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Monday, 18 June 2007
Page: 121


Senator WORTLEY (9:50 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

I rise to add my voice to those already heard in this place on the Workplace Relations Amendment (A Stronger Safety Net) Bill 2007.

Labors Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, the member for Lalor, Julia Gillard couldn’t have said it more clearly when she said of this bill:

“The bill is not about the government providing fair compensation to employees; it is about the government hiding the unfairness of its legislation until after the next election”.

How can a ‘stronger’ safety net be provided in a situation where there is under the Governments WorkChoices... no existing safety net? In a situation where no such safety net was ever in place, or indeed was envisaged?

This bill provides us yet another episode in the saga of an increasingly tired... increasingly poll-driven Government... desperately casting around for a way to make its WorkChoices... (and even that loaded term has recently been jettisoned... ), its WorkChoices legislation more palatable...to a community which has woken up to the Government’s real intentions with regard to industrial relations...

Australian workers recognise the fact that Work Choices... that great misnomer... is unfair in its application and takes away from their job security...

Far from providing opportunities for workers...choice for workers... flexibility for workers... The introduction of WorkChoices has seen the removal of pay and condition standards of tens of thousands of Australian workers including penalty rates, holiday loading, redundancy pay, 38 hours per week of ordinary time, and unfair dismissal protection for workers employed by an organisation with 100 or fewer employees.

It’s now widely acknowledged that WorkChoices has facilitated...paved the way for... industrial relations changes which actively disadvantage Australian workers...not only does it disadvantage Australian workers, but it disadvantages also, their families...

Thousands of Australian workers recognise the reality of this and they overwhelmingly reject the scheme....they understood at its introduction, as they understand today, that equality in the bargaining power of an employee and employer does not exist...

And now, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations has had to admit that there were ‘mistakes’ in the legislation—mistakes for which he of course takes no responsibility, having taken on the job of selling this abysmal scheme ...

A scheme which saw the government spending millions of dollars of tax payers money to implement... and then promote through major advertising campaigns...

It doesn’t matter how the Minister dresses it up... or dresses himself up for that matter, Shreck ears or a donkeys tail... WorkChoices and its impact on workers is indisputably bad...

In putting forward the Governments ‘fairness test’, Minister Hockey would have us swallow the line that the amendments before us today were not brought about by the results of pre -election polls.. .

I call on my colleagues in this place to consider whether we would not be having this debate today, if this were not an election year.

Does anyone really imagine that should the Government be returned to office at the forthcoming election, it would not enact even more draconian IR laws...

Senator Minchin told the HR Nicholls Society that Workchoices was only the

instalment in the governments IR plans... Indeed, the Treasurer has indicated that he could not guarantee that there would be no further changes if the government were re-elected and he was Prime Minister. He declined to speculate on what might happen after the election...

I turn now to the detail of the bill. What does the bill achieve? It proposes that agreements for employees earning up to $75,000 per annum be lodged with the Office of the Employment Advocate, which will now be renamed the Workplace Authority, and that these agreements be exposed to a ‘fairness test’ conducted by that Authority.

But I ask Government Senators, what of those workers whose agreements were lodged before 7 May 2007? They are not subject to the ‘fairness test’...

So this in fact means that more than tens of thousands of employees will be party to agreements that have not passed a ‘fairness test’. Senators will more than comprehend the implications for those employees...in reality they have nowhere to go with their concerns...

The Authority will administer the ‘fairness test’ for those workers who had their agreements lodged after 7 May 2007... by considering the financial and non-financial recompense offered relative to that which would have been payable under the applicable award... Then that agreement must provide ‘fair compensation’ for the loss of those protected conditions (which, I note, are far from broad in scope and which exclude, for example, redundancy entitlements).

This then is the question: what is ‘fair compensation’? How is it defined?

Well, non-monetary compensation will suffice whether the employee wants the non-monetary compensation or not...

The draft legislation states this at new subsection 346M(2), conferring powers on the Authority when administering the test to have regard to such non-monetary considerations as

the industry, location and economic circumstances of the employer;

the specific employment circumstances of the employee, and

relevant working arrangements and entitlements, including family

friendly conditions.

The determination of the value of such non-monetary compensation could be very subjective indeed. What is the dollar value to be attached to car parking when an employee uses public transport or indeed already has car parking available to them...There is no requirement that an employee or employer be given the opportunity to give their view, or to give an opposing view, about the value of entitlements or the overall fairness of their workplace agreement...The process allows an employer to give a unilateral undertaking to make an agreement fair, without giving the employee a chance to agree or not to agree on the terms...

How exactly are the industry, location and economic circumstances of the employer weighted in this equation?

How much is the worker to bear?

Is it fair that a worker’s personal circumstances should be confided to his or her employer and then conveyed to the Workplace Authority for its consideration in applying the test?

Only a moment’s contemplation is needed for the potential for misuse of such knowledge to be realised... Such a proposal is typical of this Government’s approach.

The Workplace Authority is to determine whether or not an agreement is fair... But it is not required by these proposals to give reasons as to how it arrives at the monetary benefit provided to a worker as compensation for the loss of a protected condition or conditions...

It is not required to give reasons as to what weight a worker’s personal circumstances was given in its deliberations, or even whether such considerations were relevant.. .

It is not even required to give reasons about how a determination was arrived at....

Is this the Government’s idea of a ‘fair go’?

This is not Labor’s idea of a fair go.... The WorkChoices scheme... epitomises the arrogant disregard with which this Government perceives the men and women who keep the wheels of industry and commerce turning in this country—and their families...

The arrogant disregard with which this Government views vulnerable employees... including those just starting out in their working lives, single parents, the unskilled and those workers from non-English speaking backgrounds - and their families, too.

WorkChoices represents the worst excesses of implementing this Government’s ideological agenda at any expense... its deep cynicism...and its preparedness to play fast and loose with the livelihoods of Australian workers.

The Government’s ‘fairness test’, drafted at speed and... as has become the usual in this place... allowed little time for scrutiny or debate... is as devoid of real integrity as those who have proposed it.

Yet, despite the Government’s motivation for the establishment of this so called ‘fairness test’, a motivation all too clearly discerned through the usual smoke and mirrors... Labor will support this bill...

Why?

Labor will support this bill - despite its flaws and inconsistencies, despite the fact that the goal posts have yet again been moved to the confusion of all Involved...despite the fact that it’s projected that an additional $370 million over the forward estimates will be required to implement the proposed changes - because it is committed to a fair go for Australian workers and their families ... and while this does not provide the fair go that is Labors vision for Australian workers and their families...Labor will not stand in the way ...

If it assists just a handful of workers ...and does no harm to others... if it provides the slightest improvement for some employees ... we will not stand in the way of the passage of this bill .. .

Labor doesn’t just wait for an election year to address the issue of fairness in the workplace...

“Labor believes in fairness at work, each and every day...this is why under a Labor Government... the Governments unfair WorkChoices would go...and be replaced with laws that have fairness at the heart of them.. for Australian workers and their families...