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Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Page: 5274

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (18:41): I seek leave to speak for up to 20 minutes.

Leave granted.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Tonight I will address a different element of the United Nations system when I speak about my recent address to the International Labour Conference at its historic 100th session. Prior to this year, the last time I attended the International Labour Confer­ence as a member of the Australian dele­gation was as a worker delegate to its 81st session in 1994. That International Labour Conference was also significant as it marked the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the International Labour Organisation and the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Philadelphia, which widened the Inter­national Labour Organisation's mandate to cover matters such as unemployment and poverty alleviation.

For nearly 100 years this forum has brought together governments, employers and workers to discuss the issues critical to the lives of working people. At the 1994 conference I recall the historic and moving resolution presenting the ILO Declaration concerning Action Against Apartheid as a conference welcome to South Africa, back in the ILO after a 30-year absence. This year it is North Africa that has been undergoing historic political changes and, again, the ILO has a role to play in assisting the people of North Africa to obtain employment, dignity and rights they have demanded.

As a founding member of the ILO, Australia has a long and productive history in working with the organisation. But this relationship was tested throughout the term of the Howard government with its Work Choices system, the subject of repeated criticism from the ILO supervisory body. As we well know, Work Choices reflected the Howard government's determination to intro­duce an ideologically inspired and extreme framework for regulating Australia's work­places. I recall the Committee on Freedom of Association in 1999 noted serious concerns in relation to Australia's workplace relations system, particularly as it gave primacy to individual over collective relations.

The situation for Australian workers became worse when in 2005 the Howard government won control of both houses of parliament and used its new powers to introduce the Work Choices package. The Inter­national Labour Organisation's com­mittee of experts continued to highlight its con­cerns and fortunately, in the 2007 elec­tion, Australians overwhelmingly reject­ed the erosion of their rights and protections and elected a Labor government to reintro­duce fairness. It gave me great pleasure at the ILO to represent the Labor government that two years ago implemented the Fair Work Act. This historic reform, developed in con­sul­tation with unions and employers, ushered in a new era of cooperative indust­rial relations in Australia and re-established a fair and balanced workplace relations system.

The government is pleased that the new fair work system has been received favourably by the ILO committee of experts and that for the first time since 2001 the committee has not expressed concerns about Australia's compliance with conventions 87 and 98. It was especially heartening to reflect on the observation made in the Director-General of Social Justice report released for the recent conference that it is countries such as Austria and Australia, which have recently reinforced their labour market institutions, that have weathered the global crisis so much better than other advanced economies. It is my hope that through my representation as a member of the Australian government executive at the International Labour Con­ference and with concrete progress towards the implementation of international labour standards, Australia's standing as a strong and active member of the International Labour Organisation will be further reinstated. I am pleased to inform the Senate that Australia will ratify four ILO conven­tions this year. Among these is the Part-Time Work Convention which sets minimum standards for the treatment of part-time workers. This is particularly satisfying from my perspective as assisting people to balance their work and home responsibilities has long been a passion of mine, and it was when I last attended the International Labour Conference in 1994 that this convention was adopted by the conference.

I am also pleased to confirm that Australia will ratify the Maritime Labour Convention this year. As one of the most comprehensive instruments ever adopted by the ILO, ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention will be a particularly momentous achievement for Australia. We are also close to ratifying the Asbestos Convention of 1986 and the optional protocol of 2002 to the Occupational Health and Safety Convention.

As well as historic changes to Australia's workplace relations system and this progress towards ratifying international labour standards, the Australian government is also enhancing our engagement with the International Labour Organisation in other ways, particularly through the signing of the historic Australia-ILO partnership agreement which funds a range of ILO projects in our Asia-Pacific region. Through this agreement Australia is working cooperatively with the ILO and our Asia-Pacific neighbours on projects such as the Better Work program, Green Jobs, Labour governments and youth employment. I am proud that Australia is now the largest donor to the Better Work program, with funding of $7.5 million over two years. This successful program sees international labour standards applied at the enterprise level, leading to improved working conditions, better pay and increased productivity and competitiveness.

The Australia-ILO partnership agreement is being implemented at a critical time in the face of widespread unemployment in the Asia-Pacific region resulting from the global recession. The opportunity to make decent work a reality for people in the Asia-Pacific is very important for the Australian government. It is for that reason that I plan to visit Timor-Leste at the end of the month to provide a keynote address to the Our Work Our Lives 2011 Conference, the fourth such conference on women and industrial relations, on this occasion to be held in Dili.

The theme of my address will be women's access to their rights and entitlements. I will speak about Australia's experience with the current equal pay case for social and community sector workers. The conference is presented by the Working Women's Centre Timor-Leste with the support of the Australian National Network of Working Women's Centres, the University of South Australia and the Queensland University of Technology. While in Dili I expect to meet key officials to discuss the youth employment promotion program which is funded under the Australian government's ILO partnership agreement 2010-2015 and AusAID's education sector support program.

As governments around the world continue to grapple with the effects of the global recession and its aftermath, several international forums such as the G20 are highlighting the importance of creating jobs and addressing social inequality for a sustainable recovery. The International Labour Organisation has a unique place in this global dialogue. It is the only forum where governments and social partners cooperate on the international stage to ensure that decent work is a reality for everyone. Australia looks forward to continuing its partnership with the International Labour Organisation and working together towards this goal.