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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Page: 1970


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (11:03): Today in the House debate on the Abbott government Fair Work Amendment Bill will resume—a bill that, in my opinion, will radically change workplace relations in this country again. I rise to advise the chamber of an electronic petition that I have been made aware of on this very issue. Over 5,000 people have signed this petition started by Vanessa Harmer, a Melbourne and United Voice member paramedic who is worried about losing her weekend and evening rates because of the government's new individual contracts. The petition reads:

Greetings,

Tony Abbott: Please respect our sacrifice

Please respect the sacrifices of hard-working Australians and withdraw your new laws allowing penalty rates to be stripped and traded away.

Australians trusted you when you promised that you would not touch our penalty rates.

These new laws are a betrayal of that commitment.

That is why 5,000 people already have signed this petition. It is because the government has in fact betrayed the commitment they made to the Australian people prior to the election.

United Voice members like Vanessa are the backbone of our community. They are the paramedics, they are the cleaners, they are the bakers and they are the security guards who work around the clock to keep our society functioning. They make an extraordinary sacrifice to do an important job, and they deserve to be compensated for these sacrifices. These are the people who have the most to lose from these radical new laws. The government knows this, and that is why it is trying to hide behind simple words. It is trying to hide behind what it calls simple amendments. These are not simple amendments.

The PM and his cabinet are saying that people like Vanessa will get a choice—a choice about whether they sign these new contracts or not. But in the real world under the Abbott government's individual contracts there will not really be a free choice; it will be 'Sign here or else.' It will be 'Your workmate's done it, you should too.' It will be 'If you want the job, this is what you sign.' There are very few protections in what is being put forward to stop that from happening. Further still, once they have signed that piece of paper, it does not go to Fair Work Australia; it simply sits in the boss's in-box or in their filing cabinet. The PM wants to make sure that it is harder and harder for workers to access information and support from their union. If that piece of paper is sitting in your boss's in-box, you cannot have a union official, organiser or delegate look at it because their ability to access the site under these proposed changes will be restricted. So it will make it even easier for employees to be ripped off because they will have less access to their union organisers and their union representation. Vulnerable workers like young people and migrants, who may not be aware of what their workplace rights are, have the most to lose.

Labor is going to stand and oppose the Fair Work Amendment bills for these very basic principles. It is a continuation of the government's crusade against employment conditions for workers across Australia and it is a continuation of the government's race to the bottom of labour standards. They cannot change their DNA on this one. It is time that they came clean and told the truth. If they want to take away people's working conditions then they should at least be open enough to tell people about it. Instead, they are hiding behind what they call 'minor amendments'.

As I have demonstrated, these are not minor amendments. The government's changes to the individual flexibility agreements are a return to Work Choices conditions. Their changes to right of entry provisions are a return to Work Choices conditions. Their changes around the transmission of business are a return to Work Choices conditions. Their changes around greenfields agreements are a return to Work Choices conditions. The Prime Minister said that Work Choices was 'dead, buried and cremated' but what we see from this legislation is that the ghost remains.

It does not matter how hard they try and hide behind the rhetoric, the reality is the reality. Whilst they allow employers to trade off penalty rates, to take them away from people, the community will know, just like United Voice members like Vanessa knows, that this government have once again broken their promise.