Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Executive Remuneration

26 November 2018

This motion calls on the government to support Labor's plan to implement reporting rules requiring large listed firms to publicly release the ratio of total CEO remuneration and median worker pay. CEOs' salaries are growing at an unfair rate and are leaving workers behind. Our plan will promote fairness and tackle inequality in the workplace. We on this side of the House have long been concerned about rising inequality and the consequences for the common good of our society. As a nurse, I saw the impacts on the health outcomes of people with little means. The social determinants of health are well documented and it has been well proven that those with little means suffer much worse health outcomes than those with a lot of money. Inequality breeds ill health. It is a no-brainer that poor health outcomes are not desirable for a strong economy or a good society.

As a nurses union official I worked hard with nurses right across the country to ensure nurses, predominantly women, earned a decent pay rate and had fair conditions that afforded them a decent life. This was not only good for the working women and men in the nursing workforce but also for the whole community, who use our hospitals and our health system. A workforce that is valued and cared for is a productive workforce that strives to offer good quality services or products. So it is in everyone's interests to have a healthy and happy workforce. As president of the ACTU—my goodness!—I saw inequality in our society in its worst forms: from working with the Australian Unemployed Workers' Union, representing people languishing on the pitifully poor Newstart, to the NUW, which represents exploited workers in agriculture, supplying goods to the massive food chains like Woolworths and Coles, and the FSU, fighting to stop the big banks' executives forcing punitive sales targets on the lowest-paid workers in the industry, resulting in outcomes that are not good for customers or the workers themselves. The banking royal commission is shining a light on some of the darkest outcomes of that industry. Now, the advent of the gig economy has deepened concern about the impact low and unfair wages are having on equality and the lives of those who are unfairly or illegally paid low wages.

Despite what those on the other side of the House will try to tell us, inequality is alive and well and growing in Australia. One of the starkest examples of this is the discrepancy between the massive salaries of CEOs and executives and those of the workers they employ. My colleague the member for Fenner has pointed out that the average pay for ASX 100 CEOs is 75 times the average pay of full-time workers. In a single year a CEO takes home what it would take the average worker nearly two lifetimes to accrue. Put another way, the average ASX 100 CEO earns an average worker's salary every five days. This has been a worsening trend over the last 30 years and it's no coincidence that this has paralleled the advent and rise of neoliberal trickle-down economics. The word 'trickle'—and maybe that's the clue—is just that: a painfully slow, almost imperceptible, flow of earnings from the wealthiest in our economy to the mass of the population, who are the workers.

I'm so proud to have either been a member of unions or to have worked for unions all my working life. Unions are a force for good that do their best to turn the trickle into a decent flow. It's well documented that, when it comes to pay, unionised workforces fare much better than non-unionised workforces. Injuries are fewer in workplaces where unions have a strong presence and, where workers are valued and involved in decision-making, productivity is higher. But laws in this country impede unions from doing their job properly, and they do not make it easy to join. Unfortunately, we hear of unions having to consider breaking those laws, but it's always in the context of trying to get decent pay rises for their members, or to protect the safety of workers in the workplace, or to bring some justice for their members in an unfair economy. When banks break the law or behave unethically, it is simply for more profit and more money to the lucky few with little consequence. It is rarely to make anyone's life better.

This time, I rise to move a motion that I hope will change some of that, a motion that will force companies to be transparent about their CEOs' pay and how it compares to that of their workers. We have all seen the outrage of the behaviour of the banks, as exposed by the royal commission, and poor reputation is a risk. Greed is now a reputational risk. At last, sheer greed will be exposed by this transparency initiative, driving behavioural change that just might help to stem the flow of rising inequality by increasing the flow of wealth to the workers. I commend this motion to you