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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3844

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (09:54): I would like to return to the contribution I was making on this bill some time ago. In their policy document, the coalition said:

… unions can seek entry to a workplace if … the union is a bargaining representative seeking in good faith to make an agreement to apply in that workplace.

Yet, contrary to this very clear commitment, there is nothing in this bill that implements the government's pre-election promise. No clever wording or trick can hide the fact that the coalition said one thing before the election—in their policy document, no less—and now after the election they are doing the exact opposite.

The coalition also said they would adopt recommendation 35 of the expert panel, which provides Fair Work Australia with greater power to resolve disputes about the frequency of visits. Again, though, the coalition has mis-characterised, or deliberately ignored, a significant qualification that exists in the recommendation. The expert panel's recommendation provided that there must be a balance between the rights of unions to represent the members and the rights of employers to conduct their business. The government's inclusion of a provision that requires the Fair Work Commission to consider the 'combined impact on the employer's operations' is clearly intended to exclude all unions from a site if only one union or, indeed, one representative has been found to have entered too frequently. For the government, it is a case of punish one, punish all.

Furthermore, Labor has concerns about the invitation certificate process that the government is proposing. The government suggests that, if an employee would like his or her union to come to their workplace and they wish to remain anonymous, the union must apply to the Fair Work Commission to obtain an invitation certificate. Does the coalition honestly believe that, in a workplace with, say, 15 or fewer employees, an employer will not be able to find out who sought the union's presence?

Additionally, there are no provisions for the commission to deal with an application within an appropriate time frame, so entry for the purposes of holding discussions with employees about an immediate workplace issue can be unduly delayed and allow sufficient time for the issue or problem to be hidden.

Another of the government's mendacious claims is that employers have to pay for the cost of 'union boss joy-rides' to remote worksites. This is simply wrong. The coalition are not just misleading people here; they are wrong. What the coalition do not tell you is that employers are able to recover costs and are required to facilitate access only where agreement cannot be reached and where premises are not reasonably accessible by transport other than that provided by the employer, or where the nature of the premises means that the union is required to stay overnight and no accommodation other than that provided by the employer is reasonably available. Labor believes that Australian workers, regardless of the location of their workplace, have a right to union representation and that unions should have fair access to work sites.

For the reasons that I outlined previously and, indeed, in this morning's contribution, Labor opposes the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014. We oppose this legislation because we will not stand idly by as the government goes after the employment conditions of Australian workers. We oppose this legislation because it is Labor, and only Labor, that always fights for the vulnerable and low-paid workers who cannot afford to have their conditions and pay cut by this government. For this reason, the opposition will seek to refer this bill to the Senate legislation committee for a thorough review to get to the bottom of these issues and establish the true intent and effect behind this government's reform. Finally, by way of amendment to the second reading motion, I move:

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “the House declines to give the bill a second reading because:

(1) of the need to provide sufficient protections in Individual Flexibility Arrangements and the impact that losing protections will have on employees; and

(2) of the Greenfield agreement making process being heavily skewed in favour of employers; and

(3) of the provisions of the bill undermine the right for Australian employees to be represented at work including a requirement that an employee tell their employer if they want to speak with a union; and

(4) of the need for a full examination of all amendments within this Bill that may unfairly impact on employees.”

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Husic: I second the amendment.