12 March 1991 - Current
Ms WARD (Eltham) (17:32:16) — I rise quite happily to speak on this bill. It surprises me no end that those opposite yet again do not see how they need to stand up for the rights of workers and ensure that people actually take home a reasonable pay packet but they are quite happy to flood themselves with ideology that does not actually put meals on anyone's tables. I will quote from The Grapes of Wrath, page 315:
'S'pose you got a job a work, an' there's jus' one fella wants the job. You got to pay 'im what he asts. But s'pose they's a hunderd men'. He put down his tool. His eyes hardened and his voice sharpened. 'S'pose they's a hunderd men wants that job. S'pose them men got kids, an' them kids is hungry. S'pose a lousy dime'll buy a box a mush for them kids. S'pose a nickel'll buy at leas' somepin for them kids. An' you got a hunderd men. Jus' offer 'em a nickel — why, they'll kill each other fightin' for that nickel'.
You might think that a book written 80 years ago — Steinbeck's novel was written so long ago, in the 1930s —
Mr Pearson — A classic.
Ms WARD — Indeed, member for Essendon, a classic. You might think it would be far away from this place. Let me read to you from the transcript of a closed hearing in Mildura that was part of the inquiry:
We have so many illegal boarding houses in [Mildura] that the CFA is very, very concerned that there are power boards on power boards on power boards, and it's only a matter of time with these families cooking their meals at night where there's an overload of power and the next thing the CFA is going in to drag out 20 charred bodies.
Unfortunately many workers were bonded to their accommodation and were told that they could not choose where they lived. One worker said that they felt like a prisoner. This could almost be something straight out of Steinbeck. These are the kinds of conditions that we saw in the 1930s American dustbowls. This is not good enough for this state, and it is not good enough for this country.
Those opposite bang on about Australian values. Where are their Australian values when it comes to fairness and a fair go? Where are their Australian values when it comes to people being paid properly for their day's labour so they can actually feed their children, pay their bills and pay for their accommodation? I see nothing from those on the other side. All I see are mealy-mouthed platitudes and their ideologies, which do not actually help anybody.
This is a licensing scheme which will protect workers across all sectors from labour hire providers that have been operating in the shadows of workplace laws. Our bill is similar to legislation in Queensland and South Australia, so I really do not know what those opposite are afraid of or indeed what they think they are protecting. Today's Sydney Morning Herald quotes a recent report by Foodbank:
… 1.5 million families have skipped a meal in order to feed their children first.
The article continues:
A recent Foodbank survey found 652 000 Australians are receiving food assistance every month, with 27 per cent of them being children — in the last 12 months alone there has been a 10 per cent surge in the number of individuals seeking food relief from charities.
One of the reasons Foodbank found that is:
… over the past five years, earnings have not kept pace with growth in rental prices …
In fact earnings, as we know, are stagnant and are not in keeping with the cost of living. For anybody in this place to think it is reasonable to argue for people to have reduced wages or for people's wages to not be protected is ridiculous and shows that they are so out of touch with what is going on in the streets of Melbourne and Victoria it is not funny.
The Fair Work ombudsman has commenced litigation in the Federal Court against a Brisbane labour hire business that has allegedly underpaid 10 employees more than $14 000 through an unlawful, unpaid work experience program. What they did was get people, including two 19-year-olds, to go out to businesses and work anywhere from three to 24 days in what was regarded as work experience. The labour hire firm charged the businesses that these people went to, took the money and did not pay the workers because it was 'work experience'. These are the kinds of things that we want to protect Victorians against, and these are the kinds of things that those opposite do not think are a problem.
Back to the inquiry, someone from my patch in the northern suburbs said:
I was employed through a labour hire agency in my current job. My hourly rate of pay as a casual worker in no way reflects offset for sick leave, annual leave or public holidays or access to salary packaging. I am being paid almost the same hourly rate as my colleagues but the agencies are charging the employer close to double what I earn. How was that reflective of award conditions being met? In my type of work employees can be exposed to quite extreme personal, emotional and verbal abuse and threats from clients, family under social stress or who are personally belligerent. As an OH&S rep I have seen workplace intimidation occur where employees are put under implicit pressure to work with such clients by managers. As a casual, your industrial rights and status in a workplace are viewed and treated sometimes as just that — casually.
That is how I say those opposite are treating Victorian workers — they are treating them casually. They are not treating them as important. They are not paying regard to the importance of money in the pockets of these people. They are not concerned with their wages, because if they were, they would stand up for them, just as we are doing. If they were, they would have joined with the Labor Party and the union movement and opposed changes to penalty rates. But no, they celebrated the cutting of penalty rates.
And what have we found? We have found that penalty rate cuts have not created jobs and have not put more money in people's pockets. What we have found is that workers are actually getting less hours than more and they are getting paid less. A survey of 1351 workers by the University of Wollongong and Macquarie University has found that there has been no short-term increase in average weekly hours worked by employees. Fair Work justified their decision to cut penalty rates by arguing that a reduction in penalty rates would result in more trading hours, would result in people earning more money and would result in more jobs. What has happened is the reverse. Some workers actually experienced a drop in the number of penalty rate hours they worked in the first two months after they were reduced. There are estimates that up to 15 per cent of all retail workers who are employed on Sundays worked 9 per cent fewer hours between June and July.
So their ideology, yet again, has not stacked up. Yet again their ideology has been found wanting — 19 per cent of retail employees and 14 per cent of hospitality employees are intending to leave their industries in the coming years because they are getting paid so badly and their conditions are not good enough. That is a huge chunk going out of a workforce. And do you know what, Acting Speaker Graley? I know that this will not come as any surprise to you: the majority of people affected by this are women.
The person I quoted earlier from the northern suburbs was a single mum. She was a single mum working for a labour hire company that is not paying her well, that is not giving her job security and that is not looking after its employees. So why would you not want to support legislation that actually does that? Why would you say that it is not a problem? Why would you say that labour hire companies need to be protected? Wouldn't you say, 'Labour hire companies need to do the right thing'? There are labour hire companies who are doing the right thing, but as we have seen through the nearly 700 submissions that were received, there are plenty of labour hire companies who are not doing the right thing. We need to put protections in place to make sure that they do, because the people of Victoria, the workers of Victoria are well and truly worth protecting — they are well and truly worth looking after.
The fact that those opposite do not see that fills me with absolute dismay. The fact that they are so caught up in their ridiculous culture wars — as I said earlier today, their 'issues that are not issues' — just shows what a policy-deficit zone they are and how out of touch they are with the average Victorian who just wants to get ahead — the average Victorian who just wants to work hard and who wants to be paid properly and who wants to live their life. These are people who do not want to be slaves to employers; these are people who want to be able to go to their kids' footy games; these are people who want to support their daughters at netball training; these are people who want to see their friends. These are not people who want to be at the beck and call of their employer 24 hours a day and not be paid appropriately for that labour. That is what we on this side are about.
Those over there want to continue to bang on about how much they hate unions. Well, good on you! Hate unions as much as you want, but you know what? A, they are not going anywhere, and B, they look after the people who need it, because without them we would not have things like maternity leave, we would not have things like holiday pay, we would not have things like sickness leave, we would not have things like weekends, we would not have superannuation and we would not be fighting for family violence leave, amongst other things. Unions are there to help look after workers, and to keep calling them thugs just shows how narrow-minded and bigoted those opposite really are. Only bigots would come up with those ridiculous insults time and time again without actually knowing who they are talking about.
As I have said in this place before, my husband, the teacher, the unionist — he is not a thug. The ambo down the road from me — he is not a thug. The nurse, one of my close friends in Eltham — she is not a thug either. They are all unionists and they are all members of a union, and they are that because they believe that as a collective they are stronger. I tell you what, against those opposite you have to be a collective, because all they care about is the individual. All they care about is taking money out of the pockets of Victorians, and they should be ashamed of themselves.