February 28, 2017

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EMPLOYMENT: I’d like to make a few comments in relation to the Fair Work Commission decision handed down last Thursday. As we made clear, Labor will be introducing legislation into the Parliament to prevent low paid workers in retail and hospitality from losing any income. The Labor Party was the only political party that made a submission during the course of this matter to say there should be no cuts to penalty rates, there should be no real income loss for hard working, low paid retail and hospitality workers, and of course today we are calling on the Government to support our legislation to prevent these workers from being disadvantaged by this decision. Many of these workers of course have not seen wage increases for some time.

The wage growth in this country is at its lowest for twenty years. So we have seen low wage growth, inequality rising and yet to date the Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull chooses not to intervene to protect the interests of some hard working, low paid workers in this country. Hundreds of thousands of workers will be worse off. They are struggling to make ends meet as it is; to pay the rent, to pay the mortgage, to put petrol in the car, to look after their families. Do you know how much it is for a family, a struggling family to buy shoes for school or buy just the basic necessities of life?

And yet the Prime Minister, to date, has failed to support Labor’s position on this and they should change their position. I just want to make one final point because the Government said there’s been a decision made by the independent umpire. There’s been a couple of occasions now, since this Government was elected that they’ve intervened on an independent umpire’s decision to change that decision. In the case, I think most relevantly, the truck drivers’ pay rates case, that is the Roads Safety Tribunal, which actually handed down an Order to increase the rates of truck drivers in this country, the Prime Minister introduced legislation, not only to revoke that Order and stop those wages going up, but he also abolished the independent umpire.

So it’s impossible for the Government to argue that they’re not willing to intervene and we say, we don’t like to intervene in such matters, but this is an exceptional case which has dire consequences for many, many workers in this country and therefore it’s important the Government come on board with Labor and the Greens and others and support our position.

JOURNALIST: But during the Election Campaign, Labor was asked categorically about this exact scenario, and your Leader was very clear, he said he would respect the umpire’s decision.

O’CONNOR: Can I say firstly, I’ll make the point, we did make a submission to say we didn’t want to see any cuts. It is our natural inclination to support the independent umpire. We’re supporters of the Commission We respect the Commission but we do not support this decision. And quite frankly, we were shocked to see a change to the rates of pay of low paid workers without any compensation whatsoever. What we’ve said is we will look at the outcome of the decision.

Now we also know this, the Government set up the Productivity Commission review which recommended cutting penalty rates for these workers. The Fair Work Commission has relied upon the Government’s own review to justify this decision. We can go backwards and forwards about what Labor’s position is and what the Government’s position is. But this week there’s a moment for people to decide whose side they are on. Whether in fact they are on the side of low paid hard working Australians or whether they want to see cuts to their real income. That’s the test for Malcolm Turnbull. For once in his life he could stand up for workers in this country. He’s quick to stand up for banks. He’s quick to stand up for Big Business. He’s never stood up for workers. In fact the only time he intervened in the decision of the independent umpire was to stop the wages of truck drivers going up.

Here he has an opportunity to show people that he does care, that he does sympathise, that he does have a concern for these people, these hard working Australians. And the test for him will be to support Labor or not with respect to our legislation. Otherwise if he turns his back on hundreds of thousands of workers he will wear that decision from now and for every day until the next election. Any further questions?

JOURNALIST: Very quickly, one on Aussies café. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Fin Review today. Apparently DPS is looking at jacking up the rent, taking over the menu and increasing prices. What do you think about it?

O’CONNOR: I’m not aware of the situation. Thank you.