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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 6938


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (10:41): Boy oh boy—the ignorance of those opposite is well and truly on display today in this debate on the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014, as is their hatred of Australian unions and workers. Their ignorance of our fair work laws and how you bargain in this country is staggering given that they are proposing a bill that will take us back to a Work Choices environment. Let me put the truth on the table about Chevron. Their enterprise agreement was up for renewal. Senator Back implied that once you sign an enterprise agreement that is it for ever and ever and that somehow the unions were being irresponsible. That agreement at Chevron was up for renegotiation. What Senator Back did not say was that on FIFO sites in Western Australia we have very high rates of suicide, and why is that? Because the shift patterns on Western Australian sites are unacceptable. At Chevron, those workers work 26 days straight—26 days of 12-hour shifts, and then they get nine days off. Because Chevron is quite a way from their home base, they will lose a day travelling there and back. That is what the workers were threatening industrial action over at Chevron—they wanted fairer shift rosters.

When I went to Chevron I raised that with the general manager and said that the shifts he was operating at Barrow Island and Wheatstone were not acceptable to the Australian community and were certainly not acceptable in the mining and resource environment. I am very pleased to say that Chevron have seen the light on that, and they will go to a two-week working cycle followed by a period of time off. It is not everything the unions wanted but it is a negotiation and they have reached a fair deal. We will no longer see 26 days of 12 hours a day in summer, when it is 44 degrees on Barrow Island, being worked. That is the bit that Senator Back failed to mention this morning—that it is a negotiated settlement. Of course in this country we accept a worker's right to strike, and I would like to ask the government if they think workers have a right to strike because obviously they think they do not. Nothing being played out at Chevron was against the fair work laws and workers were exercising their absolute right during a bargaining period to bargain for something better. Those workers were prepared to forgo a bigger wage increase to get a fair deal on rosters, to try to cut down the suicides we were seeing on the FIFO sites.

The other point that Senator Back did not talk about was the double bunking that is going on at Chevron, which is completely unacceptable. Of course, he also did not mention the tax minimisation that Chevron are involved in where millions of dollars are being held overseas and not paid properly in Australia. But that is not something that you will hear the Turnbull government talk about because they are their mates and, wherever possible, they absolutely want them to come into Australia and minimise the benefits to the Australian community at large. Quite clearly, Chevron are minimising the tax that they pay in this country and, seemingly, neither the Abbott government nor the Turnbull government was prepared to do anything about that.

You will also hear and we heard today in the debate on this Fair Work Amendment Bill, which obviously Labor opposes, government senator after government senator claim this bill simply picks up recommendations made by the review that Labor undertook under the Fair Work Act, which reported in 2012. Of course, what we know about the Turnbull government is that the devil is in the detail and it is the detail that needs to be carefully examined because that is where the Turnbull government deviates quite remarkably from the recommendations in Labor's review. Make no mistake: this is Work Choices by stealth.

Yesterday we had the NATSEM report come out and say that, for low-income workers and low-income families in Australia, the future is bleak. Make no mistake: if this Fair Work Amendment Bill gets up, it will enable a race to the bottom in terms of wages through the IFAs proposed in the legislation. I have lived and breathed it under legislation introduced by other conservative governments and that is what we will see: workers will be worse off under this legislation. No ifs, no buts—they absolutely will.

The Turnbull government's changes are squarely aimed at disadvantaging workers and their unions. This bill is stacked squarely in favour of employers. It is anti worker and it is anti union. Of course, that would be of no surprise to anyone that the Turnbull government, with their tea party ideology and agenda, are anti worker and anti union. They might have changed their leader, they might have put a bit of sugar on the top but, whether all of those ministers opposite remain ministers or go on to the backbench, they will not have an epiphany and suddenly embrace workers and unions. Their tea-party ideology will continue because that is at the core of who they are.

Whether it is destroying good jobs with good pay, whether it is the witch-hunt royal commission, headed by a royal commissioner who should be sacked, or whether it is their constant attack under parliamentary privilege on unions, the government show themselves to be anti worker and anti union.

The bill is also a showcase of yet another broken promise, a betrayal of trust to the Australian people both before the election and, indeed, again when introducing the bill. This government, the Turnbull government, promised that, when proposing amendments to the Fair Work Act, those amendments would not go any further than its pre-election promises and that it would implement specific recommendations directly from Labor's 2012 Fair Work review.

The facts of the matter are now before the Senate and the Australian public. It is absolutely clear this bill goes way beyond both the Abbott government's pre-election promise and now the Turnbull government's commitment to continue with this unfair Work Choices bill. And it goes way beyond Labor's Fair Work review. The government has clearly overstepped its election promises in a way which absolutely advantages employers, particularly in relation to individual flexibility agreements, greenfields agreements and the right-of-entry proposals.

Even on its most basic promise, to implement recommendations from the 2012 Fair Work review without change, the Turnbull government cannot be trusted. Instead, the government is putting its own flexibility flair on Fair Work recommendations, while trying to pass them off as somehow original. Make no mistake: if this bill passes the parliament, workers will be worse off and those responsible will be the anti worker, anti union, anti good jobs Turnbull government.

I want to start with individual flexibility agreements, IFAs. This bill takes them much further than the 2012 Fair Work review and, in doing that, the Turnbull government disadvantages workers and advantages employers. The 2012 review said that in relation to IFAs recommendation 9 stated that the 'better off overall test' in the Fair Work Act:

… be amended to expressly permit an IFA to confer a non-monetary benefit on an employee in exchange for a monetary benefit, provided that the value of the monetary benefit foregone—

here is the devil in the detail—

is specified in writing and is relatively insignificant, and the value of the non-monetary benefit is proportionate.

This bill before us and the Bills Digeststate that this recommendation would 'provide more protection for employees by inclusion of the qualifier'—the very qualifier that was in Labor's review—'that the monetary benefit forgone must be relatively insignificant'.

The government instead states in its explanatory memorandum in relation to an IFA that an employee may forgo penalty rates. I know that those opposite do not care too much for penalty rates and most of them want to see penalty rates disappear. But you could hardly describe a penalty rate as insignificant. In the government's explanatory memorandum it states that you can forgo penalty rates in exchange for flexible hours. That could hardly be described as insignificant. Again, the devil is in the detail.

Further, in relation to IFAs there is no protection for employees and absolute protection for employers. This is how the government proposes that an IFA should work and this is how it will be abused by employers. All the employer has to do—and this is what will happen—is write up a genuine needs statement and the employee, of course, will sign it. That is the first step complied with. If you are a low-paid aged-care worker, a low-paid cleaner or a low-paid hospitality worker, with 6.5 per cent unemployment and with record levels of youth unemployment, you will sign that genuine needs statement because you need the job

Anyone in this place who thinks that workplaces are even playing fields are just, once again, showing their ignorance. In an aged care facility, a childcare centre, a cafe, a factory or the cleaning industry, the boss holds the power, because it is implied that if you do not sign that so-called genuine needs statement then you can go find work somewhere else. And all of this is against the backdrop of the Turnbull government's record high unemployment.

Wait for it: it is the employees themselves who are not in a position to judge, but those opposite state that the genuine needs statement somehow meets some better overall test. It is all down to the employee, because the boss is standing over them, there is a queue of other workers out there waiting to take their place, and they say, 'Sign or resign.' We have seen all of this before under Work Choices. But wait, there is more: the Turnbull government go further and provide complete protection from liability for an employer from contravention of a flexible term of a modern award in relation to a particular IFA. They have lined up with the bosses and said: 'Don't worry. We'll look after you. Just trust us.' What is the test? It is just where the employer reasonably believes the requirements of the term were complied with. How easy is that? The boss says, 'I thought it was all okay. I did not realise.' That is okay, 'You can have whatever sort of IFA you want because that is the only test.' What a disgrace! That is a massive departure from what Labor's review recommended.

These IFAs will apply across all Australian workplaces as its intended they will apply to awards and enterprise agreements; they will apply to 15-year-old kids. This gives complete protection from liability for the employer. This is outrageous, particularly when it comes on the heels of the shocking exploitation of visa workers that we have seen at Baiada chicken farms, at 7-Eleven, at United Petroleum and at Australia Post—and on and on it goes. The Turnbull government have been completely inept in terms of dealing with these scams, scams which rip workers off. These IFAs will give the employer cart blanche to exploit and rip off vulnerable Australian workers. But we know in this place that the Turnbull government do not stand for good jobs and good pay. They do not. Labor stands for good jobs, good pay and fair workplaces—yes, with flexibility, of course; but at the heart of our policies is the issue of fairness. These IFAs are a complete take from Western Australia's harsh laws. Just as Work Choices took the job of the Prime Minister in a previous Liberal government, the same harsh work laws in Western Australia rolled, in the end, the Court Liberal government because Australians want a fair go. At the heart of what we stand for, as Australians, is a fair go.

Greenfields agreements are another broken promise—another sneaky deviation from the Fair Work review of 2012. A greenfields agreement is an agreement which covers a whole workplace, a new workplace. The 2012 review recommended that good faith bargaining provisions—obviously something the Turnbull government does not believe in—be applied to a greenfields agreement. Good faith bargaining provisions go to: attending and participating in meetings; disclosing relevant information in a timely manner; responding to proposals made by other bargaining representatives, in a timely manner; giving genuine consideration to proposals; refraining from unfair conduct that undermines freedom of association or collective bargaining; and recognising and bargaining with the other bargaining representatives in the agreement. Those provisions, which Labor recommended should be part of greenfields agreements, were simply tossed aside. Once again, the Turnbull government has given all of the advantage to employers. The new provisions—which, make no mistake, were not part of the 2012 review—are that these greenfields agreements can be time bound and that, after just three months, with very few checks the employer can simply apply to the Fair Work Commission to have agreements ratified. Again, this will be abused by some employers who want to put together an inferior deal, a deal below their competitors and a deal which takes away industry conditions and standards; all they have to do is wait awhile.

I have participated in enterprise bargaining hundreds of times. I can tell you that it is quite common in the first instance for an employer to rock up and put a zero wage offer on the table—zero wage increases but taking away conditions. In fact, we have seen that in the public sector with the deal on offer by the Turnbull government to Australia's hardworking public servants. Of course, it takes time. It is very easy for an employer to simply fritter away 12 weeks and then say that the union is being unreasonable. Then off they will go and they will get their deal imposed. Make no mistake: we will see a breaking down of industry conditions of employment under this kind of greenfields arrangement.

We would expect nothing else: of course, there comes a direct attack on the rights to be represented by a trade union. This bill proposes to radically change the right of a union to enter a workplace. I heard before Senator Back making this ridiculous claim that unions should go out to airports to meet with people. For goodness sake! Again, it demonstrates the ignorance of those opposite about how workplaces operate. It is the right of a union to go into a workplace. It is the right of people to belong to a trade union. What do they have to fear from that? Thousands and thousands of workplaces every day get a visit from a union official, and most of that is fine. Imagine standing at an airport. What a ridiculous suggestion! Again, those opposite are showing their Tea Party ideology of absolutely hating trade unions.

As a Western Australian Labor senator, I have seen all this before under the Court Liberal government in WA. They thought they could kill off unions by restricting right of entry. We have seen all this before. It did not work. They did not kill off trade unions. But do you know what? Workers killed off the Court government, because workers said, 'We want a fair deal in the workplace.'

Again, federally, we saw with Work Choices the Howard government try and kill off unions. What happened? Workers killed off a Prime Minister—that is what happened—and they changed the government. Workers in Australian stand for a fair go—a fair go at work; an even playing field. None of this bill—not one ounce of this bill—is about that. It is about redistributing the balance all in favour of the employers. This attack on right of entry demonstrates their Tea Party ideology—the hatred of the unions.

Unions are a collective of workers who come together to improve their wages and conditions. Workers value unions. Workers understand that when you are in a trade union your wages are higher, your workplace is fairer and you act collectively on behalf of all who work in your workplace and your industry. Decent bosses value unions too, because decent bosses want a fair workplace. They want to work cooperatively with a union. So once again, this is Work Choices by stealth. Workers will not stand for it and they will not stand for a government who promotes it.