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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9617

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (18:47): I want to speak about a very important issue: job security. Before I do that, I want to acknowledge my good friend Senator Canavan who is here today. It is important to note that Senator Canavan and I yesterday produced an op-ed together on the issue of digital currency. I want to use this opportunity in the adjournment debate to thank the Institute of Public Affairs for the endorsement they gave of me and the op-ed that Senator Canavan and I wrote together. I just want to say, regarding John Roskam and the team at the Institute of Public Affairs: on many occasions they have tried to do damage to my career in the past, but, frankly, the idea of endorsing me was a very low act and I will not be forgiven!

I rise tonight to speak about job security: secure jobs for hardworking Australians to ensure that workers have the confidence to spend their money and, in doing so, they provide our entrepreneurs and businesses with the confidence to invest, innovate and grow. I rise tonight to speak out against the growing trend in Australia towards casual, unsecure work—the growing trend of companies contracting out jobs that were once permanent; the growing trend of businesses replacing full-time jobs with part-time jobs to avoid providing people with benefits and conditions—and speak out against devaluing work. In doing so, I acknowledge the work of many people and many institutions, but in particular there is the incredible work that has been done by, amongst others, many of the trade unions, including the National Union of Workers. Casual jobs, short-term contracts and other insecure forms of work are on the rise. Secure jobs are getting harder and harder to find.

I rise tonight to speak on behalf of the labour hire worker toiling away in a warehouse in Williamstown, performing the same task as his workmate but receiving lower pay, inferior entitlements and no job security. I rise tonight to speak on behalf of the casual homecare worker, unable to predict their weekly hours or their income. And I rise tonight to speak on behalf of the so-called independent truck driver who receives a fixed contract rate but must somehow still meet his own high and variable running costs.

We on this side of the chamber are proud of our long history of fighting for fairness in Australian workplaces—fair wages, fair hours and fair conditions. In the Australian Labor Party, we are proud to stand for dignity in the workplace for everybody and to stand for sustainable jobs that support families—jobs that ensure money flows into communities, creating the confidence that drives growth. When there is less money in the pockets of regular Australians, they are not going to spend it in our small businesses, cafes or restaurants. They are not going to spend it on a new kitchen or fixing a squeak in the car. The money simply does not go around when it is not there. The number of Australians who are underemployed continues to climb. There is a hidden story. Unfortunately, in a lot of the figures we discuss in this place when we talk about the headline 'unemployment rate', we seem to ignore or forget. In 1984, only 15 per cent of all workers were casual. By 2004, this had almost doubled to 28 per cent—

Senator Canavan: What about after WorkChoices?

Senator DASTYARI: Senator Canavan, today more than 35 per cent of all workers are in casual jobs. That is one-third, and it is growing trend. Casualisation certainly is a global phenomenon, but we lead the world on this front, and there are social and economic consequences that, unfortunately, we do not spend enough time in this place talking about. In the OECD, only Spain, with a higher proportion of seasonal work in agriculture, outranks Australia when it comes to casual employment. In hospitality—a growing sector—two-thirds of our employees are casual. Forty per cent of all employees in the retail industry are casuals. More than four million employees are engaged as casuals on short-term contracts in labour hire or on independent contracts.

In the past, casual work was always considered a stepping stone to permanent employment. It was seen as something you did for a period of time while you nailed down some form of permanent employment. It was quite often seen as a phase that young people, students, those first entering the workplace and young workers would pass through on their way to some kind of a more secure, permanent job with rights and protections that many of us take for granted. But we are moving beyond that now. We are moving to a space where there are entire industries that are casualised—like food processing, hospitality, retail and tourism. Unless we stand up in this place and in workplaces across the country, we will not start winning back the jobs that you can count on.

Employees across Australia know this. Employees in companies such as Smith's Snackfood Company in Queensland know this. Just today, staff at the company's Brisbane warehouse lodged a claim for protected industrial action. They are holding a sit-in to support the rights of the many casual workers whom they work alongside. These workers, who are peacefully occupying the lunch room today, want nothing more than fairness and equality for all the workers on site. The entire idea that there are somehow going to be two classes of workers—those who are permanent and those who are casual—working side-by-side in the same workplace, producing the same work for different pay and different conditions is simply something that they felt was unfair. At Smith's Snackfood Company, as at workplaces right across this country, permanent employees want to make sure that casual workers have the same conditions that they have.

And why wouldn't Australian employers also want workers enjoying more secure jobs? Nobody earns their salary or their pay in a vacuum. In fact, many of the people in casual jobs spend much of their income in our local communities, in our local environments. We need to remember the best lessons of history in this space. Economic growth is strongest when powered by the income gains of low- and middle-income earners. One case study is the United States. Since an aggressive effort to bust unions began in earnest in the 1980s, household wages there have stagnated and have now slumped. In the US in recent decades the real average income of households has been declining. Losing workplace conditions means losing household spending. The heavy debt taken on by many households in response leaves the entire economy vulnerable to crises such as the banking collapses that have wreaked havoc on the Western world. The best evidence for this is the global financial crisis.

In the Labor Party, and also for our friends in the trade union movement, protecting workers is who we are. It is in our DNA. We will always protect the achievements of Australian workers by fighting against their rights being ripped away either directly or by stealth. Fundamentally, there is a belief—which I hope is shared across the chamber—in the dignity of work. Whom are we protecting? The large number of casual jobs that we are talking about today are held by women; by our youngest workers and by Australia's newest arrivals—migrant men and women who have come here to Australia, trying to make it a better place. They are often the most vulnerable in our society. We in this chamber remain incredibly privileged. We have an incredible opportunity to be a voice for those who are voiceless. When it comes to the growing trend of the casualisation of the workplace, we in this chamber have a responsibility to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough.'