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- Start of Business
- MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
East Timor: Foreign Policy
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Financial Regulation: Government Policies
(Washer, Mal, MP, Howard, John, MP)
East Timor: Foreign Policy
(Martin, Stephen, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: Meat Industry
(Schultz, Alby, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Howard Government: Foreign Policy
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Dairy Industry: Deregulation
(McArthur, Stewart, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Budget 1999-2000: East Timor
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Mining Industry
(Haase, Barry, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Air Travel
(Kernot, Cheryl, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
Business Tax Reform: Family Farms
(Nehl, Garry, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Car Industry
(Cox, David, MP, Fahey, John, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: Employment and Unemployment
(Cameron, Ross, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Telstra: Rural and Regional Service Levels
(Smith, Stephen, MP, McGauran, Peter, MP)
Job Network: Evaluation
(Gambaro, Teresa, MP, Abbott, Tony MP)
Medicare: MRI Rebates
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Industrial Relations: Public Service Reform
(Barresi, Phil, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
Health: MRI Contracts
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Rural and Regional Australia: Services
(Lawler, Tony, MP, Anderson, John, MP)
Medicare: MRI Rebates
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Fringe Benefits Tax: Australian Defence Force Personnel
(Lindsay, Peter, MP, Scott, Bruce, MP)
- East Timor: Foreign Policy
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- EAST TIMOR
- ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT BILL (No. 2) 1998
- NATIONAL HEALTH AMENDMENT (LIFETIME HEALTH COVER) BILL 1999
- WORKPLACE RELATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MORE JOBS, BETTER PAY) BILL 1999
National Rugby League
Moore Park: McDonald's Proposal
- National Rugby League
- Workers' Entitlements: Parrish Meat Supplies
- Rural and Regional Australia: Transport
- Canning Electorate: Community Services
- Petroleum Industry: Reform
- Member for Dawson
- National Rugby League
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Grants to the National Farmers Federation
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business: Payments to Organisations
(Bevis, Arch, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Coastal Surveillance Task Force
(Kerr, Duncan, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Electronic Commerce: Collection of Taxes
(Latham, Mark, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Australian Consulate-General in New York: Purchase
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Lifeline Youth Services
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Australian Taxation Office: Western Australia
(McFarlane, Jann, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: Grants to the National Farmers Federation
Tuesday, 28 September 1999
Mr MOSSFIELD (8:00 PM) —I rise to support the amendment to the Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (More Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 1999 moved by the shadow minister for industrial relations, the member for Brisbane. In doing so, I would like to say that there is a certain simplistic approach about the manner in which the policies of this government seem to be arrived at and delivered to this parliament. Firstly, the government attempted to finance aged care by asking older people to sell their family homes, then they created a budget surplus by reducing spending on education, health and welfare, and now they are attempting to create more employment opportunities by reducing wages and conditions of average Australian workers. Simplistic approach, yes; but fair, reasonable and decent, no.
Under this legislation many of Australia's lowest paid workers will miss out on safety net wage increases until their awards have been peeled back to a set of core conditions. This second wave legislation comes on top of the existing requirements to reduce award conditions to 20 allowable matters, as set out in the coalition's Workplace Relations Act 1996. This new bill continues this reduction in protection for Australian workers. Whatever happened to the election cry from the coalition that no worker would be worse off under a coalition government? Perhaps many people as yet are not aware of some of the draconian policies in store for workers if this government gets its way with this new bill.
These are some of the things that need to be highlighted. Firstly, a mediation adviser is to be appointed by the minister and is to be subject to ministerial direction. How can any worker expect to get a fair mediation from directions determined by Minister Reith? Secondly, all allowable matters will be removed from awards, such as skills based career paths, tallies and bonuses, long service leave, notice of termination, leave for jury service, superannuation and trade union training leave. Look at these matters that I have referred to. What is left is probably only wage rates. And, if there were to be a third wave, wages would be removed also. Thirdly, employers will be allowed to apply for an order that an agreement does not or will not transmit with the sale or transfer of a business. This proposal goes back to the 1970s when so many unions, particularly in the printing industry, were continually fighting for their members' accrued entitlements from companies that sold to others and transferred their businesses. This period was a nightmare for the workers, many of whom fronted work of a Monday morning only to be told that they had a new employer with no responsibilities for their past accruals. This is what the minister thinks is good for the workers, will make our country more competitive and remove restrictive practices. The working people of this nation are entitled to much better, and they are not getting it.
In schedule 8, certified agreements will be allowed to be approved by the registrar without formal hearing by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. What protection for working people is provided by this process? Certified agreements will be allowed to be made with any group of employees rather than being required to cover all or a separate part of the enterprise. This creates the possibility of people working side by side but being employed under different conditions. This is bad workplace policy and leads to a discontented work force.
In schedule 9 we see the same divisive approach being applied with the removal of the requirement that the employer must offer the same AWAs to all comparable employees. The removal of the requirement that the Employment Advocate must refer AWAs to the commission when unsure about whether or not it disadvantages employees allows AWAs to be made, undercutting a collective agreement even while the latter is in operation. Schedule 13 of the bill limits a union's ability to enter an employer's premises to hold discussions with employees or to investigate award breaches to where the union has a written invitation from the member. It is quite clear that a worker is not going to place his employment in jeopardy by writing to his union on a one-off basis and then running the risk of being singled out by the employer as a troublemaker. Is the same restriction going to be placed on the employer representative visiting a work site? Will the employer have to issue a written invitation to his representatives to visit his work site? Will the union representative be advised of the time and purpose of the employer organiser's visit? I have not noticed any of this even-handedness in this bill.
I refer to the use of taxpayers' money to run anti-union advertisements which have been authorised by the employee advocate. These advertisements are designed to discourage people joining a union. They have no other purpose. This is a cruel un-Australian attempt to leave workers unprotected in the workplace. I was rather surprised when I saw these advertisements. It is clear that they can have only one purpose, and that is to try to influence workers into not joining a trade union. For example, the advertisements do not say to employers that they have a free choice as to whether they join an employer organisation. Nor do they mention that doctors are free to join or not to join the Australian Medical Association. In my period in the trade union movement, we saw the Australian Medical Association as probably one of the strongest trade unions in Australia, and we have here the member for Bradfield who was the president of that organisation. He is not here at the moment, but I wonder what his view would be if the government put out an advertisement suggesting that doctors could or could not join the Australian Medical Association.
During my period as a trade union official, the act was designed to encourage people to join either a trade union, if they were an employee, or an employer organisation, if they were an employer. This encourages a collective approach to solving the problems of industry, rather than the dog-eat-dog or every man or woman for themselves approach contained in this second wave legislation.
The government is not attacking the unions; it is attacking the working people of Australia who have worked hard for their award protections because there was a need for them. The need will again be there in a couple of years time once employers know that it is open slather in the employment market and that the awards simply do not count. Why is there this ongoing belief that the only way for the nation's businesses to prosper is by reducing wages and conditions of the workers? Surely we have learnt something in the past 50 or 60 years that can enable us to move away from the discredited policies of cutting wages and conditions to get a profit for business, but of course it is the workers whom this coalition seems to feel the need to attack.
The attack is now focused on one of the really big issues of 1999, and that is the question of job security. We have been told that unemployment is going down, but at the same time that this is happening there is still a great feeling out there in all sections of industry that people are not secure in their employment. This bill will only add to that job insecurity with notices of termination of employment to be removed from awards, with compensation for injured workers to be reduced by the removal of the accident make-up provisions in awards and with long service leave entitlements also under threat by their removal from awards. Why would we remove all of the above items from awards? Were they bad for employees? Did the employees misuse them? Did the employees get the conditions for nothing? Are awards necessary?
Certainly a recent case concerning a constituent of mine, Ms Kym Wood, highlighted the need for award protection for working mothers. Ms Wood is a telesale operator who was employed by Steggles chicken at Marsden Park. Ms Wood was directed to start work at 6.30 a.m.—1½ hours earlier than her previous starting time. She declined this direction because she was unable to secure child-care services so early in the morning for her three school-age children. Also to start work at this time Ms Wood would have had to get her children up at 4 a.m. Ms Wood had nine years service with this particular company. The company refused to allow Ms Wood to swap with other employees to more family friendly working hours. The only option allowed by the company was for her to work fewer hours or face dismissal. While some employers are claiming to be introducing family friendly policies, demands on women to work either longer hours or shifts with inconvenient starting times are taking many to the limit. Steggles telesale employees received letters in June directing them to work different shifts. Ms Wood was one of four told to start at 6.30 a.m. Two others were told to start at 7 a.m. and two at 7.30 a.m. Two women with children were forced to resign because they could not work the earlier hours.
Changes to working hours reflect the move from award coverage that previously prescribed ordinary hours of work for a whole industry to a system of enterprise agreements where working time could be tailored to the needs of specific employers. These changes were to benefit both employees and employers but, as the Steggles case shows, this flexibility has been to the advantage of employers and has led to a less predictable working life and a disruption to family life for many working mothers. This issue has dominated enterprise bargaining since it began in 1981. Nearly 80 per cent of enterprise agreements deal with changing the times people work. The arrangement covering the number of hours worked each week increase the span of ordinary hours each day or each week, so what was previously paid as overtime is now paid at ordinary time. Enterprise agreements have given management greater control over how hours are worked. This has resulted in the working week becoming longer for many full-time workers.
The general question of extending hours of work, as now obtainable under enterprise agreements, was covered in an excellent article by Associate Professor Ron Callus in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 August, and I quote in part:
. . . changed working time arrangements have unintended consequences. The increasing popularity of days of 12 or more hours in the service, transport and mining industries brings potential health & safety problems.
Fatigue, mistakes and injuries, stress and ill-health are all dangers when people work longer hours and where their pattern of sleep and their non-working time are changed regularly.
Professor Callus concluded his article with these remarks:
The changing nature of working time in many organisations in Australia may mean that people are more likely to know when they will see their workmates than their families or friends.
Did not employees and their unions frequently provide increased productivity, reduce dramatically classification restrictions and provide many years of industrial harmony in exchange for these improved conditions? The answer is of course the employees and the unions provided all these improvements, but now, if the government has its way, all of these will be swept away as though nothing has gone before. Is there to be any compensa tion to these battlers for losing their entitlements, because lose them they will? If I was a betting man, and I am not, I would put my money on employer-1, employee-0 in any result arising from this charade of second wave industrial legislation from this government.
Until these conditions that I have been referring to and many other provisions are removed from awards, no safety net increases will be passed on to low income people, widening still further the gap between the rich and poor in this country. Further safety net wage increases will be paid only when the government's award stripping exercise has been completed. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission has reduced entitlements in a little over 230 awards since July 1998. Again it is the battlers on low wages who are to be further kept down while the commission copes with this stupid legislative attack on the condition of battlers. The coalition will certainly wonder what has hit it when the battlers, whom it now claims as its own, hit back in the ballot box and strike a blow against all the unfair actions that this government has inflicted upon them since 1996.
The process of entitlement reduction is still to be carried out on a further 2,000 awards. However, all awards that were peeled back prior to the second wave legislation will again have to be put under the microscope to ensure that the condition stripping exercise has been completed before safety net increases are passed on. This is totally unfair to low income people.
It is predicted by some commentators that, at the current rate of award stripping, it will take the commission another two to three years to complete the process. In the Sydney Morning Herald on 6 July, under the heading `Slow award reviews hold up pay rises', Helen Trinca makes these comments:
Australian workers could have a long wait for living wage increases because of the slow overhaul of industrial awards by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, according to figures released yesterday.
The figures show that in 12 months of intense review, less than 10 per cent of 2,180 current federal awards have been stripped back—a move which the Federal Government wants to be a prerequisite for the safety net increases.
In the same article, she says:
A commission spokesman said there was no estimate of how long it would take to complete the simplification process. But the great bulk of the awards are still in the pipeline: 1,206 are being simplified and another 508 have yet to begin the process.
Another measure that this legislation introduces into the workplace is that secret ballots must be held before unions can take preventative industrial action. If this is a good idea, then surely it is also a good idea to have a secret ballot to decide whether the terms of the settlement of a dispute are satisfactory and a resumption of work should take place.
Under this American style legislation we may have fewer strikes, but the strikes will be longer as there is no practical way to obtain a resumption of work. Australian working people have paid a high price for this country's move towards a deregulated financial market and a global economy. Governments should be moving to compensate working people for their sacrifices by providing a more secure working environment and legal protections for their accumulated entitlements. If there was a single industrial issue that needed to be addressed in 1999, surely it was the protection of workers' accrued entitlements in the event of plant closures.
We have seen a string of plant and mine closures from Cobar, Oakdale and Woodlawn mines to Austral Pacific buses, Yeppoon and Rockhampton nursing homes and Grafton meatworks, just to name a few. In most cases, workers' entitlements have not been paid. These are some of the more publicised closures, and no doubt there are many more smaller closures affecting hundreds of workers which do not make the headlines. In the past 12 months a number of highly publicised closures have seen more than 3,000 workers robbed of more than $30 million in unpaid accrued legal entitlements. There are probably hundreds of smaller companies that go to the wall and their employees are not paid their full entitlement.
This fact has been drawn to my attention by a constituent who left her employment five years ago, leaving her superannuation entitlement in the company's superannuation fund. This constituent was advised by the Australian Taxation Office on 12 March this year that the company had gone into liquidation and that her chances of recovering her superannuation entitlements were nil. I quote from my constituent's letter:
I am one of at least 10 employees who did not receive any superannuation (I am as far as I know the only one who made a claim through the A.T.O, the others wrote it off as a bad experience). So if 9 out of 10 people don't make a claim, how many other employers are getting away with this?
The honourable member for Prospect, Janice Crosio, has tried for two years to right the obvious wrongs in regard to the payment of accrued entitlements to workers. We have now seen some developments in this particular area as far as the Oakdale miners are concerned. Following a rather traditional industrial campaign—a national coal strike, followed by negotiations—the federal government has agreed to the miners' claim for their entitlement to be paid out of the industry's long service leave fund. It is interesting to note that progress was achieved in this dispute only after a bit of old-fashioned industrial relations with a stoppage, a fair amount of public sympathy for the workers and a negotiated settlement. It is interesting to note that the federal government was a major player in this process that it is trying to destroy.
The historical background to the philosophies now being espoused by the coalition are steeped in the history of the fifties and the sixties. Prime Minister Menzies thought it was great to attack all unionists with the blanket allegation that they were all communists who had to be removed from sight and sound. Prime Minister Fraser, with the help of the ambitious member for Bennelong, thought that creating an atmosphere of strikes, division and worker oppression would somehow appeal to Australians. I conclude my remarks by saying I fully support the amendment moved by the shadow minister for industrial relations. (Time expired)