Labor is standing up for our workers

As we've heard from my colleagues all afternoon, the Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2017 was introduced in the House last Thursday. Last Thursday! It's not even a week old. It is a significant bill. It has five schedules. It has 80 pages. It amends five different pieces of legislation.

They are: the Fair Work Act 2009, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009, the Fringe Benefits Tax Assessment Act 1986, the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 and the Tax Administration Act 1953. It has significant implications for employers and unions. When it comes to scrutiny, this government, with the help of the Nick Xenophon Team in the Senate, prevented any attempt to have a thorough Senate employment committee inquiry into this bill. Any attempts were knocked back, even though the ink is barely dry on this bill, even though it's less than a week since the bill's introduction into the House.

Instead, what did the government do? It imposed a reporting date of 10 November. That is in 16 days time—16 days for stakeholders to prepare submissions, for people to get their fingers tapping away on submissions, in response to a bill that has five schedules and a significant impact on five different pieces of legislation, a bill that is 80 pages long. People have 16 days to go through all of those five pieces of legislation and make submissions, Mr Deputy Speaker Buchholz. We have 16 days for stakeholders to present evidence on this bill. It is absolutely outrageous.

The Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee has an impossible time line for reporting on this bill, but that was the government's whole intention in introducing the bill last Thursday and having the debate on it now, with no opportunity for the committee to go into the detail of what is very complex legislation that will have a significant impact on five other pieces of legislation. The government set this ridiculous time line, this ridiculous deadline, because it didn't want any scrutiny of this bill at all. And who can blame the government, when the purpose of the bill is actually brought to light? The government's intention, its purpose with this bill, is to limit unions' legitimate activities and sources of income. We know what the government's attitude to unions is because we've seen it so often. We've seen it year after year: union bashing and no attempt to acknowledge the fundamental role that unions play in our community in protecting workers' rights and fighting for workers' rights. Everything we hear from this government is negative, negative, negative towards unions. It has a pathological hatred of unions—particularly the Abbott government but also the Turnbull government.

As someone who comes from what I have dubbed a working-class matriarchy—my great-grandmother worked her fingers to the bone as a cleaner all her life; my grandmother worked her fingers to the bone, in three jobs, as a cleaner; and my mother, after my dad left, worked her fingers to the bone as a cleaner, ultimately in her 70s—I understand the importance of unions. I understand how those who are disempowered—those who do not have a high level of education, those who have no choice in their life, those who have very little skill in their life—can be completely and utterly exploited. I know because I'm related to people like that. I'm related to women who had no education. I'm related to women who left school at 11, 12, 13, 14 or 15. I'm related to women who were completely disempowered. I'm related to women who were unskilled. I'm related to women who, all their lives, lived in fear of not being able to put food on the table or of having their children taken away by the state because they were poor. They lived in fear because basically they had no choice. They had to put up with their lot. They had to put up with whatever the boss was prepared to pay them. And that is the type of system that this government holds up, a system that was operating in this country in the mid-1900s.

We're still getting it now in the exploitation of those workers, particularly foreign workers, who work for chains and franchises. The Domino's, the Pizza Huts and the 7-Elevens have engaged in absolutely outrageous exploitation of people who are vulnerable, like my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother. Those people are quite often here in a precarious position in terms of visas, and so they are vulnerable to being exploited. It is basically a case of: 'Take $10, sleep outside where you work,' or 'Take $10 an hour or less and accept it, cash in hand, or else you'll get deported.' These people live in this horrible, fearful environment all the time that they're here. As I said, my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother lived in a fearful state because of that disempowerment, lack of education, lack of skill and lack of choice. This is why I am a very, very strong supporter of unions.

I'm a proud member of a union, and I have been ever since I began my working life. I was a proud president of the RMIT student union for a year, which is where, in many ways, I cut my teeth politically. When I was president of the union, I proudly set up the first Labor club at the oldest workers college in the world. As I said, I am a proud member of the union and have been ever since I started work. I am also a proud former workplace delegate. I'm proud to have negotiated the first enterprise bargaining agreement in the Commonwealth, when I was at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was a huge job because we were in the vanguard, there was no template, and so that was a real challenge. I was proudly involved as my union's workplace delegate in negotiating that deal.

I'm proud of what the union movement has achieved for this country. I'm proud of the fact that the union movement achieved an eight-hour day. One of my favourite statues in the country is the eight-hour-day orb, which is located behind the Emily McPherson training centre. It is just over the road from the Victorian Trades Hall, which looks like something straight out of Dickens, with its crazy Victorian bluestone, as only Victoria can do. Right across from it is the orb. I always love to visit it when I'm in Melbourne. The eight-hour-day orb represents eight hours work, eight hours rest and eight hours sleep. This was a huge achievement in terms of decent working conditions for workers.

We tend to forget about this: workers' rights did not fall from the sky. Each and every right that we enjoy today in our workplaces was hard fought for by thousands and thousands and thousands of working men and women over the last 150 or so years. These rights have not fallen from the sky. They have come from struggle, which is why, on this side of the chamber, we are the ones who are defending workers; we always have done and we always will. Defending workers' rights and defending workers' entitlements is part of our DNA. We were born of the union movement, which is why we will fight, and fight any attempt by this government or any other government—the Abbott government was particularly appalling—to denude the unions of their ability to protect the rights of workers: to protect their security, to protect their safety and to protect the conditions for which we have fought long and hard over more than 150 years. We will fight against that. Just think about it: workers' rights did not fall from the sky. They did not come about as a result of the benevolence of some employer. They did not come about as a result of an employer waking up one morning and thinking, 'Do you know what we need? We need to allow our workers to have annual leave for four weeks each year.' This right was hard fought for by the union movement.

What else was hard fought for by the union movement? Safe workplaces. Again, we take that for granted. We take OH&S for granted. But, again, it's been the union movement that has fought long and hard for every Australian worker to be able to go home at the end of their working day, for every Australian worker to be safe in their work environment, for every Australian worker to have an environment where they're protected, physically and emotionally—because it's not just about physical protection; it's also about emotional protection. It's the union movement that fought for that. It's the union movement that fought for paid parental leave, and Labor delivered that. But, again, it's not something that fell from the sky. It's not as though an employer woke up one day and thought, 'Oh, I'd better introduce a paid parental leave scheme.' It was fought for by the union movement. It was fought for by Labor. These rights haven't fallen from the sky.

Sick pay, again, was hard fought for by the union movement, hard fought for by Labor, as well as annual leave. And of course we've got decent pay and conditions—the fundamentals that allow Australians to live with dignity, that allow Australians to contribute in a meaningful way to their community so that they're not the working poor, who we see around the world. You hear of workers, particularly in the US, living in their cars because they can't afford a house. The union movement has delivered decent pay conditions—the union movement that those opposite deride and demonise, day in and day out, and they're doing it with this bill.

This bill was introduced last Thursday—less than a week ago—and you're expecting it to be finalised, all wrapped up with a big bow around it, in 16 days time. That is 16 days for people to make submissions and give evidence. It's appalling. We are talking here about five pieces of legislation that people have to go through, and they've got 16 days to not only read all that but also contemplate it, think about it, consult on it and then get their submission in. The government does not want any scrutiny of this bill. That is absolutely obvious from the time frame the government has given for the preparation of submissions and from the reporting date of 10 November.

This government continue to constantly demonise and deride unions. They constantly demonise and deride workers. Obviously they have no respect for workers, based on the fact they have cut the penalty rates of people right throughout Australia who rely on them. In my community alone, 13,289 Canberrans are getting a pay cut as a result of this government. That's a lot of people, and a lot of them are women because the cuts to penalty rates by this government disproportionately target women. Women currently account for 46.2 per cent of all employees in Australia, and of that number almost half are working part time. Many of them are working in the retail, hospitality and fast-food industries that will be directly affected.

Dr Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute, said that these are the workers who are already in relatively low-wage jobs, with insecure and irregular schedules. These are the people this government targets—those like my great-grandmother, those like my grandmother, those like my mother—low-income workers who are vulnerable, who are in need of assistance, who are in need of support. But, no, what does this government do? It just kicks them in the teeth. It kicked them in the teeth in 2014, it kicked them in the teeth in 2015, it kicked them in the teeth in 2016 and it's kicking them in the teeth in 2017. It has no respect, no regard, no concern for Australian workers. This bill is just further evidence of that, and it's absolutely appalling.

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