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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1282

Senator STERLE (2:39 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Senator Wong. Can the minister outline to the Senate what impact Australian workplace agreements have had on the take-home pay of hard-working Australians? Can the minister explain how the government’s transition to Forward with Fairness bill will remove these unfair agreements from Australian workplaces?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I thank Senator Sterle for the question. Senator Sterle, like others on this side of the chamber, understands the impact that AWAs have had on Australian working families and on the pay and conditions of Australians. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that women in particular have been disadvantaged by Australian workplace agreements. Women on AWAs who work full time earned on average $2.30 less per hour, or $87.40 less per week, based on a standard 38-hour week, than those on collective agreements. Also, following the May 2007 announcement of the previous government’s pre-election stunt—the so-called fairness test—we know that the former government did measure the amount of money that hard-working Australians were losing under AWAs.

Between May and July of last year, 54,000 AWAs were lodged to be assessed against the former government’s so-called fairness test, and a sample of those that did not pass was examined, detailing the amount of pay that would have been lost under those AWAs in respect of the former government’s so-called protected award conditions. What we know is that a sample of 670 AWAs, from the 5,239 that were later found not to pass the so-called fairness test, was examined. These did not pass because the pay rate proposed did not adequately compensate those employees for the so-called protected award conditions that were removed or modified in those AWAs.

I would like to take the Senate through some of the impacts on these employees. Approximately 45 per cent of these AWAs provided between $1 and $49 per week below the required rate of pay for the protected award conditions only, not the required rate of pay under the full award. Approximately 50 per cent provided between $50 and $199 per week below the required rate of pay. Approximately five per cent provided $200 to $499 per week below the required rate of pay and, extraordinarily, about half a per cent provided more than $500 per week below the required rate of pay. And this was at a time, people might recall, that the former government was spending millions of dollars on advertising its Work Choices legislation.

What this limited analysis confirms is that under Work Choices working Australians lost take-home pay—plain and simple. No wonder the previous government did not want the Australian people to know. The majority of these AWAs were in the retail, accommodation and food services industries, with others from the manufacturing, wholesale sector and security industries. The reality is hard-working Australians—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, parents—are worried about being able to pick up their kids from school or make their weekly budget balance. These are the hard-working Australians who lost pay and conditions. This is why I am very pleased that the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Bill 2008 was sent back to the House of Representatives last night after passing this chamber. It will stop the making of any new AWAs, it will introduce better protections for the making of workplace agreements through a new no disadvantage test, and it will start the important process of award modernisation to build a strong and simple safety net for Australian employers and Australian employees. Barring any delays caused by those opposite, by this Easter long weekend hard-working Australians can be assured they will no longer be forced onto AWAs. (Time expired)