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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6658

Workplace Relations

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (14:28): My question is to the Prime Minister. In the equal pay case currently before Fair Work Australia, the tribunal has accepted that community sector workers are underpaid on the basis of gender. The tribunal has also said that the relevant comparable pay rates are in the local government and public sectors, which are 10 to 15 per cent higher than the original claim made by the union. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, instead of accepting the tribunal's direction and putting forward a wage proposal to the negotiations the tribunal is currently conducting, the government will simply stand back and leave the final decision up to others? Couldn't this hands-off approach result in the Commonwealth having to pay a much higher amount, up to $2½ billion over four years, than the union was seeking in its original claim?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:29): I thank the member for Melbourne for his question. The member for Melbourne is asking me about an equal pay case being conducted before Fair Work Australia. I take this opportunity to remind the House that the only reason that that pay case is possible is that we got rid of Work Choices and we introduced, for the first time ever at the federal level, an equal pay principle which would enable the industrial umpire to fairly weigh the value of women's work. We know, of course, that it was women who suffered the most grievously under Work Choices, being forced in disproportionate numbers to take Australian workplace agreements that cut their pay and conditions. The Leader of the Opposition rejoiced in that day after day—in women having pay and conditions cut. We put in the equal pay principle in its current form so that occupations predo¬≠minantly occupied by women could, if they believe their wages to be undervalued, approach the industrial umpire and have that matter dealt with. The member for Melbourne is right: that matter is being dealt with by Fair Work Australia on behalf of some very hardworking and important people who work in our community services and social services area and who tend to be predominantly women. Before the last election we negotiated an agreement with their union, the Australian Services Union, so that we would work with them and particularly work on phase-in agreements for any pay rises flowing from this decision so that as a government we could responsibly manage the budget whilst appropriately recognising the value of the work of these working people, who are predominantly women.

At the stage that the case is at now, we have formed a community sector wages group that is a consultative forum between the government and the representatives of these workers, the Australian Services Union. It is chaired on behalf of the government by the relevant parliamentary secretary, Senator Collins, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Relations. It met on 6 June and we will continue to work through that group, and of course under the auspices of the industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, to ensure that we see a proper decision-making process, we see wage justice for the working women involved and we also see phase-in arrangements which mean that the government can properly manage its budget and support the services that these workers work in.