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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4231


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South WalesParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services) (16:41): I start by disabusing those listening: no-one has had a pay cut. This is a dishonest campaign being run by the ALP.

Senator Wong: It's a future pay cut, so that makes it all okay! Tell the truth for a change, Connie.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: True to form, Senator Lines, Senator Wong and all of you across there never let the facts get in the way of a false and misleading scare campaign that the ALP is running in this instance. So let me tell the Senate and remind those opposite of the facts.

These are the facts. As part of repeal day the coalition government revoked the Fair Work principles and the associated Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines with effect from 1 July 2014—

Senator Lines: And cut cleaners' pay. That's what you did.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Senator Lines, if instead of trouting on you just sat there and listened, you might learn something.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, direct your comments through the chair, please.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Every day, we are working to implement our economic action plan. That Australia is open for business is a key part of that economic action strategy. We are determined on this matter, and that is why we are cutting the regulatory burden. It is why on the first red tape repeal day we scrapped 10,500 unnecessary regulations and laws, saving $700 million a year. It is why we have taken the action we have in revoking the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines.

The former government created the Fair Work principles for cleaning service providers, which make them subject to additional workplace relations rules that are outside the mainstream workplace relations and procurement framework. These were created as a concession to United Voice—your former union, Senator Lines. United Voice, of course, is a trade union and an amalgam of the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union. While the principles were initially brought in by an earlier minister, Bill Shorten as workplace relations minister signed off on updated principles and guidelines in 2012. These ad hoc arrangements created by Labor create confusing and cumbersome red tape for suppliers. There is no reason to create different rules for businesses that want to supply the government. Workplace relations laws, the modern award system and the Fair Work Ombudsman—the government regulator—already provide strong safeguards. There is no reason to have different rules just because a cleaner is working in a certain type of government office in a specific location. As I have said, workplace relations laws, the modern award system and the Fair Work Ombudsman already provide strong safeguards for all cleaners, no matter where they work.

These guidelines were not about pay. They were about a leg-up to the union. We know this, because the guidelines were all about giving the unions access to the cleaning-room floors. The guidelines required employees to be provided with information by union officials about joining a union, contained a requirement that union delegates attend all staff inductions, and scheduled employee meetings with union officials.

The Cleaning Services Guidelines only applied to cleaners in some government buildings in some parts of capital cities. There is no immediate pay cut. Existing employment contracts continue to apply. Suppliers to government will continue to be required to certify that they comply with all the laws and policies of the Commonwealth, including the Fair Work Act. The guidelines do not impact on all the industry, as has been suggested.

As Senator Abetz has highlighted, there is unfairness in the current system, which was put in place by the former Labor government. How is it fair that cleaners who clean the Comcare building in Canberra are to be paid more than cleaners who clean the Comcare offices anywhere else in Australia? I understand that it does not stop there. In my own state of New South Wales, cleaners of Commonwealth offices in Penrith are paid a different rate than the cleaners in Parramatta. This is not fair and it is not reasonable. Nobody in the Labor Party can explain why the same class of worker is treated differently. This government has said quite clearly that there should be a level playing field.

Let me give another example. The guidelines create benefits for one subset of cleaners—those who happen to work in a building where the government is the contractor, in certain parts of capital cities—Chatswood, but not Campbelltown; Parramatta, but not Penrith. How is this fair? How is this equitable? Cleaners currently working in government offices will not be subject to a pay cut, and claims to the contrary are wrong. The terms and conditions of current employment contracts continue to apply by law until those contracts expire or are renegotiated, whether those contracts are enterprise agreements or other contracts for above-award rates of pay. Beyond that time, employers and employees have the flexibility to negotiate above-award pay rates in the future, should they so wish.

The present guidelines create inequitable benefits and obligations. A cleaner in the same building and in the same location, but occupied by the private sector, would have different rates and conditions. The general provisions of the fair work principles, which, for example, require a declaration of compliance with the Fair Work Act 2009 add no value. Government procurement policies and processes already require decision makers to ensure tenderers comply with the laws and policies of the Commonwealth.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is the correct regulator to ensure all workers receive their correct legal entitlements. The Fair Work Ombudsman will further increase its education and compliance activity in relation to the cleaning services. The guidelines did not impact on all of the cleaning services industry, as may have been suggested. The guidelines created benefits for one subset of cleaners: those who happened to work in a building where the government is the contractor, in certain parts of capital cities. There were only ever around 25 cleaning contracts that were subject to the guidelines, representing a tiny proportion of the total industry and a very small proportion of total government cleaning contracts.

Prior to the introduction of the guidelines there were at least 65 contracts with government agencies that included the higher rates of pay and other conditions. Agencies continue to have that flexibility, and to consider a range of quality as well as price factors when awarding tenders. That is as it should be. We want to give business a leg-up, have less red tape in the way of doing business, and less intrusion into how they operate businesses. In that way we help business help Australia to build a strong and prosperous economy, to create more jobs and more growth for the betterment of all Australians—all Australians, not just the favoured few protected by the unions, like United Voice, that enjoyed the patronage of the previous government.

I reiterate that this is a dishonest campaign that is being run by the Labor Party. The facts should prevail, and not the scare campaign.