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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14851

Ms O'BYRNE (1:51 PM) —Today, sadly, marks day 54 of the lockout of the work force of Blue Ribbon Products in my electorate in Launceston. This is a sad example of where our society has gone astray. For a democracy in the 21st century to embrace a system in which low-paid workers are left without work and with no rights is unacceptable. The 23 workers remain on a picket line, as they have for the past seven weeks. They are waiting to go back before the commission next week. They have presented their evidence but are awaiting the submission of the employers. A decision is then not expected for at least another five weeks.

Already these workers are suffering. Some have experienced relationship splits and their families are going without. Some have experienced further hardship because of means testing in relation to their Centrelink benefits. We are talking about people who work hard for wages of around $23,000 a year. The most these people can earn is $25,000. They have done nothing wrong and every day they turn up for work. They turn up, and for each day of the last 54 days they have been locked out because they will not sign the oppressive contract which has been presented to them—a contract which provides for a day rate only.

Let me tell you what happened when they did work under that. One day they worked nine hours and got paid $125. Another day, they worked for 11 hours and got paid $125. The next day, they worked for 19 hours and still only got $125. Where is the justice in this? This system is hopelessly ill-conceived and is clearly being rorted and abused. Low-paid workers, in particular, must be protected and it is quite clear that they are not.