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Thursday, 24 June 1999
Page: 7449

Mr BAIRD —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, are you aware of claims which have been made that abolishing junior rates of pay will have no effect on youth unemployment? Would you advise the House what effects the abolition of junior wages would have on youth employment levels, particularly in sectors such as the retail sector?

Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for his question. Our concern in this issue from the very start has been the fact that, in our opinion, if you abolish junior wage rates, a lot of young people are going to lose their jobs. Through the inquiry process conducted by the commission, they have in an independent and impartial way attempted to weigh up the various competing claims as to the job impact of the removal of junior wage rates. The ACTU in the commission's inquiry attempted to downplay—to suggest that the job impacts were minimal, if not non-existent. When I say that that was the ACTU's position, you will appreciate that basically that has been the Labor Party's position through this debate all along.

The commission went to great pains to look at the evidence. They invited, for example, the ACTU to contradict the evidence, to rebut it and to put different evidence on this particular issue. This is the conclusion in the commission's report. On page 165, it says:

. . . an effective removal and non-replacement of the existing discounts for age against adult wages will involve relative adjustments of a dimension that will result in significant dis-employing effects for the class of employees now in receipt of junior rates, or . . . to be in receipt of the substituted pay rates . . .

It could not be clearer. There will be a lot of job losses if we abolish junior wage rates. You mention the retail industry. There are a lot of young people employed in the retail industry. They put evidence to the commission which was not rebutted that something like 160,000 or 170,000 young people's jobs would be lost if we abolished junior wage rates.

We have had an independent process to test it. The support which the commission provides now is for this simple proposition: it will cost a lot of jobs. We have also been making the point that if you had junior rates in some industries where they are not now available, then that would further provide opportunities that are currently not available. In other words, this is about not just protecting jobs but creating jobs. The commission examined this issue very carefully and said this in the summary of the document:

Well designed junior rate classifications, framed to reduce capacity to exploit the use of them, may justifiably be used for creating or protecting employment opportunities for young employees.

So here we have the umpire saying that it is not just about protecting jobs, it is also about creating jobs. The Labor Party lined themselves up with the shoppies, who were proposing a cut-off age of 18. Of course, the proposition with the shoppies proposal was there would be no job losses for people between the ages of 18 and 21. The commission did a thorough job on that proposition as well. This is what it said on page 170:

Consequently for most 18 year olds and above, the application of full adult rates would cause an overvaluation of the work performed and be expected to reduce the employment prospects of the 18 to 20 years old age group.

This report is absolutely clear and unequivocal: if you abolish junior rates, a lot of young people going to lose their jobs; if you have junior rates, you will be able to create jobs. The proposition which has been supported publicly by the Leader of the Opposition will mean the loss of jobs for people in that age bracket. This is the clearest, most unequivocal statement you could get from an umpire. It is further unbiased and impartial evidence supporting the simple proposition that the Labor Party should abandon its political posturing and its alignment with the ACTU on this issue and it should line up with the government and, more importantly, with young people and their prospects of having a job in the future.