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Thursday, 10 November 2005
Page: 33


Mr GRIFFIN (9:46 AM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

Mr Speaker I rise today to speak on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005.

I endorse and agree with the sentiments made by all honourable members on this side of the house and congratulate both the Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Perth, for highlighting the disastrous and extreme implications these changes will have.

Let me make the message clear to the people in my electorate of Bruce. Let me make it clear to the hard working families in Dandenong and Springvale, to the commuters and workers living in Noble Park and Glen Waverley and to the nurses, cleaners and apprentices. At the next election and if we are elected we will kill this bill. The bill that is before the house today will be killed. We will rip up this bill and throw it in the bin where it belongs.

This bill is the best example of an extreme and arrogant government that is out of touch with the workers of this nation.

We have heard from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and every member on that side of the house that it is about higher productivity and about the economy.

But in fact it is the long held dream of the Prime Minister to impose his draconian 19th century work place legislation on the people of my electorate, which will turn their lives into a living nightmare. The Prime Minister let the cat out of the bag earlier this year at the Liberal Party Federal Council. He said in his own words, industrial relations is just an article of faith for him.

It is not a matter of reason; it is a product of extreme ideology. It is because John Howard has been obsessed with industrial relations laws for almost 30 years.

His comments on the public record from as far back as 1979 shows what his real agenda has been.

Take for example the Prime Minister in 1979:

... penalty rates ... a ridiculous impost.

The Prime Minister in November, 1990, on holiday loading:

... a heavy and ludicrous impost.

The Prime Minister in April, 1992:

... penalty rates, the length of the working week, overtime, holiday loadings and all of those things that are holding back the needed flexibility in Australia’s industrial relations system ought to be matters for negotiation between employers and employees.

In November, 1990:

I argued for the forgoing of the holiday loading ... it’s a fairly illogical benefit.

Attacking Industrial Relations safeguards has long been the Prime Minister’s tired old dream and yet he refuses to debate his unpopular laws with the Leader of the Opposition.

It is over 20 days since the Leader of the Opposition challenged the Prime Minister to a nationally televised debate on IR—a challenge he has not had the courage to meet. He is too gutless to stand up to the Australian people and tell them what his so called reforms will do to their wages, work and family life and the conditions that they have fought for and earned.

The Prime Minister did not go to the Australian people at the last election and inform the voters he was going to attack their job security, take home pay, working conditions and living standards.

Instead he sits and hides behind the massive $55 million taxpayer-funded advertising campaign. This is more than the entire spending on the federal election campaign by all the parties at the 2004 election—to fund Liberal Party ads to try to change people’s minds about this extreme legislation. Never in Australian history has there been such a partisan abuse and use of public funds. These ads are not about providing information. What they provide is disinformation.

But $55 million is just a small drop in the ocean to the Howard Government.

Australian employees and their families know what $55 million can get them:

  • The annual wage of nearly 2200 Australians on the Minimum Wage;
  • The annual wage of nearly 1700 Registered Nurses;
  • More than 35,000 average monthly mortgage payments; and
  • More than 1.8 million Bulk Billed GP consultations.

Then there is the initial version of the IR leaflet that was pulped because it failed to have ‘fairness’ on the cover. Nearly half a million copies of a 16-page Work Choices booklet at a cost of over $152,000 were pulped. The copies of that booklet sit in warehouses because the government’s research says that that taxpayer paid for propaganda is no longer fooling the Australian worker.

If media reports are correct and the Prime Minister intends to recommence advertising when his industrial relations changes pass through the Parliament, the budgeted $55 million may go even higher.

The Prime Minister claims that the advertising campaign provides information to the Australian public on the Government’s extreme industrial relations changes are simply untrue. The advertisements claim conditions and entitlements, such as public holidays and annual leave loading, will be ‘protected by law’. But under the Howard Government’s extreme industrial relations changes Australian employees have got nothing to look forward to other than having their wages slashed, their entitlements stripped and their conditions removed.

If the Government’s own submissions to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission had been adopted since 1996; the Minium Wage would have been reduced in real terms by 1.55 per cent.

The bill repeals Section 88 of the current Act, which requires:

… fair minimum standards for employees in the context of living standards generally … [and]… inflation… to be taken into account in the setting of the Minimum Wage.

This change will mean that employees dependent upon the Minimum Wage will have their wages reduced in real terms.

The Prime Minister comes into the chamber with his Minister stating that his Government is the best friend the Australian worker has ever had. He has asked the Australian people to trust him on his record. But he fudged his record on the Minimum Wage since coming to office.

John Howard’s defence is that under his Government the Minimum Wage has increased by 12 per cent in real terms. But the Minimum Wage has increased by 12 per cent in real terms since 1996 despite John Howard’s best efforts, not because of them. If the Prime Minister had had his way since he has been in office, the Minimum Wage would currently be $50 a week or $2,600 a year lower than its current $25,188 pa.

Had the Howard Government’s submissions prevailed, the current 2005 minimum wage would be $434.40 per week.

In four of the past nine years, the Howard Government has proposed a minimum wage increase less than its own inflation forecast—a result that would have delivered in effect a drop in the Minimum Wage in real terms on four separate occasions.

And now that he has all power since gaining control of the Senate he’s going to realise his dream of slashing the wages and conditions of Australian employees.

To make matters worse under this legislation, the Government is set to strip the requirement from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that fair minimum standards for employees in the context of living standards and inflation be taken into account when determining the level of the minimum wage. The Government asserts the legislation will provide for fair wage decisions by the new Fair Pay Commission. But the bill does not even allow the Fair Pay Commission to take fairness into account when it comes to pay decisions. Right now, the AIRC makes wage decisions based on fairness—that is explicitly in section 88B of the current law—but, under the new law, the Fair Pay Commission is not even allowed to take fairness into account in making its decisions.

John Howard refuses to guarantee that the value of the Minimum Wage will be maintained in real terms. And the reason he refuses to do so is because he wants a drop in the Minimum Wage in real terms.

Under the award system, Australians have 20 pay and condition standards that are protected by law. When this piece of legislation is passed, they will have just five.

When we saw the introduction of the legislation by the Government and when it dropped its 1200 pages on the table, it became immediately clear not long after that there are a number of serious problem with this legislation:

  • the duress point where it is not duress to require an employee to sign as a condition of employment an AWA.
  • The “operational requirements” which broaden the scope of unfair dismissal and opens the potential for all unfair dismissal rights to be taken away. It takes rights against unfair dismissal away from almost four million Australians and compromises all the rest. It allows employers to dismiss workers with no compensation simply by bringing in the lawyers and restructuring the business.
  • the question of individual and collective agreements being registered at the Office of Employment Advocate without requiring a check on the genuine consent of an employee, or employees generally.

This is an arrogant out of touch government who neither cares nor understands the needs of working people.

In fact the Prime Minister has refused to guarantee that the ANZAC Day Public Holiday could not be traded away under his extreme industrial relations laws.

In the Parliament the Prime Minister was asked if he could:

 ‘guarantee that no individual employee will be forced to work on Anzac Day as a result of the government’s extreme industrial relations changes?’

Mr Howard failed to commit to any such promise stating instead:

 ‘There are thousands of Australians now who are required to work as part of their jobs on public holidays.’

This stands in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s comments during an interview with Neil Mitchell on 29 July 2004, when the Prime Minister was stated:

Mitchell: Is ANZAC Day sacrosanct as a public holiday?

Prime Minister: Absolutely.

Mitchell: So it won’t be up for negotiation?

Prime Minister: Absolutely not.

Prime Minister John Howard must heed the calls of the church and community leaders such as the RSL’s National President, Major General Bill Crews.

Major General Crews is reported as stating that the RSL will resist any move allowing ANZAC Day to be offered as a trade off:

 ‘We will want safeguards for employees not to be coerced. They should not be in a position where they are obliged to trade ANZAC Day off.’

ANZAC Day is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It not only marks the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War but is a day when all Australians can reflect on the many sacrifices made by generations of Australians in times of war.

It has been commemorated as a public holiday in all states in Australia since 1927.

The Prime Minister must give a guarantee to Australian workers that the ANZAC Day public holiday will be preserved under his extreme industrial relations changes and that people who wish to observe ANZAC Day will not be forced to work.

Australians do not want this law. They do not want to wind the clock back to the 19th-century model of industrial relations, where employers enjoyed absolutely unchallenged power over employees enforced through individual contracts. Every published opinion poll points in the same direction—two in three Australians oppose this legislation.

Let me turn to some examples that have been provided by the ACTU:

Unfair Dismissal

Sacked during employer’s temper tantrum

Natalie worked at a warehouse, which employed ten people for about three years. She started as a customer service officer and was promoted to accounts manager and then national sales manager, earning around $39,000 pa full time, working around 50 hours a week. She was often praised for her performance. One Monday, Natalie came to work early for a staff meeting with four other staff, including the owner of the business. Natalie mentioned that warehouse staff were reluctant to work with a particular product as it contained a toxic chemical. The owner became angry and threw a glass across the table, which hit Natalie in the chest. The owner then screamed, “Get out and don’t come back” and swore at Natalie in front of the other staff. Natalie was able to negotiate a settlement of six weeks pay compensation.

Dismissed due to child care commitments

Suzy, 35 years old, was a clerk at a local wholesale company for over a year. She worked between 10 am to 4 pm, which suited her child care arrangements. Suzy’s employer asked her to extend her hours to 5 pm. When she said she couldn’t because of the high cost of after school care, Suzy was told she had to do the extended hours or leave. She refused and was dismissed.

AWA

Threatened with Dismissal if did not Sign AWAs which removed weekend & public holiday rates

Heather was a casual cleaner in a small country town, working regular part time hours for over two years. Her employer presented her with an AWA individual contract that took away any entitlement to penalties such as weekend rates and public holiday rates. Heather was told if she didn’t sign the AWA she would lose her hours or be dismissed. She was worried that she would not be able to find other work in the town, so she signed the AWA.

Joan, 58 years old, had worked as a cook for nearly ten years, early morning to lunchtime Wednesday to Sunday. Joan’s employer handed her an AWA individual contract to look at overnight and told her if she refused to sign it she could look for another job. The AWA provided no sick or annual leave, no public holiday penalties, and she would have to be available on call seven days a week until 10 pm.

Sacked for not signing AWA

Jared, 19 years old, was a casual security guard working full time hours for two years. He was called into a meeting with his employer where he was given an AWA individual contract and told he had to sign it. Jared asked whether he could read the AWA and seek advice on it. His employer refused his request, threatened him and then sacked him. Jared then agreed to sign the AWA and got his job back.

Larry, in his 30s with three kids, had been a builder’s labourer with his company for around three months before he was told to sign an AWA, which had rates of pay lower than the right award rate, no paid leave and no allowances. He was the only one who didn’t sign the AWA, and was told not to come in the next Monday. The union started an unfair dismissal action and the company reinstated him. When Larry returned to work he was given different tasks and isolated from work mates. Eventually Larry suffered severe stress and had to stop work.

People like those examples I have just read out are beginning to understand how un-Australian this bill is. How it threatens aspects of the Australian way of life that they have held sacred for generations—fair minimum wages for all workers, decent working hours so families can organise to spend time together, penalty rates and shift loading. This is now at risk; so many of these provisions will be eroded by the bill.

He is out of touch and out of control. Nothing in the legislation provides Australian workers with what they have had for 100 years—100 years of having an independent umpire to preside over the issues between them and their employers.

There is nothing in this legislation that provides protection to an ordinary worker by guaranteeing them access to the assistance of a union official when they require assistance. What they have done is criminalised ordinary union activity. Many of these activities could attract fines of $33,000 for both the employer and the employee.

When this legislation is passed, we know that the real consequences will not be immediately obvious. Nothing is going to happen overnight.

But slowly, month by month and over the next couple of years, the hard fought conditions that workers have been used to will be eroded underneath them. Australian workers who do not have strong bargaining power will see the steady erosion of their rights and entitlements, and those who do have strong bargaining power will be fewer and fewer in number.

One by one, firm by firm, the workers will find themselves in a place where their ability to earn a living wage, where large numbers of them will join that phenomenon they have in the United States. The phenomenon of a mass based working poor: workers who cannot provide themselves with a home that they own themselves. There will be workers without the capacity to exercise choice for their kids’ education.

This is a shameful piece of legislation from an extreme out of touch and out of control Government.

Mr Speaker I am proud to stand here today, as the member for Bruce and as an ex-union official. I am proud to stand here with my colleagues and fight against the most draconian and unfair attack on workers rights that this country has ever seen.


The SPEAKER —The question is that the bill be now read a second time.