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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7332


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (16:35): A prime example of the 87-87 rule is being played out this afternoon. Eighty-seven per cent of private sector workers are not in unions and 87 per cent of Labor members and Senators are. But before you go, Senator Ludwig, do not worry too much about Mr Gassan; I remember Dr Back actually working at the races on Boxing Day without getting penalties on the day that his son was born, having dropped his wife off to King Edward Hospital on the way.

What we have here is simply a circumstance of scare mongering. The only risk to penalty rates in this country to my awareness is the current Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, and I will come to that in a few minutes time. There is no suggestion about penalty rates being dealt with by the coalition because, as we all know and as Senator Ludwig himself well knows, they are set by the Fair Work Commission, not by the government of the day.

If I can draw attention then to some of the comments by the Labor opposition on penalty rates only this year, the shadow minister for employment, Mr O'Connor, had an interview with the ABC where he said:

There are particular provisions in each award or agreement that I think should be reviewed and I'm not suggesting for a moment that there aren't provisions, including penalty rates, that shouldn't be looked at….

The shadow Assistant Treasurer, Mr Leigh, in January made the comment to an ABC journalist:

I am always up for an evidence based discussion.

But if Senator Ludwig wants to draw attention to the abolition of penalty rates, he need go no further than Mr Shorten, his leader in the other place. As national secretary of the AWU, Mr Shorten led the union into an agreement with Clean Event, which—listen to this—removed all penalty rates for low-paid cleaners with—and Senator Nash will be interested in this—no compensation. Clean Event paid the AWU—as of course was played out in the royal commission; the one we were told was unnecessary this morning—$25,000 a year and provided lists of all of the employees so that the union could add it to their membership. So, if people want to talk about the possibility of penalty rates being abolished, go no further than Mr Shorten himself.

What might have been his motives for doing that? Well, he might have been seeking more job security for those low-paid workers. He might be hoping that they might get more hours of employment. He might also have been thinking about the financial health of the union—and indeed his own advancement into a political career, where we see him today.

This week Dr John Falzon, the CEO of St Vincent de Paul, will present an oration in Anti-Poverty Week. The title he has chosen is 'Sick with worry'. The St Vincent de Paul report finds that people's desire to participate in employment shines through. That is very much the basis of the coalition government's thrust in examining the level of penalty rates. It is Mr Shorten who destroys penalty rates for low-paid workers. What the coalition is about is looking at penalty rates themselves, particularly Sundays and public holidays.

In big business we have a circumstance in which many employees are employed under enterprise bargaining agreements. We have the individual flexibility agreements, brought in by the previous Labor government and now being vehemently opposed. So in larger businesses there are always opportunities for negotiation for full-time workers. What we are talking about here of course is the people who do not work full-time during the week: students who can only work of a weekend; stay-at-home parents who can only get the opportunity to have their children, for example, looked after on a weekend; or indeed casual employees who may want weekend work. These are very much the people about whom we are speaking.

I can talk about the opportunities for employment of youth in the hospitality industry in all of Australia's states, but I will focus on Western Australia where—as Senator Ludwig does not seem to understand—we actually do work on Saturdays and Sundays. The hospitality industry—restaurants and catering—is telling us that they can immediately create between 40,000 and 55,000 new jobs across Australia if we can get some level of sensibility around penalty rates—time and a half on Saturdays, going through to time and a half on Sundays and public holidays; not the extra 75 per cent on Sundays or the extra 150 per cent on the Monday of public holidays.

As I have said so often in this place: why is it that on the Monday morning of Anzac Day following the dawn service, you cannot get a coffee? It is not because all the owners of the coffee shops are down at Margaret River; it is because they cannot pay their casual employees $42 an hour to wash dishes. Domino's cannot pay a kid $42 an hour to deliver pizzas. It simply is not possible. But restaurants and cafes in this country employ 200,000 Australians—they are the largest employer in the tourism industry—and the sector has said that they can improve 43 per cent in the 15 to 24 age group, and 16 per cent across all sectors. That is the level of increase in employment that is possible.

Restaurant and Catering Australia indicate that in that industry an extra 51,000 jobs and an extra 64,500 additional hours of work could be generated through weekend pay reform. This is the result of a recent survey in that industry: 54 per cent of businesses which were surveyed which are now closed on Sundays and public holidays would open if there was a rationalisation of penalty rates; 52 per cent of businesses would take on more staff, particularly in rural, remote and regional areas.

Let's look at the hospitality, catering and tourism industries. One million Chinese are now coming into our country. What is the single complaint that is coming back through the tourism sector? It is lack of services and lack of facilities being open on weekends. If we are going to enjoy the benefits of tourism, and the inbound tourism trade particularly, we have simply got to rationalise these circumstances.

The point I very strongly want to make in this debate is this: it is the Fair Work Commission that determines penalty rates. The review that is currently underway is a review initiated by the last Labor government into penalty rates. What we want is: more jobs, more shifts and more choice. But the simple fact of the matter is that if someone has to pay an unskilled young person $42 an hour to wash dishes in a coffee shop on a public holiday, that business will not open. We know that very well. We are not talking about the big end of town; we are talking about the small operators who are the engine room of this country when it comes to employment prospects for those who otherwise would not be employed.