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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4205

Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (14:56): Congratulations, Mr President, on your new role. My question is to the Minister for Employment, Senator Abetz. I refer to the Commonwealth cleaning services guidelines which were issued in 2011 and reissued in 2012. Why has the minister repealed the guidelines and cut the prescribed minimum rate of pay of cleaners in his office and in this building by $5 an hour?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:56): I will disabuse the honourable senator, first of all: nobody has had a pay cut. It is a dishonest campaign that has been run. Let's be very clear on this: these guidelines apply to about 20 or so contracts. They sought to differentiate between offices requiring cleaning operated by the Commonwealth. They only operated in the capital cities, and so you had a differential between Penrith and Parramatta, and Comcare's office here in Canberra.

Is the Australian Labor Party today telling the Australian people that it is the government who should set pay rates and not the Fair Work Commission? You have a decision to make. Either you have confidence in the Fair Work Commission to determine what a fair rate of pay is for Australian workers, or you want the government to undertake the task. We as a government have said to the Australian people very clearly that we believe that the Fair Work Commission is the right forum, either with the modern awards or with the enterprise agreements that are determined as being appropriate. But it is for the Fair Work Commission to make that determination. The howl we have just witnessed from those opposite is a major vote of no confidence in the Fair Work Commission's capacity to determine an appropriate wage rate.

Furthermore, these guidelines required the scheduling of employee meetings with union officials. There was a requirement that union delegates attend all inductions. Even if the staff did not want a union official there— (Time expired)


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (14:58): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why has the minister made cutting the rate of pay of some of the lowest paid workers in this country one of his first priorities in office?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:59): The honourable senator would know that the very first priority for me was the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, which would have brought to heel the corruption in the building industry and the CFMEU's liaison with bikie gangs in this nation. You know that, Senator Lines.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. Standing order 72 says that answers should be directly relevant to each question. This question was on the cutting of the rates of pay for some of the lowest paid workers. It had nothing to do with what the minister has been talking about.

The PRESIDENT: The minister has got part way through his answer, and I draw his attention to the question.

Senator ABETZ: I remind Senator Moore that the question related to what my first priority as minister was. Senator Lines asked about my priority as a minister and I indicated that the very first bit of legislation I introduced was the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation. I am more than happy to yet again disabuse—

Senator Cameron: Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The question was quite clear: why was his first priority cutting the wages of some of the poorest people in the country—cleaners—by $4 an hour?

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Senator Abetz is being directly relevant to the question.

Senator ABETZ: Senator Cameron made my point when he said 'the first priority of this minister'—it was the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Senator Lines: Mr President, on a point of order: As you said earlier, a number of us in this chamber are blessed with clarity in our voices. I am one of those, and I very clearly said 'first priorities'. I did not say 'priority' with a 'y'; I said 'first priorities'.

The PRESIDENT: That is a debating point. There is no point of order.

Senator ABETZ: In the time remaining, can I categorically deny that anybody's wages have been cut in any way, shape or form. (Time expired)











Senator LINES (Western Australia) (15:02): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister prepared to guarantee that no enterprise bargaining agreement renegotiated after the repeal of the guidelines will drop the hourly rate of pay for cleaners below the prescribed rates in the repealed guidelines, or will he further attack the living standards of the working poor—in this case, contract cleaners?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (15:02): The Fair Work Commission determines what a fair rate of pay is in relation to the modern award, and for any enterprise bargaining agreement to be successful it will need the vote of the workers or a determination of the Fair Work Commission. If you think that I should be supplanting my decision over the vote of the workers and over the decision of the Fair Work Commission, then that is a new chapter that is about to be written by the Australian Labor Party in the history of industrial relations in this nation. I would have thought we were on a unity ticket, up until today, that wages should be determined by the Fair Work Commission. If you want the government to now determine what the wage rates should be, so be it—make that your policy for the next election—but we will be supporting the Fair Work Commission determining what a fair rate of pay is. I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.