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Wednesday, 6 July 2011
Page: 4173

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:46): Always in the backrow—

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator XENOPHON: Not voluntarily.

The PRESIDENT: Ignore the interjections that came from the front, Senator Xenophon.

Senator XENOPHON: Always in the back row, Mr President. My question is to Senator Evans in his capacity as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations. In the recent Senate Rural Affairs and Transport Committee inquiry into pilot training and aviation safety, the issue of using foreign crews for domestic flights was raised. These overseas based crews are employed on foreign contracts and recent media reports state that, for instance, Jetstar flight attendants on overseas contracts get paid a fraction of what Australian based flight attendants are paid and can work shifts of up to 22 hours compared to 12 hours for Australian based flight attendants. They apparently have no recourse to workers compensation laws in Australia despite effectively doing significant amounts of domestic flight work. Is the minister aware of foreign crews flying what are essentially domestic routes? What is the government's position on such workers in Australia being paid such low wages under such harsh conditions?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:46): I thank Senator Xenophon for the question. I am aware of allegations of foreign crew operating on Australian domestic routes. I think it is important to draw the distinction between foreign crew operating on domestic routes and foreign crew operating on foreign airlines that have routes through Australia. The allegations about foreign crew operating on Australian domestic routes I take seriously and I have directly raised that issue with Qantas. They have responded to those concerns. We in this government believe that Australian jobs must be protected and that foreign workers, when employed in Australia, must be protected from exploitation and are entitled to the protection of Australian industrial conditions if they are involved in domestic activities in Australia.

Overseas workers play an important part in meeting critical skills shortages in this country, but they will not be permitted to be used as a source of cheap labour. That is why we made the changes we did to the 457 visa regulations. We believe those workers deserve the same protections as Australian workers. I am advised that the Fair Work Ombudsman initiated an investigation on 20 May this year into allegations about the exploitation of foreign crew raised by the Australian and International Pilots Associa­tion and other sources. Obviously I cannot comment on that investigation, but I under­stand that investigations are ongoing. I can confirm that senior representatives of that agency have recently met with the Pilots Association and Jetstar on the issue. As I said, some of those concerns have been taken up by me as minister and I have sought assurances about those. It is also the case that the Fair Work Ombudsman has had the matters referred to him and has commenced an investigation.

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:48): I have a supplementary question, Mr President. I thank the minister for his answer. I understand that Jetstar contracts that these foreign crews are employed under enable not only shifts of 22 hours but minimal rest periods that are not considered adequate for Australian cabin attendants. These crew members are vulnerable to severe fatigue during their shifts. Is the government concerned about the occupation­al health and safety implications of this, particularly as these foreign crews do not have access to the same workplace rights and protections as Australian crew and so cannot take action for fear of losing their jobs?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:49): I think there is a range of issues there and I will take on notice some aspects of the question. The first point to make is that for those persons operating in Australia temporarily on other than Australian conditions, clearly if there are concerns about safety or their shifts, they will be raised with CASA. The bottom line is that if there are safety concerns then CASA ought to be informed. I urge anyone who has concerns about those sorts of matters to raise them with CASA as the appropriate agency.

Obviously the question of industrial conditions of foreign crew operating on other than Australian domestic routes is a slightly different matter, but we would be concerned if there were any issues surrounding fatigue of crew and inappropriate hours being worked. As I said, people ought to take any suggestions of that to CASA. (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:50): For the minister's information, there are currently no rules that apply in relation to CASA for cabin crew fatigue. I ask a further supplementary question, Mr President. Given that there is an investigation underway by the Fair Work Ombudsman, will the minister liaise with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to see if there has been an abuse of the international rules of cabotage in relation to the use of such flight attendants on Australian domestic routes?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:50): Certainly, I am happy to take up the issue that Senator Xenophon has raised and have a chat with the Minister for Infra­structure and Transport, Mr Albanese. We have had some broad discussions about some of these issues, but not the particular alle­gations that Senator Xenophon is referring to today. We are very concerned, as recent events have proved, to make sure that we put safety as the first priority in Australia's airline industry—be they Australian owned or foreign owned aircraft. I accept that the issue of crews' hours and potential fatigue is a key part of any safety consideration. I understand what Senator Xenophon said about CASA, but I would have thought there is an overarching responsibility for safety that would allow them to respond to concerns about fatigue. I am happy to take that matter up as well with the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport because I would be concerned if that was not treated as a very serious issue. (Time expired)