Supporting Jobs and Economic Recovery

18 Feb | '2021

I would like to remind the member for Melbourne and those opposite that this bill is about urgent industrial relations reform. Like so much of the Morrison government’s work, it’s about protecting jobs and creating jobs. It’s about boosting wages and enhancing productivity. It’s about synergy for employees and employers. It’s about our national economic growth. For me, it’s ultimately about Moncrieff businesses booming—which is very important to my local electorate—and families flourishing. In my maiden speech I mentioned that it was one of my goals for my time here: to make sure that that actually happens.

The impetus for reform can come from a wide range of influences. The support for our continued recovery from the pandemic has accelerated the importance of these incremental and commonsense changes and updates. Through modest reforms, the government is building upon the same cooperative spirit the country has so successfully embraced in our approached to overcoming the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The flaws in Labor’s Fair Work Act are depriving wages growth and stifling job creation. The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 will address many of the issues to clean up Labor’s mess, which was frankly sloppy and at other times truly ideologically myopic. Allow me to elaborate on some of the issues and how they will be addressed by this bill. The bill defines ‘casual employee’ to provide the clarity that businesses and employees need. It will give eligible casual employees a statutory pathway to permanent full-time or part-time jobs, if they wish. It addresses some inflexibilities in the act around duties and location of work that the pandemic has highlighted, in the retail and hospitality sectors, by extending our successful JobKeeper flexibilities so that employers and employees can continue to work together to recover from the pandemic. I’ve worked in the areas of hospitality and retail, and I understand the need to have that security of a full-time position. The bill increases the likelihood of secure part-time work by boosting the confidence of employers and facilitating workers to get the additional hours they want. It smooths the enterprise-agreement-making pathway to drive wages growth and increase productivity.

Megaprojects create jobs. We know that. And this bill will encourage investment in megaprojects so they are more likely to proceed. It will do this by allowing the construction of major projects to be covered by a greenfield agreement for up to a maximum of eight years. It also bolsters compliance and enforcements under the Fair Work Act to protect workers from wage underpayments, simultaneously supporting businesses to comply with their obligations through a free advisory service for small business. It will ensure that employees can recover their correct entitlements faster. This is good news. The changes that I have outlined are the result of significant consultation by the Morrison government with a broad range of stakeholders, including unions, employers and industry.

Unfortunately, as Labor do, they chose divisiveness for political gain over the authentic needs and wants of all Australians. In Moncrieff, it’s vital that we address issues like job growth, underemployment, job security, underpayment of wages and the failure of Labor’s enterprise bargaining system to drive wages and productivity growth. Labor are opposing all of these incremental changes, but, as seems to be the norm, aren’t presenting a realistic alternative. We don’t see one coming from the other side.

Of course, from time to time, there will be disputes, but one of the great achievements of Australia has been our maturing industrial relations stability in a way that has been a net positive for employers and employees. It’s also an understatement to say that workplaces have changed significantly over the past decades, let alone under the sudden changes induced by the pandemic. They have indeed changed. It is deeply disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition and Labor generally have failed to evolve to keep pace with the modern Australia. In Moncrieff at least—and, I suspect, nationally—people expect the parliament to deliver reforms that keep pace with our workplace realities and our economic circumstances. To those members opposite, I say: if you really are a friend of workers then work with the government to deliver the reforms that the nation needs. Advocate within your party to modernise Labor’s stance to become a constructive contributor to reform or, alternatively, simply vote for this bill.

Let’s delve into a little more detail about casual employees. The more we can do to reduce uncertainty for business the more confidence businesses will have to invest in jobs. That seems pretty obvious to me and surely to those members opposite. Confidence is what we need right now. Businesses tell me that the single thing they need the most in Moncrieff and on the Gold Coast is confidence, and I’m sure it’s the same across the country. This bill delivers greater certainty to businesses about their obligations. It delivers casual employees stronger rights to convert to permanent employment if they wish to.

It’s bordering on shameful that Labor refuse to support fixing their own failure to define casual employees a decade ago. We are introducing today a clear definition of what it means to be a casual employee. Under this bill, both employers and employees will have certainty about when a person is a casual employee and the clear rights and obligations in those circumstances. One of the sensible reforms in this bill that should achieve bipartisan support, in my view, is the establishment for eligible casual employees of a new statutory pathway to permanent employment on a full-time or part-time basis through a legislated casual conversion entitlement. This delivers choice to eligible casual employees regarding their ongoing full-time or part-time employment. The Morrison government firmly believes all employees should be classified and paid correctly. That’s consistent with the innate sense of fairness that Australians have. If you have a go, you will get a go. We know that. It’s a very important part of our values on this side of the chamber.

Australians also know that fairness is less achievable when some people get to double-dip. We don’t like double-dipping. What the Morrison government knows and the good people of Moncrieff expect is that employees can’t be paid a casual loading as compensation for not having leave entitlements and then, on top of that, be paid those leave entitlements as well. Small businesses, other employers and the legion of workers who earn their entitlements every week by receiving a standard hourly rate without a loading will be outraged if the parliament allows such an obvious gross unfairness to continue. What a confidence-destroying signal to business it would be if we were to do that. That’s really at the heart of the way Labor often operates. There’s an arrogant indifference on the other side. We shouldn’t be surprised. This attitude comes from the same party that treated retirees with contempt on franking credits.

This bill will implement an important safeguard. In the event that an ongoing employee is misclassified as casual, the bill will ensure any casual loading amounts paid to the employee can be offset against claims for leave and other entitlements, to address any potential for double dipping. The Morrison government is acting to fix the double-dipping problem and prevent unfair outcomes in situations where employers could effectively have to pay an employee twice for the same entitlement. Businesses in Moncrieff and across the country will be saved from Labor’s roughly $39 billion double-dip hit on employment. Those opposite, in good conscience, should support this bill for workers. They should not be against casual employees who want to become full-time or part-time employees. Why on earth does Labor want to keep casual workers in casual roles even when they prefer permanent roles? Wouldn’t Labor prefer them to be in permanent roles?

This bill sets out much-needed incremental reform on the award system. Greater flexibility will be introduced into awards in some of our hardest-hit sectors. This will drive retail and hospitality jobs, which are so important on the Gold Coast. It will drive jobs growth in those sectors and it will tackle underemployment. This is very important for driving down unemployment in Moncrieff, which is among the highest in the country. We know that Queensland is the state with the highest unemployment. On the Gold Coast it’s worse than the Queensland average. The Gold Coast needs this reform to support the continuation of our recovery as we moved forward.

The JobKeeper flexibilities protected thousands of jobs during this pandemic—10,500 businesses in Moncrieff were on JobKeeper. It supported so many people in their jobs, and it needs to continue across key awards for a further temporary period of two years to improve the precarious position of the retail and hospitality sectors. These flexibilities include those relating to duties and location of work. For clarity I will quickly list some of the awards that this affects. The Business Equipment Award 2020, the Commercial Sales Award 2020, the Fast Food Industry Award 2010, the General Retail Industry Award 2020, the Hospitality Industry (General) Award 2020, the Meat Industry Award 2020, the Nursery Award 2020, the Pharmacy Industry Award 2020, the Restaurant Industry Award 2020, the Registered and Licensed Clubs Award 2020, the Seafood Processing Award 2020 and the Vehicle Repair, Services and Retail Award 2020 will all be affected by these industrial relations reforms.

This bill brings employers and part-time employees together in the economically vulnerable retail and hospitality sectors, as I mentioned, to work together to agree on additional hours of work for part-time employees who want them. This will help to increase working hours and wages and encourage employers to offer more permanent, secure roles with benefits, including paid sick leave, over traditionally more flexible forms of employment like casual roles. This will help people like my brother in Cairns, who has worked for decades in a butcher shop making sausages. For at least one decade he hasn’t had a break over Christmas. He has to work through Christmas because he’s a casual employee. I think it would be great if he became a permanent employee and he had a couple of weeks off over Christmas. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? He could spend time with his grandson and his family over Christmas. It would be great. Very many workers will have improved entitlements under this bill.

The sectors we are addressing combine to employ over a third of all casual employees, so the scale of this will be meaningful for the economy, just as it will be for the individuals and businesses it involves. Stats from the ABS tell us that more than 100,000 part-time employees aren’t getting the hours they want. Around 30 per cent of part-time employees in the retail trade industry and about 40 per cent of part-time employees in the accommodation and food services industry would prefer more hours and are available to work more hours, but they won’t get the extra work without this very important reform.

This bill is one of the actions the Morrison government is taking to reduce underemployment. Reducing underemployment will help young people in Moncrieff get a better start in life, and it will help Moncrieff families meet their needs. Employees will be able to agree to additional hours of work at their normal rates, provided they already regularly work at least 16 hours per week and provided various other important safeguards are satisfied. This removes barriers to part-time work for recovering businesses and facilitates additional hours of work for part-time employees who want them.

If Labor members vote against this bill, they are denying thousands of workers extra hours. They are actively working against those they have in the past called their own hardworking Australians. The opposition leader likes to talk about underemployment but won’t support the government to reduce it and has no credible plan of his own. Secure jobs with paid sick leave and more hours are what many workers want. Why does the Opposition Leader want to impede that by voting against this bill? It’s beyond me; I don’t understand.

Enterprise agreements encourage job creation, wage increases and productivity growth, but you have to get the agreements in place. Drawn-out approval processes and the risk of agreements being denied on narrow technical grounds are thwarting the success of those agreements. There will be faster agreements targeting a 21-working-day turnaround. That lets employers refocus on their business operations and employees get better pay and conditions sooner.

The better off overall test will continue and be improved to reflect the more collaborative reality we see on the ground that I mentioned earlier. This simplification of procedural requirements will ensure that genuine agreement requirements continue but will eliminate unnecessary delays and complexity. The Morrison government knows that greenfield agreements need to be improved to attract investment with the potential to secure thousands of Australian jobs as we continue to recover from the pandemic.

Under this bill, the Fair Work Commission will be able to approve longer-term major project greenfields agreements by allowing the nominal expiry date to go up to eight years. There will be criteria that apply, and I don’t have time to go through them all. This bill will protect workers. This bill will reform industrial relations in this country. The Morrison government is delivering the sensible reforms that will benefit employers, employees and our economic recovery. Labor, those opposite, should support this bill.

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