WEDNESDAY, 27 MAY 2020
ALI CLARKE: Some are saying it could be the biggest changes for workers in 37 years. This was the announcement yesterday from Prime Minister Scott Morrison that they want to overhaul Australia’s workplace relation laws and get everyone around the same table.
DAVID BEVAN: It is being branded as “Job Maker” and as Ali says a big part of job maker is getting people back to work. We had organised to speak to the Federal Industrial Relations Minister and Attorney General Christian Porter. He said yep I’ll come on at quarter to nine Adelaide time, and we thought look we should find a significant person from Labor, the opposition in South Australia, to also talk about this. When we gave the Industrial Relations Minister’s office the courtesy of letting them know we would be talking to Mark Butler they said, “well are you setting up a debate?” We said we were happy to have a debate, a debate would be great, and they said the deal is off, we never agreed to a debate, we’re happy to do debates but that is not what you offered so we’ll just move on lots of people want to talk to Christian Porter. So he’s gone.
CLARKE: See I get rejected all the time, David is taking this very personally.
BEVAN: I just think it is a bit silly and if you are going to try and get a whole lot of people together in an act of good will this seems to show an extreme sensitivity and I just wonder how it will all go for any future meetings, which Christian Porter might be organising. But anyway, we will move on maybe we’ll get to talk to Christian Porter at another time. We are certainly not going to stop talking to other people, even if he doesn’t want to be here. Mark Butler, Labor Member for Hindmarsh, a former union boss – he used to run the Miscellaneous Workers Union – and a member of the shadow frontbench, good morning to you.
BUTLER: Good morning David and Ali.
BEVAN: How much goodwill is there, to try and create a new industrial relations landscape in this country?
BUTLER: We’ve always said that productive and vibrant workplaces require cooperation rather than confrontation. But really for thirty years now, since I started my time at the union in the very early 90’s, particularly the Liberal Party under John Howard have taken a much more confrontational approach to industrial relations. A whole range of policy areas on the conservative side of politics have waxed and waned and changed over that period time, but really this had been a consistent thread of the modern Liberal Party.
We’d very much welcome a much more cooperative approach to this policy area, although this morning’s radio show isn’t a very propitious start to a balanced, reasonable discussion. But we are going to be vigilant because there is a lot of experience that we have had over the last thirty years where workplace reform always ends up with the rollback of workplace protections, particularly for some of the most vulnerable and low-paid workers in Australia.
BEVAN: The Government has dropped its Ensuring Integrity Bill, which was branded as union busting legislation. Is that a good sign?
BUTLER: It is a good sign. They couldn’t get the Senate to agree to it, Labor and all of the crossbench would not agree to a Bill that was an enormous overreach involving a lot more than had initially been recommended by independent authorities, like the Royal Commission into workplace relations. So we think that is a good sign, but there is still a lot longer to go in terms of flagging real goodwill here.
Over the course of the last few years we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of workers in hospitality and retail, some of the lowest paid workers, lose their penalty rates because of, I think, a very bad decision of the Fair Work Commission and this Government, time and time again, have refused to take action in the Parliament, initiated by us and other members of the Parliament, to restore those penalty rates.
We’ve learnt a lot of lessons over the course of this pandemic. Some of them really good lessons like reminding us how good our public health system is. But we’ve also been reminded just how poor the workplace protections are for the most vulnerable workers in Australia. One in three workers don’t have access to paid sick leave entitlements, the subsistence wages that some of the essential workers who protected us: in aged care, childcare, retail and in health. Really there are some very important issues that have been stripped back bare by this crisis and I see no indication yet from the Prime Minister that that is what he will focus on when he talks about reform.
BEVAN: The Government has dropped its Ensuring Integrity Bill as a sign of good will, it has laid down its sword, what should the unions do and what could Labor do to show your good will?
BUTLER: Sally McManus, as the elected leader of the Australian union movement, has indicated she will sit down at the table with the Business Council, other employer organisations, I think that is a good thing. I applaud Sally for doing that. It is also our job to be vigilant about this. I heard the Prime Minister on AM this morning refuse to guarantee that workers will not be worse off during this process. It is our job to be vigilant about this and to learn from, frankly, the experience of three decades of workers always losing out from industrial relations reform initiated by the Liberal Party. If this is to be a change, we will be the first to applaud it. We’ve been calling for a more cooperative approach to this policy area for three decades. But we are going to be vigilant, because there are people in Government and business calling for this crisis to lead to even further rollbacks of protections – not improvements of workplace protections for the hundreds of thousands, or millions really, left without paid sick leave entitlements.
BEVAN: Has Scott Morrison proved that he is not an ideologue and the pandemic has given him an opportunity to reset the debate?
BUTLER: One speech does not change practice. He voted against our proposals to restore penalty rates to hundreds of thousands of workers who were losing them. He decided to leave hundreds of thousands of workers out from the JobKeeper payment despite it being vastly undersubscribed – casuals, people in universities, a range of other workers, arts and entertainment workers. Really it is about walking the walk not just making one speech and coming up with some impressive slogans. It is about walking the walk and, through Scott Morrison’s career so far, he has not given any indication that he is any different from three decades of practice from the Liberal Party. If he is willing to change, we will be the first to sit down with him and start to work with him, the union movement, the Business Council and others to start to address some of the glaring deficiencies: subsistence wages paid to some of the most important workers in our economy, the appalling lack of sick leave and other protections for hundreds of thousands of casuals. We will be the first to sit down with him but it takes more than one speech.
CLARKE: Alright Mark Butler we will leave it there, thank you for your time.
BUTLER: Thank you.