Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP
Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP
BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Firstly, can I say it’s fantastic to be in Adelaide to talk about a number of very important issues. Most importantly, it’s really great that I can be here with Peter Malinauskas, the South Australian Opposition Leader, someone who already has said, quite rightly, he wants to see workers in this state defended. He wants to make sure that the legislation that was passed in the last parliament in South Australia is not repealed by the South Australian Government.
Today Peter and I have had an opportunity to talk to workers in this State about concerns they have about the misuse of labour hire. It’s for that reason the former Labor government introduced legislation to register labour hire companies, so they treat workers properly, whether it’s health and safety, or employment conditions.
I’m happy to say I’m also I’m here with the Federal Candidate for Adelaide Steve Georganas, who is the current Member for Hindmarsh. He and I are both are concerned that if we don’t see a change in Canberra we will see continued exploitation of workers in this country.
Federal Labor wants to introduce laws that ensure that if you’re a labour hire employee you can be paid no less than a direct employee. That will take away the motive to enlist people in to labour hire. We have to ensure that working people, at a time when wage growth is at its lowest on record, get a share of the economic dividend. At the moment, profits are growing five times faster than wages. Productivity in our labour market is improving in most sectors of our economy and yet wages are flatlining. At the same time, we have a Federal Government, Scott Morrison and the Liberal National Party, who want to see cuts to penalty rates. They voted for penalty rates cuts eight times in the parliament. They don’t support any regulation for labour hire. They don’t support any regulation to stop the increased misuse of casualisation.
Wherever you look in the labour market, the Federal Liberal Party and Scott Morrison show no interest in working people. That’s why he’s presided over, as I said earlier, the lowest wage growth on record. For that reason, today, I want to join Peter and the South Australian Labor Opposition to say we need to ensure that the legislation that was passed in the last parliament is protected. That the current government respect the will of the parliament and ensure they implement the provisions of that bill, so that workers in this state who may be employed by labour hire companies are able to be protected. It’s important, I think, if we see the election of a Shorten Labor Government, we’d like to see Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, and the territories, to be ensuring that labour hire is not used in a way that allows employers to avoid their responsibilities. That will actually provide, in our view, a greater likelihood of wages to rise and job security to be improved.
I’ll hand over to Peter now. Happy to take questions at any time after that.
MALINAUSKAS: Thanks very much Brendan. I can’t tell you how excited I am, as a fellow Labor person, to be looking forward to the election of a Shorten Labor Government. All being well, in a few weeks’ time, and be able to work with you as the Workplace Relations Minister of Australia.
Brendan articulated the issues, I think, very well, but I’ll just add a few words to our concern. At the moment, here in South Australia, we have a law that is in place that is ready to be enacted. It quite simply ensures that the regulation of the labour hire industry will see workers being protected so we don’t see workers being treated as second class citizens, particularly vulnerable workers who might have English as a second language that find themselves in a labour hire industry.
There are a number of labour hire companies that do the right thing. Those labour hire companies have nothing to fear from the retention of existing law in this state. But the fact that the conservative side of politics seem to be at one when it comes to their opposition of the regulation of labour hire can only mean that they seem to be ok with the idea of a regime to continue where labour hire workers are offered up as second class workers in their workplace.
There is no justification for not retaining the existing labour hire regulations here in South Australia that simply ensure that workers aren’t underpaid, get access to the appropriate levels of workers compensation, and work within safe workplaces. That’s something I would have thought we could all agree on, but for some reason the conservative side of politics seem to have an ideological obsession with their opposition to the regulation of labour hire. We’re not going to stand for that in Labor and the upcoming federal election will be a test for that.
Similarly, in the Upper House of this parliament we have the opportunity to retain the clause, see them enforced all the way they should be so that all workers get the protections they deserve. I think Brendan’s right. This federal election is going to be a very big test of the future of work. Only Labor believes that remunerations should be retained. Only Labor believes that labour hire workers should be able to work in safe work places and get the appropriate rates of pay, and it’s only Labor that’s committed to ensuring that we have a living wage in this country that’s sustainable and that wages head in the right direction to be able to keep up with the cost of living, which we know is increasing.
JOURNALIST: Leader, just quickly on that point of the federal election, given the boundary redistributions which have obviously helped Labor substantially in some areas, do you think South Australians might be a little complacent now there is really only one seat up for grabs?
MALINAUSKAS: Well I don’t think there is only one seat up for grabs, Mike. I mean, clearly Boothby is a marginal seat that’s going to be hotly contested and Labor has been going in hard to make sure their agenda aligns with the people of Boothby. We know that Nicolle Flint, the sitting MP has been far more preoccupied with her support of Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton rather than worrying about the interests of the people in that electorate. But there are other seats that are in play as well, particularly the seat of Sturt. I think it is undeniable that Christopher Pyne has been a formidable force in politics for a long time now and his resignation, him jumping off the Liberal Party into retirement, makes the seat of Sturt well and truly in play. We’ve got strong candidates in both seats and we are going to give them everything we’ve got.
O’CONNOR: Before we have any other questions, we just might want to have a couple of workers very quickly explain what’s happened to them.
MANISHA (WORKER): Hi, I’m Manisha. I was a laundry worker two years back and was employed by a labour hire company and direct employees were paid more than me as a labour hire worker even though I was doing the same job. So, we want same job, same pay and if I had any issues at the company, I had to go through the labour hire agency. I was not directly listened to by the supervisors or the managers of the company. There are so many dodgy labour hire contractors here, people are working cash in hand and there is no job security at all and no superannuation. They are scared to step up and say something.
JOURNALIST: Brendan on that, you’re here on the first day of the federal campaign. If you were the incoming Minister in five and a bit weeks’ time, is there anything you can actually do in terms of regulation?
O’CONNOR: Look, that’s the reason I am with Peter. There’s been a void, a national void of failures to regulate labour hire. It’s taken Labor governments in Queensland and in Victoria and in South Australia to seek to respond to that lack of action by Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party in Canberra. What we can do, of course, and we commit to this, is that if we’re elected we’ll sit down with all the state parliaments and governments and talk to the Opposition too about how we can have national laws that regulate the use of labour hire so it’s not misused.
Manisha’s story is a story that I’ve heard a thousand times across this country and of course we need national regulation. What we also need, and Manisha’s mentioned that, is we need some laws that say if you work with a direct employee and you happen to be a labour hire employee, you should be paid no less than that employee. Same work, same pay is the only fair way to go in this situation and that’s why, if elected, a Shorten Labor Government will introduce the same work, same pay principle, so, labour hire workers are not being ripped off.
And you know, it’s not just a labour hire worker. Direct employees feel pressure if they’re working next to a labour hire worker, they know is being paid less than the competitor down the road who is doing the right thing. They now feel under pressure because their competitor is getting an advantage in terms of cutting labour costs. So, we need to make sure we don’t allow the race to the bottom, and we do provide proper protection for Manisha and workers like her who have suffered on the hand of disreputable companies frankly.
JOURNALIST: So practically there though, it is pretty clear given the State Government’s position, that you won’t get agreement from South Australia’s Government?
O’CONNOR: I’ll let Peter answer that, but Peter’s already made clear, he’s made very clear that debate’s still to be had at the Upper House of this Parliament. But I can assure you of this, if we are elected, we will work to make sure that South Australian workers are protected and we’ll certainly talk to the South Australian Labor Opposition and we’ll talk to the Government too. But right now, we call upon the Government to respect the will of the parliament last term when they enacted good legislation. Frankly, however, we also need a national approach, which means working with state jurisdictions to get their national vote. So, we hope that that legislation survives. Of course, if it survives or it doesn’t survive, we still have to bring in legislation to ensure that labour hire workers receive the same pay as everybody else.
MALINAUSKAS: Alex, do you want to make a contribution as well?
ALEX: G’day, I’m a sparky by trade and I work in the construction sector. I was made redundant by the company I was working for. Six months later, I got brought back in, onto a new project with the same company, but through a labour hire provider. I ended up on less pay than the full-time sparkies I was working alongside. Less pay than I had been on previously. I guess probably the worst part is that I did asked for PPE for the job and they refused to provide it. You don’t even hear from them. The only time you hear from them is when you start the job and about an hour before you finish on your last day. It does make it stressful because you never really know when you’re going to be out of work.
JOURNALIST: Peter, just another issue. The State Government has announced CCTV cameras will go into at least five aged care facilities as a trial. Do you support that? Obviously, that’s quite a big change.
MALINAUSKAS: Yeah, I do. Look, I think any use of modern technology that will keep people in aged care safe is worth looking at and worth pursuing. I should also mention that State Labor has made clear we are willing to work with Frank Pangallo in the Upper House around his ideas of legislation to put CCTV cameras in other institutions as well. With his support, the existing draft of legislation was proposed, which is why we referred the matter to a parliamentary committee, which we think is a good idea. This trial is something we welcome. There is always new technology being made available to different industries and we should seek to use that in any way we can to keep people in aged care homes safe.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the State Government should have possibly invested this money themselves?
MALINAUSKAS: I would always advocate that - I should answer your question, if the State Government is serious about improving the safety in aged care facilities and others, they too should put their money where their mouth is, but any investment is a welcome one. We did this trial, it’s worthwhile but there’s a lot more work that needs to be done when it comes to people in aged care facilities being safe.
JOURNALIST: Just on the election called today. Obviously, most of the attention is on seats in outer northern Brisbane, north Queensland, Victoria, Western Sydney. Are you worried at all South Australia is sort of politically irrelevant in this election?
O’CONNOR: Can I take that question? Because clearly as I’m here today it really does show that South Australia and South Australian voters’ matter. They matter because they’re a critical part of this country. Often I think it’s fair to say, people, not so much the politicians, sometimes the commentators, like to talk about Queensland and marginal seats in Western Sydney but frankly I think the idea that there’s some sort of orthodox view, a pathway to electoral victory is a little over wrought.
I think the fact is we have to fight for every vote around the country and that means you’ll see a lot of federal Labor spokespeople coming to Adelaide, and coming to parts of South Australia, to advocate our comprehensive plan that is, invest more in public schools, invest more into public hospitals, make sure we have a cancer plan to really remove that economic burden on South Australians when they have to find the money for out of pocket expenses, make sure that wages are going up, make sure people have better job security, make sure that we do something about climate change.
These important matters will be, I can assure you, articulated by many of the Labor members that are here, including Steve Georganas, and many Shadow Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition. South Australia matters to Federal Labor and I can assure you that’s why I’m here today and that’s why you’ll see us here, and every day, until the election happens.
MALINAUSKAS: At this federal election, South Australia’s got the opportunity to elect a Shorten Labor Government that would have four South Australian senior Cabinet Ministers. Penny Wong, Don Farrell, Amanda Rishworth and Mark Butler, make an incredibly formidable leadership team that would be at the centre of decision making within this federation. South Australia will be well served with a Shorten Labor Government.
Furthermore, Bill Shorten, the alternative Prime Minister of this nation, has demonstrated that he is committed to South Australia time and time again. His advocacy around the defence industry has been strong and consistent all the way through, advocating early on in the piece, that South Australia should have a sovereign ship building program particularly with the submarines. So, everything from defence, industry, right through to infrastructure investment, Bill Shorten has been a strong advocate of South Australia’s investments.
I think that one of the key issues that I think matter to South Australians in this election are the core issues of health and education, and only Labor is committed to delivering more money to states to see them invest more money in health and education, something that this state desperately needs. I’ve got to say I think it’s somewhat implausible, I think it’s somewhat shocking that Steven Marshall intends to support a government that wants to put less money into South Australia when it comes to health and education. That is an astonishing position to take. Normally the political wisdom is that you should never get between a premier and a bucket of money, yet Steven Marshall seems to be taking a very different approach. He’s opposing the idea of more money coming to South Australia in health and education. Then, of course we’ve got the issue of climate change. The overall majority of South Australians believe that climate change is real and it’s human induced, and only Labor has a serious plan about meeting our obligations internationally when it comes to Paris and doing something real when it comes to climate change.
O’CONNOR: Alright? Thanks very much everyone.