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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 25 May 2006: WorkChoices; Triangle Cables and unfair dismissal; Spotlight and AWA's.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure and Industrial Relations Member for Perth

E&OE T31/06



SMITH: Two very significant events yesterday in John Howard’s race to the bottom.

Firstly, we saw the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in the Triangle Cables matter saying that there were no unfair dismissal rights for the nine employees sacked on the 28th March, the day after the Government’s legislation came into effect, because Triangle Cables only employ 97 employees. So a very stark appreciation of how you can now be sacked, sacked unfairly for no reason or any reason and not have a remedy.

It’s interesting though on a couple of points. Firstly, in the course of evidence given at the Commission, the management conceded that they had drafted the letters before the Government’s legislation took effect and post dated them, so they clearly relied upon the changed laws. Secondly, the letter said the nine employees’ services were no longer required. Their jobs are currently being advertised. So you can be sacked, sacked unfairly for no reason or any reason, not have a remedy and see the advert for your job

pop up the following day, week or month.

Secondly, in the Parliament yesterday we saw the start of John Howard’s race to the bottom. Penalty rates, leave loadings, overtime payments all gone for the princely sum of John Howard’s 2 cents, 2 cents an hour. And knowing John Howard as I do, if he had the chance, he’s round it down.

So let’s see some of the commentary we find about the Spotlight case: we’ve got the National Retail Association out there saying this: “Far from being defensive about it, the National Retail Association applauds it because we think a lot of other retailers will

follow Spotlight’s lead”. “We think a lot of other retailers will follow Spotlight’s lead.” So the race to the bottom is on.

Annette Harris is the employee concerned, she said: “I thought it was an insult, absolutely disgusting. I’ve voted Liberal all my life, but there’s no way I’d sign up to this”.

Making a very important point: we heard nothing about this in the run up to the last election. But you can guarantee that you will hear plenty about it in the run up to the next.

And any number of quotes of Spotlight itself, saying all we are doing is what John Howard’s legislation allows us and entitles us to do.

So the 2 cents an hour race to the bottom is on.

I welcome John Howard’s return to the Parliament today, but I suspect the only reason he is returning to the Parliament is so he can make his visit to the football match tonight, the soccer tonight in Melbourne, respectable.

JOURNALIST: So do you hold Spotlight to blame for this?

SMITH: No, I hold the Government to blame for this. Spotlight is doing what the Government’s legislation allows it to do. Spotlight is doing what John Howard’s policy allows it to do: to knock off overtime; to knock off penalty rates; to knock off leave loadings; to knock off to rosters; to knock off rest breaks, all for the princely sum of 2 cents an hour.

All for the princely sum of two cents an hour and the relevant employee concerned, Annette Harris, for two cents an hour, what did she calculate her loss would be? $90 a week!

So I don’t blame Spotlight, I blame John Howard. And the Australian community should blame John Howard because I fear as the National Retailers Association has made clear, that other retailers will follow that lead in the race to the bottom.

JOURNALIST: We hear a lot of these horror stories coming through now, how much worse will it get before it starts getting better?

SMITH: How much more worse can it get than the princely sum of 2 cents an hour? How much worse can it get than the princely sum of John Howard’s 2 cents an hour? Everything is knocked off for 2 cents an hour.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the Prime Minister’s return. Peter Costello has been out managing national security matters in the Prime Minister’s absence, has he done that with aplomb?

SMITH: Well, the thing that I noticed very much about Peter Costello yesterday was an absolute endorsement by him of John Howard’s industrial relations legislation. An absolute endorsement by Peter Costello of the two cents an hour race to the bottom. So my judgement on Peter Costello is that he’s handcuffed to John Howard’s industrial relations legislation and that’s the most important issue so far as I’m concerned with Peter Costello’s conduct yesterday and in the Parliament this week.

JOURNALIST: On the national security issues, what are your thoughts about East Timor at the moment?

SMITH: I’ll leave the formal and detailed remarks of that to Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd and Robert McClelland. But obviously it’s a very serious situation. I share the view that as we’ve been asked to help, we should do that. My own judgement is that it’s probably the case that when we arrive, it will be very dangerous and difficult circumstances. I don’t think that should be under appreciated.


Contact: Courtney Hoogen on (02) 6277 4108 or 0414 364 651