26 August 2020
Today I welcome the government's decision to extend the provision of JobKeeper to March 2021. I know that, for the small businesses and workers in my electorate of Lilley who are eligible for the continued payments, this announcement will be a lifesaver and removes some of the anxiety about what the next few months look like for them and their families.
While there are aspects of the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Jobkeeper Payments) Amendment Bill 2020 that I do not agree with, I'm not going to stand in the way of getting support to workers and small business who still desperately need it. Throughout this crisis, Labor has worked responsibly and constructively with the government on the passage of legislation through the parliament to support Australians, and my priority will always be to protect jobs, to help Northside workers, businesses and families through this difficult time and to ensure the most vulnerable people in our community are protected. I'm glad that the government has listened to Labor's suggestions to improve this amendment bill by including a number of safeguards in the modified JobKeeper, enabling directions for legacy employers, including the longer seven-day notice period and consultation requirements, and continued access to the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate disputes, as well as the repeal of the annual leave provisions, which we never supported.
Labor have tried to be as responsible and as constructive as possible, but being constructive does not mean being silent when there are some very serious failures of implementation going on. It has become clear that the JobKeeper wage subsidies are a very good idea being very badly implemented. Too many Australians are being left out and left behind, some accidentally but many deliberately. Our childcare workers were first off the boat, kicked off JobKeeper despite the essential work that they do as a whole and their particularly vulnerable work in the global pandemic this year. University workers are an entire sector neglected by the government in JobKeeper despite many months now of the evidence bearing out that these people need to be included in the scheme. In lieu of adequate support from this government, around 2.7 million people have now withdrawn $33.3 billion from their own super funds, more than has been paid through the JobKeeper scheme. Almost 500,000 of these people who have withdrawn their super are under the age of 35, placing their long-term financial security in serious jeopardy.
What's also clear is that the government are using this bill to test out their future plans for industrial relations, a trial for how their IR flexibility fever dream might look. But we don't need to test out industrial relations flexibility, because I have brought real evidence from Northside workers who can tell you exactly how increased IR flexibility pans out for workers. I have 6,600 aviation workers in my electorate, and their livelihoods have been shattered by this pandemic. In March of this year, right at the start of the pandemic, I wrote to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister asking for specific support for aviation workers and their families. The response was that they are already doing enough. In addition to JobKeeper, they had committed $715 million to the aviation industry assistance package and $298 million to the regional air network. But let's have a look at how this support has trickled down to the workers over the past six months. Spoiler alert: it has not trickled down to workers over the past six months. Five thousand five hundred dnata workers were told in May that they were ineligible for JobKeeper payments because they were employed by a foreign owned company. Not long after that, Virgin collapsed, putting 10,000 direct jobs and 6,000 indirect jobs at risk. But apparently workers could rest easy knowing that a foreign capital investment company would do absolutely everything it could to protect these jobs. Then, at the start of August, Virgin announced that it was cutting 3,000 jobs, a third of its workforce, to stay afloat.
Then yesterday we saw the most jaw-dropping example of corporate greed possible: Qantas announcing that it was outsourcing 2,500 ground crew jobs—not cutting but outsourcing, taking secure and permanent employment away from Australian workers to create new insecure and casual jobs to save money. Our national carrier, which has received more JobKeeper payments than any other company—money that has come from Australian taxpayers in a covenant of trust that business would use JobKeeper to keep workers tethered to their employment through the pandemic—has made this outrageous decision, and it ranks among the greatest acts of industrial vandalism that we have seen in this country since the waterfront dispute.
This is exactly why we need stronger laws, I would argue, to protect workers. No Australian worker can afford a race to the bottom on wages and conditions at a time like this. Under this third-term conservative government, the labour market has become increasingly casualised and increasingly insecure. The answer to that is not to make work more precarious and more insecure with IR deregulation. Wage theft has become not only rampant but seemingly acceptable under this government. In one of their first acts this year, when the parliament resumed in February, this government created an amnesty for dodgy employers who had not paid their workers their adequate super entitlements. It was an amnesty for dodgy employers to continue to be dodgy and rip workers off. That's where their priorities lie. There is a false promise being thrown around by LNP backbenchers that these foreshadowed IR reforms will boost productivity, create more good jobs, lift wages and boost international competitiveness all at once. Everyone will have control over their destiny. To me, it looks like people who do not understand throwing away the umbrella in a rain storm, because they themselves are not getting wet.
Conservatives and business lobbyists claim that the current system is union dominated, but union membership, union activity and enterprise agreement coverage have all declined dramatically. Where unions are absent, wage theft and erosion of employee protections are rife and ethical businesses who comply with the law are placed at a competitive disadvantage.
It's time the LNP stopped spreading false hope to the Australian public. Weaker workplace laws do not create more jobs. They allow underemployment, they allow stagnant wages, and they allow insecure work to fester. Instead of attacking the rights of workers under the guise of creating jobs, it is time this government steps up and does their own job. The government's announced changes to JobKeeper are not a comprehensive plan to create jobs. It does not extend support to millions of workers deliberately excluded from JobKeeper. It does nothing for the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs or will lose their jobs, including the 400,000 additional workers who are likely to lose their employment by Christmas.
The wind-down of JobKeeper will come at the worst time for workers and businesses in Victoria and other parts of Australia. Australians have worked together to combat the virus, but more work must be done by the Morrison government, who have their hands on the levers of power today, to ensure that our hardest-hit Australians are not left out and left behind in this recovery.
In the short term, the Treasurer holds the power with the flick of his pen to extend the JobKeeper to workers who are still falling through the gaps. Despite this extraordinary power given to him at this time, millions of workers and struggling businesses continue to be excluded from the JobKeeper payment, including casual workers, childcare workers, university staff and dnata workers. I note that we are able to pass this through the House today, what is purely an extension of the scheme, because the rules that govern the scheme are yet to be finalised, yet to be presented to us and remain solely in the hands of one man—the Treasurer.
In the long term, the most important test for the Morrison government's management of this recession and its aftermath is what happens to jobs and to the businesses which create them. We need a plan for businesses who are no longer eligible for JobKeeper and who, despite some growth in the last month, still face a precarious and uncertain future. Workers on the north side need and deserve a plan from the Morrison government to promote growth, to promote and create jobs, to support business and to set Australia up for recovery. We cannot afford to see more Australians left out and left behind because the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are not prepared to put workers first in their response to COVID. A plan for jobs is needed for developments in the labour market and to come up with what is most needed now.