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Transcript of address to Walter Construction employees and Geers [Government Employment Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme] by the Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations: Parliament House, Canberra: 9 March 2005.



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M E D I A R E L E A S E

Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth

E&OE T20/05

TRANSCRIPT OF ADDRESS -PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA, WEDNESDAY, 9 MARCH 2005

SUBJECT: WALTER CONSTRUCTION EMPLOYEES AND GEERS

SMITH: I am pleased to welcome today some of the employees of Walter Construction, who have come to Canberra to make the point that the Howard Government has never guaranteed to workers 100% of their entitlements when the company they work for has fallen over or gone belly-up.

The first point that I want to make about Walter Construction is that Walter Construction used to be called Concrete Construction. Concrete Construction was one of the companies that helped build Parliament House. So you’ve returned to one of the great construction sites so far as Walter Construction historically is concerned.

A number of the employees or former employees are people who have worked in the office or worked on projects. One of the things that we’ve discovered since Walter Construction has fallen over is that many of the construction workers, people working on construction sites, are actually getting their entitlements because they are covered by either a union fund or an industry scheme.

The people who have been working on projects, the people who have been in the office and some of them for very many years, now discover themselves entirely at the mercy of the Government Scheme, the Government Employment Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme - GEERS. Now this of course is limited to 8 weeks redundancy pay and effectively a ceiling of $90,000 [earned per annum]. So a number of the people from Walter Construction are very seriously adversely affected by the gap in the Government’s scheme.

Labor has always committed itself to 100% entitlement. Any worker who works for a company that goes belly-up or falls over is in our view entitled to get a full return for the effort they’ve put in. The effort they’ve put into that company and the effort they’ve put

into the Australian economy, helping to make sure that we are a prosperous society.

So it’s very unfair what’s occurred to the fellas here today from Walter Construction. What we also know is that some of the people have been told that when they put in their applications to the Government’s scheme, that they’re going to have to wait up to four months, up to 16 weeks, before they’ll get an answer as to whether and what their entitlement is. So at the worse possible time of their life, when they’ve lost their jobs,

when they are at worry of financial security and certainty, when their families are at risk, the Government is essentially saying ‘we won’t let you know for up 16 weeks’.

We’re going up from here to have a meeting with Kim Beazley. Some of you would remember that Kim of course is strongly supportive of the view that employees are entitled to 100% entitlement. It is a policy that he adopted when he was last Leader of the Opposition and it’s a general principle he remains supportive of.

There are number of my colleagues here. I’ll draw attention to Julie Owens from Parramatta, who’s got a Walter Construction site and some employees in her electorate. Craig Emerson from Brisbane, Anne Corcoran from Victoria, Sharon Bird and Jennie George, both from the Illawarra. So there’s a good spread. As a West Australian myself, Concrete Construction had a very strong presence in Perth and Western Australia as a construction company.

So we’re here to join with you to make the point that Labor is fully supportive of your claims and fully supportive of the view that we need to change the system so that workers get 100% entitlements. So that what’s happened to you doesn’t occur to workers and employees in the future.

Thanks very much.

MICHAEL WALSH: Thank you Stephen. My name’s Michael Walsh and I am the employee representative of the Walter Construction staff group.

The Shadow Minister couldn’t have put it more bluntly. The position we’re in is quite precarious. We’re here today to not only push for our own entitlements, but to make the point that Australian workers, unless they are in this position, don’t realise what a dangerous position they are in when their employer is placed in liquidation or receivership.

The gentlemen here who have come here with us, some of them individually have got 40 years plus service. And at the end of that commitment to a company, and to an Australian icon, to walk out the door without a single cent is totally devastating.

We’ve got to put the message to the Liberal Government. We’ve written to the Liberal Government, to every Minister in the Liberal Government, and have got one reply saying we’ll get back to you.

I would like to thank the Labor Party for listening to us and taking up our cause, to push this issue. We’ve seen it before with Ansett and now Walter’s is another causality, and

we’re worried about who is next and what workers are going to suffer the same fate. It’s important we get this issue out in the public domain and that we get legislation in place to guarantee 100% of workers entitlements. Hard work, hard fought entitlements. It’s critical that we move forward and get this legislation into place.

Thanks very much.

Ends

Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651