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Monday, 4 December 2017
Page: 9427


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (10:16): by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8173:

(1) Clause 2, page 2 (table item 3, column headed "Provisions"), omit "3 and 4", substitute "3, 4 and 5".

(2) Page 19 (after line 23), at the end of the Bill, add:

Schedule 5—Protecting take -home pay for all workers

Fair Work Act 2009

1 At the end of Division 2 of Part 2 -3

Add:

135B Protecting penalty rates

(1) A penalty rate in a modern award cannot be varied to make the penalty rate lower than that in force under the award on 30 June 2017.

(2) From the commencement day, a determination of the FWC made on or after 22 February 2017 that would reduce a penalty rate in a modern award so that the penalty rate would be lower than that in force under the award on 30 June 2017 has no effect.

(3) In this section:

commencement day means the day on which Schedule 5 to the Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Act 2017 commences.

2 At the end of section 193

Add:

Effect of removing or reducing penalty rates—award covered employees

(8) Despite anything else in this section, an enterprise agreement that is not a greenfields agreement does not pass the better off overall test under this section if:

(a) a penalty rate under the relevant modern award for an award covered employee, or a prospective award covered employee, is removed or reduced under the agreement; and

(b) because the employee usually works, or will usually work, on a day in relation to which a penalty rate is payable under the relevant modern award, the removal or reduction in the penalty rate disproportionately affects the employee as compared with employees who do not usually work on that day.

Effect of removing or reducing penalty rates—prospective award covered employees

(9) Despite anything else in this section, a greenfields agreement does not pass the better off overall test under this section if:

(a) a penalty rate under the relevant modern award for a prospective award covered employee is removed or reduced under the agreement; and

(b) because the employee will usually work on a day in relation to which a penalty rate is payable under the relevant modern award, the removal or reduction in the penalty rate will disproportionately affect the employee as compared with employees who will not usually work on that day.

3 Application of item 2

The amendment made by item 2 of this Schedule applies in relation to enterprise agreements made on or after the commencement of the item.

I see the minister is trying valiantly to get her mojo back, but it won't be that easy. Labor will do everything within our power to stop the cuts to penalty rates that this minister and this Liberal government support. Because of this government, 700,000 people already had their penalty rates cut on 1 July this year. These same people, some of the lowest paid in Australia, who are already feeling the impact of wage stagnation and the increased cost of living, face a pay cut on 1 July every year for the next three years. This place supported Labor's private member's bill to prevent the cuts to penalty rates now and into the future; unfortunately this lousy Liberal government is using its numbers in the House to frustrate the will of this place and the Australian people. Labor will not give up.

These amendments effectively mirror the private member's bill introduced into the House by Mr George Christensen. The effect is to restore penalty rates to the level they were at before the cuts commenced on 1 July. The commencement date of these amendments has the effect of restoring penalty rates from the date this bill comes into operation. This means there will be no back-pay liability for businesses who, in reducing the penalty rates they have been paying since 1 July, have been following the law. We cannot restore the wages that have been lost to workers between 1 July and now because of this government's refusal to support my penalty rates bill, which did pass this place in time to stop the cuts. These amendments give this parliament the chance to stop the cuts now and going forward.

It's interesting to note that we have support in the lower house. Mr Christensen, the member for Dawson, said:

… I am breaking ranks with the government, and I do so for a number of reasons. First of all, legislation concerning people's livelihoods and their ability to put food on the table should be considered very carefully. It must be fair and it must be fair for all.

Mr Christensen and I would disagree on a whole range of things, but we would certainly agree on this—that it is an important issue that people who depend on penalty rates can have those penalty rates maintained in order to continue putting food on the table. Mr Christensen went on to say:

Penalty rates exist in awards for specific reasons. They recognise the fact that Saturdays and particularly Sundays are not like other days of the week. These are the days when children are not at school. These are the days when children participate in sporting, family and other activities.

He went on to say:

These are the days when the majority of working Australians take time off.

Mr Christensen said:

Weekends are important.

He went on to say that he believed the Fair Work Commission had got it wrong. Labor have been saying that for some time. Any decision of the Fair Work Commission that the commission itself concedes creates hardship for working families is not a decision that we will support. It is a decision that was wrong. It is a decision that puts the impact on ordinary Australians, Australians battling to make ends meet under this government.

This is the last chance for the Senate to make sure that Sunday penalty rates can be restored this year. This year, Christmas falls on a Monday. For many Australian families, Christmas Eve is the time they truly celebrate Christmas, but for members of many of these families Christmas Eve will be a workday or a work night. We have always said that penalty rates are compensation for working arrangements that are unfriendly to family life. Nothing could be more unfriendly to family life than working on Christmas Eve, which is the time when one's family come together to celebrate a special time of the year.

The Senate has the opportunity now to restore the compensation laws workers are entitled to. I am asking those senators who supported the bill I put forward to stop the cuts to penalty rates to support these amendments. And I would also be asking Mr Christensen to support what we are adopting here, which is fundamentally his bill. There are no excuses for Mr Christensen in the lower house. He should accept the bill as it comes forward from this place—that is, in the form I am confident it will because the majority of senators in this place do understand the importance of penalty rates. They are not about trying to attack workers and their unions every time they stand on their feet, as this minister does—this minister who has no credibility in this place, who has misled this place on at least five occasions and who is about trying to stop any legitimate questions about her activities. This is a minister with no credibility; this is a minister that should resign. This minister should get out of this place as soon as practicable and let workers get decent rates of pay and decent penalty rates. That's what my amendments are. I support the amendments.