ADJOURNMENT - Workplace Relations

03 April 2019

For over a century, Australians have understood that we have a social compact. It's a deal made between the people and the government. It goes like this. Australians work, and they work hard. They're productive and help companies make a profit. They and the companies pay tax. In return, companies expect things like political stability, a fair playing field and commercial infrastructure. Workers expect a living wage and they expect the government to provide social services, like schools, universities, kindergarten, child care and hospitals, and a social safety net, including things like Medicare, parental leave and the NDIS. They expect protection and correctional services, courts of law and important infrastructure.

But, right now, Australians know that the social compact has been broken by six years of Liberal governments. No-one can forget the complete rejection of the 2014 horror budget, parts of which we are still paying for today. Remember the 'bust the budget' rallies, where the outcry was loud and clear. Remember the photos of the Treasurer dancing and smoking a cigar, celebrating one of the most hurtful and contemptuous budgets in our history. Those photos prove that the other side don't believe in the social compact. They don't believe in society. They hate the whole concept of a social wage and the important social safety net. This government believe that, if you are sick, you can pay for health care yourself; if you are poor, it's your fault and you're on your own; if you find yourself without a job, bad luck; if you need skills or an education, pay for it; if you are old and need care, buy it or languish on waiting lists; if you are young and need help with a job or an apprenticeship, tough luck; and, if you work hard and need a living wage, bad luck, because we now know that they keep wages down on purpose.

But the story is different if you are rich. Then, oh, then, they care. They make sure that the social compact doesn't apply to the wealthy. They protect them from having to pay taxes. They constantly skew the economy to protect the big banks and large corporations. They allow loopholes, minimising their responsibility. They allow them to treat their workers so poorly and don't care when workers are thrown off EBAs or are forced onto casual contracts or rosters or are forced into insecure work or are asked to choose between pay cuts or losing their jobs. This budget is no different. They are trying desperately to win votes with tax cuts, which Labor will actually better, but have they tackled any of the big social compact issues that actually make life better for the majority of Australians and that they expect and deserve? No. Workers in this country will not stand for that. They want to change the rules to put this country back on track.

In my electorate, a number of workers were on strike for nearly 20 days. They were employees of Chemist Warehouse. They had legitimate issues with poor pay and worker harassment problems, including sexual harassment. They were casualised to the point where they relied on getting a text message the night before to let them know if they had a shift the next day. I kid you not. Nobody can live a decent life with a job like that. It epitomises the state of the economy that this government has created: keep wages down, keep workers insecure, keep jobs unstable, keep people so anxious and worried that it's too hard to speak up or fight back. Well, I'm proud say that the workers at Chemist Warehouse organised. Through their union, the NUW, they stood up to the horrible tactics of that company that was trying to break the spirit of the striking workers. They stuck to their guns and they won. It was a great outcome—more secure work, better pay and better conditions—but only after a big fight. I congratulate them.

But, sadly, many people aren't organised into a union. Many people don't have the power to stand up to employers. Many workers cannot simply ask the boss for a pay rise or better conditions. If they do, they may not get that text, they won't get that next contract or they may never get another pay packet from that employer. This is a huge part of why wages aren't growing and why the country needs a pay rise. Everybody, it seems, other than the government, knows this. Years of economic growth and low unemployment is the mantra of this government, but this has been good for the few and not the many. It does not gel with the reality that workers face. Wishing pay rises on a budget paper doesn't make them happen. We need to face up to the realities of working people. Not only will Labor deliver tax cuts to low- and middle-income earners; we will deliver a wages policy. We will change the rules around casualisation, stop sham contracting, deal with dodgy labour hire firms and stop companies trashing EBAs. We'll fix wage theft and the way the minimum wage is decided so that people have a living wage, and we will reverse penalty rates cuts. Only then will we deliver the social services that our workers deserve.