Speech: Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs And Economic Recovery) Bill 2020

Speech: Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs And Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (12:27): I rise today so that I can put on the record my complete and absolute opposition to the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia's Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020. The reason I oppose this bill is simple: I care about workers. But not only that: I also care deeply about our businesses and this bill will hurt both no matter how the government wants to package it, no matter what bow they put around it. Hurting workers, cutting pay and making jobs less secure hurts our entire economy. It is bad for the country and I can tell you it is bad for my electorate of Gilmore on the New South Wales South Coast.

Before I talk about the aspects of the bill that I am most concerned about and the impacts this will have on workers, I want to talk a little about the economy on the South Coast. The New South Wales South Coast is beloved around the country. It is a beautiful place to visit and an absolutely amazing place to live. We have beaches, mountains, wineries, boutique food outlets, festivals and more. TripAdvisor named the Shoalhaven as the eighth top emerging travel destination in the world, and I couldn't agree more. The outcome of this is that our economy is largely centred around tourism. It is largely seasonal with our population doubling, tripling or more in school holidays and on long weekends. Tourism permeates every aspect. Even if a business might not be directly related, it will still feel the peaks and troughs that this seasonal economy brings to it. Even our essential workers like our nurses and hospital staff are impacted as are our police and other emergency services. I could go on.

The impact of this for local workers is that they rely on casual and part-time employment. Sadly, we have seen what happens when that seasonal economy fails. It started with the bushfires with workers across the South Coast suddenly left without an income. I will never forget the cleaner who contacted my office in the immediate aftermath of the bushfires. She normally cleaned holiday rentals, but with no-one coming to the coast she was suddenly without an income. She didn't know how she was going to pay her bills. She didn't know how she was going to feed her kids and she was so terrified about the consequences of speaking up about this that she would not leave her name. She couldn't afford to risk losing her job.

This bill is going to make that situation worse. It is going to make more people like that cleaner terrified and unable to pay the bills because, at its heart, this bill seeks to cut workers' pay, attack workers rights and will leave those that rely on a seasonal economy worse off.

After the bushfires came COVID: even more people out of work, even more people feeling insecure about what was going to happen. Whenever restrictions allowed it, I spent my time visiting with local businesses across the coast—hundreds of them. The local butcher, the local post office, the local book store, the local cafe: I heard a similar story from each of them that might surprise some people. JobKeeper and the COVID supplement for JobSeeker saved them. Yes, absolutely, because it helped them keep their workers on. But there was another reason. Local people had financial safety and security. Even for a short period of time they had a little bit, perhaps more than usual, in their wallet. They could afford to go to their local butcher. They could afford to buy a coffee in their local cafe. Spending in the local shops was keeping local shops open, meaning more people had jobs, meaning more people had money to spend in local shops. And so it goes on.

My electorate has traditionally had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Our youth unemployment rate has been unacceptably high, and we have seen unacceptable levels of underemployment. People struggle with housing affordability, something that is getting even more out of control. People rely on support services like the wonderful Salt Care or the Red Door hall lunches, because $40 a day is not enough to get by on when you're struggling to get work or you're between jobs. We know that. It isn't a secret. My point is that it's completely counterintuitive to say that if you cut workers' pay and remove their job security then you help business. You don't. You hurt business. Hurting workers hurts businesses. I know it does in my electorate, I have seen it. From my perspective, the entire premise on which the changes in this bill are based is completely unfounded.

Let's explore what this bill is actually trying to do. This bill will make it easier for employers to casualise jobs that would otherwise be permanent. It will decrease the bargaining power of workers and stop unions from helping the Fair Work Commission to ensure an agreement is fair. It will cut workers' pay. It will remove the rights of blue-collar workers on big projects. It will make work less secure and it will hurt our economy.

The government have thankfully backed down on their plan to remove the better off overall test. That is great news, welcome news, but the truth is they didn't do it because they realised it was unfair. They didn't do it because they changed their mind and decided this wasn't a good way to go. They did it because they knew they couldn't get it through. They still believe this change should be made and, if given the chance, the Liberal-National government will try this again. At the end of the day, the Liberals want to cut workers' pay. They have proven it time and time again. They are proving it again now. Make no mistake, that's their endgame. This is a change that the people on the New South Wales South Coast cannot afford. Our workers certainly can't afford it, but our businesses also can't afford it. If our workers get their pay cut, if they can lose their jobs more easily, where will they end up? On JobSeeker, which, from the end of next month, will be back at $40 a day—not enough to live on, not enough to pay the bills, certainly not enough to let you buy from the butcher or the local coffee shop. Does that help businesses? Clearly the answer is no.

Earlier I touched briefly on the bushfires our community experienced last summer, and I want to return there for a moment. The bushfires were a harrowing time for everyone in our community. It was something we went through together, and it had a profound impact on us all. But what I witnessed, and what many people continue to remark on, was a unique rallying of our human spirit. That human spirit was embodied in our essential workers, our community heroes no doubt: firefighters, emergency service workers, police, council workers, nurses, doctors, ambulance workers—the list goes on.

That was even before the pandemic, when these heroes took on even more and continued to earn our admiration, our respect, and our thanks. They have done an amazing job helping and protecting local people at huge risk and cost to themselves. They have been there for us every day, working long hours, working hard in terrible conditions and they deserve to be paid fairly for it, but not according to this bill.

These are the workers that will be left worse off under these changes, our amazing essential workers, the heroes of 2020. This is how the government chooses to thank them: attacking their rights and cutting their pay. How is that fair? How is that right? To be frank, I am outraged and I just will not stand for it. The risks in this bill are too great for essential workers. The new simplified additional hours in the bill will allow a part-time employee to work additional hours at their ordinary rate—that is, without overtime. This means they will receive a lower rate for their annual leave, superannuation and personal and carers' leave. It will allow a standard 16-hour commitment to be normalised with simplified additional hours being used to top up on an as-needed basis. This reduces job security and will effectively casualise part-time work. It is frightening and it is completely unacceptable to me.

When COVID hit and JobKeeper was introduced, the government made changes that allowed for stand down directions to be given. These were meant to be temporary, an emergency provision needed for an unprecedented emergency situation. Labor was always nervous that this was a slippery slope and that the government would move to make this permanent, and here we are. The bill will extend the ability for all employers covered by the identified awards—including those employers that never qualified for JobKeeper—to give an employee a direction about their duties and location of work. The government has pushed and pushed the boundaries on this condition and now we see the true endgame.

The government's changes to workplace bargaining will also deliver wage cuts to workers. Workers will no longer be assured that changes to their enterprise agreement will leave them better off. They'll be stripped of the right to a comprehensive explanation of an agreement, and they'll be then asked to vote on it. They can be notified that bargaining has started a month after it has happened. The Fair Work Commission will have less time and less power to ensure that an agreement was genuinely agreed to, and unions will no longer be able to play a role in helping the commission to ensure an agreement is fair if they were excluded from bargaining.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the movies. I went to the wonderful Roxy Cinema in Nowra, an independent cinema which has been left, like many independent cinemas, without adequate support from the government to deal with the pandemic—a different issue, granted, but worth a mention. Anyway, I went to the Roxy to see a film made by local woman, Robynne Murphy. The film is called Women of Steel and it tells the story of a group of women from the 1980s who took on BHP, a steel-making giant in the Illawarra, to fight for jobs for women. They spent 14 years on this crusade, and they changed workplace law in Australia. They were supported by the Australian Workers Union. Not only did these remarkable women win jobs for women; they also fundamentally changed the workplace. With the help of the union, they improved workplace health and safety laws, introduced maternity and paternity leave and flexible working, broke the ceiling for women and paved the way to fairer working conditions. It is incredible viewing, and I would like to congratulate Robynne on her work putting together this important film. I encourage everyone to go and see it. But it is also incredibly timely viewing, because this bill flies in the face of what Robynne and her band of warriors fought so hard for. It winds back rights for workers and it hurts women, who we know are disproportionately represented in casual and part-time employment. We have spent years and years fighting for these rights. It is something many people can too easily forget, the rights that workers have now have not always been there, and they didn't get there overnight. They were hard fought for by people like Robynne, by our unions, by Labor, and we will not see them so easily stripped away by this government or any government. Changes like this will hurt for generations. We already know that young people are being left behind. It's harder and harder for young people to buy a home, it's harder and harder for young people to find jobs. They have to be supported by their parents for even longer.

This is the first generation where children will not be better off than their parents. In fact, they will be worse off, and the changes in this bill will make that even worse. How can we expect young people to buy a house, keep a job and move ahead if we take away their rights and make their work more insecure than it already is? How can we expect them to get a loan when they can't guarantee their pay? The government is once again turning its back on young people.

We also know that one of the fastest-growing demographics of unemployed are women over the age of 55. What does this bill do to help them—our cleaners, childcare workers, nurses and retail workers? We know these industries are disproportionately represented by women. We know women's superannuation balances are a huge problem, particularly for older women. This bill will see that problem get worse, not better. From every angle I look at it, this bill is bad news. It's bad news for people in my electorate, bad news for our economy and bad news for Australia. I won't support it. I will do everything in my power to stop it. The Liberals cannot be trusted when it comes to workplace relations. They cannot be trusted to help workers and protect their rights. Only Labor can be trusted to do that, and we will. I will. I will be here every day, standing up for workers in my electorate, because I know that standing up for workers means standing up for businesses. You can't help business by hurting workers. It is counterintuitive. It doesn't work, and the people of the South Coast will not stand for it.