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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12613

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (19:03): The Gillard government made an election commitment in 2010 to better protect the entitlements of Australian employees impacted by the insolvency or bankruptcy of their employer. This commitment, entitled the Protecting Workers' Entitlements package, was to provide the strongest protection of employee entitlements working Australians have ever seen. So I rise to commend to the House the bill which embeds our commitment to this package as it relates to the fair entitlements guarantee. In doing so, the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Bill 2012 will replace the existing General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme, GEERS, and enshrine the fair entitlements guarantee in legislation. Labor is proud to guarantee these additional protections for Australian workers under law.

The bill will provide certainty for Australian employees who find themselves without a job and left out of pocket when their employer becomes insolvent or bankrupt and cannot pay the workers the employment entitlements accrued by the workers which they are owed by their employer. On this side of the House, we know that employees who lose their job through the insolvency or bankruptcy of their employer have enough to worry about. They have to worry about where their next mortgage repayment will come from. They have to worry about what money will be available to cover unexpected bills and emergencies. Those of us on this side of the House believe that individuals should not have to worry about being paid what they have already earned.

This bill will protect Australian employees under circumstances which are brought about through no fault or choice of their own or their own actions. It will also ensure that Australian employees who are victims of employer insolvency or bankruptcy, where employment entitlements are owed, are supported by a government that actually supports Australian workers. In doing so, this bill will also enshrine Labor's commitment to the Australian sense of a fair go, by providing a legislative framework employees can rely on and an entitlement which, unlike the employment entitlements those opposite advocate for, cannot be scrapped with the flick of a pen.

This government has always recognised the importance of protecting the entitlements of Australian employees who suffer the effects of the insolvency or bankruptcy of their employer. This bill will replace the existing General Employee Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme, GEERS, and strengthen protection of unpaid entitlements, including redundancy, annual leave, long service leave, wages and payment in lieu of notice. The bill also improves existing GEERS arrangements by removing the eligibility requirement associated with deeds of company arrangements so that a minority of vulnerable workers are no longer disadvantaged; extending coverage to all entitlements that accrue where employees continue to work past the appointment of an insolvency practitioner; and simplifying transfer of business claims from 1 July 2014 so that employees will no longer be ineligible for assistance unless their new employer recognises their service and entitlement.

This bill represents a significant strengthening of the protection of the entitlements of Australian employees who are the victims of employer insolvency or bankruptcy. Contrary to some criticism, the bill does not open the door for a business to restructure at a cost to the taxpayer. The government has worked constructively with business in the development of this bill to ensure there are strong safeguards to ensure that people do not take advantage of the scheme by bumping up entitlements that would otherwise not be sustainable costs to the employer if they continued in business. Furthermore, this bill does not create a new community standard for redundancy entitlements; nor does it favour unionised workplaces.

The bill is simply structured to ensure that entitlements owed to an individual in the five broad areas previously noted, and in accordance with whatever their working conditions entitle them to, are able to be paid subject to reasonable thresholds.

This evening Labor delivers on its commitment for a clear and fair legislative framework to provide certainty and protection for Australia's workers, and with the passing of this bill the government will deliver on its pledge to Australian employees by providing a clear, fair and robust legislative framework to protect entitlements that Australians have already accrued at work. The Fair Entitlements Guarantee Bill is supported by the Labor government and a range of stakeholders.

I take this opportunity to thank the government members who spoke on the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Bill 2012 and hope those opposite will also support this bill, even if their amendments are defeated, to ensure even stronger protections for working Australians across our nation.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.