February 24, 2017

BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: [audio cuts in]... of the Fair Work Commission to do the unthinkable and to cut the penalty rates of hundreds of thousands of Australian workers. Today you will be hearing from myself, Brendan O'Connor, my Shadow spokesperson, but what we have also got is five shop assistants who work in retail across Sydney. People who are directly affected in the hip pocket by this absolutely appalling decision.

You will be hearing from Trent, from Evelyn, we also have got here Suzanne, David and Joanne, who've also been explaining to me the consequences of this decision to them.

But let me just start by saying today Australian workers have been kicked in the guts by Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal/National Government. Today's decision to reduce the penalty rates of hundreds of thousands of Australians has been something that Malcolm Turnbull has always dreamed of seeing.

And please just don't take my word for it. I just want to quote to you what Malcolm Turnbull has previously said when he was justifying WorkChoices and other cuts to workers. He said "you have to be free to let the market do its work. And let the cost of setting the clearing price, be it for labour, home units or loaves of bread be as low as possible".

That is how Malcolm Turnbull sees the penalty rates of Australians, the equivalent of bargaining over a loaf of bread. He wants this, 60 of his members of parliament, currently serving in the Parliament have spoken up in favour previously of cutting or abolishing penalty rates.

It was the Turnbull Government who has commissioned the Productivity Commission to investigate the case for cutting penalty rates, and it is the Productivity Commission's evidence which has formed the basis in large part for the Fair Work Commission's decision which has been handed down today.

He has campaigned for this outcome for many years, whereas Labor was the only political party who submitted a case against the cutting of penalty rates in this most recent decision of the Fair Work Commission. Millions of Australians have counted on Malcolm Turnbull to stand up for their pay and conditions. He doesn't get it. He is out of touch. He will be pleased that workers' pay is being cut.

This is a weak and unfair decision. It is weak and unfair because it seeks to reduce the pay of hundreds of thousands of the most low paid Australians already. It is a weak and unfair decision because it is the thin edge of the wedge. No Australians' penalty rates are safe under this Government.

It is a weak and unfair decision because it hurts enterprise bargaining and productivity. Why should an employer think about giving workers pay rises when the Fair Work Commission can be allowed just to reduce peoples' pay and conditions? And it is a weak and unfair decision because it hurts confidence in the Australian economy.

We are currently going through unprecedented low wages growth. We are seeing the wallets and purses of ordinary Australians snapping shut because they aren't getting any wage rises and they are battling to make ends meet. This is a disaster for the economy. It will not create thousands of new jobs. All it will do, is it means low paid Australian workers will be subsidising the profits of companies and it will hurt confidence in the suburbs and regions of Australia.

I would now like to invite my Shadow Minister to talk further about the implications of this decision.
And I just want to make a final promise to Australians; we will not stand by and just let the wages of hundreds of thousands of Australians be cut. We will not stand by and allow the penalty rates of all Australians, millions of Australians, be put on the chopping block. We will do everything in our power, in the Parliament and in the courts, to remedy this bad decision because Australian workers shouldn't be suffering wages cuts just because Malcolm Turnbull and his out of touch government haven't got a plan to get Australia going.
BRENDAN O'CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks very much Bill. Just to add to the comments made, this decision is appalling for the low paid workers in this country. Absolutely appalling and it is something that Malcolm Turnbull has been campaigning on now since he was elevated to the position of Prime Minister.

In March last year, as Bill said, the Labor Party and only the Labor Party made a submission to the Fair Work Commission, arguing that it is not right that we see cuts in real terms to low paid workers. Workers in retail, workers in hospitality. These workers are struggling to make ends meet at a time of the lowest wage growth in a generation, presided over by Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Government. We are expected to support a decision that will take money out of the pockets of hard working families. We do not support this decision.

Now it is true to say that we do respect the Commission but we do not support this decision. This decision is a wrong decision. The implications are dire for thousands and thousands of workers across this country, and the consequences that may flow as a result of this decision to other workers - nurses, emergency workers and others, are yet to be known. But you can be assured of this - their wages and conditions are more threatened today in those areas that have yet been affected by this decision because of the decision that has been handed down today. Nurses, emergency workers and others are more at threat today as a result of this impost on low paid, hardworking Australians.

We also do not support the proposition that the economy will be better off. You take money out of working class and middle class families, who spend almost all of their budget in the economy and you give that over to, in some cases wealthy shareholders, it means less money in the economy, it means less stimulating the economy, it means in fact fewer jobs as a result.

We do not ascribe to the view that somehow this is the panacea for employment growth. We reject that view out of hand. And indeed in so far as aggregate hours are concerned, it may well be the case that there might be in some instances, more hours in certain work places. But that is because, in the case of a retail worker on Sunday, if they are working an 8-hour shift, they will have to work in excess of 10 hours in a shift just to make the same amount of money. That is the effect of this decision today, and we expect the Government, as it did with the Safe Rates case, to join Labor and ensure that this decision and its effects do not continue.

It is up to Malcolm Turnbull now to make sure that he stands up for workers and joins Labor and does that today.
SHORTEN: I might ask Trent and Evelyn to come over here and just talk about what this decision means for them, Trent.
TRENT HUNTER: Thanks Bill. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Trent Hunter and I am a retail worker. I work in my local area of Penrith and I have been in the retail industry for nearly eight years.

The decision that came down with the Fair Work Commission handing down that Sunday penalty rates will be cut; I am gutted. It is such a disgrace and I do not accept the decision as a retail worker.

I can tell you this, that I rely on Sunday penalty rates. I am rostered on every single Sunday and I will now lose $109 a week. That is insane because I rely on these penalty rates to make ends meet, I rely on my penalty rates to pay for my fuel, to pay for my rent and to pay for my food.

And look, I urge all workers today, because it is a dark day for retail workers and hospitality workers to stand up and fight back, because what this Government doesn't understand is that penalty rates aren't a luxury, it is a working right. It is a pay cut no-one deserves. No worker deserves it. So I urge all workers to stand up, join your union and fight back so we can win back our penalty rates.
SHORTEN: Thank you Trent, over to you, Evelyn.
: My name is Evelyn Kathner and I work at Spotlight in Campbelltown. And I'll tell you, I earn $600 a week. $600 a week and I stand to lose $80. Could anybody do the maths on how much they have to spend on their groceries, on their rent, on their water, on their internet? I am sure it is going to come way above $600. $80 is a huge amount. I am telling you, the truth is this is no longer the lucky country. For many of us out in retail, this country has gone downhill and who gets picked on every time? The ones that cannot afford it. That is right. Malcolm F - Malcolm Fraser I was going to say, excuse me. Malcolm Turnbull, can you live on $600? Try it. That is all I have to say. Sorry, I am upset.
SHORTEN: Thanks Evelyn. We're happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, ABC. Are you going to change the rule to protect the penalty rates?
SHORTEN: First of all, we want to make sure that the people affected by this decision don't get stranded. I want to thank Evelyn and Trent and the other workers who are here. There is going to be another hearing. The Fair Work Commission decision is in two stages. It is a massive decision and they have just handed it down. There will be another set of hearings to look at how this disastrous, kick in the guts is implemented.

I expect Malcolm Turnbull to send the Commonwealth lawyers to turn up and argue that the current workers currently receiving these penalty rates should not have a cut in their take home pay. And he should turn up because we will be there.

When it comes to further changes, so we're optimistic, we are going to do our absolute best to convince the Fair Work Commission not to implement this decision and hurt Trent and Evelyn and the others.But if we are unsuccessful, we will also be changing the law in Parliament to change the rules that the Fair Work Commission operate under.

I have never seen an argument which would justify wholesale pay cuts for the lowest paid workers in Australia. This is turning 20 and 30 years of industrial relations modernisation, of enterprise bargaining, on its head. This is a one way deal. The workers of Australia get a pay cut and Malcolm Turnbull's laughing all of the way because he has delivered the agenda that big business has always wanted.

Furthermore, what we will also do is - as it is not only this group of workers and the hundreds of thousands who are affected by this, there are millions of Australians affected by penalty rates. Tonight, as Australians go home from their work, a lot of them will be watching the news saying what does this mean for us? Now, the Government will be rushing out and saying that’s only retail, that's only hospitality, that's only pharmacy, you will be okay. No, you won't. The reality is that the unthinkable has happened, and we are seeing mass pay cuts under a Turnbull Government.

So, as Trent said, we will fight this and we say to every other Australian worker, if you depend upon your penalty rates, then join us and tell Malcolm Turnbull he has got to stand up for the Australian battler because Australian battlers aren't going to forgive him if he doesn't.
JOURNALIST: So the Fair Work Commission has matched the Productivity Commission's view that cutting Sunday rates will have positive affect on employment. Do you agree with that?
SHORTEN: No. Employers currently employ the people they require to do the job. What this will do is this will reallocate wages of working people in this country to business profits. This is not going to lead to a million people being employed. What this is going to do is it means for a shop assistant who currently works for 10 hours on a Sunday, they're going to have to work for 13.5 hours just to get the same money that they used to get.

This isn’t going lead to greater employment, it's just going to lead to greater hardship. I might get Brendan to supplement this.
O’CONNOR: Absolutely, I mean the reality is, and in fact it came out of the mouth of the spokesperson for the Restaurant and Catering Association, Mr John Hart who said this wasn't about - in fact, he said this was about really the same amount of money but more hours. In effect, made an admission before this decision had been handed down that his constituency were looking to have people work longer but not be paid any more money, and that’s the nub of this issue. That is the essential problem with this, that we will see people working hours and hours more and actually taking home exactly the same amount of money.

So how can you support a proposition, particularly when we're talking about low paid workers that we just heard here today, that are struggling to make ends meet and yet we will actually allow for something like this to happen.

Malcolm Turnbull has to stand up and support workers but to date, all he has done, is campaigned to cut workers' wages.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, in April last year, you said a Labor Government would support the Commission's decision. What's changed since then?
SHORTEN: The decision is a shocker. I said last month in a speech to the Curtin Institute that if some of the rumours coming out were true and that actually low paid workers were just going to get a pay cut, no compensation for it, just get a pay cut, well, Labor will never stand by and support that set of circumstances. We are a first world economy. We have been fighting this battle my whole adult life. How do you make sure that workers get a fair share of the national economic wealth?

These shop assistants work every day, they work on weekends, they work the difficult hours. Why should they have their pay cut? Why should ordinary Australians who depend on penalty rates have their pay cut just to help the bottom line of big business? This argument that it is going to generate a great deal of economic growth, there are currently employers who don't pay penalty rates - you know, they work at the black end of the economy so to speak. You don't see masses more jobs in those industries and those sectors as you do with the more reputable employers who pay penalty rates.

And does anyone seriously think that industry and business, having secured a supportive compliant government and a decision to reduce Sunday rates, does anyone think it is going to stop there? No, this is a race to the bottom and only Labor can be counted on to make sure that we stand up for low paid workers.

Mr Turnbull can short cut this debate. The Commonwealth can stop being missing in action, privately, secretly and happily goading on the cutting of penalty rates. They should turn up to the next hearing of this decision and say hey, stop, this is not the right way for Australia to go. They can support Labor and work on legislation to protect peoples' conditions in the future to protect their take home pay.

This is a terrible decision. It is going to absolutely cramp peoples' confidence and we are going to see a downward spiral, lack of confidence. This is going to be a sledgehammer that hits the economy.
JOURNALIST: Just a question on another subject. Netanyahu has taken at Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd over their position for Palestinian recognition. Is Mr Netanyahu right when he finds them naive?
SHORTEN: No, Bob Hawke and others are entitled to their opinion, full stop.

Thanks everybody.