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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5046

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (12:57): That was the longest six minutes of my life, having to wait for the member for Canning to finally finish up. He talks about the shearers strike in the 1890s and the political wing of the labour movement, but it was because that strike was broken viciously, nastily, by laws that were enacted by colonial parliaments that we have a Labor Party in this country, and that is why we are better off having a Labor Party in this country. That link is a good link. It is one of the reasons why The Financial Review in its front page today—at least in their iPad version—there is a headline that says 'World's highest low-paid workers'. That is a tremendous headline. I cannot tell you how proud I was when I read that headline. I think it is a good thing that our low-paid workers are the world's highest paid. You heard in the member for Kingston's speech about the very good report she has done on bullying, which this bill refers to and I will refer to a bit later on.

Mr Briggs interjecting

Mr CHAMPION: It is a wonderful thing that the member for Mayo has to listen to my speech. I always enjoy making him listen to my speeches on industrial relations because I know he has a great interest in this area, having been one of the architects of Work Choices—an unsung backroom architect. He has one of the members protecting him—I cannot remember what that member is the member for—but he is one of the unsung architects of Work Choices. They do not like talking about it anymore.

Mr Briggs: Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The member for Wakefield, who did rise on a point of order on the previous speaker on relevance, has a studious interest in my background and the member for Bradfield's background. We are happy to send our bios to him, but if we can also send the talking points relating to this bill—the same that Joel Fitzgibbon referred to this morning on television—that would be terrific.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member for Mayo will take his seat. There is no point of order. The honourable member for Wakefield will continue and talk to the bill.

Mr CHAMPION: Indeed I do know about the member for Mayo's background. He has corrected me. I did once say he had never had a real job in his life but it turns out he once was a console operator in a service station up at Mildura.

Mr Briggs: No, it was in Adelaide.

Mr CHAMPION: In Adelaide; I stand corrected. He would know just how important wages and conditions are.

Mr Briggs: If you have a job.

Mr CHAMPION: Indeed.

Mr Briggs interjecting

Mr CHAMPION: I will get to that. We hear those opposite talking about the cost of living incessantly these days, and we will always have a rising cost of living because we have inflation as a common thing in the economy. It is low at the moment. The important thing about having good wages and conditions, things like penalty rates, things like public holiday loading, shift loadings, is that they are all an integral part of the minimum wage of those people who work unsociable hours on checkouts, in service stations, cleaning, which I did, trolley collecting—all those jobs that people generally do not want to do and are the hardest work that is done in this country. Those workers rely on penalty rates as part of their wage to be able to survive. Often it is the difference between surviving, making the family budget, and not. An integral part of dealing with the cost of living is to have fair and decent minimum wages.

As I said before, I am pleased that the Financial Review today highlighted the fact that in this country we have very high minimum wages in comparison to the rest of the world. You only have to go to America and see the appalling poverty that exists among retail workers where Walmart and other major retailers pay a pittance to their workers. We only have to look at that country to know what a big difference it makes to have a fair social safety net not just in the way your government treats you but in the way your employer treats you.

Penalty rates are there not just to pay fair wages but also to compensate people for antisocial hours. I am proud to say that my state, South Australia, despite trenchant opposition from the member for Mayo and others, has instituted penalty rates on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. It is a very important thing to do, and not without employer support, I must say. It was a result of an arrangement, a deal if you like, between Business SA and the union movement to ensure that workers on those evenings after an appropriate period get penalty rates. That is to compensate people for working at times when others would not work, when others are having important time with family and friends. So I am very proud that South Australia has done that. I think it is an important social advance. It shows what a progressive state South Australia is and it shows the care and concern that union leaders Peter Malinauskas from the shop assistants union and Dave di Troia from United Voice have for workers who are working at these antisocial times.

I know from my own time in the union movement—and I am proud of being a union member and I have got my ticket up in my window in Parliament House—just how important family and community time is. There can be no doubt that this bill is an important protection for giving workers flexibility in terms of dealing with family and community life. That is a tremendously important thing to do. I reckon a good 60 per cent of my work when I was a union official was just helping workers and sometimes managers negotiate the delicate balance between the company's interests, and often just the company's convenience, and the workers' interests. I have lost count of the amount of times I saw rosters changed that really had a big impact on people's family lives or on their sporting commitments on the weekend or on their Defence Reserve commitments or on other community commitments. Often those were very important things for society. Most of the time you had sensible arrangements where you could go to your employer and talk about such things.

That is what this bill does. It gives those people an ability to make a request—and it is just a request—for flexible work arrangements. They include mature age workers, workers with a disability, workers with responsibility for caring for children of school age, employees with other caring responsibilities and sufferers of domestic violence or carers for family members or households suffering domestic violence.

Most of the time when I dealt with managers in these situations, we found that a compromise could be reached where the company was not a hundred per cent happy but they might be 80 per cent happy and the worker walked away with a roster that helped deal with their family issue. It happened in big employers and in small employers. Often it was mainly about communication, and the important thing about this bill is it enshrines the idea that that communication should go on, that these requests can be made as part of the normal employer-employee relationship.

The other important things that this bill does in regards to families is that it gives pregnant workers an extension in the right to transfer to a safe job. That is particularly important for women in the workplace because obviously you do not want to be putting yourself at risk when you are pregnant and it ensures that special maternity leave does not diminish the employee's entitlement to unpaid parental leave. It puts in place consultation obligations for employers to consider the impact of the changes around this. Family flexibility and a commitment to protect the family—not just talk about the family but actually enshrine legislative commitment—is part of this government's raison d'etre, it is part of our DNA, it is part of what we do, not just in the course of our deliberations in the industrial movement but also in our deliberations of what a Labor government should do.

Bullying is the last thing I want to talk about. Obviously I want to pay tribute to the work done by the member for Kingston in the chairing of the House of Representatives committee inquiry into bullying and its report, Workplace bullying: We just want it to stop. I think she very carefully and methodically in that report outlined the public case for legislative change to deal with this issue. There will always be those in this parliament who are all care and no responsibility, who say, 'Yes, this is a terrible thing, we all think bullying is terrible but there is really no legislative way of fixing it.' The difficulty with that is that it really sends a big message to bullies that they can get away with it.

This bill sends the opposite message. It says that, if you are a bully, you will not get away with it. Bullying actually occurs in a variety of ways. Often it is employers on employees or a manager against an employee. Sometimes it can be groups of employees against other groups of employees and I have seen a number of instances in my time as a union official where that occurred. It becomes an issue for management as well because they want a happy and harmonious workplace and, tragically, sometimes you have groups of employees or individuals who are bullied at work by their co-workers. It is a scourge on the productive workplace and it is a scourge on people's working lives, and we want to make sure that it stops.

This bill basically allows an application by a worker affected by bullying to the Fair Work Commission to deal with a bullying complaint and it requires the Fair Work Commission to deal with that application in respect of bullying as a matter of priority. Having an independent umpire to go to is particularly important. There are many state jurisdictions which also have work health and safety regulators dealing with this, but, until this bill, there have been a number of occasions where quite serious bullying has fallen through the cracks of legislation. It is not a health and safety issue. It might not be an issue of discrimination in the sense of those matters on which there is anti-discrimination legislation. So people end up basically either enduring bullying or quitting. Their options are either to endure it or to exit.

This bill will make sure that the Fair Work Commission has an ability to examine the issue and has an ability to intervene. It will not impinge on reasonable management practices, including performance management which is conducted in a reasonable manner. That is an important thing. It is not an unreasonable thing for employers to be able to address matters of performance, but it should not tip over into bullying. This bill provides the sensible balance that you need to address this issue.

There are a few other issues in this bill which are issues of contention. It cleans up right of entry. There has been some feedback from employers and the like. I think they are all sensible changes. Right of entry is a matter of responsibility between both employers and unions, and neither should abuse the process. A union should not abuse the process. They should not force an employer to endure their company too often. But, likewise, an employer should provide reasonable access to their employees in order for them to exercise their right to become union members. It seems to me that that is basically a test between unions and management as a test of their maturity.

This is a great bill. It protects wages and conditions. It protects people from bullying. It protects families and the community from work impinging on important parts of our lives. I commend it to the House.