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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1886

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (13:24): I rise to oppose the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014. Labor opposes this proposed legislation because it is a continuation of this government's crusade against the employment conditions of workers across Australia. It is a continuation of this government's race to the bottom on labour standards.

Before the election, and indeed again when introducing this bill, this government promised that, when proposing amendments, those amendments would not go any further than its pre-election promises and that it would implement specific recommendations directly from the 2012 Fair Work Act Review. I rise today to say that it would appear that the government has broken its promise on both counts. This is bitterly disappointing from the view of the opposition and, undoubtedly, the Australian public.

The government is going further than its pre-election promises. One of the reasons that Labor opposes the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 is that in a number of places, including in provisions dealing with individual flexibility arrangements, greenfield agreements and right of entry, the government has clearly overstepped its election mandate to the disadvantage of employees. It is now clear that the government could not be trusted to honour its most basic promise—namely, to implement recommendations from the 2012 Fair Work review without change. Instead, the government is putting down its own spin on Fair Work recommendations while trying to pass them off as a carbon copy of what the expert panel proposed.

I must advise the House that, if the bill is enacted, workers will suffer as a result of the proposals in this bill. The government proposed a return to the sensible centre on workplace relations, and this bill does not deliver on that promise. Take for example the government's proposed amendments to the individual flexibility arrangements, IFAs, which Labor first introduced in 2009. These arrangements, or IFAs, vary terms of modern awards or enterprise agreements in order to meet the genuine needs of employers and individual employees while ensuring that the arrangements do not exclude National Employment Standards and that the employee is 'better off overall' than they would have been if no IFA had been entered into.

Labor introduced IFAs because we agree that flexible work practices can deliver benefits to both employees and employers if applied appropriately. At the same time, we protected the vulnerability of workers, particularly low-paid workers and families who can least afford cuts to the bottom line of their budget, by ensuring that sufficient safeguards were in the legislation. The use of IFAs as a means of improving job satisfaction and paving a way for employees to successfully manage unique out-of-work responsibilities is possible if handled with care. But they must not—I repeat: must not—be imposed on unsuspecting employees as a means of ripping away conditions such as penalty rates.

Take the example of a retail worker who wants to forgo an early morning penalty rate so that they can start early and finish early one day a week so they can get away in the afternoon to coach a junior football side. IFAs provide the ability to vary the terms of the applicable enterprise agreement to make this possible. The employee swaps what would be a relatively insignificant monetary benefit for a non-financial benefit. For the employee, their arrangement may maintain appropriate remuneration for work undertaken while allowing for some mutually agreeable changes to work patterns. For the employer, this arrangement may help attract and retain staff. It would be a win-win.

The Labor Fair Work system was fair and equitable for all parties, and it was already in place across the majority of enterprise agreements in this country. In fact, the Fair Work review expert panel commissioned by the previous government cited data that demonstrates that the majority of enterprise agreements already provide as much flexibility, if not more, as is provided by the model flexibility term, a term that the government is seeking now to legislate to insert into all enterprise agreements.

So it is a shame. The amendments proposed by this government in relation to IFAs reinforce the maxim that, when it comes to the Liberal Party and workplace relations, the devil is always in the detail. Under the guise of implementing a recommendation of the Fair Work expert panel, the government is unreasonably proposing that a key safeguard be abandoned when it comes to what can be traded away through an IFA. The relevant expert panel recommendation states that, if a non-monetary benefit is being traded for a monetary benefit, the value of the monetary benefit forgone must be 'relatively insignificant, and the value of the non-monetary benefit is proportionate'.

Despite the expert panel's clear prescription of this recommendation, it is missing from the government's amended bill. 'Relatively insignificant' and 'proportion' are two safeguards that scream employee protection. They are gone without trace.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the honourable member will have leave to continue his remarks when the debate is resumed.