Dec 9, 2020









SUBJECT: Morrison Government’s proposed industrial relations changes.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining myself and Tony Burke, our Industrial Relations spokesperson. 2020 has been a really tough year for working people. But all Australians should give thanks to those workers, whether they be nurses, whether they be supermarket workers, our cleaners, our truck drivers, for keeping Australians safe, for looking after our families and communities, for making sacrifices, for putting their own health at risk. But they’ve also kept the country going. Their thanks from the Morrison Government is a piece of legislation that will allow their wages and conditions to be cut and undermined. This is a nasty act from a nasty Government that is returning to form when it comes to attacking workers’ wages and conditions. It’s quite extraordinary that the Minister and the Government are conceding that in spite of setting up a process to engage with business and unions, there was no consultation with unions about some of these draconian measures. These measures that would allow so-called emergency provisions to apply across the board. These measures that would undermine conditions that have been fought for and considered essential. Conditions like penalty rates. Conditions such as loading. Conditions that people and families rely upon to put food on the table and to get by to pay school fees, to look after each other. Not only is this bad for workers, it’s bad for our national economy. The Reserve Bank and any economist worth their salt has identified our stagnant wages as one of the major handbrakes on our economy. What we actually need to do to get this economy going is a plan to boost productivity, to boost wages, not undermine wages and conditions. And that’s why workers will regard this legislation that’s being introduced today as a betrayal of the trust that unions had when they sat around in good faith and talked through these issues with the Government and with employers.


TONY BURKE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: Thanks, Anthony. It’s difficult to know what the whole working group process was about, and what it was for, if when the legislation was introduced, we find something that wasn’t even discussed. This is what a pay cut looks like. This pay cut is the Government’s Christmas present to workers who got us through the pandemic. The Government has taken the Better Off Overall Test and turned it into a test where, under an agreement, every single worker covered can be worse off. That’s what they’ve announced today. Under agreements under this piece of legislation, instead of workers having to be better off overall, every single worker covered can be worse off. That’s what they’ve offered. That’s their Christmas present. Labor will be fighting this piece of legislation. Labor will not be supporting a provision that within it is a pay cut for Australians. We set a really simple test. We said the test for whether or not we would support the legislation that they put forward would be whether or not the legislation delivered secure jobs with decent pay. What’s been introduced today fails that.


ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Phil?


JOURNALIST: The Minister just addressed this issue a minute ago and he said that only a handful, at most, of businesses (inaudible) and they would have to demonstrate turn-over losses to satisfy the Fair Work Commission that they were genuinely distressed. Why do you not consider that an adequate provision?


ALBANESE: Well, what we’ve heard the Government say is that they want this provision to apply for businesses who have been harmed during the pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on businesses. Business has been harmed, we accept that. But business has also been harmed over a long period of time by stagnant wages and by the problems that were there in the economy at this time last year. Well before the pandemic when Corona was a beer, not a virus, this was causing problems. It’s a very simple principle here. Better Off Overall Test. Pretty simple principle. When I asked the Prime Minister in Parliament earlier this week, ‘Can you guarantee that no worker will be worse off?’ He, of course, couldn’t respond to that in the positive. We have a simple test. We want workers to be better off. We want workers to not have their pay and conditions cut.


JOURNALIST: On other contentious legislations you’ve argued against, you’ve put amendment and not insisted on it and voted through the legislation for the greater good. But you’re saying on this one you will stand and fight, that this is over the line?


ALBANESE: We won’t be voting for legislation that cuts workers’ pay.


JOURNALIST: You didn’t answer Phil’s question though, Mr Albanese. The question was, the Government argues it affects only those companies who can demonstrate that their business has been affected by the pandemic, why is that not a fair argument to your view?


ALBANESE: Because the bill doesn’t say that. And by the way, companies have been affected by the pandemic.


JOURNALIST: Can you confirm that your red lines are the same as the ACTU, but it is not just the changes to the Better Off Overall Test that you oppose, but also job security changes that relate to casuals, misclassified casuals, not being able to get backpay and the Greenfields Agreement? Those are all red lines that Labor won’t vote for a bill with those in it?


BURKE: The test that we propose is the one that I’ve already stated today. So, there was a more detailed test from the ACTU, but they go to the same points, which is whether or not it’s delivering secure jobs with decent pay. Now, some of these other issues, we will now work through the detail now that we have it. But just to give a very simple answer with respect to the casuals’ example, now, what’s here, any employer, the concept of a casual becoming part-time, you can drive a truck through how easy it is to get out of that under what is here. And even if an employer somehow was caught to run afoul of the rules here, there’s no remedy. Because you only get arbitration if it’s by consent from the employer. How many vulnerable casuals do we honestly think are going to say to their boss, ‘I’ll take you to the Federal Court of Australia’? So, there’s problems throughout the bill. That’s why we need the inquiry process on that to work that through. But the BOOT test, you can look at it straightaway with what they’ve done today. Because what Andrew put in the question, can I say, it’s not what the bill says. The bill doesn’t even say the impact of COVID-19 has to be negative on the business. It doesn’t refer to turnover or anything like that. It just says there has to be an impact on the business. So, I suggest having a look at the difference between what the Government says and what they announce and what they delivered here.


JOURNALIST: Could you insert, I mean, you said you would oppose it, but would there be any statements, it is early days, to amend (inaudible)?


ALBANESE: Look, it is early days, with respect, Phil. We’ve had the legislation for a period of a very short period of time. We will have a process to examine detail. But we’ve indicated very clearly what our test is and what our bottom line is very clearly here today. The fact is the Government could have included us in the process. They chose not to. They could have provided us with an advance of the legislation. They chose not to. This Government chose to say one thing as part of that process that was established with unions and employers, and then introduced legislation that did not reflect the consultation process. And the Government itself has conceded that’s the case, that they never raised these issues at any time. So, with respect, we’ll take time to look at all of the detail. But we’ve very clearly indicated that the removal of the principle that we want workers to not be able to have their pay and conditions cut, such as the provisions which we’ve outlined today, are unacceptable.


JOURNALIST: The Minister said that four such agreements were passed during the Labor Government under the Exceptional Circumstances Test. (Inaudible)?


BURKE: The reason why so few accessed it previously was because the rules were so tight. What the Government’s announced today effectively opens it to every business in Australia and delivers a pay cut. And what then happens to the good employer when their competitor takes advantage of this? This is inviting a race to the bottom. It’s saying that workers don’t become part of a recovery.


JOURNALIST: Mr Burke, can I ask you about the BOOT test? Now, it was designed by the Gillard Government. You were there at the time. It was interpreted by the Fair Work Commission to mean, a few years ago, after it was introduced, that every single individual had to be better off overall. You’ve had people inside Labor, including Nick Champion, saying that was a terrible interpretation that has caused all sorts of grief to enterprise bargaining. Paul Keating happens to agree. Where do you stand on the BOOT? Should it be about all workers as a whole or every single worker?


BURKE: You’re talking about a change that not even the Government’s proposed here. What they’re proposing is every single worker can be worse off. That’s what they presented today. And I don’t accept the Keating comparison, can I say. I just don’t accept it for the same reason that Sally McManus gave at the National Press Club. You can’t pull out one element of the entirety of the industrial relations system under Paul Keating and say, ‘Well, Labor used to have that, why can’t you now?’ The Better Off Overall Test coming out of a pandemic, can I say, there is no way we are going to support a situation where workers are getting pay cuts. We are not.


ALBANESE: Okay, one more.


JOURNALIST: (Inaudible). Do you not buy that?


ALBANESE: I don’t buy that. Just like I don’t buy the fact that this Government has presided over stagnant wages since it came to office. It’s something that’s characterised it. Something that also is characterised by this Government is that they never miss an opportunity to try to cut wages and conditions of working people. And this is yet another example. Thanks very much.