their working day. There's a lot of Rolls-Royce-grade research about this problem. When workers aren't able to find time for themselves and those they care for outside of work, it leads to poor sleep, to stress, to burnout and to degraded relationships with friends and family, and it imposes a very significant mental health burden on our country. We need a right to disconnect, and this is not a fringe, radical or wacky idea. It is tested. It can be created in a simple way, in a clear way that workers and their employers and communities will understand and benefit from.

There are currently more than 56 enterprise agreements across Australia that have created a right-to-disconnect clause in their bargaining for their workplaces. These agreements cover workers in our schools, in our banks, in newspapers, in local government, in universities, in transport and in logistics. The list goes on. In the inquiry around this bill we heard evidence from workers who are crying out for a right to disconnect in their workplace. We heard from teachers, such as Ms Butler and Ms Yewdall, that as a direct consequence of being unable to disconnect from their work they are burnt out and considering leaving their professions. We lose them, we lose their skills and we pay a price for that in our labour market, especially at a time when their skills are so sorely needed. We are losing our best and brightest workers because there is no limit that they can currently place around their job in terms of being contacted outside their paid working hours. Almost 20 other countries have faced up to this problem and created a right to disconnect. Enshrining this right in Australia at the federal level is simply playing catch-up with the rest of the world. Australia has been falling behind.

I'm proud of the work of our party and the great deal of research and consultation that we've engaged in to create this amendment. Some employers say it's unnecessary to legislate this right. They don't understand how much women's lives and the lives of carers and workers have changed and are affected by the encroachment of work. Evey time any positive workplace relations reform is attempted in this country we hear the same argument over and over again. I've been listening to it for 40 years: the sky is falling; nothing will ever be the same. Well, I can assure you, the sky is not falling. What we propose is a reasonable, flexible, workable right—one that is desperately overdue. With this change, the right to disconnect, we are going to pull our labour law into the 21st century and help it deal with the changing technologies that shape so much of our lives and our jobs, and we need that new 21st century labour law to respond to the changing circumstances of people's lives.

The final report of the Senate Select Committee on Work and Care, which I chaired, agreed to by both Labor and the Greens, recommended a whole-of-government approach to the challenge of work and family across our country. The majority report pushed for a range of measures, including a right to disconnect.

There's still a lot more for us to do in our workplace relations systems. Workers face problems on multiple fronts: intrusive technology, insecure work, lagging real wages, gender inequality and wage theft, all of which detract from the quality of work and personal lives. Many employers and workplaces are already dealing with things like the need to disconnect. They are in conversation with each other. They find practical ways to do it. The right to disconnect and the amendments that we are proposing and want to see will enable those in workplaces where their power is limited and weak, giving them a first brick to back them up when they ask for control over their working time.

The key purpose of a workplace relations system must be to protect the interests of working people fairly from the disproportionate power of employers, big contractors and monopolies. The Australian Greens have already secured amendments in the closing loopholes bill that will improve working conditions, and we urge the parliament to support our amendment and to legislate a right for workers to disconnect. It is good for workers, good for their kids, good for their mental health, good for our communities and also good for our productivity.

7:10 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak today on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. Last year the government did close some loopholes that undercut pay and conditions for Australian workers. We did so by criminalising wage theft and stopping the underpayment of workers through the use of labour hire. This bill continues with that work, closing other loopholes that undermine the pay and conditions of Australian workers. This bill is designed to protect, defend and support Australian workers by properly defining 'casual work' so casuals aren't being exploited and by making sure that gig workers in our economy aren't being ripped off.

We know that the gig economy has been both shaping and responding to our changing world, and in many respects, in its reshaping of our economy, it has led to benefits for consumers. But there is a price for this convenience. As I have reiterated over and over again in this chamber, the price we have paid for it has been far too high, and far too much of that burden has been paid by the workers in this industry. I cannot fathom how consumer convenience has been allowed in our country to come before worker safety, to come before everything that has been fought for in our industrial system for decades and decades—the sorts of things that my grandfather, as a unionist, fought for in our country, that my mother, as a unionist, fought for in our country: the industrial rights and principles that we believe in. It has led to a race to the bottom. Workers have felt that. Good employers have seen that. The Transport Workers Union and other unions have rallied against it. I have been fighting it, as have so many of my Labor colleagues. Now we have an opportunity to address it.

What has been happening in our gig economy is not okay. What we've seen in the gig economy hasn't just been a revolution of convenience; it has been a race to the bottom. It has been a systematic overwrite of the hard-fought-for industrial rights of Australian workers in a way that is bad for workers, bad for good employers and bad for Australia. That's why this bill is so important. The bill will allow the Fair Work Commission to make orders for minimum standards for new forms of work such as gig work. I cannot believe it has to be said, but in the nature of this debate it does. Just because someone is working in the gig economy, it shouldn't mean they're not entitled to a minimum wage. It shouldn't mean they're not entitled to minimum standards. That is crazy.

But we should also be clear about what this bill is not. We're not trying to turn people into employees when they don't want to be employees. Some gig workers want flexibility, and we get that. That's still possible. But minimum standards matter too. In my view, these aren't radical changes, but they're necessary changes. They are the right changes. We're also taking action in the trucking industry. We want it to be safe, sustainable and viable. As part of this legislation, the Fair Work Commission has the power to set fair and minimum standards for road transport. These sorts of measures in the legislation we're talking about will save lives, not just of those in the industry but of everyone on our roads.

The Without trucks Australia stops Senate report starkly illustrated the deadly impact of cost-cutting and unrealistic deadlines, and just yesterday the Transport Workers Union held a vigil in Parliament House for the 235 people killed in transport related crashes in 2023. That is unacceptable. How can we not take action when that information is before us? I want to acknowledge everyone who has fought for this change, including those in South Australia. I notice him in the gallery, so it's handy that you're here, Frank. I want to acknowledge Frank Black, who's been on the front line of this fight. I've seen him at rally after rally. I also want to acknowledge Ian Smith and Sam McIntosh, and I have to make mention of our dear friend the late senator Alex Gallacher.

When it comes to casual work, the new definition of casual employment will clarify what was always intended with casual work—that, if you are working regular and predictable hours and you want to be permanent, you get a pathway to that. Our employee-like reforms simply require workers to have some minimum standards benchmarked against existing award rates when they are working in a way which is similar to employees. We know there's a direct link between low rates of pay and safety. We know that. We've seen it in the gig economy, where workers take risks to get more work—workers who are often struggling to make ends meet. We have seen that on our roads, and we have seen it with tragic effect.

I have sat in committee rooms in this building and heard time after time stories from families who have lost loved ones on the road or lost loved ones in the gig economy. They are families who have come to this building to share their pain with us and who have opened their hearts and spilled out their trauma to senators from across the aisle in the hope that the death of their loved ones wouldn't be vain, in the hope that the traumas and pains that they experienced would not be in vain and in the hope that they could change the law and change the country. Well, that's what we're doing with this bill. Their stories, their efforts, their bravery and their courage in coming here won't be in vain. There are loopholes here we must close, and I am proudly, proudly supporting the bill before us.

A 2023 McKell survey of over 1,000 gig workers showed that workers are being pressured to work long hours, work during peak times and rush. On top of that, they're being threatened with low pay and manipulated with the fear of deactivation instead of seeing the flexibility that they were promised. These aren't just statistics in a survey; these are real people. This is their reality as they go to work each day across our country. These are people like Simerdeep, a gig worker from Adelaide who worked in the gig economy for over a year. He wanted the flexibility it offered him. He took up a role with Amazon Flex, and he was failed on his very first shift. He was failed by being given an impossible task and failed by not being given the support and training he needed to do his job safely. In thanks he was underpaid in every sense of the word for the work he did. That's not okay.

Neither is Mugdha's experience. I met Mugdha today. She bravely came to the parliament to talk about her experience as a food delivery rider. On her very first shift, Mugdha was hit by a car, thrown off her scooter and ended up unconscious on the road. She was injured on the entire left side of her body and her lower back. She didn't have access to workers compensation. With no access to support, she had to go back to work. She had to go back and get on that bike when she wasn't ready. Worse still, she had to work longer hours trying to make up the time she had taken off. She came here to tell us her story because she doesn't want to see another worker experience that. She was brave in coming here, as so many people have been brave in coming here and telling their stories to us, and I know they've invited every senator in this chamber to listen to them.

Davis, as well, is a gig worker in Melbourne. He told me he gets paid as little as $6.50 an hour. That is happening in our country at the moment. That is not acceptable. That needs to change. These are stories of real people working in an industry which has been allowed to flourish at the expense of their rights and at the expense of the things we have fought for in this country. We have let consumer convenience matter more than them. That's not okay. These stories are not okay. They are not consistent with what our national story should be in Australia, and that's why we need to close these loopholes.

I am proud of this bill because the gig economy has created a race to the bottom. It has sent us backwards on the hard-fought-for industrial rights that are the foundation of modern Australia, and the Australian workers across our country deserve better than this. Our country is better than this. This is the land of the fair go. It is what we as Australians define ourselves as being. But there are workers out there who have not had a fair go. They've had less-than-fair conditions and less-than-fair compensation for their efforts, and they haven't been safe.

In my very first speech to the Senate, I stood here and called this out. I said that the gig economy, for all its conveniences, is threatening the basic rights of workers, including to fair pay. I get that consumer convenience matters. I understand it's important. But we always have had to ask ourselves how much we are willing to pay for it, because that sacrifice has not been made by us; it's been made by people out there working in this gig economy who have paid far too high a price.

I know the coalition have opposed these reforms every step of the way, and I know that at the end of this debate it will be no different. But, with everything you know about what is happening in this economy and what is happening with employees on our roads, how can that be the case? I commend this bill to the Senate.

7:21 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I start my remarks, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: I understand Frank Black is in the gallery. I had occasion—it might have been one or two years ago—to support Senator Sheldon in relation to the fact that the ACCC had been targeting Mr Black, as I understood. I read some of the correspondence in relation to what at the time I referred to as his exhortation or plea for truck owner-drivers to make sure that they didn't undercut each other to death with their rates in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was very pleased to do that, and I was very pleased to support Senator Sheldon in his efforts in that regard. I pay my compliments to all those who've advocated for the rights of truck owner-drivers and other Australian workers, especially vulnerable workers. I do that at the commencement of my contribution in this debate.

I admire Senator Smith's passion, her integrity and her commitment with respect to this matter. However, there are deep concerns we have in relation to this legislation, the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. As is so often the case when there are things that need to be addressed in society and issues of legitimate concern to anyone of good faith and good heart, there's concern that, when the regulatory pendulum swings too far and too hard, good people who are doing the right thing are damaged. A lot of those good people aren't the cross-border multinationals with billions and billions of dollars of capital; they're small businesses. The over two million small businesses in this country, which employ more than 40 per cent of employed Australians, are the ones who are going to be left to grapple with this legislation. They're the ones I'm concerned about—the small businesses who don't have an internal legal department with hordes and hordes of lawyers ready to support them and don't have multiple billions of dollars of capital but who are just hanging on by their fingernails. I have advocated for a number of these small businesses to the Australian Taxation Office and to other people in relation to what they're going through. My concern is for those small businesses and what this legislation is going to impose upon those small businesses.

I want to give you just one example of how I think this legislation is going far too far. I think the issues that are being identified could have been addressed without going this far. I want to give you one example of that, and that is the definition of 'casual employee' under the legislation. This is what we are imposing on small businesses across Australia—including the ACT, I say to Senator David Pocock, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is the definition we are imposing upon small businesses. It takes 25 steps. I counted them. I've been a practising lawyer for over 25 years. I read this legislation word for word—25 steps of mental gymnastics for a small-business person who's hanging on by their fingernails to try to determine whether or not one of their employees is a casual employee. I will walk through them for you, because this is what we're imposing. There is all the lovely rhetoric, all the wonderful words, but, at the end of the day, over two million small businesses—I'm not talking about the BHPs or Rio Tintos—hanging on by their fingernails are going to be left to try to work out what the hell this means. If I as a lawyer who has practised in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Chile and Laos—I've navigated all sorts of employment situations—have trouble working it out, what hope have they got? This is what you are imposing on them—25 steps.

Step 1 is in section 15A on the meaning of 'casual employee'. The general rule is:

(a) the employment relationship is characterised by an absence of a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work …

There are 18 words we've identified in step 1. What do they mean? Now we've got to go from the first limb of the general rule to the indicia, the indications that apply to the purposes of the general rule under 15A(2). There, in the first paragraph, we've got to consider:

… the basis of the real substance, practical reality and true nature of the employment relationship …

That is a bit of tautology, isn't it—the 'real substance'? I'm not sure why we are saying 'real substance' instead of 'substance'. I would have thought something is either a substance or not. It's a bit like a round circle. Then we are saying 'the practical reality'. How that is that different from 'real substance'? Then we have to consider the 'true nature' of the employment relationship. I'm not sure what that's intended to add. That's our second step. We have another 23 to go. This is for someone hanging on by their fingernails as a small-business person in this country. So in step 2 we've got to consider real substance, practical reality and true nature and:

(b) on the basis that a firm advance commitment can be in the form of the contract of employment …

So I can look in my contract of employment. That's easy. That's step No. 3.

But, if it isn't in my contract of employment, I've got to go to step 4, which is these words:

… irrespective of the terms of that contract, in the form of a mutual understanding or expectation between the employer and employee not rising to the level of a term of that contract (or to a variation of any such term) …

So it's something nebulous. It's an understanding or it's an expectation. I'm not sure what the understanding or expectation is. Senator Pocock might be able to go down to his local cafe and explain to the owner of the business how to interpret this clause.

Then, once we've worked out whether or not we've got something that is maybe an understanding or an expectation, in step 5 we then have to go to the explanatory notes. We've gone through the first limb of the general rule. We then went onto the second indicator clause. Now there is an explanatory clause in 15A(3). It says:

(a) for the purposes of paragraph (2)(b)—

and (2)(b) is the clause that talks about the mutual understanding or expectation—

a mutual understanding or expectation may be inferred from conduct of the employer and employee after entering into the contract of employment or from how the contract is performed …

I'm not really sure what that means. We're only up to step 5. We've got another 20 steps to go. This is what your local cafe owner is going to have to go through.

Step 6, we're now returning to the indicia of the general rule, the first limb of the general rule:

(c) having regard to, but not limited to, the following considerations (which indicate the presence, rather than an absence, of such a commitment)—

what a word salad that is!

Step 7:

(i) whether there is an inability of the employer to elect to offer work or an inability of the employee to elect to accept or reject work (and whether this occurs in practice);

Step 8:

(ii) whether, having regard to the nature of the employer's enterprise, it is reasonably likely—

I always love that term, 'reasonably likely'—

that there will be future availability of continuing work—

well, I've got to tell you, the small businesses I talk to are hanging on. They're not sure if they're going to survive—

in that enterprise of the kind usually performed by the employee;

So there are about six or so elements in that step, and that's only step 8.

Step 9:

(iii) whether there are full-time employees or part-time employees performing the same kind of work in the employer's enterprise that is usually performed by the employee;

Step 10, we have to consider:

(iv) whether there is a regular pattern of work for the employee.

Step 10 is one of my favourites, actually, because 'whether there is a regular pattern of work for the employee' actually has an explanatory note under it that says:

A regular pattern of work does not of itself indicate a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work. An employee who has a regular pattern of work may still be a casual employee if there is no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work.

I'm not really sure what that adds—but, hang on, my next customer has come. I have to try and deal with my customer as well as finish step 11.

But, hang on, I've got to now go to step 12 because this is the third limb of the test that's telling me what a regular pattern of work is. We've got section 15A(2)(c)(iv) and then the explanatory note, but then I've got to go to section 15A(3)(c). Senator Pocock, you can explain to the small businesses in Canberra what this means:

(c) a pattern of work is regular for the purposes of subparagraph (2)(c)(iv) even if it is not absolutely uniform—

If it's not 'absolutely uniform'. If it's a little bit uniform—I don't know what that means—

and includes some fluctuation or variation over time (including for reasonable absences such as for illness, injury or recreation).

Okay. That's step 12.

I've then got to go to step 13, which tells me that, when I'm considering all those factors which I considered under steps 6 to 11, I can't consider any of them to be determinative. They don't all have to be met. And, in fact, there could be others as well, so it's open-ended. That's step 13.

I'm now up to step 14. I have to go back to the general rules. So we've gone on a journey from the general rule, to the indicia, through to the explanatory clause dealing with the indicia, but I've only dealt with the first limb of the general rule, and that's taken me 13 steps. So now I'm up to step 14. Small businesses in Canberra, ring Senator Pocock. He'll explain it to you. Step 14:

(b) the employee would be entitled to a casual loading—

Would be entitled if they were a casual. It's a bit circular. I'll call it a round circle in the spirit of the tautologist nature of the legislation—

or a specific rate of pay for casual employees under the terms of a fair work instrument if the employee were a casual employee—

that's step 15.

Step 16:

… or the employee is entitled to such a loading or rate of pay under the contract of employment.

Then we have another one of these useful notes, step 17:

An employee who commences employment as a casual employee remains a casual employee until the occurrence of a specified event (see subsection (5)).

That takes us to a new subsection—subsection (5)—which has four elements to it, which are step 18, step 19, step 20 and step 21. Then we're up to—

Honourable Senator:

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Hang on. There are exceptions to the general rule. We've got the general rule, the indicia to the general rule, the explanatory clauses of the general rule and then exceptions to the general rule. They are step 22 and step 23. But, even better, there's an explanatory note to the exceptions to the general rule—that's step 24. And our last step is an exception to the explanatory note to the exception to the general rule after you've applied the explanatory clause and the indicia in trying to apply the general rule.

An opposition senator: It's simple!

It's simple! Hell, I'll make a copy for my next customer!

That's what you're imposing upon more than two million small businesses. It's taken me three hours today to work that out. That's what you're imposing on Australian small businesses, including all those small businesses in the ACT. Senator Pocock, I'll give you a tutorial and you can help explain it to them.

7:36 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. In doing that, I will illustrate why this bill is a sham that does not protect workers like the name implies.

Nothing in this bill will fix the absolute scandal that One Nation has uncovered. The Labor government is giving more power to union bosses, which is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. As I will explain, union bosses are the ones that have been ripping off workers, and the government regulator, the Fair Work Commission, has endorsed it. I challenge anyone to explain to me in detail how the closing loopholes No. 2 bill will fix the cases I'm about to explain.

An independent report details the largest wage theft scandal Australia has ever seen. Coalmine workers have each had tens of thousands of dollars stolen from them every year. Labour hire companies, union bosses and governments have been covering it up for a decade or more. The culprits are labour hire companies supplying casual workers to some Central Queensland and Hunter Valley coalmines. The CFMEU—the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union—enabled and supported the wage theft. The Fair Work Commission signed off and endorsed the enterprise agreements, enabling the wage theft.

One Nation commissioned an independent analysis which shows that hardworking, casual coalminers are each being shafted on 2023 pay rates by an average of around $33,000 every year. This is systemic wage theft resulting from collusion between labour hire companies—including major foreign multinationals—the CFMEU and the Fair Work Commission. My grave and disturbing allegations are based on solid facts and hard data.

A quirk in the Black Coal Mining Industry Award makes this scam possible. Under that award it's illegal for mine employers to have casual employees. Yet, if casuals were legal, everyone in Australia knows that the employer would have to pay casuals 25 per cent more than the award full-time rate, as a 25 per cent casual loading for loss of basic entitlements like leave, sick leave and others. While the award prohibits casuals, labour hire companies—with the CFMEU—created enterprise agreements to employ casuals without any loading. The CFMEU negotiated, approved or sought to become a party to these agreements.

The closing loopholes No. 2 bill claims that all of these problems in industrial relations can be solved if we get the union bosses more involved and give them more power. What is the use of giving the CFMEU bosses more power when they negotiated and approved agreements that have ripped off casual workers for more than a decade? The Fair Work Commission should be policing and rejecting these agreements, yet it approved them. The rates under the agreements were less than the award with a 25 per cent loading. This means that the enterprise agreements are paying much less than what should be paid under the award if it allowed casuals. Some casuals were paid even less than the full-time award through technical legal trickery. All parties claim these agreements are legal, yet everyone knows a casual gets a 25 per cent loading on the hourly rate of a full-time worker. Paying them any less is wage theft. It appears that, once the Fair Work Commission approves an enterprise agreement that pays less than what should be paid under the award, the underpayment then becomes legal.

Yet One Nation is awake. All Australians deserve honest pay for an honest day's work. We have spent nearly five years investigating wage theft. Nothing in this bill will fix up the absolute scandal One Nation has uncovered. Tonight I launch our major report detailing the extent of the wage theft scam. In 2019, after the CFMEU brushed off many years of casual coalminers' complaints, the miners brought their underpayment complaints to us in One Nation. We took action. I've been holding the Fair Work Commission accountable for nearly five years. We asked the Fair Work Commission to provide their copy of the better-off-overall test—the BOOT—they've done on relevant enterprise agreements. The BOOT is supposed to be a safety net that rejects underpaying agreements and protects workers from underpayment. Yet the commission handed us no documents. There are no spreadsheets, no tables comparing conditions and benefits and no real assurance that they'd properly weighed it up. The response was along the lines of, 'Trust us; it passes.'

The CFMEU has been signing off on dodgy agreements for more than a decade, and the Fair Work Commission is either asleep at the wheel or complicit. Either way, both enable or are responsible for massive wage theft. Last year we raised this issue with the Fair Work Ombudsman and with Minister Burke and his department. Responses from all three have been like that of the Fair Work Commission. 'Trust us,' they say, yet they provide no hard evidence.

One Nation then commissioned independent research, with the results in the report. The first part presents the facts of coalmining casual work patterns. It marries those patterns against what the award would require if casual employment were possible under the award. The second part exposes how this scam has been allowed to continue in breach of proper, commonsense application of the law. The report details that coalminers are required to work any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, close to a 44-hour week—Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays, days and nights. It's long, hard work that can be dangerous. The report shows that, according to the award, for example, a full-time mine worker doing 12-hour shifts will earn about $120,849 per year or $53.84 an hour. Taking what a full-time mine worker should earn under the award and adding a casual loading, a casual mine worker doing the same hours should earn $151,061 a year, or a flat rate of $66.40 an hour, regardless of hours worked.

The independent analysis One Nation commissioned looked in detail at mine workers' hourly rates under the five most common enterprise agreements covering casuals in coalmining. We found that none of the enterprise agreements were paying casual workers anywhere near the $66.40 an hour they should be receiving. Some were even paying casuals less than the hourly rate a full-time worker gets under the award. The fact that a casual worker could be paid less than the hourly rate of a full-time worker under some of the agreements should have set of alarm bells at the Fair Work Commission. Every single enterprise agreement—all five—has the CFMEU's fingerprints on it, and the Fair Work Commission signed off every single agreement.

The research assessed five of the major enterprise agreements in consultation with independent analysis, lawyers and coalminers. Let's go through them. The CoreStaff NSW Black Coal Enterprise Agreement 2018 pays casual mine workers $56.16 an hour, much less than the $66.40 a casual should be paid. The CFMEU is recognised under the agreement. The Fair Work Commission approved the agreement. The underpayment of each casual coalminer each year is $22,623. For FES, in Rockhampton, at a hearing of the inquiry into Labor's closing loopholes bill we received evidence that the FES agreement 2018 pays casual employee Dwayne Arnold $54 an hour, well short of the $66.40 a casual should be paid. This agreement was made with the CFMEU. The Fair Work Commission signed off on the agreement. The underpayment of each casual coalminer each year is $27,563.

The WorkPac Coal Mining Agreement 2019 provides four different pay rates for a casual mine worker: between $42.99 and $51.38 an hour, depending on the day—all less than the hourly rate of a permanent worker. Calculations use the highest weekend rate even though this is more than what an average mine worker will get. It's far short of the $66.40 that should be paid. The CFMEU negotiated and approved the agreement. The Fair Work Commission signed it. The yearly underpayment for a casual coalminer is $33,555. The Chandler Macleod agreement in 2020 pays a casual $48.85 an hour, far below the $66.40 that should be paid and less than the hourly rate of a permanent worker on the award. The CFMEU was a bargaining representative for the 2015 agreement, supported its approval and is a party to the 2020 agreement. The Fair Work Commission approved the agreement. The yearly underpayment per mine worker is $39,341.

Let's go to the TESA group. The agreement in 2022 pays a casual $48.28 an hour, far below the $66.40 that should be paid and less than the hourly rate of a permanent worker on the award. The CFMEU is a party to the agreement. The Fair Work Commission approved it. The yearly underpayment per worker is $40,645. That's almost $41,000 per year underpaid. Across these agreements a casual mineworker loses on average almost $33,000 every year compared to what they should be paid on the standard casual loading on the award rate.

One Nation challenges each of the parties in this scam. To the labour hire companies, the CFMEU union bosses and the Fair Work Commission, One Nation says: prove to us that our report is wrong. Don't give us the excuse of the legal construct that you have created to enable and endorse the wage theft. Prove to us that the payments to the coal workers is higher than would be paid if the award allowed casual workers. Prove to us casuals are paid a loading. You will fail. Casuals are not paid a casual loading. It's wage theft. It's masterful wage theft. It's hideous wage theft.

There are potentially tens of thousands of victim mineworkers in the history of dodgy agreements we can track over a decade. The total wage theft is massive. The failure of the Fair Work Commission and the Fair Work Ombudsman is shocking institutional failure. The fact they covered it up after we informed them is a disgraceful failure. It calls into question the entire structure, promise and integrity of the system in Australia that is supposed to protect Australian workers from underpayment, from wage theft.

Nothing in this bill will fix the absolute scandal One Nation has uncovered. Minister Burke's bill aims to hide those responsible. Failure of the CFMEU bosses is even more obvious. We have a signed letter from the Hunter Valley CFMEU and labour hire company Chandler Macleod. In that letter, the CFMEU promises to never take action against Chandler Macleod for any breaches of worker entitlements. Our report details that the CFMEU has had commercial business dealings in the coal sector for decades. The CFMEU pretends to be a union. In fact, it is one of the employers, the bosses. It started labour hire casuals in the Hunter. It employed labour hire casuals. It started it. This theft must stop. CFMEU union bosses must be held to account for failing to represent workers, for betraying workers. The Fair Work Commission must be held to account for failing to stop dodgy enterprise agreements.

My amendment that I will be moving in the committee of the whole will ensure that those workers underpaid in the black coal industry will receive their fair pay entitlements in full. It adds transparency missing from the Fair Work Act and will ensure that the Fair Work Commission does its job, while the overprescriptive provisions of the Fair Work Act hide or ignore basic protections for workers. The Fair Work Commission has previously admitted that the Fair Work Act does not provide sufficient oversight of the Fair Work Commission when it fails to do its job.

One thrust of Minister Burke's appalling bill is to cover up and bury Australia's largest ever wage theft. Thousands of coalminers have each been underpaid on average around $33,000 per year because their union bosses did a shady deal with their employer. I have detailed proof of this. My amendment will put an end to these dodgy deals and enterprise agreements that pay much less than the award and it will ensure workers are reimbursed their stolen wages. Nothing in the closing loopholes No. 2 bill will hold the unions or the Fair Work Commission to account. Instead, Anthony Albanese's solution is to give union bosses even more power with no accountability and no scrutiny. With what I have detailed in this speech, it's obvious that that would be simply putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

The changes contained in the so-called closing loopholes No. 2 bill will be far-reaching and have devastating impacts on the way almost every operation in Australia is forced to do business. We have had countless meetings with unions, small businesses, employees, workers, industry associations, law groups and more. The overarching message that all of them could agree with me on was that the Fair Work Act is simply too complicated for any worker or business to understand. The act is already a bulky 1,341 pages. It's a sledgehammer that's killing our economy. It's so big it has to be split into three volumes so they can print it. It started 15 years ago as just a 652-page act. In the last five years alone, the Fair Work Act has increased by over 300 pages. What hope has someone who runs a bakery? What hope has an individual worker? The only ones who can keep up with all of the legislation changes and the complicated legal sections and find the loopholes are big corporations and big union bosses. They make the loopholes. I call them the industrial relations club. It includes big corporations, industrial relations consultants, lawyers and big union bosses.

Big corporations love a complex Fair Work Act because it stops small businesses who can't figure out all the red tape from competing with them. Industrial relations lawyers love it because it keeps them in a job. Union bosses love it because it forces them into the conversation, whether the employees want them there or not. That's why you hear so much support for this bill from the big money players. Genuine small-business owners who are too busy trying to run small operations and to pay their staff don't have time to write parliamentary submissions or understand some amendments that may come into law. If this bill is passed, the 1,341-page Fair Work Act won't get smaller and easier to understand. It will make the act longer, more complex, more prescriptive—the opposite of everything we need to fix industrial relations in this country. As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I know only One Nation will fight to make sure workers receive their entitlements, and my amendment will do exactly that. We don't need a so-called loopholes bill; we need enforcement of the award.

7:51 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the second half of this omnibus bill which we've now been examining for six months since last September. The Senate voted to delay the reporting of this bill and then voted to split this bill into two, and we're now facing the second half of that. There has been an exhaustive Senate committee process. One of the things that I had not realised about politics—not that I knew much about what to expect—is just how informative the Senate committee processes are and how collegiate things are, generally speaking; it gets heated at times. I'd really like to thank the secretariat and the committee—the chair, Senator Sheldon, and the numerous other senators—who basically did a roadshow around the country. I'd like to thank Senators O'Sullivan, Cash, Grogan, Barbara Pocock, Lambie and many others for engaging, listening and learning. There were seven full days of committee hearings in Launceston, Perth, Rockhampton, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, which had two days.

We've had a good look at this bill now. We've heard some pretty wild claims in here about what this bill does and doesn't do. Sure, omnibus bills lend themselves to that because there's a lot in them, but we have looked at this bill, and I'd really like to thank the stakeholders who have engaged so much over the last six months: the business groups, the small and large businesses, workers and unions. I know that many people in this place have done their own consultations. I've had four dedicated round tables where I've heard from these groups, and I've talked about this legislation at two town halls here in the ACT. I would like to thank people who attended and had input into that. So I think not only has there been scrutiny but there's also been genuine consultation. There's been work through the committee and then separately with businesses, employer organisations, unions, workers and the government to agree a huge list of amendments that make this bill better, that make it fairer and that make it simpler.

I think some of the claims we've heard are not based in fact or in the legislation that is in front of us now. These changes don't give unions the right to waltz into someone's family home—not even close. It's expressly forbidden. You cannot enter a residential premises. We've seen some scaremongering and people trying to use fear when it comes to farmers and small-business owners about things that don't even apply to them. I think that's quite dangerous and something that we, as elected representatives, should really be avoiding. I think Australians are tired of politicians who cry wolf, who try to whip up fear, telling people that the sky is going to fall, and who aren't willing to engage and improve things for people, for Australians—yes, both those who run the small businesses and those who work in businesses across the country. What I've been hearing from people is that they want to see us engage, want to see us listening and negotiating constructively on legislation, and that's what I've been trying to do.

Australians know we have a system that needs some work. They don't want delivery drivers who drop burgers off to them but are unable to live above the poverty line, who have no basic rights or insurance, who are getting knocked over and killed on a regular basis. They don't want truck drivers to have to work hours that are dangerous for themselves and other road users just to put food on the table for their families. They don't want a system where lecturers in our universities work seven years as casuals doing permanent work and are unable to apply for a home loan or have the stability of permanent employment even though they are doing that job year in, year out.

Australians know that things have to change and improve, but, yes, they also want flexibility. They want to ensure that workers who want to work as casuals, whether because they like the flexibility or because they like the casual loading, can do so. Through the committee process, looking through submissions and talking to stakeholders, I think almost every area that was raised as a key concern during consultation has been improved and there has been a balance struck. There are people on both sides who are unhappy, but things like people's right to convert from casual to permanent have been strengthened. The conversion pathway has been simplified to one employee-led pathway that. That was something we heard a lot about during the committee process. Again, there's the flexibility for casuals to opt to remain casual.

I think the amendments to this bill also make it fairer for businesses. They can refuse a conversion request on fair and reasonable grounds. We know that the circumstances of small businesses change a lot. Their income through the year changes a lot, their workload changes a lot, and we need that flexibility for them. The amendments also give businesses longer to adapt to the changes. Small businesses will be carved out of the civil penalty provisions, and the government is open to a review of the definitions of small business. Across Commonwealth legislation there are many definitions. One thing I've been hearing from small businesses is that more and more people wanting to work flexible hours means businesses have a higher headcount of employees on their books, so I think that warrants a look at the whole range of totals and numbers that are used.

One of the other things we heard was agreement on the need for new minimum standards for gig workers, and for the first time in this country we'll have a system that looks to ensure gig workers have minimum standards.\

Crucially, there will be a review of this legislation in two years. I think it's ridiculous for us to just set and forget things. We are going to have to improve this, and I think two years is a good length of time to see some of this work through.

The crossbench have done a lot of work on this, and I want to thank Senator Lambie and Senator Barbara Pocock for working constructively as a crossbench to improve this legislation. There have been a range of amendments: when it comes to casual employment, delaying the commencement of the casuals provisions until six months after royal assent, to give stakeholders time to prepare for the new arrangements; making sure the employment contract can still be considered by the Fair Work Commission in determining whether or not an employee is casual, which was something we heard a lot about during the committee process; ensuring that a single indicator should not establish a firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work; clarifying that an employer may be able to offer, or refuse to offer, work to a casual employee; and broadening the capacity for employees to enter into fixed term contracts as casual employees, which was a significant concern that was raised. Finally, there's an amendment that would ensure that all employees may be engaged on fixed term contracts as casuals except academics, as I mentioned earlier. This largely resolves legitimate concerns raised by on-hire companies offering temporary contracts, including to the Public Service.

The conversion pathway that I mentioned came up a lot in the committee hearings, and this legislation repeals the existing requirement on businesses to offer conversion to staff. It's now one simpler conversion pathway for employees to request a conversion. This will relieve the existing administrative burden that we heard about from businesses. There's also a provision that makes it simpler for business, especially small business, to refuse casual conversion by removing the requirement to provide a detailed statement of reasons. Senator Scarr talked about just how busy small businesses are. We do need to be doing things that ensure that workers are looked after, but we're also reducing red tape for small businesses.

Critically, part of this legislation will amend the Fair Work Act to allow the government to lower barriers to casual employees in the Australian Public Service converting to permanent and enabling them to apply to the Fair Work Commission to deal with disputes about casual conversion. We heard about issues around public servants who are working as casuals for a long time and because of the requirements of the merits based employment process they miss out. So, there'll now be a legitimate pathway for them.

When it comes to gig workers, there's a range of amendments limiting the Fair Work Commission to considering only the class or classes of regulated businesses to be covered by proposed minimum standard orders or guidelines rather than naming individual businesses through the minister's reg-making power and increasing from one to two out of three the number of criteria someone needs to meet to be defined as employee-like.

When it comes to right of entry, which I know there has been much debate about, there's an additional guardrail such that the Fair Work Commission, prior to issuing a certificate, must be satisfied that advance notice of entry into a workplace would hinder an effective investigation into suspected underpayments. That's a high bar to clear.

When it comes to the right to disconnect—and I'd like to acknowledge Senator Barbara Pocock's work on this for many, many years—I think it now strikes the right balance, where it is a right of the employee not to have to respond if they think it's unreasonable, if they're not being paid for that time. It doesn't affect people who have an allowance or have that in their contract. But I think there's a whole heap of workers out there, a whole heap of Australians who want a way to be able to say to their boss: 'I'm off. I want to spend time with my family and get away for a bit.'

When it comes to road transport, I'd like to acknowledge the amount of work that was done there before this legislation hit the Senate to build consensus. Despite what Senator Hume may say about there being no consensus, based on the engagement I've had there is a lot more consensus than I've seen on other issues that come through this place, and I acknowledge that that must have taken a lot of work. There are amendments that enable peak councils, defined as a national state council or federation that is effectively representative of a significant number of organisations, to make applications to vary or revoke minimum standards orders—this is another safeguard—and provide that minimum standard orders can include a term only to the extent necessary to achieve the minimum standards objective—again, another guardrail which I think is important.

Just to finish on the review, I think it's good practice, and I'd like to thank the government—Minister Burke—for the way they have gone about this and engaged with the crossbench.

8:04 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to be able to rise in the second reading debate here in the Senate to address the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. This is a piece of work that completes very important work that was commenced with the secure jobs, better pay bill, which has been interrupted. And its's been the subject of considerable conversation in the community and some incredibly unhelpful hysteria from those who lost government and are still bleating and moaning that the world is being destroyed and that they cannot cope with life on the other side of this chamber. Their opposition is to everything, all the time. They are aptly called the 'no-alition'. They do not want this to proceed.

But there is good work being done here in the Senate, good work being done by an orderly government that respectfully engages with the people here who have been elected by the Australian people, that engages with the crossbench in a way that is respectful, determined to move as collaboratively and cleverly as we can towards cooperation in the interest of the nation. It's that endeavour of serving the nation that's going to see this bill advance, with the declarations today that it looks like there's support for this bill at this point in time—which hadn't been there.

Building consensus isn't an easy thing to do. That's why I want to take the opportunity to roundly endorse the profound leadership on these matters of the great Transport Workers Union, and the two men sitting here inside the Senate with me, directly in front of me: Senator Tony Sheldon—who's had a long and illustrious career with the TWU as its former leader and is now a great senator for the great state of New South Wales, alongside me here—and the wonderful Glenn Sterle from Western Australia. And I see representatives of the Transport Workers Union, and I'll wave to you, happily. I wave to you on the roads, like everybody does—wave to the trucks as we pass them. They are representing workers in the transport industry, representing owner-drivers in the transport industry, representing big businesses in the transport industry and representing every Australian who gets on the road every day with their precious cargo, the people they love, in the car, relying on your advocacy to bring to the attention of this Senate important matters of national safety and security.

And you've been doing it for years—years and years and years. There'll be a couple of steps forward, and then we get the opposition, when they were in government, and many steps backwards. But you've never resiled from the task. Your heart's been pure, and your efforts have been powerful and effective. So, I want to really congratulate you, because that's what union people do: never give up, always fight. And it's not a selfish fight for you as individuals; it's a battle in the interest of many. When this legislation passes there will be victory and benefit to so many millions of Australian workers, and your efforts over many years are a vital part of the recipe that is being cooked here today. So I want to sincerely thank you for those efforts.

Australians do believe that we live in a great country, and we believe in fairness. We also believe in the rule of law. People think that if it's in the law it's going to be pretty fair, and they're pretty shocked sometimes when they find that that isn't the case. I know Australian workers from growing up in a small-business family, in the construction sector, where across the road from us were a couple of drivers of trucks for the coalmining industry up in Appin. They used to park their trucks out the back of where we lived, and they were proud of their rigs. That's the kind of family that I grew up in, where everybody on our street wanted to pay off a house, raise their kids and do something meaningful, to be proud of what they did, to be able to go to work, to show up and get paid fairly for the work they do every day.

I don't think it's unreasonable, either, that Australian workers should work in a workplace where they have a degree of safety such that they can expect that they'll probably go home alive. That is not an unreasonable expectation. This piece of legislation today goes to all these things. It's about people showing up and getting paid fairly for what they do. It's about people showing up and being able to operate safely in the industry that they choose to be a part of.

And it's about people having, in those conditions, the necessary security of a job that will let them go to a bank and say, 'I've got enough security in my job to be able to pay back a loan' or 'I can actually buy a car', if they live in regional Australia, where there are no buses, no other transport, and if you've got no car you don't work. Even where I live, on the Central Coast, an hour and a half outside Sydney, a public transport system just doesn't operate. If you don't have a car, you don't work, you can't advance and you can't move into the future, which I believe you have a right to do as an Australian. You have to be able to pay off a car loan.

And the dream of owning an Australian home is something that people still very much hold onto in this country. There's a crisis in that sector as well that's going to require further legislation and policy work from this government to begin to redress the decades of neglect. But you're never going to get a home loan if you haven't got secure income. No bank is going to lend to you. And the insecurity of work that is the signature of those who are now sitting on the opposition benches is what they want to see continue to be the way of Australia. Well, no longer. I congratulate all the senators in this place who are coming onboard with a far better, healthier, more sustainable, more dignified, more just, more Australian way of enabling workers in this country to get the basic rights they deserve—to close the loopholes, to close the flawed, unethical exploitative practices of bad employers who seek profit over everything else and forget the humanity of the people who are the workforce.

I said I grew up in a small-business family. Sadly my dad, who was out on the construction sites laying out pipe, didn't live past his 49th birthday. But when my mum turned 70 and we had a party, let me tell you, half the people in that room were people who formerly worked in that business, because good businesses, especially good small businesses, absolutely understand that the strength of their business lies in the quality of their workforce. People who work in a small business are a work family, and you look after your people if you want to be successful in an ever-changing economy and you're in a small business. The small businesses that are already doing the things that this legislation is going to force the malign actors to come onboard with are actually going to have, for the first time in a decade, a level playing field—these great businesses that are already doing all the things that this piece of legislation is going to make law.

I want to congratulate Minister Burke, because there have been some serious headwinds—incredible opposition. We've heard some of the hysteria manifest in this chamber this evening. Senator David Pocock has already commented on it. There is, unbelievably, a desire amongst some people in this place, on that side of the chamber, to stand up and completely misrepresent reality. The shame of that is worn as a badge of honour, if they can prop up malign actors in big businesses and small that are abusing their workers. That's nothing to be proud of. The Australia I'm proud of is the one that unions have built and that unions are developing, through new legislation with this government and the crossbench, for Australia and our future. We can be better. If you're unfortunate enough as a worker to choose to work in a business that hasn't been doing the right thing, it's going to get a whole lot better when this piece of legislation is passed. If you're an immigrant to this country and come here with the belief that you're going to get a fair crack at life as a worker, this legislation is going to make it an awful lot more likely.

It wasn't so very long ago that the opposition leader at the time, Anthony Albanese, promised something extraordinary, it would seem from the media's response, which was just to recommend that the Fair Work Commission give Australians a minimum wage increase of $1. That set off chaos amongst the then government. Mr Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton and other members of the Liberal and National parties absolutely opposed that. The coalition threatened that the sky would fall in if the lowest-paid workers in Australia, some of whom are our essential workers, many of them represented by the great union with which I'm affiliated, the SDA—people who were on the front line looking after us during COVID—were granted that pay rise. And, like on so many things, the Liberal and National parties were wrong then, and they're wrong now in continuing to oppose this important piece of legislation.

Labor has always been there, supporting the national interest and looking after the workers of Australia. We're the party that brought in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme because people needed that. We're the party that brought in Medicare 40 years ago, against opposition, because the Australian people needed that. The Labor Party saw it. We understood it. We cared enough about it to create and bring into being Medicare. We brought in superannuation—a dignified retirement. The predecessors of this opposition said that the world would fall apart and that the whole economy would fall apart if superannuation were brought in.

There's a pattern here. They oppose anything that advantages ordinary, hardworking Australians. That is why they're going to continue to oppose this piece of legislation. They have no vision for the country. They have no sense of integrity in legislating for the advantage of all Australians. Theirs is an Australia where some have, and they feel even better when some don't. That is not the kind of Australia that the Labor Party seeks to bring into being in Australia. We've always been there for the Australian workers.

This legislation is going to certainly improve the lot of Australian workers, and it's going to improve the competitive advantage to good businesses that are doing the right thing already. This bill was not designed to hurt or impact good employees. We know that loopholes undermining pay and conditions for Australian workers cannot continue. Minister Burke has led the charge. He has been ably supported by decent Australians in business and in unions and by people who found out a little about what's going on here—people who've been subject to those loopholes.

My good friend Senator Polley this morning in her contribution said that she was brought up in a family that I think is quintessentially Australian. She was told, 'Show up to work, do a really good day's work, get a fair pay, make sure you've got an insurance policy and join your union, and if you get really smart you'll join the Labor Party too.' She knows what a winning ticket looks like. This piece of legislation will close the loopholes that have seen too many Australians exploited. This is going to be better for workers and better for our nation.

8:19 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. I won't respond to the comments of those opposite just yet—I will save that for some time later on—but I do want to respond to the comments of Senator David Pocock, who was elected on a platform of integrity, transparency and accountability. Yet, at the same time, Senator David Pocock has shut down debate on this important, significant and controversial legislation. He has shut that debate down—

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hume, I'll just alert you to not impugning people's motives—

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not imputing.

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a warning shot.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm sorry, Madam President, but I am simply saying that this is exactly what has happened.

Photo of Karen GroganKaren Grogan (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not a debate, Senator Hume. It's not a debate. Please continue with your contribution.

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not sure how Senator David Pocock is going to sleep tonight. I'm not sure whether he will sleep uncomfortably, but what I can say is that this circumvention of the values that he said that he took to the election won't be forgotten. Before that election, the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, told Australians that they would be better off under Labor. We should have known that this fellow had a pretty weird relationship with the truth right back then. Nearly two years on, we've seen inflation and the cost of living skyrocket. Australians now suffer from the highest inflation rates in the developed world—higher than those of the UK, US, France, Japan, Italy and Canada. So much for 'better off'!

Under this government we've seen 12 interest rate rises. First the Treasurer and the Prime Minister decided to try and blame almost anybody else for this problem. They demonised the former Governor of the Reserve Bank, saying that he was the reason that rates were rising—the independent Governor of the Reserve Bank! But now we've seen that interest rates have also risen under the new Governor of the Reserve Bank, who was appointed by this government. Indeed, she was the one who said that Australia's inflation crisis is a homegrown problem.

Labor has mismanaged the economy. They have spent billions of taxpayer money on spending that has fuelled this inflation. As a result, Australians don't need to be told that they are feeling that cost-of-living crisis. The average Australian is around $8,000 a year worse off under this government. Their disposable income has decreased under this government. They're paying around 27 per cent more in taxes and, at the same time, the economy has flatlined. It has tanked. Productivity has gone backwards. GDP is only positive because of the excessive—enormous—number of migrants that we've seen come into this economy. If we had not had those migrants coming in, we would be in a recession right now. That's economic management under Labor.

At the same time, Labor's solution to this crisis is not meaningful cost-of-living relief. They haven't answered the calls of ordinary Australian families. They have answered their cries for help. Instead, they have decided to answer the calls of unions. They haven't decided to loosen the reins on the economy to get growth moving and turbocharge productivity. They haven't decided to lower energy prices and inject more supply into the system. They haven't decided to cut red tape. They certainly haven't decided to simplify the tax system: indeed, they've done the opposite. Instead, they have actually decided to add more burden onto employers, because Labor thinks that making it harder to hire people, run a business and sell a product will bring down the cost of living. That is economically illiterate. The Labor government is so beholden to those unions and so single-minded in its thinking that it hasn't got a clue on how its policies are damaging our economy and driving up the cost of living.

It was the coalition that set up the cost-of-living committee, because we could see how the government's measures and policies were putting a bandaid on a bullet wound and potentially making the problems worse. How do we know that these IR changes are making the cost-of-living crisis worse? Well, that's pretty simple. We know because the coalition's cost-of-living committee was told that these proposed laws would add complexity and would freeze up a system to provide cheaper food, cheaper energy and cheaper housing. That's exactly what the committee heard. These industrial relations changes make the problem worse.

This is a radical reordering of Australian workplace laws and every business organisation in the country has pleaded with the government not to go ahead with it. In fact, Senator Sheldon, Senator Stewart and, indeed, Senator Grogan were there at the cost-of-living committee listening to these businesses and organisations that were saying, 'Please do not do this.' Instead, not only have they gone ahead with these causes; they have championed them. They have not paid any attention to the job creators in Australia who told them that it will be harder now to keep people in jobs. Minister Burke clearly does not care. This sort of complexity and the costs associated with it will be impossible for small businesses to deal with. It will only add to the cost-of-living crisis. As my colleague Paul Scarr said, this is going to make a bad situation worse.

The CEO of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia told the committee:

The impact of IR cannot be underestimated for small businesses. And let me just add a small-business flavour to it: it is the opportunity cost. The ability for small businesses to delight their customers is being undermined by this additional red tape—this cost of compliance. Not only are there higher costs to pass on but also you're potentially seeing a bit less innovation, a bit less creativity and a bit less excitement from your small businesses because they're worried about this big new rule book, the impact it's going to have on them and, if they make a mistake, what the implications of that will be. Where small-business employers do the wrong thing, there should be recourse.

The CEO went on to tell us that these changes:

… will run roughshod over many of the aspirations and goals of the white paper. It's really that simple. It's like you've installed a shiny new coach of a sporting team but all the players have been benched. The system's just working against itself. The left hand and the right hand are not talking together.

That was the CEO of COSBOA on 26 September last year.

How is making the system work against itself helping businesses to do their job—helping them to deliver cheaper food, cheaper energy and cheaper housing? If you're serious about dealing with the cost-of-living crisis—and let's not forget that this Prime Minister said not last new year but the new year before that his new year's resolution was to bring down the cost of living. He failed in that quest. How can you possibly set a system against itself if you want to deliver that cheaper food, cheaper energy and cheaper housing?

If we know that this bill will add complexity to a system that's already struggling to meet a demand that's driving up prices, why would we do this at the exact point where Australians are suffering the most from those prices? That CEO also said:

… small businesses employ three million Australians, so a thriving and dynamic small business sector is arguably the best thing for workers and their real wages in this country. It's the key to productivity … It's the key to sustainable jobs, secure jobs, having a dynamic small business sector. We were extremely disappointed that the modelling of the IR bill didn't pick up any of the real-world cost on small business.

Now, we in the coalition know that, for many Australians who were hoping to keep their jobs and earn more in the future, the last thing that they need is more red tape. Does a Labor government really, seriously think that these measures will make it easier for the small businesses that are employing millions of those Australians to do their jobs, easier for these businesses to grow or easier for them to hire more Australians? Dare I say it, the cat has been belled. The Governor of the Reserve Bank, just yesterday, forecast higher unemployment because of the policies that this government is implementing.

It's not just small businesses that it has impacted. Without a doubt, Australia and our Commonwealth budget benefit from the enormous mineral resources that our country exports. In recent times that, along with bracket creep, has been what's propped up our finances through record prices and record exports. But if Labor think that these operations are so big that, no matter how hard they hit them with these new regulations, these geese will still lay the golden eggs, that is not so.

The CEO of the Minerals Council also told the cost-of-living committee that the changes will be indiscriminate in their damage. She said:

You've got to keep a system that's flexible, that doesn't have rigidities in it and that allows for business models to thrive across the economy to make sure that it's highly productive. That's the sort of industrial relations system we need to have. You need to protect the most vulnerable in the economy. You can argue that the changes that have occurred over the last couple of years have addressed the issues that, fundamentally, we have wanted to see changed. This latest industrial relations tranche, however, does nothing more to assist the economy to be productive or to bring down the cost of living.

It's fascinating, isn't it, that the French finance minister to Louis XIV said that the art of taxation was to pluck the goose to obtain the largest number of feathers with the least amount of hissing. The same goes for industrial relations, and, my goodness, isn't that hissing! I think that maybe you've plucked one too many feathers here. It's productivity that will drive Australia into the next decade of luck and productivity, but you have put a handbrake on this. You have shackled our economy and essentially handicapped our growth. Any growth that we do experience will be in spite of a Labor government, not because of it. The RBA's warnings ring true.

Experts from Beyond Business Consultants have confirmed that this is a productivity-killing bill. Our productivity has already gone backwards, to 2017 levels, but Labor doesn't care. I'll tell you who does care: Professor Robertson, the dean and head of school at the business school of the University of Western Australia. He told the cost-of-living committee:

We are concerned about the industrial relations reforms bill that you were talking about before. I think that's going to increase labour costs and reduce productivity.

So it's not just the Liberal Party. You don't need to listen just to us to know that this is a bad bill that's going to drive up the cost of living. You can listen to small business. You can listen to big business. You can listen to academics. All of them are telling you of their view that this will make the cost-of-living crisis worse.

The Albanese Labor government's latest round of industrial relations will have a damaging impact on our economy and on your standard of living. The government, the Greens and Senator Pocock have let drop a number of last-minute amendments to this proposed legislation, which they're now ramming through in less than 24 hours without scrutiny. These amendments actually make this bad bill even worse overall.

This legislation would create extreme uncertainty for businesses which employ casual workers, particularly small businesses. It's estimated that we'll see prices for food delivery and ride-share services increase by 35 per cent. I hope everyone understands that the cost of their Ubers and their takeaway is going to go up by a third under this government because of this legislation. It will increase access of union officials to our workplaces across the country. The government has now introduced an amendment which will significantly increase uncertainty in the road transport sector, giving the Fair Work Commission significant new powers to set conditions for drivers.

In the last minutes, the government has also accepted the Greens amendment for a right to disconnect. What the hell will that mean? We don't understand it and neither does business, because there has been no scrutiny of this bill. You haven't provided any detail about how this will work or who it will apply to. That's because Labor is all about your rights and never about obligations. Obligations are just as important as rights. In a country with five time zones during the summer months, in a globally competitive economy, no-one has given a coherent answer on how this bill will increase productivity in the workplace. In a cost-of-living crisis that is exacerbated, when disposable incomes have gone backwards, the decision this government is making is making the problem worse. (Time expired)

8:35 pm

Photo of Lidia ThorpeLidia Thorpe (Victoria, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Maybe the coalition need to speak to the workers! I rise to speak to the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. As I said when the first part of this package passed late last year, this bill is good news for workers in this country. It doesn't go far enough and a lot remains to be done, but it is a decent and much overdue start.

I wish to thank Minister Burke for his ongoing constructive engagement around this bill, and I'm happy to share that I will be moving two amendments later which I have successfully negotiated with the government. The first one is the inclusion of the new employee choice pathway to change to permanent employment in the workplace rights for employees. This means that, if casuals request conversion to full-time or part-time employment, all steps of this process are covered under the general protections provisions, which prohibit adverse action, coercion, undue influence or pressure and misrepresentations because of a workplace right of an employee.

The second amendment ensures timing for employers giving a casual employee the casual employment information statement, the CEIS, which outlines the right to convert to full-time or part-time employment. It aligns with employee eligibility in that the statement will not just be handed to the employee at the start of employment, and after 12 months, but also at the six-month mark, when casuals—besides those of small businesses—become eligible to convert. It also includes a provision to provide the CEIS every 12 months ongoingly to remind casual employees of their rights, as their work circumstances might have changed in that time frame.

There has been much panic from business, especially major business, about this new employee pathway, crying that it will basically eliminate the category of casual employment and would force even those that specifically benefit from the flexibility of casual working arrangements into other forms of employment. It is all nonsense. The whole pathway of conversion is completely voluntary and employee driven, and no-one will be forced into it. It is important to provide this pathway to permanent employment and the rights and benefits that come with it. All it does is this: a casual employee who believes that they are no longer a casual employee can give a written notification to their employer to request changing their employment status to full-time or part-time employment.

This bill also grants various powers to the Fair Work Commission, including making minimum standard orders, which are similar in many aspects to modern awards, setting minimum terms and conditions for the gig economy of digital labour platforms. This is to improve the job security and income of gig workers—some of the most undervalued and underpaid workers in our society. All too often, gig workers have low bargaining power to improve their working conditions, and they receive pay well below the minimum standards. While I'm sure many of you here like me are regularly using food or other delivery services, rideshares and care or home services through these platforms to entertain our privileged, convenient lives, I have heard the most outrageous statements of why regulation of these platforms is not needed. Some of you seriously argue that those working through these platforms chose to do so and are therefore clearly happy with the pay rates and working conditions they receive. I met with someone yesterday who worked over 100 hours and was paid only 80 bucks—100 hours for 80 bucks for your Uber Eats! Do you really think any of these workers would not rather be paid decently for their hard work and work in safe conditions, being afforded sick or carers leave when needed rather than pushing through as they can't forgo even the meagre pay?

When it comes to the care sector, government rates for care packages, which usually pay for the services booked through the digital platforms, are actually designed to cover employment related costs like superannuation, leave provisions and workers compensation. Most platforms, however, do not employ their workers but engage them as contractors, which means workers never see the benefits of these provisions. So, instead of our taxpayer money for these care packages covering decent worker entitlements, we finance the profits of the platforms. These are the people looking after your loved ones, and yet they face a complete disrespect for their hard work and their human rights.

Those of you voting down these provisions should not be able to access digital platform services again. Delete your apps. If you don't support the workers, delete your apps. To conclude: I will support this bill, as it is an important step to ensuring better workplace conditions for so many people. Much of the detail of what this will look like in the future remains to be seen, and I look forward to the agenda the Fair Work Commission will set up for determining minimum standards for digital platform work. I will keep watching this process closely and I will stand with workers always. Don't forget, those that oppose this bill: don't ever call Uber Eats; don't ever call an Uber; delete your apps right now.

8:42 pm

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

I, too, rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. Last year we voted to make wage theft a crime and crack down on labour hire loopholes, and we introduced a new criminal offence for industrial manslaughter. We recognised the critical role of our nation's union delegates in helping to deliver safe, fair and productive workplaces. Today we're here with unfinished business. Today we're here to close more loopholes. We're here to protect more vulnerable workers. And we're here to make sure that our workplace laws are updated to reflect the evolution of work this century, including to address the rise of platforms and the reliance of so many workers on gig jobs to survive and get by.

In this bill, we're standing up for those gig workers and ensuring that they're not exploited, by allowing the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards for gig workers. It's pretty simple, and it's really not radical, because the Fair Work Commission have set standards for workers in this country for literally generations, and it's time that they had the power to bring unions and platforms together to set basic minimum standards for this new form of work, gig work.

We've heard time and time again over recent years just how bad gig work is for the people who are trying to survive on it and just how often they face below-minimum rates and unsafe conditions. There was an extremely thorough Senate inquiry into this bill, led by our colleague Senator Tony Sheldon. The Senate inquiry into the bill heard from delivery workers who were working 14-hour days just to try to survive and earning as little as $6 an hour. Tragically the inquiry also heard that there have been 15 deaths in food delivery and rideshare since 2017 as these workers hustle for a decent wage. Yesterday I met with delivery riders and I heard from Zhuoying, who is a delivery rider for HungryPanda. She told me her story. Her company dropped riders' base delivery rate to $4 for motorcycle riders and $5 for bicycle riders, and they introduced bonuses for dangerous delivery deadlines. That of course was without any form of consultation or any mechanism for objection on the part of the workers who were using the platform to make a wage and live. It was without any form of negotiation.

All we are doing is empowering unions, workers and the platforms to come together, deal with these issues and actually set minimum standards that make sense both for the workers in those sectors and for the platforms. I also met delivery rider Mugdha yesterday, who was hit by a car while she was at work making deliveries. She was left unconscious on the side of the road. She had no access to workers compensation and no access to support. She was forced to return to work without treatment, and today she lives in chronic pain as a result. It should not be this way in Australia today. These workers deserve safe jobs. These workers deserve the same rights as other people who are working in Australia today. I congratulate the Transport Workers Union for bringing the voices of these workers to the parliament and also to this legislation.

It's not just the food delivery platforms that we want to allow to go to Fair Work and set standards with their employees. Gig work and casualisation are growing in our care sector as well. Mary is a disability support gig worker. Sometimes she needs to take her clients out and about to go for a coffee, to go to the pool or to go see a movie or she needs to clean their house, where she has to supply her own PPE, her own cleaning equipment and her own cleaning products. These expenses are adding up for Mary because she's not paid for them and she can't claim them on tax. All of that is happening while her pay is up to 46 per cent below the award. We know that there was a push to exclude gig platforms operating in the care economy from these really important reforms. It's absolutely critical that platforms in the care economy have been included in this legislation. We can go back to the aged-care royal commission, which said that care should prioritise direct employment over gig work. At the very least we need to protect our essential care workers, our elders and others requiring care and support. We need to protect them all by allowing Fair Work to be able to set some basic, minimum standards for the pay that people get and for the safety that they can expect in their workplace. Again, this is not radical. This is Australia, where people who do this really important work that we all now rely on absolutely deserve a basic minimum wage and they absolutely deserve a safe workplace.

All of the workers that I spoke to and that I've spoken about tonight deserve better. They deserve a good job that they can count on. This bill is going to help deliver that. It will help close the door on exploitation and ensure that Australia doesn't become a nation where survival depends on tips. It will stop companies from jeopardising workers' safety. And the bottom line really is that it's going to bring Fair Work into the 21st century. It's going to bring Fair Work in line with the way that work is organised today. It is not a radical proposal, but Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party of course oppose every step, and we've heard that here in the chamber tonight. We know that they want to keep wages low. They tell us that every day. We know they want to hold workers back, but we on this side of the chamber won't stand for that.

I really want to thank the workers and their unions who have stood up for this reform over many years. This has taken literally hundreds and hundreds of workers speaking out and telling their stories, coming to the parliament and sharing their experiences, coming to Senate inquiry after inquiry and engaging with all of us here. This is really down to them, and this legislation is really for them.

This bill is just going to deliver some basic minimum standards for workers. That's what it's going to do. It's going to deliver some basic safety standards for these workers. Fair and safe workplaces are what Australians expect, and it's what all Australian workers, and all workers who we invite to our shores to work in the essential jobs that we rely on, deserve.

8:50 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We really do hear some nonsense in some of these debates and caricatures from those opposite. I speak to workers all the time. I speak to workers about their employment. I speak in particular to workers who work in small businesses in my home state of Western Australia. And guess what? They don't talk about the union movement. They want a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. Yes, they do want that. They want a good relationship with their boss. They don't want the union movement sticking their noses into the small and medium-sized business places of Western Australia. They don't want that, and anyone who thinks they do is, quite frankly, merely in here to do the bidding of the union movement—because that is the central lie at the heart of this legislation.

The central lie at the heart of this legislation is that there has been a massive change in the make-up of the Australian workforce over the past couple of generations. The balance between part-time, casual, full-time and gig work, for want of a better phrase, in the Australian economy has not changed in over a generation. This growth of gig work that those opposite talk about is a lie. This growth of casualisation in the economy that those opposite talk about is a lie. It simply hasn't happened. The broad make-up of the Australian economy has not changed in terms of those broad employment categories since the 1990s, and yet you have those opposite continuing to stand up in here and roll this out as a reason why they have to make these radical changes.

The real reason they have to make these radical changes is they have to follow their paymasters. They have to do what the union movement tells them to do. That is at the core of the previous bill we passed last year. It is at the core of this bill. It is the Labor Party doing what their union bosses sent them here to do and giving the union movement a business model into the future. Because guess what? Workers voted with their feet. Workers voted with their feet about the union movement. What's the current percentage of the private sector workforce that's joined a union? I know Senator O'Sullivan knows because we sat through the inquiry into this bill. I know Senator O'Sullivan knows. I suspect other senators on this side know. I think Senator Lambie would know as well. It's under 10 per cent. It's eight per cent. Less than one in 10 private sector workers feels the union movement delivers good value to them—less than one in 10 private sector workers. So this idea that workers, particularly workers in small and medium business, are clamouring to get the union movement back through their door to cause problems in their workplace—because the union movement don't like casualised workers, do they? They don't like flexibility. That's the other lie that's at the heart of this bill—the idea that casual or flexible workplaces and workforces are a bad thing. Many, many workers choose casual, non-permanent, part-time, gig work at various points in their career for very good personal and economic reasons. People sometimes choose to work flexible hours or casual hours because of home commitments. Perhaps they choose to work in those jobs because they're studying at university and don't want the commitment of a full-time or permanent part-time position.

At the hearings that Senator O'Sullivan and I participated in—Senator O'Sullivan did an outstanding job as the deputy chair of the committee—people in the union movement were willing to say that casualisation isn't really a major problem and that people do choose to be casuals in the workforce. So why does the union movement hate casualisation and flexibility so much? The reason is quite simple. Because those sectors of the workforce are harder to unionise. It's harder to get people to sign up to unions. It's harder to get those union dues. It's harder to get those new members of the Labor Party via the union movement.

We've very clearly got here, pretty much in black and white, a business model for the union movement. But what this bill fails to do is almost as egregious as what it does do. On the one hand it provides a business model to the union movement; it provides a business model to that small and shrinking part of the economy, as we have seen over the past few generations. Private-sector workers, in particular, have been departing the unions. They don't see the need for them. They don't want them in their workplaces—unless they're forced in by the government, given rights of access under this legislation into businesses that they didn't have a right of access to before.

On the other hand, what doesn't this bill do? This bill actually does nothing good, and it does a number of things that will be destructive to our economy over time. It does absolutely nothing for productivity in Australia. We will see a continuing decline and weakness in productivity in this country on the back of this bill. The reality is that those negative impacts on the economy do take time to flow through. But where you'll see it first is in the unemployment rate. We saw the Governor of the Reserve Bank, in her public statements following the Reserve Bank's decision, saying that they expect the unemployment rate to rise. Of course, inefficiency in the workplace and inefficiency in our industrial relations system will have the consequence of putting people out of work, of putting less people into work. There will be less jobs available to younger people to get into permanent employment, if that is what they choose.

It will create uncertainty in the business community, uncertainty that we have seen and we have heard about. I know those opposite don't talk to businesses, but we do. And what we hear from those businesses is that this bill puts uncertainty about future employment opportunities into their minds. It makes them hesitant about how to treat their current employees. It makes them uncertain about the legislative environment they have to operate in, about the red tape they have to operate under. You've got to remember a lot of the businesses I'm talking about are not your Woolies and Coles and Qantas, with massive human resource departments. Mum or dad is the human resource department. Mum or dad is the one who has to comply with the red tape. When I grew up—I grew up on a family farm, as many of you know—it was mum and dad. That was it. And that is true of so many small businesses across Australia. They're not the ones who have the massive human resource department behind them to navigate this right to disconnect, which is something we didn't even hear about until the last few days in the media. It's something that certainly wasn't a part of the inquiry Senator O'Sullivan and I participated in on the Education and Employment Legislation Committee. Maybe Senator Sheldon, the chair of that committee, knew about the right-to-disconnect provisions. Maybe he knows what that drafting is now. But I haven't seen it yet. How can we make a sensible judgement on legislation when parts of it, as Senator Thorpe's contribution indicated earlier, include amendments for which this is the first I've heard about them? It's the first I, as a member of the committee inquiring into this bill, have heard about amendments that Senator Thorpe has negotiated with the government. We've also got the Greens' amendment that they've negotiated with the government and that we haven't seen.

The right to disconnect is an issue that has literally not been raised with me once in the last six years of talking to businesses and employees. Not once has a worker said to me, 'By the way, I really don't want to have to take a call from my boss at 5.30 in the afternoon.' It's absolute nonsense. It's a problem searching for a solution where the problem didn't exist in the first place. It's just a non-issue. Labor rolls over to the Greens yet again—the tail wagging the dog—on an issue they know is not an issue. But doing the bidding of their union movement and getting this bill through are all that matters to them, so it's, 'Let's just give that to the Greens so we can get this bill through parliament and do what the union movement has told us to do.'

Businesses are awake to this, and I think a lot of employees are awake to this. Employees want to maintain a positive relationship with the businesses that employ them, and they don't want the reimposition of union right of entry. They don't want the unions to get involved at their workplaces, and they have voted with their feet. The private sector workers of Australia voted with their feet. They left the union movement in droves over the last couple of decades, to deal directly with the businesses that employ them, and that is a system saw Australia have the longest stretch of economic growth in our history during that period. What was the key ingredient in the IR mix? It was flexibility and that ability for people to pick and choose within a system the kind of environment and the kind of workplace relationship that they wanted to have with their employer. They didn't want the union movement involved at every workplace or the heavy-handedness of the centralised industrial relations system that we are seeing this bill return Australia to.

This is an economically destructive bill. It will damage our economy over time and it will see more people on the unemployment queue. I think that is a disgrace, and this bill should not be supported.

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

Before I call Senator Lambie, I note that during Senator Brockman's contribution there was a fair amount of incidental chatter in the chamber, as well as interjections, and it's been a little bit difficult to hear. A senator deserves to be heard in silence.

9:04 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

Tomorrow I will be moving an amendment. I have no doubt it's the amendment the minister was trying to call me about 20 minutes ago, and I've decided to use my disconnect. That's what I'm doing, so—

Honourable Senator:

An honourable senator interjecting

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, my right to disconnect. That's correct. There you go, Minister. Tomorrow I will be moving an amendment to enable the Manufacturing Division of the CFMEU, which includes textile, clothing and footwear workers; timber workers; and furniture workers, to hold a secret ballot to demerge from the Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union—or, as we all know it, the CFMEU. I'm going to tell you why.

The textile, clothing and footwear sector is currently part of the Construction, Forestry and Maritime Employees Union, the CFMEU, after it did a merger with them in 2018. The textile, clothing and footwear sector is part of the CFMEU and has their greatest number of women. Many of these women are from non-English-speaking backgrounds, and many of them have had firsthand experience of exploitation, underpayment and unsafe conditions. After the merger, the textile, clothing and footwear sector moved into the CFMEU's offices.

One of the union secretaries told the Age newspaper about first meeting with the CFMEU. I quote:

"It was a male-dominated space," she recalls. "He just went on this big rant and there was fear if anyone tried to say anything it would have just got a lot worse."

We know who 'he' is, don't we? We do know that, don't we? 'He' is John Setka, of course, the Victorian State Secretary of the CFMEU—and you wonder why your membership's dropping. It was at this meeting that John Setka also made remarks about Australian of the Year and domestic violence advocate Rosie Batty. Setka told the meeting Ms Batty's advocacy work had lead to men having fewer rights. The textile, clothing and footwear sector representative said:

The Batty statement came towards the end of the meeting. "I just couldn't really believe it,"—

she said—

"Shocked, wanting to just really get out of the room, I wanted it to finish."

But the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union had merged with the CFMEU, and that also meant sharing office space. I'm feeling your pain, ladies. The union rep told the paper:

Within the building there were jokes about domestic violence. It was very uncomfortable to the point where our division had to leave the building.

After these comments were leaked to newspapers, John Setka went after his critics and hired private investigators to bug and follow them—such a pleasant bloke, isn't he? Many quit their positions or were forced out—what a bully. Setka rules the CFMEU with an iron fist. He likes to tell his colleagues:

You throw a stone at me and I'll throw a mountain back.

The mountain is coming, big boy, I can assure you, and I'm riding on it!

Once reports of Setka's comments were known, Sally McManus, Secretary of the ACTU; and Anthony Albanese, the then Leader of the Opposition, called for Setka's resignation. Setka's response was typical of his bullish behaviour:

For people to try to portray me as some misogynist pig—

which you are—

that bashes women is absolutely disgraceful, … I ain't going to wear that; that's just absolute bull …

But later, in June 2019, John Setka's attitude to women, specifically to his wife, was revealed following an incident from 2018. Following this incident, Victorian police charged Setka with 30 domestic violence charges, including recklessly causing injury and a pattern of harassment through breaching court orders and threats—who would have guessed? The arrest included 45 texts in which he called his wife horrible names using hateful, violent language—he obviously has no respect for women, but I think we all worked that out many years ago. Setka, of course, dismissed these texts as, and I quote, a 'few bad text messages'.

Shortly after, the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that a former deputy president of the Fair Work Commission, Anne Gooley, gave a statement to the police alleging that Mr Setka repeatedly intimidated and terrified his wife over several months. In her police statement, Anne Gooley said that she had witnessed Mr Setka's treatment of his wife and that:

Seeing John's anger … I was extremely distressed.

A few weeks before Christmas in 2018, Setka's estranged wife took out an intervention order against him. In sworn statements, she accused Setka of a pattern of violence and a campaign of harassment. She said she was under surveillance, including at home. On the day she got the intervention order, she put a safety device under her front door to stop Setka getting in. Anne Gooley, in her statement, said: 'When John arrived back at the house, he broke the door in while I was sitting in the front room of the house. I yelled out and she, Setka's estranged wife, ran into the downstairs bathroom and locked herself in.'

In late August 2019, Setka's estranged wife provided a new sworn statement to police, stating that they had 'started having a verbal argument and it was getting very heated and aggressive'. She said:

John was out of control. He hit my head against the table about five times … It was very painful. John is a lot bigger and stronger than me and he can totally physically control me. When he loses his temper, there isn't anything I can do but submit to him.

A journalist contacted Anne Gooley about the incident and, in her email response, she described Setka's conduct this way:

John's behaviour was not simply a few abusive emails or text messages … His conduct drove my friend out of her home and at one time out of the state. I was not surprised that John did not stand down or that he targeted those who did not support him as I never believed that he had any real insight into his behaviour. It was always someone else's fault or he downplayed his conduct.

Anne Gooley sat on the Fair Work Commission full bench that dealt with the ACTU's claim for paid family violence leave, a world-leading entitlement. She said the union movement had made significant progress on the issue of domestic violence but she was concerned about what message was being sent by Setka and his supporters. He is not alone. Welcome to the top of the CFMEU. Nothing's changed. She also said:

My concern about their support for John is the message this sends to those in the movement who experience family violence that their experiences will not be believed … It also tells those in the movement who are perpetrators of family violence that their conduct will be condoned.

So let's review what I have said. We have a union with thousands of women, many of them from non-English-speaking backgrounds. They want to be able to have a secret ballot to leave the CFMEU—and who can blame them?—to take control themselves. That's what they want. Who in here could in all conscience vote against these women? I would like all of the senators in here to go home and think about that deeply this evening. If your party is telling you to vote against this amendment, I want you to think about how you will feel about betraying these women. All the passionate speeches that I've heard in this place about domestic violence, all the speeches about how women should be empowered to take control over their lives, did you mean them and will you stand by your words for these women? Will you stand by your principles for these women? Will you stand up for these women? These women want to be demerged. I don't want to hear any rubbish tomorrow. I'm putting that amendment up and if, God forbid, after everything that has gone on in the last three or four years up here you don't stand up for these women—that goes for that side over there, the government and the Greens—your credibility will go down the drain just like that tomorrow. So I am putting it to you. I'm coming for that amendment and I want it supported. Give these women the freedom they want. Give them freedom from John Setka. God, we owe them that much.

9:14 pm

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

There's one issue that should be above politics, and that's saving lives. That's what this bill does. It will save lives—the lives of people driving trucks on our roads and transporting goods, people riding bikes or mopeds delivering our meals, people driving cars from point to point, getting us home safely. This bill is about lives and the value we put on lives.

Road transport workers have the deadliest job in Australia. At least 54 truck drivers and four gig workers were killed at work in 2023 alone. If that's not enough for the people who oppose this bill, then consider the 177 other road users who were killed in truck crashes last year. That could be you. It could be your mate. It could be your family. You could be driving home from work or doing the school run and be in the wrong place at the wrong time: you come across a truck driver who hasn't slept in days because they cannot afford to have a proper rest.

At the Senate inquiry into this bill we heard from a lot of transport workers. One person, Rob Ireland, who has worked in the transport industry for 30 years, told me during the inquiry—and this has stuck in my mind—that breaching fatigue laws 'was literally the difference between having work or being let go'. He said:

For about 12 years … I would work without stopping, Sunday through to Saturday. To stay awake on the road, I turned to methamphetamines. … eight hours of sleep a week is what I lived on … Once I was awake for 13 days straight. … Another time I thought I had run off the highway because I had fallen asleep. I sat bolt upright and grabbed for the gearstick and the steering wheel. My wife grabbed my face and let me know I was in my bed. I dreamt I had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Rob's story is not unique. If you speak to just about any truckdriver in the country they'll have a similar story or they'll know others who have similar stories. In trucking you compete on what runs you can get down, done cheaply and in the shortest possible time. That means cutting out sleep, cutting out rest breaks, skimping on truck maintenance and sometimes taking stimulants and taking other risks, all to keep afloat.

Since the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was abolished in 2016 more than 1,100 people have died in truck crashes. That's more than double the number of Australians who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. When something isn't working as intended you don't throw the whole thing out and leave an unregulated race to the bottom. You fix it. Since 2016 there has been nothing propping up this industry. Without a floor, there's always someone more desperate who will promise to deliver goods more cheaply and more quickly.

What this bill does is very simple. The industry came together with the Fair Work Commission and set minimum standards. That's what this bill suggests. They can collectively say, 'Enough is enough, and none of us want to be pressured to the point where we have blood on our hands.' It holds the big businesses at the top of these supply chains fully accountable. We are prepared to do that. Are those on the opposite side, the Liberals and the Nationals, prepared to do that?

This bill is supported by every road transport employer, employer group in transport or owner-driver association, including groups that campaigned for the RSRT, the last tribunal to be abolished, eight years ago. They support this bill because they recognise that the massacre that's taken place on our roads since then cannot go on. They want to compete on a fair playing field on productivity and innovation, rather than on who can squeeze the most driving hours into a day.

Cameron Dunn, the managing director of the mid-size transport company FBT Transwest, told the inquiry:

This is the first time in my 37 years in the industry that I've seen the industry come together and actually be on the same page … the top of the supply chain … needs to be held accountable …We don't want it to be a race to the bottom …

Mr Dunn said:

… this bill … will hold the economic decision-maker to account …

As Mr Dunn and others in the industry recognised, this bill is about backing good businesses. It's about backing safe businesses. It's about backing good businesses that do the right thing. There were 347 insolvencies in the transport industry last year, because the commercial pressures from the top of the chain are so extreme. When all the employer, owner-driver and employee groups in the road transport sector are on board, why are the Liberals and Nationals opposed? Who are they actually representing? They're only representing multinationals like Aldi at the top the chain, who profit from the rivers of blood on our streets.

Then there's gig work. There have been at least 15 gig worker deaths in recent years. I say 'at least' because there has been a track record of these deaths going unreported. Inquiry after inquiry over the last five to six years has found that delivery drivers are earning as little as $6 an hour. Just as in trucking, when you're paid per trip and there are no minimum standards, there is a commercial incentive to take deadly risks. In the inquiry, we heard from Utsav, a Canberra based gig worker, who said:

… we're doing … 80 hours—across seven days a week … because we don't get the minimum wage. If the bill is passed, and we get a basic minimum wage, then we will not have to rush for orders … and … these injuries could be prevented …

It's so clear and obvious that Uber, Menulog and DoorDash support the need for minimum standards, but those opposite oppose it.

It isn't just in the gig industry that this is hurting people. We have heard from platforms in other sectors, including Hireup, Humdrum and Sidekicker, who support minimum standards. But there is one platform, Mable, that opposes these reforms. There's always somebody, isn't there? There is always somebody who wants to go the low road. Mable is the richest care-sector gig platform. It is backed by global private equity funds and has deep links to the Liberal Party. Mable workers regularly earn below the minimum wage for NDIS and aged-care work. When Mable's chair was asked about carers who can't make a living on her platform, she said:

Maybe the answer is that small business isn't for them.

So Mable is saying that, if you're getting ripped off, it's your own fault for not being savvy enough. In Mable's world, there is no accountability for Mable. They just clip the ticket, and everything is the carer's own fault.

Never mind the evidence we received the very same day from Mable carers. One disability support worker on Mable said:

… I don't get what I would get as an employee …

The witness said:

I had to charge lower and lower because clients would negotiate my prices down … I had no money put aside for superannuation. Also … I had to do all the unpaid meet and greets. There's so much pressure to do unpaid work, and you can't claim for travel costs … The jobs aren't safe, too. One client recently was rather heavy. He had a hoist and needed a two-person transfer. But they were asking only for one support worker … There has to be some sort of safety net for us …

Another Mable carer told us:

… the Mable … rates don't … account for you having a qualification … Lots of people are jumping in and there is lots of competition to beat down wages.

…   …   …

Without minimum standards who is going to protect our rights?

Mable's answer to these highly trained and qualified women is that, if their prices are getting negotiated below the minimum wage, it's their own fault. But it's exactly the same situation we see in trucking, where there's always someone who will work for less. It's a race to the bottom, leaving care workers broken and destitute, and it poses massive safety risks for disabled and elderly Australians. The aged-care royal commission sounded the alarm about Mable, saying their model is not suitable for care work. The inquiry heard the same from disability advocates. Inclusion Australia CEO Catherine McAlpine told us:

What we see in the gig economy, particularly, is that workers either have no training or that the training responsibilities end up coming to participants and families … To have minimum qualifications, minimum standards and minimum rates of pay, would increase the quality of supports.

On the one side we have workers, unions, disability advocates, academics, the aged-care royal commission, other gig platforms and other care providers all saying we need minimum standards in care work, and on the other side we have one gig platform—Mable—backed by global private equity, arguing, 'Let's rip it up.' I know whose side I'm on. I am on the side of vulnerable Australians and the people who care for them.

This bill also undoes the damage the Morrison government did to casual workers on sham contracting. It used to be that, if you wanted to work out whether someone was a casual or a contractor, you would look at the reality of their work arrangements. The long-established legal principle was that, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. As Professor Sean Cooney told the inquiry, that's how the law works in New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and California. The Morrison government replaced that with a law that said, 'If your employer writes in your contract that you are a casual or that you are a contractor, then that's that. It puts all the power in the hands of the employer to strip away your leave entitlements, strip away your job security and dictate how you work. It was a ridiculous law when it was brought in. It contradicts common sense. It ignores the reality of the bargaining imbalance between employers and their employees.

This bill also gives the Fair Work Commission the power to waive the 24-hour notice period a union official has to give an employer to enter a work site in case of suspected wage theft. In December we made wage theft a crime. The Liberals are Nationals voted against it. They're in favour of wage theft because their paymasters down at the Minerals Council are in charge of their position on IR. But here's the thing about workplace rights: if you can't enforce it, it's meaningless. It can be hard for a worker to figure out what they've lost in stolen wages. It's hard to know the exact figure. That's particularly true for vulnerable workers who aren't familiar with their workplace rights, who have insecure jobs and who can be fired or lose shifts if they ask questions.

The Fair Work Ombudsman does its best, but they can't be everywhere. In fact, two-thirds of the money it recovered from wage theft in recent years came from self-reports. Only unions have the expertise and the breadth required in officials who are highly trained, highly experienced, have a permit granted by the commission, have passed character tests and are experts on workplace rights. This law means that, if a business is stealing your wages, you can turn to the union for help, and they can inspect your pay records and figure out what's going on.

Remember: we're only talking about cases where the Fair Work Commission is satisfied that wage theft may be taking place. The current system gives the wage thief a 24-hour heads up before the union can help. In what other part of the legal system do we give people strongly suspected of a crime a 24-hour head start on the authorities? It's completely ridiculous, and this law closes that loophole. The whole bill closes the loopholes that some businesses have used to drive down wages and make jobs less safe and less secure to compete unfairly with good businesses. This bill is a cost-of-living bill. This bill will save businesses. This bill will save lives, and it must be passed.

9:29 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes No. 2) Bill 2023. There is nothing more to say about this bill than that it is a bad bill for Australia. In fact, it is disastrous. Senator Sheldon just used the saying, 'If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.' Well, I tell you what, there is a far more apt saying about this bill, and that is: 'You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.' This bill does not fool anybody. You can dress it up in all of the pious things that have been said on the other side of the chamber—as if there's only one side of this chamber that has compassion for Australians. You can be as pious as you like, but nothing will change the fact that this week the Prime Minister lost the confidence of the Australian people because his word is no longer his bond.

It is a sad, sad day for this parliament and, I actually think, for our democracy because not only have we lost trust in a prime minister whose word is no longer his bond but we now have an enormous bill before this place, the place of scrutiny, that has been rushed through. We've got amendments. We've got detail in there that has been done as part of a dirty, rushed deal with two crossbenchers, and those on this side of the chamber have not even seen those changes, which are now being guillotined through this place tonight and tomorrow. I cannot think, in the last 10 years, of a more shameful lack of transparency, lack of honesty and lack of accountability to the Australian people in the house of scrutiny and review, the Senate.

The Albanese government's so-called closing the loophole 2.0 bill will not make life easier, contrary to what Senator Sheldon has just said. I challenge him and I challenge Senator Ghosh, who's now in this chamber, to find me one single businessperson in Western Australia, small business or large. You go. I challenge Senator Ghosh to find one person, somebody in a small business at the local shops, who will stand up and actually understand the 26 steps that Senator Scarr so clearly went through. He's a lawyer. He's an employment lawyer, and it took him three hours to figure out the steps he had to work through under this bill to determine if somebody is a casual employee or not. It is an absolute disgrace. As I said, there will not be a single business. In fact, if they had been listening over the past few months, they would know that there is not an organisation that represents small businesses and industries across all sectors that has not been begging and pleading for this not to be rushed through, to be guillotined and to be subject to dirty closed deals with those on the crossbench who suddenly think that their scrutiny is the only scrutiny that now needs to be done on big and complex bills. It is shameful.

Why is this bill so bad? With what we've actually been able to scrutinise so far in this bill, why is it so bad for Australians and, in particular, Western Australians? As Senator Scarr has said, it is impossibly complex. The government has made sure we don't even have time to actually ask them the questions in committee. Do they actually understand what the answers to the questions are? I can bet you anything that, if any of those opposite had been asked in committee tomorrow and had had the time to explain how small business works out the definition of casualisation and a casual staff member, not one of them would have been able to sit there and go through the 26 steps. It is impossibly complex. There is far too much uncertainty, which, again, those opposite are hiding from the scrutiny of this place. That's the first thing. It also adds additional costs to business. It is complete fantasy for those opposite to say that, with the cost-of-living crisis they have already imposed on the Australian people, somehow they think this is going to reduce the cost of living for small businesses, the majority of which are families who have got business mortgages and home mortgages, increased prices in just about everything and rising inflation. Now, all of a sudden, they're going to be hit with additional costs and complexity through this. It is a disgrace.

The third reason is not just that it's making those businesses, small businesses in particular, pay more for the cost of doing business but—what are they going to do?—they're going to have to pass on the cost to their customers, which many small businesses really don't have the option of doing because they've already had to raise the cost of their goods and services in line with the cost-of-living increases from those opposite.

Those opposite have also said that it will increase productivity. What rubbish. Any economist or anybody in business knows that these union demands will actually decrease productivity, and decrease it significantly, and that does nothing to help put more jobs into our market. It does nothing to enhance competition, which is the lifeblood of our small, medium and large businesses. And it risks Western Australian jobs. You have to know that. It risks jobs in Western Australia and across the rest of the nation.

The only ones to benefit from this are Labor's union paymasters. The only ones to benefit from this are the most militant trade unions in this nation. It's not Australian workers.

This bill also will be so destructive because it will institutionalise conflict in our workplaces. In workplaces, particularly small workplaces, where employers have worked together with their employees in great harmony and cooperation, this will impact on them negatively.

The Labor government in their speeches today have also claimed that the bill has made concessions for businesses. What rot. There is not a single business or business organisation that would be able to identify any redeeming features in this.

The Labor government has failed to demonstrate in any way how these new laws will make it easier for businesses to employ people, how they will make it easier to create a higher skilled workforce, how they will actually increase productivity or how they will raise living standards when they're putting more pressure on families and businesses that are already suffering so much from the cost-of-living increases under those opposite since they've come to government. They've talked about it, they've claimed it, but there has not been one shred of evidence of how this will improve the life of a single Australian.

As Bran Black, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, said, 'Unfortunately, these changes do not address the significant concerns of Australian businesses and they will make our economy less productive and make casual employment and pay uncertain' for over 2½ million Australians. During the summer break, back in Perth, I visited many local businesses and they all shared the same concerns. They were asking me—and a number begged me—to urge this government to stop or amend this disastrous bill for them.

These measures are designed pretty much to do two things, and it's pretty clear what they are. One is to grow union membership, which has been declining for years because people have chosen not to join unions. It is also designed to give unions effective control of our national economy in the same way that unions now completely control those opposite and the Albanese government. Gig workers, casual employees, tradies, sole traders, independent contractors—what do all these people have in common? The answer is that none of these groups have any real interest in joining the union movement, and until this point it has been their free will not to join. This is a direct attack on their freedoms.

We've seen this week in WA what damage the union movement can do. The CFMMEU has struck a 25 per cent pay deal with Multiplex, which has significant implications for the construction and building industry in Western Australia, which is already under significant financial pressures. This will mean that building costs will be passed on to consumers, and it will put even further out of reach homes for first home buyers in Western Australia, at a time when so many building companies are already going out of business because they literally cannot afford to do business anymore. As Innes Willox, the Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, said:

They are out of whack with where inflation is trending, have no clear productivity trade-offs and fly in the face of the RBA's hope for wage moderation to help fight inflation over the longer term … The CFMEU will now obviously push to replicate these increases across the sector … Significant parts of the construction sector are now under real stress and big pay increases will only add to greater volatility.

This deal will inflate our economy, and inflation is something which we and anybody with a mortgage or who goes to the grocery store every week know only too well.

I'll quote Jennifer Westacott, the former chief executive of the BCA, about this bill. She said:

These changes will create confusion and extra costs for consumers, make it harder to hire casual workers and create uncertainty for employing anybody.

Any government that's serious about cost of living would not do this.

They should not add cost and complexity at a time when people are struggling to pay their bills.

We on this side of the chamber firmly believe that enterprise bargaining should be the cornerstone of our workplace relations system. It is necessary in order for us all to grow our pay packets, to improve job security, to bolster the flexibility that employees have come to demand and expect and to boost productivity for our nation's economy. Australia needs a modern workplace relations system that delivers a safety net for workers, recognises the shared interests of managers and workers in an enterprise's success and gives all enterprises the agility they need to compete and succeed. Any changes, we believe, must be designed to improve productivity, grow wages and enhance competition. They are the ingredients of a successful economy which allows people to be employed, have secure employment and have flexibility in their family lives and in their personal aspirations, but none of these are things that we see in this current bill. Shame on those opposite for what they are about to unleash on Australia.

I'll finish on this: probably the most egregious part of Labor's bill is the new definition of 'casual employment' that will replace the existing definition in the Fair Work Act. There are 25, if not 26, steps that a small business, such as a lunch bar owner, wanting to put on a casual will now have to go through. None of those opposite, as I said earlier, would be able to stand up here right now and even explain what those 26 steps are. How do you expect a small, struggling businessperson to do that when all they want to do is employ a casual worker—a student, a parent or somebody else who's looking for flexibility—who wants to come and work a few hours a week for them? Despite all the rhetoric from the Albanese government and the union movements about a casualisation epidemic, the facts are clear: this works for millions of Australians, and you are taking away their choice. Shame on you for this bill.

9:44 pm

Photo of Jana StewartJana Stewart (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We always knew that those opposite were the party of low wages, so I'm entirely unsurprised that they are disappointed about the 25 per cent pay increase that unions have secured for their workers in WA. It's excellent work by the CFMMEU. Workers should absolutely be getting a pay rise. I'm entirely unsurprised that that rhetoric has come from the party of low wages. What I'm gobsmacked about is that they're blocking legislation that will save lives. Shame on you! There's no evidence, apparently. Well, the mighty Transport Workers Union are in town. If those opposite have the guts to sit down with the Transport Workers Union and hear directly from businesses and workers alike, you will hear all the evidence that you need to support this bill. The rubbish that has come from the other side is exactly that—nothing but rubbish. This legislation has support from workers and businesses, big and small. All you have to do is sit with the workers and businesses that have been at parliament over the last couple of days, and you will hear exactly that. I had the privilege of sitting in a room today and hearing from workers, and I will get to that in a second.

I just want to say that this bill is a real chance to make a difference in some of Australia's deadliest workplaces. Safety, security and fair pay are crucial to every worker, no matter what job you do, no matter what industry you are employed in. This is something Labor has always believed. And how could you not? It is something that we will always fight for, and I am proud to be on this side of the chamber fighting for it. We will always fight for the hardworking people of Australia. We're proud of our roots in the union movement and we're proud to bring this bill before the chamber today.

This bill, as it says in its name, is about closing the loopholes that undercut pay and conditions for workers. It is absolutely amazing that those opposite aren't supporting that—then again, maybe I shouldn't be surprised. It will implement the necessary steps to protect and strengthen hard-fought industrial rights and protections. This bill comes out of decades of research and advocacy from the TWU, including two national truck convoys in all capital cities across Australia last year. It was so powerful to see the convoy of passionate and committed transport workers and industry organisations embark from Docklands in Melbourne and travel across the West Gate Bridge, their trucks plastered in orange 'Transport reform now' signs from the TWU members, joined by hundreds of trucks nationwide, uniting behind the opportunity that is currently before this the chamber.

There's no denying that transport is the most crucial industry for Australia. We know that, without transport workers, Australia stops. We saw that so plainly through the pandemic. Despite how critical these workers are to every Australian, our current laws simply do not do transport workers justice. We know that there is a direct link between road transport standards and the risk of accidents and serious road related injuries. Senator Reynolds should maybe do a little bit of homework. The absence of minimum standards means employee drivers often feel pressured to speed to meet unrealistic tight deadlines, drive past legal hours and skip mandated rest breaks. As a result, transport remains the deadliest industry in Australia. Last year 231 Australians, including 54 truck drivers, were killed in truck crashes, leaving behind devastated families and communities—incredibly heartbreaking. And already, in the first two weeks of 2024, five Australians had been killed in truck related fatalities. It's a race to the bottom, and it's costing lives. We've got to do better. This is an opportunity to do just that.

This bill seeks to allow the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards to ensure the road transport industry is safe, sustainable, and viable. These minimum standards can be made by a Fair Work Commission expert panel for the road transport industry, informed by advice from a road transport advisory group and its subcommittees, once established. I've heard from countless truckies that this legislative reform is vital for the protection of decent jobs and decent employers. It is brilliant to see the road transport industry uniting behind transport reform and the need to improve safety and security across the industry because, when that happens, everybody wins. The Albanese Labor government is serious about improving the conditions of transport workers. We must act on a decade-long fight for safe rates for road transport drivers, because every worker deserves to go home safe, especially those who are on our roads every day, delivering the essential goods that our nation needs.

In recent years, digital ride share and food delivery platforms like Uber, also known as the gig economy, have became commonplace across Australia. But the cost of flexibility and convenience is too high when it comes at the expense of gig workers' basic rights and protections. By employing drivers and food delivery riders as independent contractors and not as employees, big gig platforms can subject these workers to low pay, job insecurity, and unsafe and unsustainable standards. This bill will put an end to this by extending the powers of the Fair Work Commission to set and enforce minimum for employee-like workers. When setting minimum standards, the commission will be required to consult with key stakeholders and consider a range of factors, such as the type of work, the preferences of gig workers and the impacts of standards on consumers or business viability. Further to this, the bill will ensure that gig workers have the same industrial rights as any other worker in Australia, including the right to make collective agreements with digital Labor platforms and dispute unfair deactivation.

I want to acknowledge the many brave gig workers and their families who have courageously shared their experiences in their pursuit of lifting standards across the entire transport industry. I know how traumatic it can be to share your trauma over and over again, and they've done that to get help progress, and get support for, this bill in this parliament. In my home state of Victoria, Mughda was a Foodara delivery rider before the gig company left Australia, owing millions in backpay to their workers. On her first shift, Mughda was hit by a car and left unconscious on the road. She suffered injuries to most of her body and lower back, and continues to experience chronic pain today. But, cruelly, Foodara denied Mughda workers compensation because current laws fail to consider her an employee of the gig platform. As a result, she has been forced to stop both work and study. I heard today about the long-term impact that has had on both her physical and mental health as well as the aspirations that she had for where she wanted to be in her life now. Stories like Mughda's are far too common. Every year an average of 150 delivery riders are seriously injured in the unregulated gig economy.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Stewart. The time for contributions on this debate today has expired.

Senate adjourned at 21 : 53