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Read all the latest news from Brendan O'Connor MP


April 09, 2019

Thank you very much. It’s fantastic to be here today at such an important event for the SDA and for working people in Western Australia.  


When I spoke to Peter O’Keefe, the Secretary of your branch and said I would talk about Labor’s plans for working people and your members he was very pleased. I also mentioned that to Gerard Dwyer, your National Secretary, and it’s wonderful to be here. 


Can I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.  


As I say, it’s important to be here today because I want to say to you that Bill Shorten and Federal Labor are ready for this election. It will be a tough fight – they always are – but it’s a very important fight. 


Frankly, Federal Labor cannot succeed in this election without the support of the labour movement and that includes this great Union.  


So I want to thank you for the support you’ve shown to the Labor Party and its policies because we have many, many policies we’ve announced across the spectrum since we were defeated in 2013. 


We have a plan – a comprehensive plan to deal with a whole range of issues that affect this country. Plans that don’t exist with the current Government - a government that seems to be bereft of answers or indeed has a callous disregard for working people and the difficulties they are currently confronting. 


I’ll just name a few and then I’ll go to some of our policies, if you don’t mind. 


A few facts.  We have the lowest wage growth in this country on record – the lowest wage growth. So we have many, many workers who are struggling to pay the household bills. Struggling to pay the skyrocketing prices of energy and health costs, pay for the mortgage or pay the rent, look after the family and pay for the out-of-pocket expenses that seem to be growing all the time when you pay for the kids to go to school.  


We know that everything in this country at the moment is going up except wages. That’s why we’ve been very clear we want to do something about it. As I’ve said, we’ve just seen Bill Shorten say on the wonderful introduction you had there, that as a priority, if elected, a Shorten Labor Government will restore penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers.  


700,000 workers, or there about, who are struggling already with the lowest wage growth on record are watching their wages fall in nominal terms. That’s a real problem. 

For those of you, and that would be many, who are covered by enterprise agreements whilst you may be covered by those agreements when penalty rates are cut from your awards, you are cutting the test that applies for the Better Off Overall Test for agreements.  


So whilst you might think there’s no obvious adverse impact to employment conditions and wages for those who may have enterprise agreements, that’s not true. Because if you cut the terms of an award that is used to apply the test which is used as the measure for the Better Off Overall Test for any prospective or future enterprise agreement, that test will fall as wages and condition of the award are taken away. 


Those people are reliant on the award, had an immediate impact. 1 July, 2017, they got a pay cut. 1 July, 2018, they got a pay cut. Indeed, July this year, another pay cut. 


So not only do we want to restore penalty rates as they were on the 30th of June 2017, we want to make sure that no future awards can have penalty rates removed without a fair deal where you are better off overall. If you are going to make changes, make changes provided you are not worse off, in fact you have to be better off overall.  


And the SDA along with us and other unions have been instrumental in campaigning against the Government, who supported the Fair Work Commission decision. Indeed, Bill Shorten and I moved and seconded a Private Members Bill in the Parliament to restore penalty rates from Opposition, not an easy thing to do. We did that and Scott Morrison voted against that Private Members Bill on eight separate occasions.  


We have a Government who does not concern itself with falling wages and has no answers to dealing with wages and conditions or, for that matter, job security. So the restoration of penalty rates is a very important thing for up to 700,000 workers.  


But so too we need to do more. We need to make sure that labour hire workers, if they are employed are paid no less than direct employees. Many sectors of our economy are increasingly enlisting labour hire companies to do the work that was once done by direct employees and are paying them less.  


You have people wearing the same uniform, standing next to each other doing the same work with the same responsibilities, with the same qualifications, with the same output, but with very different wages.  


It is unfair on the labour hire workers, it’s unfair on the direct employees because now their jobs are under pressure, to cut their wages, that is what we expected. To those companies who don’t do that, who do the right thing by their workforce, now they are under competitive pressure to cut their labour costs because their competitor has managed to find a way not to pay fair conditions and fair wages.  


That’s why Labor has announced, if elected, we’ll introduce a same work, same pay policy so that whether you are a direct employee or not, you cannot be paid less if you are a labour hire worker in the workplace; you must be paid no less than a direct employee and that will really kill the motivation in many circumstances to enlist labour hire when it’s used in that way.  


Labour hire should be used legitimately for small and medium enterprises if wages are fair but it should not be used to find a way, a loophole, to not pay decent conditions of employment. And we will prohibit that behaviour if we’re elected and we know that matters to many workers in this country increasingly. 


We also want to stop the impact of people being defined as contractors, independent contractors when they are not independent contractors. The only reason that is being done is to shift the cost of workers compensation and all other entitlements onto the worker saying, “It’s your responsibility to be employed that way, to pay for your own way if you like and that’s why we’re going to deem you to be a contractor”.  


Well that’s happening again too often around the country and we need to make sure that if you are not a legitimate independent contractor then you are paid as a worker, as an employee.  


We have now in this country people selling and buying labour on apps on phones and they believe that just because the application is there, a new technology to buy and sell labour somehow that justifies the right of workers to be paid, in some instances one third of the minimum wage, and that should be outlawed. It is just reprehensible in this country, in a relatively wealthy country to see people treated that way.  


Now many of you here represent organised sites in retail, Coles, Woolies, many big retailers and I’m sure medium retailers. You are organised but you know better than anybody that in the new emerging areas and other areas that are not organised there is a real problem and of course that’s how the race to the bottom starts. It starts elsewhere and it will eventually, if it’s not already, impact on the organised sectors of the economy. 


That’s why it’s critical we have fair bargaining laws ensuring that we restore the balance so unions and workers can bargain fairly, to get fair outcomes. We’ve got at the moment wages falling, as I say we’ve got profits since the election of the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Governments, profits are growing five times faster than wages. That’s never happened in our history but it’s happening now under the current Federal Government and we need to bring in policies that will change that.  


I noticed too, domestic violence leave was mentioned in the video we just watched and that’s important. Bill Shorten and I and Tanya Plibersek announced that we would insert into the National Employment Standards an entitlement for all employees of ten days paid domestic violence leave. We have not had the Government support that – they support five unpaid days. That’s their position.  


In fact, Qantas, Telstra and many companies have already supported paid domestic violence leave, but not this Government. It does not support providing statutory conditions under the National Employment Standards to afford support, for women in particular, when they need it most. Sometimes the women who are subject to domestic violence, their only support system, not always, but often, too often, are their work colleagues. And often their employer.  


We need to make sure that we say that the country should be supporting women who are subject to such horrific experiences, such awful violence. One way to do that, and it’s only one way, there needs to be a number of things that need to be done – particularly the providing of accommodation for women to help them and support them in welfare to women in that circumstances. 


But we can also do it in workplaces. The amazing thing is that many employers are already doing it on their own volition. It was the union campaign that got it going and unions deserve the most credit, I believe that. But also now employers see it’s in their interests to reach out to the proportion of employees who may see themselves in that circumstance.  


Yet despite flagship companies supporting paid leave, despite the union campaign which has got critical mass now in agreements around the country, there is no support from a very callous government on this issue and frankly, it’s not acceptable. 


So there are so many policies that we need to be responding to, policies we need to be enacting, if we’re going to address the two key issues for working people: low wage growth – everything is going up in this country except wages and; job insecurity. We’re going to define casual in the statute books so that it is used in the way it was originally intended. 


No longer should we allow employers to deem someone to be casual like magic – and all of a sudden they are. There should not be a subjective test by an employer to say “well, I believe you’re casual and you’re sort of casual”. We know notionally that doesn’t happen now, but the problem is not many workers have the ability to test that proposition in a court.  


Who has the time, the money or the resources to do that? Not too many people. So we’re going to provide a statutory definition to casual so that we are very clear between permanent work and casual work and we want to put it in the statute books. We made a commitment before the last election and we make that commitment again. We need to clean up that delineation between casual and permanent and we need to remove that oxymoronic definition of ‘permanent casual’. 


If you are permanent, you should be afforded certain rights. We know there are workers who may want to remain on casual in some sectors of our labour market but they should be given an opportunity to request and we need to make sure, under law, we know clearly the difference between casual and permanent and we’ll look to do that as well. 


Not just in IR, but when it comes to our tax plan, our tax plan is greater for 3.5 million workers. You might remember, last year in Bill Shorten’s budget reply, we said we’d give tax cuts that were bigger and fairer for 10 million workers. Well the Government last


Tuesday matched our tax cuts but they didn’t match for anyone under $42,000 per year, they’re lower. They didn’t provide support for people there.  


We say a combination of fairer and immediate tax cuts, the restoration of penalty rates, a proper bargaining process for better outcomes and a living wage, will lift low and middle income earners wages and conditions and that’s what’s required. As I say, at a time when profits are high, wages are flat lining, productivity in some sectors of the economy – yours too, because of automation – is significantly higher than it has been – and yet there’s no commensurate wage increase. 


So what’s happened really is that workers are not getting their fair share of the dividend of economic growth. Whereas once it was seen that if there were productivity improvements and there was prominent profit then workers would get their fair slice of that cake.


But that’s not happening.  


And at the same time the Government likes to boast about unemployment falling to just under 5 per cent, but underemployment - that is, people looking for more work - has never been higher.  


Over 1.1 million Australians are looking for more work and can’t find it. Now they’re looking for more work because they’d like it and they need it, but they increasingly need it because wages are not moving sufficiently to keep up with the cost of living pressures. So there are a lot of things we need to attend to. But first we have to win the next election and my main message for you today is to make it very clear that whilst people like to think that Labor’s going to win the next election, we don’t assume that for the moment.  


There are vested interests in this country who will not want to see the election of a Labor government, a Shorten Labor Government. I can assure you of that. And we need your help. You need our help, if we’re elected we need your help to win this election and win it well. In Western Australia I think we’ve had our best opportunity for some time to do well in the federal polls. We’ve seen the election of a Labor government locally and in the State Election and we believe our ability to win seats in Western Australia is looking good but we take nothing for granted.  


This is going to be a hard fight and we need every bit of help from this great union and all the other unions that are in WA and around the country. It’s when the labour movement, the Federal Labor Party and the union movement work together we get our best results. That’s what we need right now from you. 


I’m here on behalf of Bill Shorten and my other colleagues and Federal Labor. The policies that we announce, we’ll be seeking, if elected, to enact them as quickly as possible and we’ll do everything we can to get them through the Parliament. We’ll need your support up to the election and beyond the election of course but I can assure you of this - if we announce a policy, we’ll seek to change the law to reflect that policy.  


What we haven’t done is curl up in a little ball and just watch the other mob divide - and have they divided. I mean, it’s quite extraordinary isn’t it, what’s happened? Three Prime Ministers. Countless Treasurers. Most of their portfolios changing every day.


Resignations from senior ministers including of course ones from WA. Most famously, the former Foreign Minister, leaving the show, they just couldn’t in their hearts think about supporting a woman to the top job. The Member for Stirling, Michael Keenan, resigning. While I think it is a reflection on them wanting to leave the show, it also provides an opportunity for Federal Labor and we hope we don’t miss it. 


But we’ll need your help in all of that and we look forward to working with you over the next five weeks or so. 


Thanks very much.