Latest News

Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


May 16, 2019

ROSS HART, MEMBER FOR BASS: Thanks for coming. It’s a day that is unfortunately tinged with sadness particularly concerning those who are looking for work here in Tasmania. We hear from both the federal government and the state government that Tasmania is experiencing something akin to a golden age. But despite that, 5,900 here in Tasmania have lost full time employment in the last 12 months. The unemployment rate here is Tasmania has increased from 6.7 to 6.8 per cent. And whilst we’ve been campaigning hard on cuts and chaos particularly within the health system, the Liberals have been saying: “nothing to see here, don’t worry. We’ve got a wonderful strong economy here in Tasmania.” They are wrong. We’re here and we’ve got a solution, particularly for the cuts and chaos in the health system. Brendan welcome to Tasmania.

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Thanks Ross. It’s great to be in Launceston to talk to you about jobs and what’s happening in the economy. And clearly, as Ross just outlined, we are seeing the unemployment rate increase in this country and in this state. Tasmania I’m afraid to say has the highest unemployment rate in Australia, as Ross said, going to 6.8. Youth unemployment has risen according to the ABS. And indeed what is most remarkable and most worrying is the fact that we have seen the underutilisation rate hit 13.7 per cent. That is staggering. That means there are over 1.1 million Australian who cannot find enough work. You have the 700,000 who can’t find any work and we have a situation in this country where there are 1.8 million Australians who can’t find any work, or can’t find enough work.

One of the reasons we have the lowest wage growth on record is because of this slack in the labour market. What people like to argue is if the unemployment rate is falling, if employment is growing you’ll see a tightening in the market and you’ll see an increase to wages. Well firstly, that is a view that is becoming increasingly discredited. But the fact is there is no tightening in the labour market when there is an underutilisation rate at 13.7 per cent. A remarkable jump from 13.2 per cent to 13.7.

So this is a terrible metric, a terrible indicator that the economy is not going well. It’s anaemic. We have major problems with aggregate demand. We have people having difficulty paying the bills therefore consumption is falling. That’s leading to a loss of business and consumer confidence. And that’s why we are seeing the increase in the unemployment rate. And the unemployment rate in Tasmania is staggering. That’s why we need to see a lot more done to see improvement in job security, and indeed we need to see wages increase.

Only Labor has a plan to increase wages. Firstly we want to restore penalty rates. Scott Morrison has voted to continue the cuts to penalty rates 8 times in the Parliament. We want to restore then if elected. We want to make sure we allow people to become permanent employees. We are looking at, for example ensuring that those people who are underpaid because of wage theft can get access, quick access to a small claims tribunal to get their money back which is something they can’t do now, it is something we announced this week. And of course today we have announced, and I will go to this a bit further on in the press conference, but today we have also announced a way to put some regulation around the use of  fixed term contracts because it has just led to massive insecurity amongst many professionals and other workers in our economy. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: You said you were going to reinstate penalty rates, what about businesses that can’t afford to put staff on weekends because they can’t afford to pay penalty rates?

O’CONNOR: That is a myth and the reason we know it’s a myth is because Peter Strong who heads up the small business employer group, as recently as two weeks ago said that there was no employment growth as a result of the cuts to penalty rates. What we’ve seen instead since the first of July, 2017 is hospitality workers, retail workers, pharmacy workers and fast food workers have their wages cut in real terms and that is at a time of the lowest wage growth on record. So we have thousands of workers in this electorate, in Launceston who have had their wages cut and there will be further cuts to their wages on July 1 this year if we do not see a change of government. So as I say, COSBOA the employer group says there has been no commensurate increase to employment as a result of cutting wages. All we’ve seen instead is hard working Australians that are relatively modestly paid getting a cut to their wages and of course that’s been supported by Scott Morrison and the Liberals. It’s something that Ross Hart and I and Labor do not support.

Any further questions? Well look if we can we’ll get Brigid in here too and just go to another matter, we’re trying to do two things at once here but I think it was important we talked about the unemployment rate, but so too as I just referred to very briefly we have an issue in this country about forms of precarious work. That’s why we seek to tackle casualisation and ensure that people can be converted to permanent and we are going to establish for the first time ever, a statutory definition of “casual” in the Fair Work Act if we’re elected. Further we want to make sure that people have access to tribunals when they are underpaid and also, today we’ve announced that we will regulate fixed term contracts so that there will be a maximum duration period for those workers that are under the National Employment system. There would be a threshold period of two years with a maximum of four contracts, after which they must be employed permanently if they’re in a position where the work is ongoing.

So, what we have seen too often, whether it’s nurses or whether it’s academics or indeed other professionals, we’ve seen people on rolling fixed-term contracts indefinitely. And, I’d like to just introduce if I could, Brigid Morrison who can tell you her story and what’s it’s like to have to live in a situation where are on these perpetual rolling contracts and what it does to your job security and what it does, I guess, just to your quality of life. If I might just introduce Brigid, if you want to step forward.

JOURNALIST: Brigid, can you just give us your name and title, I suppose.

BRIGID MORRISON: Sure. I’m Brigid Morrison, I’m an intensive teacher at UTAS.

JOURNALIST: So, tell us your story I suppose.

MORRISON: Well, I’m one of four million Australians, who are currently working under insecure employment conditions. And in my sector of Higher Education, 70 per cent of university workers are employed under insecure conditions.

JOURNALIST: So, what do you mean by that? Just rolling contracts?

MORRISON: So, rolling contracts, short-term contracts, casual contracts. At any one time, I’ve had four to five contracts at the one time and I’ve got to juggle all of those to make up one full-time equivalent. They all start and finish at different times, so it’s very difficult to juggle all of those things.

JOURNALIST: I guess it makes it hard to sort of plan for the future, or you know, know what you’re doing I suppose.

MORRISON: Oh, absolutely. You’re concentrating on finding the next job, rather than working on the job you have at the time.

O’CONNOR: I might just add a final piece. I mean, we obviously will engage with stakeholders about how we implement this. And fixed-term contacts can be used fairly, and if it’s used properly it’s okay, as is other forms of employment, including casual employment. But, what’s happening in the labour market, and presided over by Scott Morrison is, we are seeing increased casualisation, increased use of labour-hire workers, increased use of multiple rolling fixed-term contracts. That is creating enormous anxiety amongst the workers of Tasmania and Australia, because people cannot with any certainty plan for the future.

You can’t deal with a long-term mortgage when you’ve got a short-term job. You can’t look after a permanent family when you’re in a casual job. These are real critical issues that go to the quality of life for working people in this nation and only Labor has a plan to deal with lifting wages and tackling job insecurity. That’s why, as Bill Shorten has made clear, this election is a referendum on wages and job security. Only Labor have the policies and the plans for secure employment and provide greater certainty for workers like Brigid.

JOURNALIST: So just in clarification there, so I mean, I personally see people, you know, offered nine months or 12 months contracts to cover Maternity Leave, things like that, so will that be extended to a minimum of two years?

O’CONNOR: No. There are circumstances where people of course for quite good reason, are on certain contracts. For example, a person who’s replacing a permanent employee would obviously have a fixed term position because that permanent employee will return to work. You need to use casual employment in hospitality, casual employment is a genuine use of work and it can be used in that way. We are not going to compel individual workers to become permanent if they want to remain casual and there are many workers who want to stay in casual work.

But what has happened is work that was once seen as permanent has now become a situation where casualisation, labour hire use, fixed term contracts have become the mainstay of employment instead of it being supplementary to permanent employment. And the policies we’re announcing go to those issues. We accept that there’s a need to have different forms of employment but I think the assumption that people when they’ve been at the workplace for a while, they do a good job, the work is ongoing and at some point in time they have a right to have some security of work. That’s not happening under the labour market under this Government and we need to see that changed.

HART: Can I just say something here, which is relevant to regional Tasmania in particular. What we see in particular because of temporary contracts, casualisation of the workforce, is that people don’t put their roots down in a community because they can’t. As Brendan has mentioned, they can’t take out a mortgage, they can’t in some cases even take out a loan for a car. So if you want to put roots down in the community and settle in a place, a place in regional Tasmania for example, you won’t be able to do that if you’re on a short term contract or if you’re in a casual situation.

O’CONNOR:  Thanks very much.