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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4734


Mr MITCHELL (McEwenGovernment Whip) (11:21): I rise to strongly support this motion. In the seat of McEwen I represent over 37,000 people who work in industries affected by unsociable hours. This includes over 8,500 people who work in retail, another 8,000 who work in health care and social assistance and 3,700 workers in the accommodation and food services industry. Removing penalty rates, overtime, shift work allowance and public holiday pay is the introduction to around-the-clock work and lengthening the working day.

Why is it that the coalition think that it is not important for families to be able to sit around the table together, to share a meal and share some quality time? Working on weekends or in unsociable hours have penalty rates because those people working on the weekends and at night are missing out on what we value in Australia. We have penalty rates because weekends or working through nights is different, so we place different conditions on these times to reflect that, and to recognise those social differences.

There are many issues that shift workers face, such as health and wellbeing, and family and social disconnection. I know that from my own experience, when my father worked the night shift in the printing room of the Herald Sun for 35 years. He was unable to participate in what we term 'normal family life' because when we were getting up in the morning, he had just gone to bed after a full night's work. This meant that, due to his working commitments, on many occasions he would be unable to participate in family functions, school sports events or be there for other activities when a parent would like to spend time with their kids. I know from my experience when I was with the RACV, having to work on Christmas Day and doing weekend work on both day shifts and night shifts, how this had a big impact on family life and the loss of participation in special family occasions.

Penalty rates are also extremely important because industries like hospitality and retail have some of the lowest-paid workers in this country. For Australians working in insecure forms of work, penalty rates are more important than ever for casual and low-paid workers to help pay the bills. The Liberal leader has already said to a Liberal-organised community forum in Kingston that he thinks:

The best way forward, at least initially, is to try to ensure the award situation does maximise employment and at the moment we are not maximising employment by closing down businesses and preventing people from getting jobs.

He then went on to say:

I am confident that if the government were to back, for argument's sake, applications to the Fair Work Commission for adjustments in this area it may well be successful.

What he is saying is that an Abbott government would support the axing of penalty rates. It will use the Productivity Commission to drive greater use of individual contracts and attacks on workers' rights and conditions. The coalition's IR policy will legislate for the greater use of individual flexibility agreements, which for businesses and associations have been appalling. Only recently, the Australian Retail Association lost a Fair Work Commission case to slash penalty rates, and they have been very heavy in their praise of Mr Abbott. It has also been reported in newspapers that retailers and hospitality employees plan to campaign after the election for the relaxation of penalty rates after opposition leader Tony Abbott signalled support in such cases in the workplace tribunal.

Let us never forget that the key element of Work Choices policy was winding back penalty rates. It is in the Liberals' DNA to ensure that they hurt the lowest-paid workers in this country. We all remember their anti-worker laws which allowed retail giant Spotlight to try to impose AWAs on its workers by granting a two-cent-an-hour pay rise for removing all their penalty rates, overtime and holiday pay. When he was minister, Mr Abbott was quoted as saying:

… a bad boss is a little bit like a bad father … He might be a bad boss, but at least he's employing someone while he is in fact a boss.

I think that goes to the heart of his DNA. He does not particularly care how people in the suburbs or the community feel; he only worries about himself.

We heard a member before talking about how the IR policy will be no WorkChoices because it is written down. Last week we saw that his word is not worth the paper it is written on. During their time they removed penalty rates, breaks between shifts, minimum and maximum shift lengths and a cap on the number of consecutive days worked. You only have to read the FIFO report by the regional Australia committee to see how it impacts on families.

It is the Gillard government that will enshrine penalty rates into law to give workers greater certainty that they will be protected—whether it is those working on night shift, overtime, unsocial or irregular or unpredictable hours on weekends and public holidays. It is we who support shift workers, whether they are in manufacturing, hospitality or public safety, such as police and ambulance officers. It is about time that those opposite really went out and did the same. It is this side of the House that always stands up for workers; those on that side of the House that always want to stand on them.