March 03, 2017



Malcolm Turnbull is desperately looking for a way to justify his failure to protect workers’ take home pay, and every time he comes up with something it just shows how fundamentally he misunderstands Australia’s workplace relations system.


If he truly wanted to act to protect the take home pay of some of Australia’s lowest paid workers, then he would support Labor’s Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay) Bill when it is introduced to the House of Representatives next sitting week.


Be under no illusion, Mr Turnbull has decided to start talking about transition periods and take home pay orders as a diversion from the reality that he will not actually act to preserve workers’ take home pay. 


The only way to ensure that variations to modern awards will not result in a reduction in workers take home pay is to put that guarantee into the Fair Work Act.   Labor’s Bill will do this, Turnbull’s waffle will not.


Mr Turnbull referred today in Question Time to paragraph 2016 of the Commission decision:


The vast majority of modern awards (including the modern awards which are the subject of these proceedings) include a clause in the following terms: ‘Neither the making of this award nor the operation of any transitional arrangements is intended to result in a reduction in the take-home pay of employees covered by the award. On application by or on behalf of an employee who suffers a reduction in take-home pay as a result of the making of this award or the operation of any transitional arrangements, the Fair Work Commission may make any order it considers appropriate to remedy the situation.


But he was too tricky by half, employing that old barrister’s trick of quoting only the part of judgement that supports his argument.  What he didn’t go on to read out to the House of Representatives was paragraph 2019:


It is unclear whether ‘take home pay orders’ are an available option to mitigate the impact of the reductions in Sunday penalty rates we propose. We would be assisted by submissions from interested parties in respect of this issue and, in particular, the Commonwealth (given that the issue raises a question as to the proper construction of the statutory framework).


So, the truth of the matter is, there is no  legal guarantee that changes to modern awards will not reduce the take-home pay of current employees, let alone future employees. 


If Mr Turnbull actually wants to ensure that any change to a modern award will not reduce the take-home pay of employees, then he needs to join with Labor and put that requirement into the Fair Work Act, not point to provisions in awards that at best provide short term comfort to some workers, and that even the Fair Work Commission is not sure are available.


Bill Shorten gave notice on Monday of his intention to introduce Labor’s Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay) Bill, which provides that the Fair Work Commission cannot vary a modern award if it results in a cut to an employee’s take home pay.   


Labor’s Bill will protect every single worker who now receives penalty rates, and will ensure that future employees will be entitled to the same take home pay as current employees.   It sets the modern award as a safety net that workers can rely on.


It has taken Turnbull a whole week after the decision to finally realise that his disinterest in the damage cuts to penalty rates will do to low paid and vulnerable workers has revealed how out of touch he really is with the Australian electorate.


There could not be a worse time to cut workers’ take home pay. 


If Turnbull and his Government really want to mitigate the impact of cuts to penalty rates and protect the take home pay of workers, then they need to change their stance and join with Labor to pass our private members Bill.


Paragraph 2016 in context: