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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7282


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (13:45): Labor opposes these amendments. I do not think we would have to really detail why we would oppose them because I think everyone would expect Labor to be protecting people's rights to be able to sit down with their employer and discuss the issue of unpaid parental leave.

Senator Leyonhjelm now adds this to his CV of anti-worker rhetoric in this place. He came in here and argued that penalty rates should disappear. As I have said before, for politicians on $200,000 a year base rate to come in here and tell workers that their penalty rates should disappear I find absolutely obnoxious. But that is the sort of rhetoric and the sort of line we continue to hear from Senator Leyonhjelm. Now he describes a proposition that workers should be able to sit down and talk to their employer about parental leave issues as being 'bureaucratic meddling in the minutiae' of the enterprise. I think that just beggars belief. It absolutely beggars belief.

We have gone from a position, Senator Leyonhjelm—if you did not understand it—when the employers had total power in this country and when the old master-servant relationship was in place. We have moved on from that, in case you had not noticed. We have moved on from it. Managerial decisions are not inviolate. Managerial decisions can be challenged and should be challenged because there is such a thing as industrial democracy in the workplace. We do need some democracy in the workplace, and this is an example—where you come in here and try to trash democracy in the workplace. We are not talking about democracy in the workplace where workers are taking over the plant. We are talking about a bit of democratic right, where a worker can come in and actually talk to their boss about some of their problems. I think that for you to come in here and argue that that right should not be available is just unacceptable. We will oppose it as, I think, we will oppose many of your loopy ideas on industrial democracy and your loopy ideas on how this country should operate based on your view of life. I think we will be in here arguing on many occasions.

To come in and argue that penalty rates should not be available to sectors of our workforce, to us, is unacceptable. To come in and argue that workers should not have the opportunity to sit down and consult with their employer over key issues is unacceptable. Senator Leyonhjelm, your definition of managerial decisions and your definition of bureaucracy do not meet the standard of fairness. They do not meet the standard that is required in a modern society. They do not meet the standard that has been built up over many years—against the opposition of the coalition on some occasions, against the opposition of management on some occasions and against the opposition of business—that actually gives workers some rights on the job in this country. That right has been fought for and won by the trade union movement in this country and then carried through into the workshops and plants around this country.

Senator Leyonhjelm, we do not accept that your definition of managerial decisions and minutiae in the workplace is a proper definition. What you might think of as minutiae is extremely important to many workers in this country. It is not minutiae for a worker to get paid penalty rates—the very issue that you tried to kill the last time you were on your feet in this place, arguing for a two-tier approach on penalty rates in this country. Your definition of bureaucratic meddling is not a definition that we would agree to. Your definition of minutiae in relation to someone being able to sit down and talk about their paid parental leave or unpaid parental leave is just unacceptable.

I suppose it is minutiae if you are a senator and you come here and you do not have to worry about parental leave or penalty rates or a decent base rate of pay. I suppose from your perspective that can be minutiae, but it is not minutiae from Labor's point of view. It is not minutiae from my point of view—a point of view that understands that workers need decent rates of pay. They need decent conditions. They need their penalty rates to have a decent standard of living in this country. If you describe that as minutiae, then we have a different description. We think your position is so far out of touch as to be absolutely unbelievable. To come in here and argue that bosses should be able to dismiss their employees who are seeking an extension of their unpaid parental leave or who want to talk about their personal position or to try and get their boss to deal with the issues that are important to them shows a complete misunderstanding of what is important to not only the individual worker but also, in reality, the enterprise that those workers are engaged in.

We hear much talk about productivity and we hear talk about improving the productive performance of enterprises around this country. One of the things that improves productive performance in any enterprise is a decent relationship on the job. It is about workers having some decent rights on the job. It is about workers having access to penalty rates. It is about workers having access to a union. It is about workers having a capacity to sit down and talk issues through with their employer. That is what happens in modern economies, Senator Leyonhjelm. That is what happens in the new era—and when I talk about the new era, I am talking about something that has moved on since the 1900s and 1800s, where your views seem firmly planted. What you are proposing not only demonstrates a misunderstanding of how individual workers need to access decent rates of pay, decent conditions and some industrial democracy on the job but it also shows a complete misunderstanding of how productivity improves on the job. By simply sitting down with a worker and dealing with the issue of unpaid parental leave it gives the worker a capacity to understand and negotiate the issues with the boss and gives the boss a satisfied worker who is being looked after on the job. But for you to come in here and simply blow that away by saying that this is managerial decision making that should not be affected just beggars belief.

Managerial decision making is important, but you need checks and balances in the job. You need checks and balances on the workshop floor. You need checks and balances with management. If you did not have checks and balances with management and it was simply their prerogative to do what they liked, then workers' lives in this country would be diminished. Workers' capacity to make any impact on the job from an industrial democracy point of view would be finished. Your idea about managerial decisions being up to the boss and workers not having any capacity to be able to intervene, either on their own behalf or on the collective behalf of workers in the job, is completely out of touch with what makes improved productive workshops and enterprises around this country. Rather than being bureaucratic meddling, what this can do is actually improve productivity on the workshop floors of this country, improve productivity of white-collar workers and even improve middle management productivity and relationships on the workshop floors around this country.

We do not for a minute believe that managerial decisions should not be open to some scrutiny, assessment and input from workers on the job. That is one of the reasons why we oppose this. We oppose this because of your definition of 'bureaucratic meddling'. It is not bureaucratic meddling to have some decent rights at your workplace. It is not bureaucratic meddling to be able to sit down with the boss and talk through the issues that concern you. The days of the employer simply determining everything for every worker on the job in an enterprise are gone, Senator Leyonhjelm. Surely you understand that. Surely you understand that when you clock on or you walk into your factory—for those factories that are left after this dirty, rotten government got rid of the factories around the country—or your workplace that you should be able to exercise some democratic rights. You need some democratic rights in this country.

Senator Leyonhjelm, you are so far removed from reality on industrial relations that you should join the Liberal Party. You would have lots of bedfellows there who do not want penalty rates, industrial democracy or rights for workers and who would do anything to attack working rights in the race to the bottom on wages and conditions in this country. Senator Leyonhjelm, this is where you are at with these amendments. You would sit very happily with the coalition on the issue of attacking workers' rights. I reckon if you had been here, you would have backed Work Choices 110 per cent because you do not accept rights for workers. You do not accept any industrial democracy. You argue like the coalition does that industrial democracy should not be there and it should be the inviolable rights of the boss.

I know we have a new employment minister whose hero is Margaret Thatcher, but we are not going to go back to Margaret Thatcher. It does not matter what Senator Cash says—Margaret Thatcher is gone.

Progress reported.