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Tuesday, 8 November 2005
Page: 113

Mr PROSSER (9:53 PM) —I am delighted to be speaking on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005. This bill has great significance to me, because it goes back to what spurred my interest in federal politics. I was a very young employer in the days when the Fraser government gained office and had control of both houses of parliament, and in those days the BLF particularly was out of control. Working on building sites and trying to get building projects finished was nothing short of a nightmare.

The bulk of men and women who worked for me—men particularly—were employed under the Metal Trades Employers Association and the AMWSU, but the BLF would come onto a site and claim that site. In those days, to get the job done, you would have your men on a dual ticket, because it was not their fault. They had to put up with the thuggery of the BLF.

We have evolved a lot since then. My father was a carpenter, and in those days carpenters put the sole plates down, put in the stumps, did the bearers and joists, laid the floors, put up the stud work, pitched the roof and put on the weatherboard siding—they worked every trade except that of plumber and electrician. The building trades have moved on dramatically since those days. These days the building trade mainly uses subbies—a granite worker drops the slab down; brickies do the brickwork; there are internal fixers, roof pitchers, roof sheeters, finishers, tilers and those sorts of things; and, of course, the traditional trades of electrician and plumber still remain. We still have an industrial relations system stuck in the trades of the past. We need a modern system to realise and keep up with the modern way of doing things. In commercial building, tilt slab construction is a great way to work.

I have a background in automotive engineering. The first time we used a CNC lathe—a computerised lathe—there was a question as to whether a machinist or computer technician programmed the lathe. The award did not recognise the technician; the award recognised a metal machinist. We need a modern industrial relations system and a modern awards system that will recognise and reward modern-day work practices. We are a country that trades globally; we are a great trading nation. We have to have a system that will not only reward the people involved but compete with the rest of the world.

AWAs have been mentioned here tonight. It is interesting to look at that in the context of the debates surrounding airlines. In my view, the world changed substantially in the 1960s with the advent of jet aircraft. You could leave London and less than 24 hours later be in Australia. That broke down all sorts of trading barriers. Gone were the days when we were protected by distance, when we could live our life over here and not have to compete. We did not have to produce cars or other goods that were as good as those from the rest of the world. We did not have to front up to the fact that we were at the leading edge. Jet aircraft meant that we needed to compete, but our awards system stayed behind. It would be crazy for airlines such as Qantas to have employees from Western Australia on a Western Australian state award, employees from Victoria under a Victorian state award and employees from Queensland under a different award. It is one company—it is one industry—so you need an IR system that recognises that sort of thing.

When I grew up, shops opened 5½ days a week. Then they opened all day Saturday—that was a major step forward, but the awards system did not recognise that. Now they trade six and seven days a week. Why? Because we have workers who will work 12 days on and 12 days off—workers on oil rigs, for example—or fly in and fly out to work for mining companies. Under this legislation, workers are guaranteed four weeks annual leave, but, if they have just worked two weeks on and two weeks off, why on earth would some of them want to take another four weeks holiday? Doesn’t it make sense to give them the opportunity—not compel them, but give them the opportunity—to cash in two weeks leave if they want to go on an extended holiday somewhere?

The old system served us very well. I had no problems working under the awards system. In fact, I dealt a lot with Jack Marks and, surprisingly enough, I got along very well with him; you could deal with him. If you had a large job, you could work something out with him and get it done. I cannot say the same for the BLF. It was a system that served us well in the past, but we now have an economy that is moving into the future. A lot of people do not like rigid working hours. My daughter is one case in point—she likes to work nights and weekends and have days off. The awards system does not recognise those sorts of arrangements that many young people particularly want to have.

The line that has been run is a scare tactic, unfortunately. I accept that that happens. But I mention leave provisions. I mention that in this award there will be guaranteed provisions of four weeks annual leave. I mention annual leave, carer arrangements, parental leave and maximum ordinary hours worked in addition.

What about this line that wages will go down? The award classifications will be protected by the levels set by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in the 2005 safety net review. At this stage of the game—I know other members have mentioned this—we have jobs chasing workers, not the other way round.

This is really a new system, a system that finally matches the way the economy is now working. I can understand the reluctance of many to change. Change is threatening to many people. But you cannot keep putting off change, because the rest of the world is changing. We have to have a system that is dynamic enough to reward those who want to work hard and reward those who want to drive our economy. We need a workplace system that will allow us to compete with the rest of the world. We should not be in any doubt that we must compete. We are a great trading nation and we will compete.

At times there is a view put forward that Australians are not very productive workers. As a very young man, I had a very large job. I had no partners; I was not married. The contractors were Bechtel Pacific. Bechtel Pacific has a schedule for the productivity of workers in every single country. We have the view that we are getting beaten by workers from cheap labour countries. India and China were mentioned earlier. But when you get them going, Australians work very hard and very productively. In those days the dollar exchange rate proved that.

I really do think we need an industrial system that will reward those workers but give us an arrangement that will allow us to compete with the cheap labour countries that were mentioned earlier. This is about greater flexibility. This is about giving workers and families the flexibility that they are looking for in their working lives and the working lives of their children.

In 1993, the unfair dismissal legislation was introduced. That meant that small businesses sometimes found it very difficult to dismiss employees who did not suit their business—who did not suit their business at all. What happened? Many businesses were contracting out rather than having people work in their business and learn the trade or learn how the business operated. I always thought that that was a great shame. To really train people, to let them know how business operates, it is better to have them work with you. They can learn the business, and they can then become very, very valuable employees.

I am delighted to see that the unfair dismissal arrangements have been addressed in this legislation. The new arrangements will drive greater employment growth and greater productivity, particularly in the small business sector. Small businesses do not have human resource managers. Small business people have to run the business, get the orders, get the contracts, send the bills out and run the whole kit and caboodle. In the old system they had to try to work out what the award was and what the arrangements were. They did not need lobbed on top of all of that the spectrum of unfair dismissals when someone did not really work out in their business.

This is a much better system. This is a system that is fairer for employees. This is an arrangement that is much fairer for small businesses. This is a system that will drive the productivity of the Australian economy and allow us as a country to compete against the cheaper imports that the member for Chisholm was talking about earlier. If we want to compete, we have to keep up with the game. Part of that is not to use golf ball typewriters and so on. Yes, I can remember the golf ball typewriter coming in. That was a you beaut thing. We have now moved to computers and a whole range of other things. We need to move in this area too. I commend the bill to the House.