Jun 22, 2005

Adjournment: Workplace Relations

ADJOURNMENT: Workplace Relations

22 June 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (7.29 p.m.)— I rise to draw members’ attention to the harsh realities that face workers in my electorate and around Australia under the Howard government. I want to use the example, with his permission, of David Noel Thomas, a constituent in my electorate recently retired from his job after 48 years of service as a semitrailer driver for WM Jago and Sons. When he left the workplace David’s employer threw him a farewell party and he was told that his entitlements would be available for him to collect the next day. David Thomas returned the next day only to be told that the cheque had not yet been signed. Following a week of fruitless phone calls, fob-offs and contradictory stories, David returned to the office where he was told by the store manager, ‘I have bad news for you: they have the administrators in.’ David Thomas is still waiting for $25,500 in entitlements that are owed to him.

Ken Day also worked for the same employer, giving 32 years of service and is accordingly owed approximately $32,000 in long service and other leave entitlements. David and Ken’s former colleagues are also still awaiting their entitlements. David has since made an application to the General Employment Entitlements and Redundancy Scheme, GEERS, for his outstanding entitlements. His application to GEERS was rejected outright. He was told that because he retired a week prior to the company going into receivership he was unable to access any assistance under the scheme.

After 48 years of service David Thomas is now left to survive on his pension. After a combined 90 years of service, David and Ken have been left high and dry by the failure of the Howard government to adequately legislate to protect entitlements. Innocent workers like Ken and David are left with only financial uncertainty and distress. Instead of protecting workers and ensuring financial security for them and their families, the Howard government intends to reduce their job certainty. This government’s proposal to change the unfair dismissal laws to exempt small business and to undermine the job certainty and security of some four million workers is outrageous. This antiworker and, ultimately, antifamily attitude is typical of this government’s ideologically indulgent agenda. Employees who have served their probationary period can currently challenge their dismissal in the relevant industrial commission within 21 days, but this right, this basic and fair process of appeal, will be removed under this government’s regime.

Workers in businesses employing up to 100 people will have no appeal to an industrial commission and new workers will have to serve a double period of probation. The Howard government’s proposals could see workers sacked without explanation, perhaps sacked for something they did not do, without recourse to challenging the decision and no way to prove that they did not do it. There will be no warnings for these workers and no justice when they are unfairly sacked. This government intend to see these workers thrown on the scrap heap just as they have done with David Thomas, Ken Day and their former colleagues at WM Jago and Sons.

The government’s legislation will also remove the right to collectively bargain. David is represented by, and is a proud member of, the Transport Workers Union. Unions have played a proud role in this nation, going back to the very beginning of defending workers in situations such as this, of representing them, but the government is determined to take away that right due to an ideological agenda.

The government is also determined to take away minimum wages. In spite of question after question in question time, Mr Speaker, you would recall that we have received no guarantee whatsoever that no worker will be worse off, because the government knows that this will drive down wages particularly for those people who are most vulnerable. There is no justification for this attack on the hardworking people of my electorate, workers like David Thomas. Workers and their families deserve protection, they deserve job security and they deserve financial certainty. They do not deserve the Howard government’s package of ideologically motivated attacks on their working conditions and, ultimately, on their families.