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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 5107

Senator CHILDS(6.30 p.m.) —I rise to support my colleagues in opposing section 89A. I particularly deplore the Democrat deal with the government and acknowledge that this is one of the black marks in industrial relations history, particularly this area.

Senator Campbell —Ha, ha!

Senator CHILDS —Senator Campbell laughs. He has just made a very provocative speech, talking about simplification and trying to compare this with what happened under our government. I will not be provoked by this laughter because I want to ask him a series of questions. I do suggest to him that his simplification is with the back of an axe. That is what he is setting out to do to the long traditions in this area where so many people who are vulnerable work.

I want to ask the parliamentary secretary to define `reasonably predictable' in relation to part-time workers. Can the parliamentary secretary tell us in detail what `reasonably predictable' means? Is the criteria for deciding reasonableness from the perspective of the employer or the employee? Couldn't many employers argue that it is unreasonable for them to be expected to predict their staffing requirements more than a week in advance? How much notice can part-timers expect to receive of their shifts? How much notice can part-timers expect to receive if an employer intends to drop their hours from 20 per week to four per week? Can Senator Campbell explain to us exactly how `reasonably predictable hours' differentiates part-timers from casuals? Why would employers employ someone full time and permanently when they can have this sort of flexibility? The Democrats might be well meaning in their inclusion of `pro rata benefits' in the definition of part-time work. How much do pro rata benefits mean to someone who is employed for six hours per week?

Clauses 89A(4)(a) and 89A(4)(b) allow for whole industries to become casualised or to use only part-time workers. We heard evidence before the economics committee of the difficulties and disadvantages that part-time and casual workers face right across Australia. Senator Campbell, can you tell us, given that section 89A(4)(a) prevents the Industrial Relations Commission from determining the number of casual or part-time workers in a workplace, what will prevent industries such as the banking industry and the hospitality industry—which already have high proportions of casual and part-time workers—dispensing with full-time permanent employees altogether? What will happen to employees in those industries who wish to work full time? Will they have to change jobs?

In Brisbane we heard evidence from a Mrs McShane, the manager of a suburban bank branch, of high staff turnover due to inadequate income because of too few hours of work. She said it was the major reason staff left her bank. Doesn't this contravene the intention of the bill at schedule 1, section 3A, as amended by the coalition-Democrat deal, of creating a flexible and fair labour market? What is fair about not getting enough work to live on? What is fair about hours being changed once an employee has accepted a job? That certainly will happen under this section. Won't employers favour the increased flexibility of having a largely casualised or flexible part-time work force? Won't this outweigh any consideration of providing a stable work environment for employees or a living wage?

Senator Campbell, do you claim that this legislation will prevent increased casualisation and substitute in its place increased part-time work? Is that the reason for reducing protections for part-time workers? Senator Chapman asked Professor McCallum this question during the inquiry:

. . . in a number of awards . . . the existing minimum hours requirement has resulted in casualisation of the work-force rather than permanent part-time employment? Would you accept that the aim of this legislation in removing those hours restriction is to stop that casualisation developing and allow for permanent part-time employment with the relevant pro rata benefits therefore being available that are not often available under the casual aspect?

Isn't it true, Senator Campbell, that awards could provide for casuals to have pro rata entitlements under the current legislation? It is more a matter of reducing protections for part-timers than increasing protections for casuals, isn't it? Doesn't this legislation force workers to face the insecurity of casual work, with none of the financial rewards traditionally associated with that insecurity?

The Industrial Relations Commission is allowed to regulate the minimum number of consecutive hours an employee may be asked to work but is not allowed to regulate the maximum or minimum number of total hours—that is, shifts per week—an employee may be asked to work. The coalition-Democrat deal addresses one concern—that of maximum number of hours worked in one shift. That is an improvement. Employers cannot force workers to work 16-hour shifts. I acknowledge that.

We had the evidence of Mr Joe De Bruyn. He is not in parliament yet, but he has colleagues here. He is from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and he told us how, under the previous Liberal state government's legislation in my state of New South Wales:

. . . that even major retailers, such as David Jones, were exploiting their part-timers by working them up to 37½ hours per week, but not 38, just to avoid giving them a rostered day off.

That was the evidence of the union's secretary. Doesn't the failure of 89A(4)(b) to allow the commission to set maximum and minimum hours leave the way open for just this sort of exploitation? Senator Campbell, I challenge you to prove that will not happen.

Cannot employers give part-time workers half a day per week through the year and then expect employees to work six days per week at Christmas or some other busy period, or the reverse? Can you show me and the chamber the clause in the legislation which prevents an employer employing a part-time worker for four days per week, then reducing the employee's hours to half a day per week? What are the implications for that sort of worker and would he or she be entitled to receive unemployment benefits considering that they may well fall below the income threshold in such circumstances? I put these questions and invite the parliamentary secretary to give just a few answers for once.