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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 6568

Mr McMULLAN(10.30 p.m.) —Tomorrow it seems certain that the clock will start ticking towards the end of many fundamental award conditions for Australian workers because the Senate will be considering amendments to the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 1996. As a result of the deal between the government and the Democrats, the Senate will undoubtedly pass section 89A of the bill and then consequential matters, following upon which there will be an 18-month timetable before all award matters for Australian workers—except what are now 20 so-called allowable matters—will disappear. All of those provisions will come under pressure from the proclamation of the bill. Any that survive the 18 months will disappear at the end of that period, unless workers can negotiate an agreement to win back conditions they already have.

This change represents a threat to the security of working conditions for millions of Australian workers, particularly those who depend upon the award for their actual rather than merely their minimum conditions, which is about one-third of Australian workers. It also represents a breach of two election promises which—silly us—we thought were probably even core promises, that is, the first promise that no worker will be worse off and the second that no worker would have their award conditions taken away under a Howard government. Mr Howard said in October last year that no Australian worker would have their award conditions taken away under a Howard government, and the legislation directly does that.

In case you thought that somehow or other the deal between the Australian government and the Democrats might have protected workers in this case, it is far from the truth. All that deal does is reduce by two the number of award conditions that will be lost. That did come as a surprise to many Australian workers, particularly those who heard Senator Kernot's speech to the Australian Education Union on 15 June when she quoted Mr Howard who had said, `No worker in Australia under the Howard industrial relations policy can have his or her award conditions taken away,' and then went on to criticise the bill saying it proposed stripping back awards to just 18 conditions.

Workers will lose access to dozens of current award entitlements on 15 June. Unfortunately, on 6 November, that is effectively what she is going to vote for—reducing those dozens of conditions by only two.

The minister has tried, from time to time, to come in here to trivialise the conditions which will be lost. Even those which he deems trivial are important to many workers in many places, but there are some very basic conditions and rights that are affected by these changes. I will seek the opportunity tomorrow to perhaps illustrate some more of them.

Let me just refer this evening to the hospitality industry and its award. It is evident, on the face of it, that at least 16 conditions provided for under that award will disappear as a result of this legislation and the workers will have to seek to negotiate an agreement to win them back. People might argue about whether there are more that will be lost. That will be an interesting case before the commission. At least these 16 clearly will, including the section on sexual harassment and, in particular, subclause 14.1.2 of the award, which says:

An employer shall not dismiss an employee on the grounds of refusal to dress in a manner which would cause that employee embarrassment.

What does that mean? That means bar staff cannot be forced to be topless by their employer under threat of the sack. That should destroy forever the idea that this process does anything about the interests of Australian women, protecting their rights and their dignity.

What these changes overall mean for Australian workers, many of whom think they have already had too much enterprise bargaining, is that now they will have to enter into enterprise bargaining just to win back conditions they already have. The government, after promising the opposite, takes away their conditions and requires them to enter into enterprise bargaining just to stay where they are, let alone the greater hurdles that the bill puts in their way to seek to improve their conditions, to seek to improve their living standards. The workers of Australia, who are already suffering—as the Department of Industrial Relations report says—increased stress as a result of the pressures of enterprise bargaining, are no longer going to have the choice about whether they enter that bargain; they will be required to do so just to retain existing conditions. (Time expired)