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Thursday, 13 March 2008
Page: 1713

Mr HAYES (11:42 AM) —I am very happy to be here today to support the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008. After my time in opposition, there would not be many in the House who would be unaware of my absolute objection to the extreme industrial relations laws brought in by the former government. This bill is about bringing back fairness and decency. It is going to replace the regime that pitted worker against worker and mate against mate. It is going to move us to a balance of fairness for employees and opportunity for employers. This bill is the first step in abolishing the former Howard government’s unfair, unjust and unpopular Work Choices laws. I support the member for Riverina’s comment that the people of Australia got it right when they threw out the government on the basis of these laws.

People suffered grievously under the laws that the Howard government brought in. Let us look at the statistics from the Workplace Authority, a federal government authority that forcibly employed their own staff on AWAs. In the AWAs they surveyed they found that 100 per cent removed at least one protected award condition, 63 per cent cut penalty rates, 64 per cent cut annual leave loading, 40 per cent cut rest breaks, 51 per cent cut overtime loading and 36 per cent cut declared public holidays. That is not bad from a government agency—although that survey result had to be prised out of them. After that, the former Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations never again required the Workplace Authority to produce any further material on AWA surveys. The government did not want that result out in public. The fact that it got leaked to the newspapers was an embarrassment, and the fact that it was compiled and published by the government’s own department was fairly ridiculed by the Australian public.

The fact is that under the previous government’s extreme industrial relations laws workers were not better off. There was an overall reduction in their rights in the workplace. I will put this into the context of Werriwa and how it affected my electorate. There are the voices of people such as Reinaldo Martinez, who was sacked while on sick leave. He was sacked over the mobile phone in his car, by the way, in front of his family. There is Mr Reynaldo Cortez. He was offered a take-it-or-leave-it AWA that cut his take-home pay by up to $200 a week. He was employed by Lipa Pharmaceuticals, a rather large organisation in my electorate. What I discovered, after looking closely into this, was that it was true that he was offered a take-it-or-leave-it contract. He was told that if he did not sign the contract there were plenty of other people that would. For this man, who had a wife and five kids to support and a mortgage, it was a cut of about $200 a week. Do you know why they did it? Because they could. The company maintained they were not breaking the law. They did it because they could; it was legal.

Similarly, take the Esselte workers. These very low paid workers were on a 12-week strike at the plant at Minto. Do you know what their crime was? They asked for a collective agreement. Their employer said: ‘We’re fine to have AWAs; it is what the government wants us to have. That’s what the regime is.’ No doubt this company was also looking at government supply contracts. Don’t forget that the former government made it a procurement and tendering requirement that people comply with the government’s industrial relations regime—so that company needed to offer AWAs. It was much the same as when the former government tried to leverage education. They made it mandatory in education. They said, ‘If your university doesn’t offer AWAs, don’t put your hand out for federal funding.’ That happened in my electorate with the University of Western Sydney. I know precisely their position when it came down to it. They had their hands tied. Being a university that required federal funding, they were forced by the former government to advance the Howard government’s industrial relations line.

These laws were so unpopular—and those on the other side know that. They have just had a lot of their friends and colleagues cut because they stood fast on John Howard’s industrial relations laws. When I was at community morning teas, passing people in the shops or at railway stations in the morning, people would often come up to me and talk about these laws. They were not always talking about what they meant for them personally. One of the things that constantly came up when people came up to me in my electorate was concern about what the laws meant for their kids. For the older generation it was concern for their grandkids. I would hate to let you guys opposite into a little secret: so many people actually came up to me and said, ‘We’ve never voted Labor before but because of what this Howard government has done in terms of industrial relations, we are fearful.’ They were fearful of what this meant for industrial relations and the workplace environment that their kids and grandkids were going to move into.

I have cited a couple of instances from the backblocks of Werriwa for which I know the facts. As a matter of fact, I actually raised them in parliament. I asked the then Prime Minister on numerous occasions about those very examples. He was always going to get back to me but never did. The trouble for those opposite is that the Australian people got back to the government and let them know clearly what they thought about the industrial relations laws.

During a survey that I conducted in my electorate it was discovered—and this finding was actually published by each of the newspapers in my electorate—that three out of four households indicated concerns about the impact of Work Choices. There might have been a variety and a degree of concern, but three out of four households in Werriwa indicated concern. By the way, invariably—this goes to what I said about what people would come up to me and talk about—one of the things that came up in that survey was concern for the rights of kids and grandkids as they moved into the workplace. Does anyone in this place seriously think that young people are simply going to take jobs and have the ability to go to an employer, whether it be a multinational or not, and dictate their own terms and bargain as equals?

Mr Deputy Speaker, you and I knew that was never going to happen. But that was the rhetoric that the then minister for industrial relations and the former minister for industrial relations tried to put out. We all knew that was never ever what it was about. It was about giving the employer the right to be able to pay, for the first time in this country’s history, below-award rates of pay and do it legally. That is precisely what occurred.

Take the statistics that I referred to earlier, the ones that were produced by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. They show why the former government is so embarrassed about all of this. Its own department produced those statistics. In other words, its department was saying: ‘Government, with what you did in introducing Work Choices you actually achieved your results. This is what happened in all of the AWAs that we looked at.’

The Forward with Fairness legislation will actually bring fairness back to Australian industrial relations and the workplace. It will provide a positive balance. It will not restrict employers’ ability in employing labour. It will re-enshrine in Australian workplaces that employees do need to be treated with fairness and decency. It will establish a new no disadvantage test, which will be applied to existing AWAs and individual transitional employment agreements—ITEAs—so that employees will be no worse off than under collective agreements or, alternatively, the relative award or Australian fair pay standards. This is a real no disadvantage test, not like the fairness test imposed by the former government. On numerous occasions we saw people being paid below award and agreement levels under the so-called fairness test of the former government, a test which they brought in very late in the day. They brought it in simply to try to gain some form of electoral success.

I would like to speak a lot longer on this subject. It is one that is very much near and dear to my heart because I have kids in the workplace. I know that a number of colleagues want to say their two bob’s worth on this, so I will cut my speech short. I fully support this bill. This bill reflects what the Australian population sought, and this government is committed to delivering on its undertaking to it. I commend the bill to the House.