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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: Townsville, QLD: 23 June 2016: jobs; labour hire announcement

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SUBJECT/S: Jobs; Labour Hire announcement.

CATHY O’TOOLE, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR HERBERT: It’s really fantastic to welcome Shadow Minister Brendan O’Connor, Shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations here to Townsville to make a really important announcement to support our great employers and vulnerable workers. We have just come from Kirwan State High School where we have seen state of the art training for our young people, the people who will be the future of this country. We have seen amazing work being done by young people in the trade training centre, in the new state of the art welding facility that they have. We’ve seen amazing skills being developed in the hospitality industry, which of course if our transition into the future, into the tourism industry here, our growing employment base. Those young people have the competencies now to move into that workforce seamlessly. And congratulations to a really fantastic school. It gives me great pleasure to introduce the Shadow Minister Brendan O’Connor.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Cathy and it’s great to be with Cathy O’Toole the Labor candidate for Herbert. And it’s great to be in Townsville, and before I just start on the announcement can I congratulate Queensland on another great State of Origin win, doesn’t look like New South Wales can get a look in, so congratulations to Queensland.

But look today Labor will be announcing a new labour hire licensing regime. What we’ve seen now over some years is exploitation of workers by unscrupulous labour hire companies. What we’ve seen are dodgy labour hire companies paying workers in this state and in this country, in some cases half the amount that they should be receiving. There’s been too many scandalous examples of exploitation of workers not to have a policy response, and what we have seen by the Abbott/Turnbull Government is them sit on their hands as we’ve seen 7/11 rip off their workers to the tune of almost $100 million. We’ve seen labour hire companies pay their workers as little as half what they have to be paid under law. We’ve seen overseas labour hire companies working with companies in Australia exploiting workers. Now, the reason why we need to have licensing arrangements for labour hire companies is we have to stamp out dodgy, unscrupulous labour hire companies who are exploiting workers. We need to protect those reputable companies, those reputable labour hire companies who are doing the right thing, but most importantly we have to protect vulnerable workers who are being ripped off by unfair practices by employers.

So, today, if elected, the Shorten Labor Government announces from the first of July next year we will have a licensing regime for labour hire companies in order to ensure that they’re up to standard, that they comply with the law. We will be looking at for example their reputation, we’ll be looking at their history including whether they have criminal convictions before they are licensed, we’ll be ensuring that any fees that are associated with this licensing will be based on risk compliance and indeed the reputation and history of the labour hire company. I’ve spoken to some labour hire companies who are sick to death of bottom feeders undermining the sector. And I’ve spoken to workers who are tired of being ripped off by these companies. We need to do something about it. As I say, nothing done by the Abbott/Turnbull Government, always turning a blind eye away from misconduct by employers.

We’ve looked to ensure, in recent days, we’ve announced we’ll be looking at the casualisation definition because too many workers are actually working for years on end in permanent, regular arrangements at work but still

deemed casuals by their employers, we’ll be examining that. This announcement today will provide greater protection for workers and reputable companies and of course we will defend penalty rates. Now Malcolm Turnbull talks about intervening in the Fair Work Commission, he will not intervene and join Labor to make a submission to oppose cutting penalty rates. Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash want to see the cutting of the employment conditions, that’s the ripping way of real income from low paid workers, hospitality and retail workers and who knows down the track definitely likely to be others. And yet rather than stand with Labor and oppose these penalty rates cuts, you see that the Abbott/Turnbull Government support them.

And finally, I just want to touch on the issue that supports redundant workers. Too often, particularly when there’s transition in our economy companies struggle and there are times when workers are laid off. When workers are laid off when a company goes bust, Labor when last in Government introduced protection for their entitlements. The reason why this is such a pertinent matter when it comes to Townsville, as we know that we’ve seen too many redundant workers in this community and yet because of Labor’s Fair Entitlements Guarantee at least they received their full or all most their full, in some case up to a year, redundancy payments. The local member, Mr Jones has voted to cut the Fair Entitlements Guarantee. If he had his way, along with Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal team, we would have seen massive cuts to redundancy entitlements for workers in this community. In fact, the budget announced in May by the Treasurer still has in it the cuts to the Fair Entitlements Guarantee. Now if Mr Jones seriously is concerned about redundant workers why does he continue to support Malcolm Turnbull’s position of cutting entitlements to redundant workers? I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Just with your policy on the labour hire firms, what would it cost a firm to get a licence?

O’CONNOR: It’s going to be a cost recovery basis, we’re going to be talking to companies about the fees and we’ll be ensuring that the fees are commensurate with the compliance risks and the history of a company. In other words, if the company has a good reputation, if their likelihood of being a risky employer is negligible, then of course we’d expect them to pay less than those that have either not a great history or they’ve got some greater risk. So, we’ll be sitting down with the employers before we make any decision about the fees. But let’s be very clear here, this is not about increasing revenue, this is about ensuring we have proper regulation for a sector which is not sufficiently regulated to protect workers and to protect the reputable labour hire companies who are doing the right thing.

JOURNALIST: Where will that money go I suppose from the licences?

O’CONNOR: We’re going to make sure we have an inspectorate inside the Fair Work Ombudsman. We’re going to make sure we have a licensing and compliance inspectorate inside the Fair Work Ombudsman and we would expect that resources would be dedicated to ensure that the labour hire companies comply with the licence requirements. So, this is about ensuring that we have cost recovery through the payment of fees and of course the more reputable the company, with a good employment record, a good history of employing people, of course would be expected to pay less fees than those who have a high risk or have had a history of some problems.

JOURNALIST: So the licence will fuel the compliance officers and that sort of thing?

O’CONNOR: Indeed, yes.

JOURNALIST: Just in terms of entitlements, you said Ewen Jones voted to cut, or he was for cutting that?

O’CONNOR: Yeah, so in 2014 Ewen Jones voted cut the Fair Entitlements Guarantee, which if he’d had had his way then, those workers who recently were made redundant would have lost thousands upon thousands of dollars in entitlements. That position is still the position of the Liberal Party, in the budget handed down by the Treasurer Scott Morrison in May this year, just before the parliament ended, that budget still has within it absolutely radical cuts to the entitlements of future redundant workers. And so, Mr Jones who is the Member here whilst he said he sympathised and was concerned about workers who were not being paid their entitlements, in Canberra was voting against their interests. You don’t get to sympathise with them in Townville and vote against them in Canberra and that’s what happened here. What we have of course is a Government that turned its back on workers, won’t support Labor’s position in defending penalty rates, won’t support proper regulation and licensing of labour hire companies, won’t support ensuring that people are not abused in the work place by being deemed to be a casual when they are not. There are people very concerned about the job security in this country and in this area as well, and we need to make sure that we do everything we can, not only to protect those workers but in doing so protect the majority of employers who seek to do the right thing and should not be undermined by unscrupulous employers.

JOURNALIST: Jobs are obviously a big issue here with high unemployment, are you confident that Labor’s policies will see those people better off than a Coalition Government?

O’CONNOR: We will always place jobs at the centre of public policy making that’s why we’ve made an announcement about ensuring that apprentices on publically funded projects will be taking 1 in every 10 jobs, we’ve announced Working Futures which will ensure that long term unemployed young people will get an opportunity of training award wage for 6 months. Unlike the Government who wants to give young people a four week so called internship, we are giving 6 months at an award wage while the Government gives a below award payment from 4 weeks to 12 weeks, the fact is we have that announcement. And of course on Sunday, Bill Shorten announced a great initiate to ensure that small businesses will get a tax relief if they employ additional staff, they will receive a tax relief which will, I believe encourage them to employ more people whether they be young people, workers over the age of 55 who’ve been discriminated against or parents in particular mums returning to work after being away for at least 6 months. That initiative I believe is going to increase the likelihood of 30,000 jobs in this country. So when you look at the policies that we’ve introduced, you look at the industry policies and you look at our infrastructure investment, you can see that we’re much more likely to create employment in Australia than the Liberals. And indeed of course the same goes for the construction of the stadium in this community.

JOURNALIST: Cathy I just have a quick question, we had Martin Brewster stick his head up today for the first time in the election campaign, he admits that it might be a tough slog trying to get votes after what’s happened to Queensland Nickel. They’re still quite confident, do you think they’re dreaming?

O’TOOLE: Look I think this is going to be a really tough battle, but I would have to say it seems incredulous to me that what has happened out in Queensland Nickel has caused huge devastation in our community. Families have been left with no jobs and having to seek employment elsewhere, having to leave Townsville. It seems incredible to me that Clive Palmer would say, if you want Queensland Nickel back you need to vote for Martin. I mean, people in this electorate are intelligent thinking people, they know I ensure that Labor is their best chance of getting jobs. We have now two infrastructure projects that have been announced here in Townsville, the stadium 1200 jobs, and the Australian Tropical Marine and Aquaculture Centre which is a partnership with James Cook AIMS and importantly industry which will generate another 540 jobs in construction, so that’s really the bookending of the PDA development area. That’s where the future of Townsville is and that’s what I’m focused on.

JOURNALIST: They were also saying that their campaign is not about Clive, they even said that perhaps they might even drop Palmer from the party name after the election. Is the Palmer Party about Clive, can you really separate the man from the Party?

O’TOOLE: To be really honest with you I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what the Clive Palmer Party or the PUP Party will be doing. I’ve been really focused on what is Labor offering to Townsville. Our campaign, our community based campaign has worked really, really hard. We have listened intently to what the people of this city have said to us, in terms of jobs being the number one priority, Bill Shorten has clearly demonstrated that Townsville matters, regional Queensland matters basing his campaign in first week out of Townsville. So my focus is and will continue to be for the rest of the campaign on making sure that the people of this community understand that the choice is clear. If you want jobs and if we want a future, a transitioning economy, we must have a Labor Government led by Bill Shorten.

JOURNALIST: Can we trust the Palmer Party, given what Clive Palmer’s done to Queensland Nickel?

O’TOOLE: I think we can leave that to the people of Townsville to decide and I am very sure they will.

O’CONNOR: Thanks very much.