Jul 20, 2006

Doorstop Interview, Kim Beazley with Elaine Gray

Transcript of Doorstop Interview

Newtown, Sydney



20 July 2006

Subjects:  Elaine Gray; Industrial Relations

BEAZLEY: Well, John Howard has made 11 million Australians easy to sack. And they produce, as a result, day in day out, sad and outrageous stories. And the case of Elaine Gray and the bub here, like all Australians, you would expect the arrival of a bub to be a period of great joy. You ought to be totally relaxed, confident, confident that you’ve got your job fixed, your childcare fixed and you can look at the rest of the world from a point a great security. But no – not now.

You can come back from maternity leave, like Elaine Gray, and be sacked and there is no recourse. No recourse if your boss tells you you’ve been sacked for operational reasons. And if you’re employed by a company that employs less than 100 people, he doesn’t even have to say operational reasons, you’re just gone. And if you’ve got a mortgage to pay, that is very damaging indeed.

Now as a dad with daughters, I would hate to see them in a situation where the arrival of a bub is anything other than unadulterated joy. It’s a lot of very hard work it has to be said, your lifestyle changes completely. What you don’t need to have change on you, what you don’t need to have change on you is your work situation.

Maternity leave was put in place to ensure that people could move in and out of the workforce and the next generation of Australians should be created. That’s what maternity leave was about. It was not a prelude to dismissal. Not a prelude to dismissal. And that, in the circumstances of Elaine Gray is what it’s turned to be.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, this morning the leaked document from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has indicated that they’re pushing for even harder reforms in this area. Is that something that concerns you?

BEAZLEY: John Howard is not finished with the Australian people yet. If he gets re-elected he’s going to re-visit this, at least in period of time that he has Senate control. And we are going to get even more extreme laws. You see, what John Howard has done is take our laws to an extreme and he’s left the vast centre, where commonsense Australians stand, expecting that they’ll get decent overtime; expecting that they’ll get decent maternity leave; expecting they won’t be unfairly dismissed.

Well that’s were we are in the Labor Party – we’ll win the next election and we’ll put these things back. So yes, John Howard is planning his next assault with the Chamber of Commerce, but we will stop him.

JOURNALIST: In the meantime you talk about the next election, but if they are looking to reduce sick leave from ten to five days and having holiday pay cashed out, might those things become a reality before the next election?

BEAZLEY: They’ll become a reality for many people under the existing laws. Under the existing laws you can be cut for those five minimum propositions and basically redundancy pay, overtime rates, all those things which mean you can pay your mortgage, let alone hold a job – there all on the way out for an awful lot of Australians. Like Elaine Gray in this particular case, protection against unfair dismissal.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, the Fair Pay Commissioner seems to be indicating that when the first petition is made that each individual award will be handed on that very basis, meaning that they’re won’t be across the board pay increase for people on federal awards. Does that concern you?

BEAZLEY: It concerns me greatly. Firstly the Fair Pay Commission’s task is to cut wages. That is the general proposition underpinning John Howard’s legislation. Under the old system there would have been a rise in the minimum rates in the course of the last few months. That is already well overdue. And the objective that John Howard has for the Fair Pay Commission is to cut rates. That is why we’re going to abolish him. He will be abolished if we come into office. He will be dismissed. And we’ll have a proper tribunal in the Industrial Relations Commission to determine minimum rates.

The other thing about Howard is he’s knocked off all awards. Now they will stand for a year after the next election. After that they go. And we will ensure the awards continue.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) if the Senate remains the way that it is in March?

BEAZLEY: The Senate won’t remain the way that is and if the Liberals are arrogant enough to resist the legislation that we put forward, they can expect to be out of office for a decade.

JOURNALIST to Ms Gray: Could you outline the circumstances. What happened, did they call you while you were on maternity leave?

MS GRAY: Yes they did, they called me at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon. I was in the city and I’d literally just been to see two childcare centres and had that sorted out and the exact words were: “Well I’m sorry to say that your job doesn’t exist anymore, therefore there’s no point in coming back to work”.

JOURNALIST: What was your role?

MS GRAY: My role was marketing manager with Dialect Solutions.

JOURNALIST: How long were you there?

MS GRAY: Four years.

JOURNALIST: So, did you seek some legal advice?

MS GRAY: I did. I went to a solicitor I even had discussions with a barrister as well. After spending as much as we could afford on legal advice they did send letters saying look: “Elaine has been treated unfairly, under the grounds of unlawful termination”. My previous employer came back and said: “We disagree we don’t think we treated her unfairly at all”. And the next step was to take it further, which with a new house, mortgage, family to raise, that’s not a situation that we’re able to entertain.

JOURNALIST: Did Dialect have more than 100 staff?

MS GRAY: No. When I joined the company they did. They then split the company into two different, I guess, companies or divisions. They put a lot of their staff on contract as well so their actual headcount has been reduced remarkably.

JOURNALIST: Was that since the introduction of WorkChoices?

MS GRAY: No that was prior to. But I think all the publicity about the intending WorkChoices reforms, I think a lot of companies knew what they could and couldn’t do if they were to take advantage of this loophole.

JOURNALIST: Elaine, (inaudible) unlawful dismissals too expensive in its jurisdiction for you to go to court instead of going to the Industrial Relations Commission?

MS GRAY: That’s what I’ve been led to believe.

JOURNALIST: Before you went on maternity leave what sort of indication did your employer give you about your job availability when you came back?

MS GRAY: Well I had not heard anything from them since the day I went on maternity leave. Actually, just prior to going on maternity leave they sort of were treating me a little bit as if I was an inconvenience in that they tried to get me to discuss having twelve months off instead of six months, which for financial obligations was not a possibility. They seemed to indicate that it would be better for them to have me off for twelve months instead of six months – financially it would be better for them. And I didn’t hear a word until I got this phone call saying: “Don’t come back”.

JOURNALIST: And how far into your maternity leave was that?

MS GRAY: Five months – not quite five months. I was due to contact them four weeks before coming back. And so I was just getting all the childcare and everything sorted out to return to work and that’s when I got the phone call.

ALBANESE: Can I say that Elaine contacted me by email expressing the circumstances of what occurred with her, not just the loss of employment but also the loss of conditions which had occurred. And Elaine and the young gentleman [baby] here personify my electorate, professional, struggling to meet their very big mortgage with high house prices. And having a child at her age is typical of what’s occurring. People are delaying having children till later and these sorts of circumstances strike me as going to the heart of why WorkChoices affect, not just blue-collar males, but WorkChoices impact on women and families who are struggling to make mortgages meet.