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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7389

Senator RICE (Victoria) (21:35): I have listened very carefully to the debate that has gone on for many hours, and nothing that has been said tonight has swayed me from the original position that the Australian Greens took about these amendments—that these amendments are going to put all of the cards in the hands of the employer and are vastly unfair to employees in greenfields agreements.

The questions from Senator Cameron to the minister have been honing in on the critical issue of what happens when this negotiation reaches the end of a period of time, whether it is three months or six months. It is very clear from listening to the minister's answers that what happens then is that there is no arbitration and no fair process. All that occurs at that stage is that the Fair Work Commission has the opportunity to sign off on what the employer has put on the table. Essentially, there is nothing that would stop an employer—if they want to—from just sitting out that period of time; to sit there and put something forward—and there might be some parts of it that the union agrees on but some very serious parts that they do not agree on. There is nothing to stop them from sitting back and saying, 'It is take it or leave it,' and just wait for the time to tick down to the end of what was three months and—with the amendments that have been passed tonight—what is now a six-month period. Rather than being a relief valve at the end of those six months, I actually think that those six months are really six months of a ticking time bomb. You just sit there and you wait for the time to tick down to the end of the six months, then whatever the employer wants in that agreement gets passed and whatever is in the interest of the workers does not get consideration.

The minister was telling us that, yes, unions have an opportunity to make submissions to the Fair Work Commission, but the Fair Work Commission under these amendments would not be able to arbitrate. This question has been asked of the minister in many different ways this evening, and she has avoided answering it. But it is clear that the Fair Work Commission under these amendments would not have the ability to arbitrate. There would be no fair arbitration of what may be a very unfair agreement. It would end up being 'take it or leave it'; it would end up giving a very unfair advantage to the employers.

I feel no comfort at all that the Fair Work Commission, in making its decision as to whether to take it or leave it—to say yes, or, much less likely, to say no—would take into account prevailing pay and conditions. What are the prevailing pay and conditions for what in many cases in a greenfields agreement might be something quite new? You would only need to get one of these agreements through. You would only need to have one employer sit out that six months, to put in something that is vastly unfair for the workers, and for the Fair Work Commission to say yes to that. You would only need to have one of those get up, and that would then set the standard for what the prevailing pay and conditions would be. That would be the standard for the next greenfields agreement.

You would never be in a situation of being able to improve the pay and conditions in similar situations in the future. It would end up being a race to the bottom in eroding workers' conditions and eroding workers' pay and eroding the power of workers to be able to work collectively to improve their conditions. It would strike at the ability to have a truly negotiated set of agreements. Having this time period in place would mean that all of the cards would be in the hands of the employers. It would give them an unfair advantage. It would tip the balance too far towards the interests of the employers. The Greens are resolute that this would be a very bad move for Australian society. It would be a very bad move for the workers in our economy and it would end up meaning that we have an even more unfair workplace relations system than we currently have.