Nov 10, 2005

Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 Second Reading


Second Reading Speech

10 November 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.46 a.m.)—The incorporated speech read as follows—

I rise to speak against these extreme and draconian proposals – the nonsensically named Workchoices Bill, Workplace Relations Amendment 2005.

These proposals go well beyond the government’s platform that it took to the last election.

The electorate was not given the option to consider Workchoices – this was not the choice that they made.

Instead Workchoices is a result of this government getting free reign.

We all know this is John Howard’s political swan-song and he’s intent pushing through his ideological agenda – no holes barred.

This legislation is all about John Howard’s past.

The government’s ideological grip is so desperately tight that they continue to determinedly squeeze out any opportunity for proper scrutiny and debate of this legislation.

The Government has gone to great lengths to ensure that there is only minimal scrutiny of this legislation.

Workchoices will be given only two days to be debated on the floor of the house John Howard has refused again and again to take up the Leader of the Opposition’s challenge to a live television debate

A hasty and only nominal Senate inquiry will occur to consider this legislation So lacklustre is this inquiry that it will last only five days, it will not travel it beyond Canberra to other capital cities, it will hear no evidence from the authors of the thousands of written submissions to the inquiry and it will only addresses some aspects of the legislation.

The inquiry will not address the termination bargaining agreements, the imposition of secret ballots, pattern bargaining, strike pay, freedom of association, right of entry for union officials and a raft of other provisions in the legislation.

However the most outstanding aspect of this hasty superficial inquiry is the ridiculous structure proposed the chairwoman, Senator Troeth.

The notion of each side nominating four experts to debate the Workchoices legislation is farcical.

It makes this inquiry into nothing more than high school debate with a rigged adjudication panel.

Instead of scrutiny and debate the Australian public got Liberal Party propaganda – $55 million dollars worth of propaganda, paid for by the taxpayer.

The government’s propaganda campaign has been exposed as full of spin and mistruth.

And in the dismal case of the Workchoice booklets – it has been nothing more than a fraudulent waste of taxpayer’s money.

The booklets have been pulped at taxpayer’s expense.

The booklets have been stockpiled at taxpayer’s expense. The booklets have been couriered all over this country at taxpayer’s expense.

The television advertisements that flooded screens across this country not only cost taxpayers millions, they mislead the Australian people with smiles and spin.

We have learned that many of the participants in these advertisements were mislead as to what the purpose of the ads were.

Some though they were about workplace safety.

These people were mislead just as the people of Australia have been mislead by this untrustworthy government.

This has been a fraudulent propaganda campaign by the government – and yet John Howard continues to stand in this place and asks that Australian people to trust him on his record.

He has given no guarantee to the workers of this country because he knows that Workchoices will make workers worse off – indeed that is the objective of these laws—to lower wages, to lower working conditions and thereby to lower the living standards of working people in this country.

This government is intent on driving wages down.

Those most vulnerable in our society will be hit the hardest by this legislation.

We all know that in the contracting industry, nine times out of ten the cheapest tender wins the job.

In the past the competition between contractors would have been based on quality and efficiency.

However under Workchoices, competition will be focused on the company with the cheapest labour costs.

Contractors using a new operation agreement will be able to cut wages and conditions to make their tendering price cheaper.

The cleaners, the security workers, the caterers, the maintenance workers of this country are under attack.

This government wants to hit the shift workers of this country the hardest —to reduce their rate of pay, to deny them of penalty rates and shift loading —to drive the living standards of their families down.

Minimum wage

There is no economic justification for these proposals —this is not about increasing productivity but all about driving wages down. In my electorate nearly 35% or some 27, 000 plus people rely on the minimum wage.

As section 88 of the current Workplace Relations Act clearly states, a minimum wage is set in regard to ‘the need to provide fair minimum standards in the context of living standards’ and to consider ‘the needs of the low paid’.

Howard’s farcically named Fair Pay Commission will perform its wage setting function with reference to the ‘economic prosperity of the people of Australia ‘.

References to fairness have been removed. The very word that this government reprinted thousands of booklets to insert has been removed in the function of setting the minimum wage.

The Fair Pay Commission is all about fulfilling Howard’s ambitions —we know that if he had his way over the last 10 years the minimum wage would have been reduced in real terms by 1.55%. That is $50 less per week work the some 27, 000 working people of my electorate

John Howard asks the Australian people to judge him on his record —well his record on the Australian minimum wage is to oppose every single increase granted by the AIRC.

Not only does this government want to drive down wages but it wants to undermine job security.

Workchoices removes the protection from unfair dismissal for some 4 million Australians.

This right will now only be reserved for those privileged few who work for companies that employ over 100 people.

And how long will that last? Employers will manipulate their structures so that they scrap in under the 100 employee cap.

No disadvantage test

And still the attacks continue.

The removal of the ‘no disadvantage test’ from collective and individual agreements will undermine the living standards of the working families.

Under Workchoices the abolition of the award based ‘no disadvantage test’ public holiday rates are not protected. Workers will be faced with a choice of signing an agreement that requires them to work on ANZAC day or Christmas Day without compensation.

The fact is that public holidays are not “protected by law” as the liberal government propaganda asserts.

The abolition of the no disadvantage test puts at risk all the conditions that have been fought for and won by workers in this country —public holidays, rest breaks, meal breaks, incentive based payments and bonuses, annual leave loading, allowances, penalty rates, and shift and overtime loadings.

Under these laws workers will face a simple choice: accept the terms offered, or find another job.

This government is content to see workers hired and fired at will and to have them work for low wages, under second-rate conditions.

These changes erode the basic values of working families.

Workchoices undermines the already precarious balance for working families between work and family life.

Rights of the working people of this country are being eroded and with them the very values that we are so proud of in this country.

Fairness, respect and fair go – ALL GONE under this Howard government.

This is extreme and un-Australian legislation.

John Howard and Peter Costello want us to become like America.

Australia can’t afford American industrial relations.

They want us to compete with China and India on wages – how can we do that?

This a government controlled by ideological desperation.

The Howard government is determined to take the working families of this country down its low wage, low skill path – and to subsequently drive down the living standards of working Australians.