Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021
Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (18 March 2021, 11:26): I rise to speak on the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2021, and it’s great to be here today, because I’m pumped. I’m usually pumped up at the best of times, but I feel like I’m a hot air balloon floating along the skies. I’ll tell you why that is: it’s because all work is 100 per cent insecure if businesses do not survive: all work is insecure if businesses do not survive, and it will be the taxpayer who picks up the cost of redundancies or unemployment benefits. Never forget: it is the employer who pays the employee; it is not the unions. Without the employer there is no employee. Do the unions pay the employee? Does the Labor Party pay the employee? No, they do not. Not only do they not pay the employee but they take from the employee. They take union fees, they take superannuation fees and, most importantly, they take jobs.
There is no greater threat to the prosperity of this nation and jobs for working Australians than the Labor Party and the union movement: union bred, union fed and union led. With their bullying, their complexities and their gouging, unions steal the jobs of Australian workers and the livelihoods of working families. Now, unbelievably, they’ve come out and said that they want to steal casual workers’ loading. Sally McManus of the ACTU has told the ABCs Insiders that casual workers would lose their casual loading in return for portable sick leave, annual leave and long service leave. Who would manage this? Some union would, of course, no doubt clipping the ticket on the money being held on behalf of the worker.
Why are unions and Labor always stealing money from the workers? Let the workers manage their own hard earned income, for Pete’s sake! Get your grubby hands off their money. It’s not rocket science; casual workers get a 25 per cent loading and a permanent employee gets four weeks annual leave, two weeks of public holidays and two weeks of sick leave which, more often than not, they don’t take and which in many cases doesn’t accumulate. Let’s do the sums here. Six weeks over 52 weeks is an 11½ per cent loading and eight weeks over 52 weeks is a 15.4 per cent loading. And if we want to add in another week for long service leave loading—make it nine weeks a year—then it’s a 17.3 per cent loading. That’s a long, long way short of the 25 per cent loading that casuals get.
The Morrison government isn’t going to allow Australian workers to be exploited by the Labor Party and their union mates. Under this bill which is before the parliament we will better protect employee entitlements and deter unscrupulous employers from undercutting their competitors by introducing tougher penalties, facilitating a more efficient recovery of wage underpayments and encouraging businesses to identify and address underpayments more quickly. We will introduce stronger protections for employees through measures, including tougher penalties and orders, to deter noncompliance.
Senator Griff has just said that, apparently, schedule 5 has been pulled out of the bill. That’s news to me. I’m happy to take advice to the contrary here, but, until I’ve been told otherwise, I’m going to talk about it. There is a new criminal offence for dishonest and systemic underpayments of one or more employees, with a maximum penalty of four years imprisonment, automatic director disqualification for five years and/or a $1.1 million fine for employers. This bill will increase maximum civil penalties for underpayments, sham contracting and failing to comply with a regulator compliance notice, and it will increase penalties under infringement notices. There’s also going to be a new prohibition to stop employers from advertising jobs with pay rates below the national minimum wage and clarification that the courts can make adverse publicity orders where appropriate. This bill will also expand and improve the current small claims wage recovery process by increasing the small claims cap from $20,000 to $50,000, and it will allow courts to refer appropriate claims to the Fair Work Commission for expedited resolution through conciliation or consent arbitration.
You have to ask yourself why Anthony Albanese and the unions are opposing criminal penalties for wage theft. Is it to protect their mates at Maurice Blackburn who got busted for underpaying staff? Let’s not forget this IR firm has strong ties with the Labor Party, especially in Queensland. Senator Murray Watt; Senator Nita Green; the member for Griffith, Terri Butler—they’re all ex-employees of Maurice Blackburn. Is that what Labor are doing here? Are they running a protection racket for their rich lawyer mates? We know they run a protection racket for their rich union mates and their rich white-collar fund managers in the inner-city ivory castles, and now they’ve been busted looking after their rich lawyer mates. With 122 awards, some of which have over 60 pay points, the IR system is nothing but rivers of gold for the unions, the Labor party and their IR lawyer mates—what we like to call the ‘limousine left’.
So, you see, this bill protects the workers. You have to ask yourself why Labor and the unions are running around fearmongering about this bill. I’ll tell you why. It’s because Labor and the unions have no idea about running a business and creating jobs. You do, Senator Sterle; I’ll make an exception for you. And you, too, Senator Gallacher. You two guys are good old blue-collar Labor guys, right? Their only goal is to keep their jobs, and to hell with anyone else, and the only way they know how to do that is to use fear as a means of distracting people from the truth. And the truth is that only the coalition knows how to protect workers and small business. As we’ve shown throughout the pandemic, the federal Liberal-National government is determined to implement measures that will regrow jobs, boost wages, enhance productivity and benefit both the employer and the employee.
Now, let’s address another aspect of this fearmongering from the charlatans on the other side of the chamber: that the rate of casualisation has increased. This is not the case in the 21st century. Yes, it did increase once upon a time, and let me tell you when that was. That was in the late eighties and early nineties, and do you know what that was a result of? It was the income and prices accord introduced by the Hawke-Keating government. I can remember it. I was a teenager and Hawke came out after an overnight meeting. They had had a discussion about this and everyone was praising Bob Hawke. If you guys want to talk about the increasing rate of casualisation, I suggest you look at history and see where it started to take off, because it was a direct result of the Hawke-Keating industrial relations reforms, which were widely praised at the time by the unions and by industry as being good measures to deal with inflation and stagflation.
But you don’t have to take my word for it; you can look at the ABC Fact Check. It agreed with comments by the former Minister for Small and Family Business, Minister Craig Laundy, who said the rate of casuals in the Australian workforce had been steady at 25 per cent for the last 20 years. For a very long time, the rate of casualisation in this country has not changed, so the fearmongering on the other side of the chamber needs to stop. I can tell you, no-one protects small and family business and no-one protects the workers like the Morrison coalition government does. Australia’s 3.5 million small businesses are the lifeblood of the Australian economy. They employ over six million Australians and contribute approximately $418 billion to our national economy. When small and family business grows in Australia, the whole economy thrives and every Australian benefits.
To keep Australians in work, the Liberal-National government has provided over $260 billion in combined health and economic support to protect Australians from COVID-19 and to put the economy on the road to recovery. This bill is an important part of that. This bill is a very important part of getting the economy back on the road to recovery so we can repay the debt as quickly as possible and not leave our children with a burden that they didn’t incur. Our billions of dollars in direct economic support has provided a crucial lifeline to help small businesses around the country to retain their staff and apprentices, to maintain their cash flow and to reinvest in their businesses. We are cushioning the impact of this virus and helping build a bridge to recovery so that small businesses can look forward to a brighter future and get to doing what they do best: creating jobs and supporting their communities.
The changes made by this bill are essential to ensure that our economic recovery continues. This bill will provide certainty to businesses and employees by clearly defining what a casual employee is and giving eligible casual employees a statutory pathway to permanent full-time or part-time jobs if—and this is the key bit—they wish. This bill will extend our successful JobKeeper flexibilities around duties and location of work to businesses in retail and hospitality so that hard-hit employers and employees can continue to work together to navigate the pandemic. It will give employers greater confidence—there’s that word again; I mentioned it yesterday afternoon: confidence and optimism; that’s what drives prosperity—to offer those people who work in secure part-time employment and facilitate additional hours of work for part-time employees in retail and hospitality who want more hours but aren’t getting them at the moment.
This bill will streamline and improve enterprise agreement-making, which will drive wage growth and increase productivity as a result of the increase in these agreements. It will also encourage investment in job-creating megaprojects—great word, that one!—by providing greater certainty for employers and employees by allowing the construction of major projects to be covered by a greenfields agreement for a maximum of eight years. That’s going to help a lot in infrastructure projects that we want to push. We just need the state Labor governments to come on board, because the only two state governments that are really driving infrastructure in this country are Tasmania and New South Wales. We were just discussing it this morning in another meeting—how Queensland tourism has fallen by the wayside over the last 30 years, since the state Labor government has been in power. They’ve destroyed tourism in Queensland, just like they’re trying to destroy mining, destroy agriculture, destroy forestry and destroy fishing. It’s shocking, just shocking.
We should never forget, when we talk about retail and hospitality, which party it was that increased penalty rates for retail workers. I’ll tell you which party it was. It was the coalition government that increased penalty rates, from 130 per cent to 150 per cent for weekdays between six o’clock and nine o’clock at night, and from 140 per cent to 150 per cent for Saturdays. For six days of the week, we increased penalty rates, because we know that there are times when people need to be rewarded for going that extra mile.
I want to talk about a little bit more of the detail here. This bill will give employers greater certainty about their obligations, meaning more confidence to hire and more confidence to invest, and casual workers will get stronger rights to convert to permanent employment if they wish to. But I’ll tell you what we’re not going to do: we’re not going to take away casual workers’ loading. That’s what the ACTU want to do. They want to take away workers’ 25 per cent loading and make it 15 per cent—so workers would lose 10 per cent in loading—and then take that 15 per cent and put it into a fund so it can be portable. The best place to put workers’ loading is their pockets, because they’ve worked hard for it. If they wanted annual leave, if they wanted the other features, they would take it. The reason they don’t is a lot of young people just don’t get sick. They’d rather take the 25 per cent upfront and get a roof over their head as quickly as possible, or it might be that they’re working part time while they’re studying. When I was a student I’d take on a bit of extra work throughout the Christmas holidays, and then cut back when I went back to uni and just work in a pub at night-time.
This bill is all about increasing flexibility, increasing employment, increasing wages and improving the livelihoods of Australian working families. It is not about fearmongering. It is not about protecting the rivers of gold for the union movement and the Labor Party. It is about strengthening Australian families. If we are ever going to move ahead in this country, it’s about time the Labor Party got on board. Back in the eighties we got on board with the Hawke-Keating government, so it’s about time the Labor Party cooperated with the coalition in order to improve the lives of working Australians.