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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 713


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (19:43): I rise to speak in opposition to the latest government attempt to reduce wages and conditions and set up a system that exposes young workers to exploitation and exposes existing employees to unfair competition from exploited workers. Young Australian will be denied award wages and conditions. They will be classified as interns and not employees in a not so subtle expression of coalition contempt for decent wages, decent conditions and health and safety on the job.

The latest iteration of the government's antiworking agenda is this bill, the Social Security Legislation Amendment (Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire) Bill 2016. It continues the coalition tradition of attacking worker protections. This bill sits comfortably in the tradition of Work Choices and the ABCC.

The bill is designed to give effect to so-called internships and provide wage subsidies, which were elements of the Youth Jobs PaTH measure announced in the 2016-17 budget as part of the youth employment package. The Youth Jobs PaTH program is being marketed as providing job seekers aged 17 to 24 years who have been in receipt of jobactive services for six months with work experience and to allegedly maximise their prospects of subsequently gaining employment. The reality is that it will expose them to unscrupulous employers with no access to workers compensation, no award wages and no union protection.

This bill will amend the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999 and the Veterans' Entitlements Act 1986 so the miserly $200 payment that interns receive is not counted as income for social security or veterans entitlements purpose. Secondly, it will amend the Social Security act to allow young people to suspend their payments if they are employed. They can then restart without reapplying if they lose their job internship through no fault of their own within 28 weeks. How this no fault of your own will ever be analysed and determined, I do not know.

These job seekers will be placed into so-called voluntary internships, working for between 15 and 25 hours a week for between four and 12 weeks. For this they will receive payments of $200 per fortnight—not a week, a fortnight—on top of their income support payments. For many this will not be sufficient to cover the cost of travelling to work and the extra expenses associated with work. Businesses will be looked after; they will be paid $1000 to take on an intern and will receive a wage subsidy of between $6500 and $10,000 if they have participants at the conclusion of the internship—with an offer of a job that is expected to be ongoing and for an average of 20 hours a week over the six-month period. So they get well rewarded for exploiting young workers. That is the reality.

Instead of tackling the real issue of youth unemployment, the government has come up with a hastily cobbled together scheme that offers no solution to the problem of youth unemployment. Minister Cash was completely at sea during the estimates hearings when asked for details of how this bill would operate in real life. This bill, if passed, creates a pool of cut-price young workers who will be working at a rate that is less than the national minimum wage. The government is arguing that PaTH is needed to fix youth unemployment. Despite promising it would tackle youth unemployment, an incompetent Turnbull government has failed to deliver.

On the Turnbull government's watch, youth unemployment has climbed to 13.3 per cent, double the overall rate of unemployment. According to their own figures, there are nearly 300,000 unemployed young people between the ages of 15 and 24. More than one million Australians are underemployed. On top of this, the department acknowledges there are another 170,000 people who have been unemployed for more than a year and who are discouraged from seeking jobs that are non-existent.

This government has left young Australians high and dry. It is unable to come up with a real plan to find jobs for our young people. In the meantime they are trying to sneak through changes in their Omnibus bill which will see young unemployed people left without any form of income for a month when they come to the government seeking assistance to survive. This mob has an absolute contempt for the unemployed, an absolute contempt for working-class kids and an absolute contempt for fairness and reasonableness in their dealings with young people.

This will simply be another failed coalition policy where they push young unemployed people into programs that do nothing to assist them into real, meaningful employment. You only have to look at the Work for the Dole program, where almost 90 per cent of the participants did not get a full-time job three months after finishing the program. Remember the Work for the Dole program and all the great speeches we had from the other side of the chamber? What a great thing Work for the Dole is! What a great program—just get these kids into some work and everything will be okay. It has been a massive failure in similar terms to this government as a failure.

What has been the response of the Turnbull government to this failure? They have taken over $752 million out of Work for the Dole and shifted it into PaTH—that great successful program, let us take $752 million out and try and do something else. That is the reality: you fit one failed program into what will be another failed program. The very serious risk is that PaTH will displace people who would otherwise be employed to fill genuine vacancies. PaTH will take in 30,000 young Australians, classify them as interns and place them in businesses around the country in an already weakened labour market. Young people trying to get into entry-level employment will be competing with the people in the PaTH program, operating as cut-price labour for government subsidised employers.

The Turnbull government's definition of an intern is not going to match the public's idea of what an intern is. These young people will not be working in the white-collar roles with which interns are typically associated; in professional services or law firms. I do not think there will be any movies made about these interns. I do not think Hollywood will be looking at all the glamour for these young workers forced into below award wages, below poverty line wages. There will be no movies made about these interns. This is another example of an uncaring government with no answers for the unemployed, no answers for young Australians.

What we will see are these interns working as waiters, working as shop assistants and even working as builders' labourers—areas where young people would get a chance, get an opportunity to get an award wage and maybe even a bit better than an award wage if they happen to have a good union like the CFMEU. But what are we going to get here? We are going to get young kids put into an area where there is already massive exploitation so more intern waiters, intern shop assistants, intern builders' labourers—the traditional employers of young people looking for their first full-time job. The fast food chains, the big retail stores are going to be supplied with a steady stream of interns, who will be working at a rate that is less than national minimum wage. The national minimum wage is $17.70 an hour but a PaTH participant, who works 25 hours a week and who receives all of their Newstart payments plus the $200 payment, will earn just $14.50 an hour. This is simply exploitation of young people.

People have rightly been concerned about the cases of workers exploitation when wage scandals come to light. Can you imagine being an intern at 7-Eleven? Can you imagine being an intern at Pizza Hut? Can you imagine being an intern at Baiada Poultry? Imagine the exploitation that will go on there under this proposal. Cleaners working in Myer stores are exploited yet young people are going to go in there as interns and Myer is going to get paid by this mob to rip young workers off; that is the reality. Most recently we have seen Dominoes Pizza. How many young people have started off in Dominoes Pizza to go into their first job? We have seen Dominoes Pizza are ripping off young people yet they will be eligible to get this PaTH payment. It just beggars belief.

There are examples of apprentice exploitation. Even when legally established wages are in place, employers exploit young workers. The Fair Work Ombudsman, in response to the constant flow of complaints received from the domestic building industry and in response to the vulnerable nature of apprentices working within the industry, audited Victorian building firms between 2011 and 2012 and found that 94 per cent of the 164 employers broke laws covering apprentices. Fifty-seven per cent of them failed to pay apprentices properly. And an ombudsman's random audit in 2013 of 142 businesses in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory found that more than half breached workplace laws and almost a quarter had underpaid their apprentices by a combined total of $67,180. These are apprentices who would have a contract for employment and a contract for training yet what we are seeing is systematic exploitation of these young workers.

What we are hearing from this mob on the other side is that they want to put some of the most disadvantaged young kids into a situation where there will be even more exploitation even more on vulnerable young Australians. Why would our community stand for government program that sanctions undercutting the minimum wage?

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has made a submission to the Senate inquiry into the PaTH program stating that the industry has the places to meet the demand of the program. I say to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: why are you not filling these places by hiring the many young jobseekers who need the work right now? I can tell you why, it is because the biggest advocates, the biggest cheerleaders for PaTH—big business—can see a pool of young unemployed Australians working at cut-price rates below the national minimum wage being used in a way that could potentially undercut jobs and undercut wages.

What happens to interns who are involved in a workplace accident? Will they be covered by worker's compensation? According to the government, that will depend on the worker's compensation regime that operates in the particular state or territory in which these interns find themselves. Are you kidding me? You cannot make workplace safety in a program you devised someone else's problem. You cannot push 30,000 young people out into internships earning below the minimum wage with no guarantee of a job after the internship and palm off the fundamental issues of protecting young workers to the states. In some states and territories, an intern may be considered a volunteer, not actually an employee, and therefore unable to access worker's compensation. And it is not just Labor that has these concerns. ACOSS were damning in their assessment of participant protections.

There is no legislative assurance that the health and safety of participants in the internships will be adequately protected.

That is what they told the Senate inquiry. This is an issue that cannot be ignored but the government is not really stepping forward with clear assurances.

There is the more important question: after being used for up to three months at a rate below the national minimum wage, will these interns actually get a job? Interns Australia wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that unpaid interns are only offered employment with the same organisation 20 per cent of the time. Their conclusions about the PaTH program are absolutely scathing. They said:

It creates an Australia where exploited interns are widespread but entry-level jobs are scarce, where business either flagrantly exploits its newest workers or doesn't know whether to hire them, and where the rights of interns are more confused and muddled than ever before.

PaTH interns were supposed to be placed into businesses where there were real vacancies. That is the way it was described when this program was announced. But since announcing PaTH the Turnbull government quickly watered down this pledge to 'a reasonable prospect of a job'. There is genuine concern that young Australians participating in PaTH could be used and discarded every four to 12 weeks. For all they may deny it, this government share these concerns. Why else would this legislation provide a fallback position where the jobseeker payments are only suspended in cases where they lose their job through no fault of their own from the business that receives a youth bonus wage subsidy in relation to them under the Youth Jobs PaTH program? Interns Australia noted to the Senate inquiry:

… we have concerns this provision may encourage employers to hire an employee to receive the subsidy, terminate their employment, then hire another employee to receive the subsidy again.

How is the government going to test or sanction employers that might churn through a PaTH participant after the engagement with an intern concludes and the wage subsidy ends?

I move the following amendment:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but that further consideration of this Bill be an order of the day for the first sitting day after the Government has tabled a statement outlining how it intends to ensure that, under Youth Jobs Path: Prepare, Trial, Hire:

(1) jobs will not be displaced by cheaper labour;

(2) wages will not be undercut and participants will not be paid below minimum award wages;

(3) participants' safety will not be compromised and adequate insurance arrangements will be provided; and

(4) small to medium enterprises will be prioritised in 'Prepare, Trial, Hire' as they have a demonstrated track record of employing more job seekers through their jobactive program.

Labor is opposed to this bill. This is a bill that is simply about exploitation. As I have said, this is a bill that stands alongside the Work Choices and ABCC bills as bills that are designed to exploit workers and vulnerable people and are about denying workers access to decent union representation and decent rights and conditions on the job. There is no convincing or effective argument that I have heard for this bill.

This is the Turnbull government again in failure mode. Everything was going to be rosy when they had bills that would force young workers into work. But, when that failed, they had to move to this approach. This approach is really concerning because it exploits young people and advantages unscrupulous employers. No-one can convince me that this is going to work effectively, and the government should hang their heads in shame for exploiting young Australians.