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Wednesday, 8 April 1998
Page: 2909


Ms MACKLIN (11:27 AM) —We had a major promise made by this Prime Minister (Mr Howard) before the last election, and that was that no worker would be worse off once he became Prime Minister. Another broken promise. It is another broken promise that today has seen 1,400 waterside workers lose their jobs; 1,400 families lose their livelihoods. All other workers in this country now know that their jobs and their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their families are at risk. So much for the promises of this Prime Minister! Every worker, as they go to the next election, will have to remember what this government has done today. In conjunction with Patrick's this government has sacked 1,400 workers. That is what this government is all about and, not surprisingly, we have a bill before us that is also about scrapping conditions in the awards of Australian workers.

What I want to do today is look at this bill from the perspective of women workers in particular, those in low-paid and casual jobs. Once again we have evidence here in this bill of this government's determination—just like their determination to sack 1,400 waterside workers—to erode the incomes and opportunities of working women. What this bill does is scrap superannuation as an allowable matter in awards. It is scrapping a condition in awards which women workers have relied on to make sure that in their retirement they could live in a little bit more comfort.

There are two groups whose conditions are going to be so much worse off. One group comprises those working women who earn less than $450 a month. It is not a very high income. The superannuation guarantee does not apply to them, but what does apply to them are those awards and conditions that have been negotiated for them by their unions. Through their unions they have secured award conditions to ensure that they have superannuation payments. On top of their very low incomes of $450 a month they have had access to superannuation. But, of course, with this legislation before us today, these women workers are going to see those conditions disappear.

This will hit such women workers as the 26,000 hospitality or textile, clothing and footwear workers—those who have only been able to get superannuation because it was in their relevant award. That is the only reason they had any superannuation cover. Part-time and casual workers earning less than $450 per month have only been able to get superannuation from their award because they do not get it through the superannuation guarantee. That is the case for women in the hospitality and textiles, clothing and footwear industries. It also covers such areas as banking and finance, gas industries and local government: all areas where women are working in such numbers now.

I have an article here, from the Advertiser of 27 March this year, which talks about how many South Australian workers could lose their superannuation entitlements under the legislation that we are debating here right now: 50,000 South Australian workers could lose a total of $50 million—$50 million, in South Australia alone—in superannuation entitlements under the legislation that we are debating.

Let us remember how these workers got their superannuation entitlement. It was not given to them on a plate. They had to argue and negotiate with their unions to get this superannuation entitlement. Of course, the way they got it was in lieu of a wage increase. Let us never forget that these workers gave up a wage increase because they knew that they would be better off by taking the superannuation entitlement and the employer contribution. They knew that, in their retirement, they would have a bit extra than the pension to live on.

As a result of the legislation before us, they of course are going to lose that entitlement. Can you imagine that employers in the hospitality and textile, clothing and footwear industries, and in banking, finance, gas and local government, when they are no longer required to pay the superannuation as part of their legal requirements under the award, are going to give their employees a wage increase in lieu of losing their superannuation entitlement? Not on your nelly!

There will not be any wage increases for these people who are earning less than $450 per month. That is what is going to happen. They are going to lose their superannuation entitlement, and that can only mean that these workers—who, in the main, are women—are going to be worse off. They will lose the three per cent that, up till now, because of their award entitlements has had to be paid by the employers into their superannuation entitlement. Of course, as a result, in their retirement they will be worse off.

The bill also removes the role of the Industrial Relations Commission as an umpire in superannuation for those workers, and places the onus on employees. So the individual women who are part-time and casual employees working in all these industries that I have talked about are now going to have to go out and individually—and `individually' is what this government really likes to see—negotiate with each of their employers about their superannuation entitlement. Those opposite must be living on the moon if they think that these women have got the industrial clout to go by themselves and negotiate a wage increase or a superannuation entitlement. That is not going to happen. What is going to happen is that these women will in fact see their wages, their working conditions and their superannuation become so much worse.

I want to put on the record the achievements over the last 10 years of getting women into superannuation, because a few facts would not go astray. When we introduced the retirement incomes scheme into this country, we had, in November 1988, just over one million women covered for superannuation. We had 4½ million without any coverage. In 1995 almost three million women had some coverage with superannuation. That is an extraordinary achievement, to see the numbers go from one million to three million women with superannuation coverage in that time. Almost 89 per cent of women working full time now have superannuation coverage. That is because of the changes that were made in 1988 to ensure that the vast majority of workers would get benefit from superannuation.

What we had before that time, which is, of course, what this government wants to go back to, was that, sure, the workers at the top end of town—the managers, the senior public servants—had superannuation. But those who were working in the factories and in the restaurants and hotels, the textile workers, the bank workers they did not have superannuation. Those women did not have superannuation. They were going to look forward to a retirement of poverty. We were determined to put a stop to that and to make sure that the vast majority of workers could improve their lot and could contribute to their superannuation. Now almost 89 per cent of female full-time employees have superannuation. With part-time employees, it is just over 66 per cent. That is at November 1995. So we do have a very large number of people now covered by superannuation.

We will be watching very carefully the result of this legislation before us, which will be the scrapping of superannuation as an allowable matter in awards, because those women who work part time and who do casual work, in particular, will lose their entitlements. That is why we object to this bill. That is why we will oppose this bill. Many of the government members who have spoken on this legislation keep asking, `Why is it that Labor opposes this bill?' I could not put it more sharply than this: we oppose it because it is taking away working conditions from some of the poorest workers in this country. We will not stand by and see that happen.

We also need to look at what is happening to female employment, because the two things go together. I want to put on the record some other facts about what has happened to female employment during the period of this government, comparing similar periods over the last two recoveries. During the 1980s recovery—from November 1983 to August 1989—female employment expanded by 850,000 jobs. Although that accounted for only about 35 per cent of employment at the start of the recovery, women actually gained 55 per cent of the extra jobs created over that period.

In the 1990s recovery, we have had a very different story indeed. What we have seen in the current recovery is that female employment growth has stagnated, with only 20,000 extra jobs created, whereas in the 1980s recovery we had a massively different number of jobs created for women. So not only do we have this government attacking the working conditions of women, we have the actual capacity of women to find work massively reduced by this enormous change in the opportunities that are available for them to find work.

One of the main reasons that women are less likely to accumulate a decent level of superannuation throughout their working lives is their very different opportunities to find work. Another fact that those opposite should bear in mind in considering this legislation is that the average superannuation for women on retirement is currently around $17,000—not a very high sum at all—compared to $42,000 for men.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia commissioned research into superannuation for women. It found that only 38 per cent of women working casual or part time actively planned for their retirement, as compared with 65 per cent of men. Women find it very hard to find a job and have wages that are considerably less than those of men. Let us just have a look at those numbers as well. Why is it that women's superannuation retirement incomes are so much less? It is all about their average weekly earnings being so much less. Average weekly earnings for women are around $450, whereas for men they are around $700. No wonder their superannuation retirement income expectations are so much less.

This government wants to do nothing to improve the opportunities for women to get more work. We have seen female employment stagnate during this recovery. We have seen massive increases in the price of child care, driving women out of the work force. Now, to top it all off, we have this government saying, in this legislation, `We don't want you to get a job. If you do get a job, it's going to be much more expensive for you to work, because your child-care bills will go up by $20 a week, and we don't want to do anything to help you save for your retirement. We are actually going to take superannuation out of awards so that you can go and negotiate those conditions yourself.' That will not happen. What will happen is that women will be worse off. That will be the direct result of this government's legislation that is before us.

Women who work part time are much more likely to spend their wages on their families, not on their retirement savings. What this government has done is to make it so much more necessary for women to spend their hard-earned incomes on their families. Whether it is child care, health care or education, costs have risen dramatically under this government's changes to all of those areas.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia concluded that the government's proposal that workers on between $450 and $900 a month be able to opt out of super—which is an associated move that this government thinks is a great thing—is also not a good option for women. The gain after tax is paid and social security benefits are reduced is not large. So we are not going to see these workers any better off if they opt out of superannuation. What we are going to see is that their retirement benefits will be so much less and they will be so much worse off when they eventually retire.

We will see what we have seen forever in the past, that the retirement experiences for men and women will be very different. That will now continue well into the future as a result of this government's changes. It will be the case that women will have to rely more on the age pension, while men will have higher incomes due to superannuation. As far as I am concerned, governments have a responsibility to prevent that from happening. But this government, with this bill, will actively encourage that division and that difference.

This government is failing in so many respects when it comes to older Australians. It is failing to create jobs for women, so accumulating superannuation becomes so much more difficult for them. It is continuing to increase the price of child care. As we see in the papers today, women are just saying, `It's not worth it. I am not going to work for $2 an hour,' which is, effectively, what they are being forced to do because of their child-care costs. This government has done absolutely nothing to reduce the earnings gap so that women can earn a decent wage. We now have a real problem in this country, with part-time wages falling well behind increases in full-time wages. Who, in the main, are the part-time workers? They are, of course, women.

On top of their having no job, on top of their having the price of going out to work increased, on top of their wages falling because they do not have the negotiating power as a result of this government's industrial relations changes, as a result of this bill many low-paid women workers will have their last avenue to get superannuation taken away by this government. There is only one conclusion possible and that is that this government, and this Prime Minister in particular, does not actually want women to work. It does not want women to build up superannuation. It does not want women to have the best quality of life in retirement. It is hitting women in particular—because it is women who live longer than do men—with the new nursing home fee of $4,380 per year, and, because of the changes that we have before us today, women will also have no superannuation.

This bill must be opposed because it will hit women in low-paid jobs. It will hurt women by effectively giving them a three per cent wage cut—and this wage cut is to people who earn less than $450 per month. That is what this bill means. And it will hurt them just as much tomorrow when they find that their retirement incomes have disappeared. This bill should be opposed. It will be strongly opposed by the Labor opposition.