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Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Page: 4653

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (09:39): The campaign of community sector workers for equal pay is close to my heart. Led by the Australian Services Union, these workers recently won an important victory before Fair Work Australia. While the credit for that victory lies entirely with the union and their members, it was made possible by our Fair Work Act. It is the sort of victory that never could have happened under the dog-eat-dog system of Work Choices that the coalition still believe in. The independent umpire has recently ruled that a gender pay gap exists in the community services sector, where women make up the large majority of the workforce. It is an important milestone in a campaign that I have supported since before my election to parliament. My admiration for our community sector workers was born of my own experience. One of my first jobs was working in the community sector, helping kids with profound disabilities. I spent many, many years working as a community sector worker. My respect for the community sector and those who work in it has not diminished in the years that have passed—quite the opposite.

There are many people in my electorate of Throsby who live on very low incomes. Many were born into poverty and their lives have always been very hard, with opportunities difficult to come by. The Leader of the Opposition has had a lot to say recently about certain budget measures and class war. But those opposite would not last long arguing the plight of $150,000-a-year families with the residents in the southern Illawarra, I can tell you. An average salary of a community sector worker with years of experience is less than $45,000 a year. Members opposite might do well to imagine the cost-of-living pressures you feel on those kinds of wages. No wonder many experienced community workers are leaving the sector in droves. We cannot afford for this to continue and I do not know what we would do without these wonderful workers.

Community workers do the most difficult work of all by attempting to mend broken lives. They show trust, they share love and they keep the faith. These workers are the glue that holds our community together and they deserve our highest esteem for their labours. The only thing that is worse than taking their dedication and compassion for granted is using these noble qualities to justify their unfair wages. Over the next few months unions, employers and all levels of government will provide further information to Fair Work Australia to assist in determining appropriate levels of wages. The practical commitment of all players, including those in this place, to the principle of pay equity will truly be tested.