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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 12945


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:00): I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Transfer of Business) Bill 2012. It is hard for me to find my feet. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out that the member for Bradfield does not support this legislation. I thought it was a dead certainty that the opposition would be supporting this, especially when saw a couple of Queensland MPs in the chamber who have had to deal with the fact that, since the LNP government came to power in Queensland, 26,000 people have lost their jobs—14,000 of them public servants. I think the member for Herbert just left. His constituents include some of the 40 nurses sacked from the Townsville Hospital by the LNP government. The suggestion was that somehow nurses are not frontline workers—unbelievable. I am pleased to be speaking on a bill that will protect the entitlements of state public servants threatened by job cuts announced by state Liberal and National governments.

I will provide a little bit of history for those opposite on industrial relations in Australia. We do things a little bit differently from the rest of the world. Since we became a Commonwealth, Australia has always had an approach that we should look after workers. It is not a case of 'let the market rip'—and, almost on cue, the member for Mayo walks into the chamber. We have never believed that we should just let the market rip and that there should be a straight relationship between employer and employee without any safety net or platform supporting workers rights. If we go back to the Harvester decision, we see that Australians have always recognised that.

Federal governments trying to interfere with the presumption that workers should be supported and that there is uneven bargaining power—that employers and employees do not have an equal contractual relationship—has only happened twice, and on each occasion the people have let the Commonwealth government know their disapproval at the next election. It happened back in the thirties. When Stanley Bruce brought in retrograde, progressive legislation—bang!—he lost his seat. The next time, when someone maybe got some bad advice from their advisers about bringing in Work Choices, which does happen, and I note the member for Mayo is in the chamber, Mr Howard, the member for Bennelong—bang!—lost his seat. The Australian people recognise that there should be fairness in the workplace and support for workers. That is the reality.

We are not like the US where there are people with half a job. We have always believed that if people are working they should be able to have enough food, to put a roof over their head and to even have a bit of a weekend—or, if they have to work on the weekend, to receive extra remuneration for that. Those are the basic, fundamental tenets of workplace law in Australia.

It has changed over the years, and I commend the Hawke and Keating governments, who made incredible changes. When I was growing up there was central wage fixing—men in suits basically determining what was going to happen across a set of awards. Hawke and Keating, knowing that we had to modernise the Australian economy, took incredible steps. The accord was one of the great moments in Australian history, when business, unions and government came together and worked out how we should do these things. I remember those times. I remember that move from central wage fixing and negotiations to enterprise bargaining. It was similar to what happened with superannuation, where workers were able to trade off and say, 'We will give up a wage increase and instead take it as superannuation,' along with some inducements in Medicare. That is a quick history of the Commonwealth government's approach to negotiations. I did not go into Work Choices but I will touch on that later.

My wife has been a public servant for 22 years. In that time, working in the same job in child protection, she has worked for many different premiers: National Party premiers, Labor Party premiers and now a National Party premier. In that time, she has always loyally served the people of Queensland—not the government but the people of Queensland. That is what a public servant does. Obviously, in that time she has never seen anything like the recent 14,000 job cuts that the Campbell Newman state government undertook—crazy times in Queensland.

Consequently, the Commonwealth government has had to step up. The amendments proposed in this bill will extend the transfer-of-business provisions in the Commonwealth Fair Work Act to circumstances where a state government outsources work or sells assets to a private sector or national workplace relations system employer. The provisions are based on the new employer, not the state government, to ensure that they are valid. The amendments follow recent announcements by Liberal and National state governments that they intend to cut tens of thousands of Public Service jobs—as I said, 14,000 Public Service jobs have been cut in my home state of Queensland. And, as I said, that is in the context of nearly 13,000 other jobs that have been cut over the last six months in Queensland. In addition to these jobs cuts, the Newman government has also recently legislated—and this is unbelievable; I say that as someone who has worked in industrial law—to override employment security provisions and limitations on the use of contractors in state public sector agreements, paving the way for outsourcing of public sector jobs.

If we look at the history of enterprise bargaining, going back to 1992 or 1993, these were hard fought negotiations over the years and—bang!—they were gone. They were just signed away overnight. It was not an election promise or an election commitment but a sudden overnight change.

This bill provides the Commonwealth with the opportunity to do what it can to protect the terms and conditions of these workers. The Labor Party has a long and proud record of standing up for workers rights. I have always seen myself as part of the political arm of the union movement. That is the history of the Labor Party.

This side of the House came to government with a clear commitment to bringing fairness, balance, flexibility and simplicity to the Australian workplace relations system, and that is what happened when we were elected to government back in 2007. Prior to this—in the lead-up—we had outlined a clear plan to end Work Choices and move towards the fair work policy.

The government have delivered on our commitments regarding workplace relations. Over 16,000 enterprise agreements covering more than 2.2 million employees have been approved. Around seven million Australians are currently protected from unfair dismissal. We had heard that it was going to be the end of the world if that policy came in. Nevertheless, the Australian economy has grown. More than 800,000 jobs have been created since this government was elected on 24 November 2007. I particularly thank the small businesses who stepped up during the global financial crisis and retained employees at a time when they could have sacked them.

The historic equal remuneration decision for workers in the social and community services sector awarded wage increases of between 23 per cent and 45 per cent to SACS workers in recognition of the fact that their work had been traditionally undervalued due, you could argue, to the fact that it was predominantly a female workforce. That could not have occurred without Fair Work, and I particularly thank the ASU from Queensland, who did great work before this legislation was in place in terms of valuing the work of SACS workers in Queensland.

We now have consistent protections for textile, clothing and footwear workers across the national workplace relations system—some of the people who were most exploited under previous industrial regimes. We have implemented the Road Safety Remuneration System to make sure there are real protections for drivers across Australia who would otherwise face economic pressures to drive dangerously long hours that put all Australian road users at risk. I am sure the member for Wright will talk about the 'safe rates' legislation when he speaks. I know he has a long history with the driving industry.

What is the opposition's position on workplace relations policy? As we heard from the member for Bradfield, they oppose it. So far we have heard nothing other than union-bashing and meaningless banalities. But, if the Liberal and National state governments are any indication of what the Leader of the Opposition would do, Australia would be in for more job cuts, reduced protections for workers, cuts to community organisations and cuts to family assistance payments. It will the old opposition three-card trick. We saw it in Queensland. They would bring in an independent audit, by some bloke called Peter Costello—very independent!—and then sell and sack and slash. That is the approach that they have flagged.

Given our strong record on fair and balanced workers rights, we do not accept that employees should be worse off or that they should have their entitlements put at risk simply because their jobs are outsourced by a state government. That is why Minister Shorten has introduced this bill—to protect the conditions of former state public sector employees.

The bill he has introduced will achieve this by providing for the transfer of terms and conditions in state awards and state agreements when there is a transfer of business from a state public sector employer to a national system employer; by enabling Fair Work Australia to make orders on a transfer of business, consistent with the existing transfer-of-business rules of the Fair Work Act 2009; and by clarifying the interaction between the transfer of employees' terms and conditions of employment and entitlements in the national system, including the National Employment Standards and other necessary transitional and technical provisions.

The reforms in this bill mean that the Commonwealth will establish for the first time a nationally consistent set of transfer-of-business rules for public sector employees that will protect their entitlements when they transfer to a national system employer. The transfer-of-business rules in the Fair Work Act reflect the government's clear policy intention to protect employees' existing terms and conditions of employment where their employer has changed but their work stays exactly the same. If you look at the history in the UK and other places where there has been a lot of outsourcing you see a clear, common theme: basically, wages are cut, and health and safety are cut. The standard operating procedure for the outsourcing of any government entity is a cut in wages and then a cut in health and safety. The costs that flow from cutting health and safety are often sold back to the government.

This side of the House appreciates and respects all public servants. That is why this Friday, in response to the widespread Public Service sackings by Premier Newman, I will be attending one of the jobs and skills expos funded by the federal government. It will be a fair dinkum helping hand at a time when it is needed most in Queensland. This expo is one of the many that form part of our $850,000 funding commitment to further support those workers who have been sacked from the state Public Service. I am told by my staff that we have had to expand the room size of this expo, given the large number of people who are registered to attend on Friday.

This highlights the importance of what the Gillard Labor government is doing to assist workers who have lost their jobs in Queensland and throughout Australia and to assist those workers who are in the firing line of having their livelihoods outsourced. I will always stand up for the rights of Queensland public servants and I will never accept that they should receive lesser conditions than those in other jurisdictions. That is why I proudly commend this bill to the House.