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Monday, 17 September 2007
Page: 134

Mr DANBY (9:10 PM) —I rise tonight to talk about the extreme and unfair industrial relations legislation, the so-called Work Choices laws, and its affect on my electorate. When the election is called, I will be reminding voters of Melbourne Ports of who is responsible for this legislation. I will be asking them to re-elect me on the basis of Labor’s intention to repeal the Work Choices laws and replace them with fair, equitable and balanced workplace laws. I also want to talk tonight about the impact of this legislation on young people and the industries in which they work—which are predominantly those in the retail and hospitality sector.

The foundation of Work Choices is the Australian workplace agreements, designed for no other purpose than to keep wages low and the unions out of workplaces. It is a system that is designed to disadvantage young workers, who are expected to negotiate their own wages and conditions as they embark on their first experience of employment. Many young employees have never had the benefit of experiencing collective bargaining. They do not know what their entitlements are or what their colleagues are receiving. They do not know about penalty rates, shift allowances or overtime provisions.

In such a scenario, nine times out of 10, the young person will sign an agreement because they have no other choice if they want the job. Furthermore, they will have no security of employment and little or no recourse to an unfair dismissal case. If this legislation is allowed to stand, many young employees in my electorate will be at risk of spending their entire working lives as casuals, at call of an employer to tell them whether or not they have a day’s work. They will be working long hours, without overtime penalty rates, shift allowances or annual leave, while at the same time knowing that their employer may sack them tomorrow and they will have no recourse.

This represents a return to 19th century work practices, 19th century attitudes and 19th century conditions. It is a rejection of the basic Australian philosophy of the fair go that we have known since Federation. A fair go in the workplace has been the objective of the Australian labour movement since the 1890s. Labor acknowledges the changes in the global and domestic economy since the 1970s—indeed, most of the far-reaching changes were enacted by the Hawke and Keating governments. Only once in Australian history have we seen a government make such a fundamental attack on the principles of fairness in the workplace, and that was under Stanley Melbourne Bruce—and we all know what happened to him.

Hospitality and retail are very important industries in my electorate of Melbourne Ports. They are industries in which many local young people expect to find their first job. My office receives many calls from young people. Some of the stories we hear are disturbing. Let me give an example: a young man was employed in a hotel as a drinks waiter, but he was also required to replace the night concierge at short notice. He signed an individual agreement when he commenced work. He did not know that the agreement he signed had no provisions for overtime or penalty rates. So when he sat up all night on the concierge’s desk, often after a shift serving drinks, he was being paid the flat rate that he earned as a drinks waiter—no time and a half, no shift allowance.

It is no wonder that respected academics are concluding that the social fabric of Australia is being changed by these laws and that the most disadvantaged are those in the 18 to 25 age group. A study by Justine Evesson, at the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research at Sydney university, looked specifically at the drop in income for hospitality workers since the introduction of Work Choices. The study found that people working in the retail sector had an average income loss of between two per cent and 18 per cent. Casual part-time sales assistants working a 12-hour week in retail lost an average 12 per cent of their earnings. Permanent part-time retail workers, retaining their usual shifts, lost 18 per cent.

In the hospitality sector, the losses were between six per cent and 12 per cent. Permanent part-time waiting and bar staff who were working a 21-hour week of split shifts lost an average of 12 per cent of their income. Those with the most prolific losses were liquor store workers, fast-food workers, bakery workers and restaurant and cafe workers. These represent many of the people in my electorate. It is no wonder the government has also enacted the bodgie changes to the electoral legislation which will effectively shave off the electoral roll 800 to 900 young people in the 18- to 25-year-old age group. These are the people who are affected terribly by the Work Choices legislation.

The government likes to boast about the rise in real wages over the past decade. What it fails to mention is that those rises took place under a system that it has now demolished. If this government is re-elected, the rise in real wages will stop and go into reverse. Of course, we know that if this government is re-elected—and Senator Minchin has gasbagged about it—there will be Work Choices 2, which will be an even more draconian wave of legislation. Young people such as those whom I have mentioned deserve a fair go. We need to see a return to the decent values of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. I hope we will soon have a government that does not just talk about Australian values but puts them into practice.