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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1382


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (15:17): I learnt two very unfortunate things in today's discussion. One was that the Leader of the Government in the Senate does not follow the Townsville Bulletin when he is travelling overseas, which was quite concerning! I also learnt that if Senator Back puts a metaphor or a simile into the discussion, he will work very hard on it, as he did in that contribution around racing. I was going to look particularly at the impact of these penalty rate cuts on women workers. If I were to fall into your trap, Senator Back, I would be inclined to say 'fillies', but I will not go there!

There has been considerable discussion around the range of workers who will be impacted by the decision of the Fair Work Commission. I would have hoped that the Office for Women was doing the work to look particularly at what is happening to women workers. But so far, as I found out during Senate estimates, that work has not been done by the Office for Women. But it has been done by a number of organisations, who have looked clearly at who is reliant on penalty rates. It is truly concerning for all of us who are all too aware of the impact of gender on wages in this country. When we strive to ensure that we do have gender equity, we are not striving to see who can have the greatest cuts to their penalty rates. What we are talking about is take-home pay and reliance on full take-home pay to be able to meet those standard cost-of-living expenses with which we all struggle. The data indicates that the deepest cuts and the deepest impacts of these reductions determined by the Fair Work Commission are on women workers.

We know for a fact that the industries that are subject to this first round of cuts are dominated by women workers. Retail and hospitality workers are more likely to receive minimum award wages, and are then more likely to rely on receiving penalty rates on weekends to make sure that they are going to have an effective take-home pay. As other costs increase each week, each month and each year, when people who are on a basic award rate are balancing their budgets they find out that penalty rates are what they rely on to be able to make decisions that will impact on their status of living.

It is not wrong to say that, under the hospitality award, the accommodation award and fast food award, 54 per cent of current workers in those industries are women. Under the retail award, one that was particularly noted in the decision that was brought down, 55 per cent are women. Under the pharmacy award, one that we have talked a lot about in some of the discussions in a number of committees, 77 per cent of the workers who are impacted by the Fair Work Commission decision are women. Now we know that there is going to be an ongoing review of other award areas. One of the first that have been identified is the hair and beauty industry award. Eighty-seven per cent of the workers in that industry are women. So there is no doubt that a disproportionate impact of this decision will fall on workers who are women, and that should be acknowledged. In fact, the Fair Work decision has already acknowledged that this will have an impact on all workers.

My argument today is particularly about women workers, and that should be understood by the people who are supporting this decision. I am particularly concerned that this has not been an issue about which the Minister for Employment, who is also the Minister for Women, has been speaking. She supported the decision, as the leader of the government in this place has done, saying that it is a step in the right direction—backing up Senator Macdonald's comment to the Townsville Bulletin, which I am sure you are going to follow up now, Senator Brandis. This is a real impact on workers in our country that, particularly on the data that we have seen, disproportionally falls on women workers.

The Fair Work decision has been made. The government supports that. It is an independent commission—no-one argues with that. But what we say is that in this case we do not agree with this decision. We have indications that workers will be harmed. In fact, the Fair Work Commission has said that workers will be impacted by this decision. What they have not been able to do is say how they are going to mitigate this impact, and how they are going to work with workers to ensure that they will not suffer the kinds of consequences that these cuts will have. This is important and it will affect women.