Speaking on Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 – Second Reading
I rise to oppose this legislation. The reason I do that is I believe very strongly that this is not in the best interests of either workers or employers. I have taken every opportunity to listen to the contributions that have been made in this debate, and I’ve listened very closely to the contributions that have been made by my colleagues. There have been some excellent contributions, but I particularly noticed the contribution made by the member for Bass, the coalition member who spoke directly before me on this bill.
She made some excellent points. I would encourage members in this place to read, through the Hansard, her contribution and the point that she was making, at one stage during her speech, in relation to her time working as a casual in the hospitality sector. She spoke about the time that her boss was unable to open simply because he couldn’t afford to pay the wages on that day. The point that the member for Bass made is that there’s very little point in having an increase in your hourly rate if you are working fewer hours. It is a very valid point that she has made.
I’ve also listened very closely to the contributions of the government members. I’ve listened to them. I’ve read them. I’ve watched the speeches. I’m very concerned about the assertions that have been made in what is clearly a significant industrial relations reform—probably bigger than anything that we have seen in decades. What concerns me the most at this point is the haste in which Labor is moving to implement such wide-ranging and wide-reaching changes that are, quite frankly, just going to upend the industrial relations systems in this country.
This legislation is, in fact, the very last thing that we need at a time of significant economic challenges and the rising pressures that exist on household budgets. Clearly, the changes that are being proposed are very ideologically driven, and I don’t believe they are in the national interest. At a time of growing inflation, of businesses struggling with staff shortages and rapidly increasing power costs, this legislation, in my very strong view, will make a bad situation worse.
As Innes Willox, the Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said in his statement on the bill, ‘The legislation is fundamentally flawed and needs to be rethought and reworked.’ The coalition firmly believes that the government needs to go back to the drawing board. Despite the government’s claims, there seems to be no evidence that the reforms that they are proposing will deliver higher wages. In fact, based on feedback from employers, it would have the exact opposite effect. Employers are warning that it will lead to more strikes and potentially more job losses. In fact, business groups across Australia—small, medium and large—have been united in their opposition to this bill, and particularly to multi-employer bargaining. It is a return to the old-fashioned collective bargaining which modern economies have been progressing away from. It is essentially a gift to the union movement. Many people see it as payback for the steadfast support Labor has received from militant unions over many years, and especially during the election campaign. I can see why people draw that conclusion, because it’s hard to see why else the government is making these retrograde changes.
The reality of this bill, if it goes forward in its current form, would be more strikes and job losses, small businesses having to deal with unions when they never before and potential delays in wage rises because of increased complexity. By undermining competition, this bill means Australians will have fewer choices but face higher costs. It sets Australia back decades. The ultimate effect will be to force prices even higher and further increase the cost of living. As one of my local Chamber of Commerce presidents described it, ‘There’s plenty that they need to do out there without crippling business with archaic rules that will see only the rich employers able to survive.’ Making an already complex system more complex is never a good idea, especially for small- and medium-business owners that are under-resourced and struggling to keep their heads above water.
I’m acutely aware of the challenges the system can present for different sectors. As a strong advocate for small business—and I’ve staked the claim before in this place that the Gold Coast is the small business capital of Australia—I’m deeply concerned about the impact of this legislation. On the coast we have a diverse range of businesses and that includes tourism and hospitality, retail, building and construction, and a strong manufacturing base. The majority are small to medium and many are family owned and they stand to be the hardest hit by this legislation. As Mark McKenzie of the Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association said when talking about the impacts on the variety of businesses within his industry:
Any action that results in applying identical workplace changes across all these businesses reduces business diversity and potentially weakens the capacity of small businesses to compete with larger businesses. The resultant marginalisation of small family-owned businesses risks ceding competition to a smaller number of large businesses and a reduction of price competition intensity in the national fuel retail market.
He went on to point out that the legislation: appears to fail the core objective of the National Jobs and Skills Summit in that it prioritises the goal of lifting wages above the equally important goal of delivering the business productivity gains needed to fund such wage increases.
I think that is a really concerning point.
The overwhelming number of issues in Labor’s bill relate to bargaining and particularly the provisions relating to multi-employer bargaining. Labor’s bill expands the single-interest stream by allowing the Fair Work Commission to authorise workers with common interests to bargain together where it is in the public interest for them to do so. Businesses are rightly concerned about the common-interest provision being so broad as to be ridiculous. This will allow unions to apply to compel employers to bargain together if the move has the support of the majority of employees. This is backed by the right to strike. Being coerced into bargaining based on some vague common-interest test is fundamentally unfair. This is not bargaining; it is compulsion and it is fundamentally unfair. It means that once an employer becomes part of a multi-employer agreement it can no longer pursue a single-enterprise bargain.
So, instead of improving choice and flexibility for employers and employees, this legislation actually limits choices and compels businesses. How is that an improvement for anyone?—except, of course, the unions who want more power and more say over businesses and the private sector employees, who have overwhelmingly chosen not to be members of a union.
Given that the building and construction industry is one of the Gold Coast’s largest employers, I’m also deeply concerned that this bill effectively hands this sector to the CFMMEU. The damaging move to abolish the industry watchdog, the ABCC, has the potential to lead to economic loss of around $47.5 billion by 2030, according to a report by Ernst & Young in April this year. I have spoken in this place before about the importance of the ABCC. Once again, it is being abolished for purely ideological reasons, and that is clearly not in the national interest. I’m concerned that, by the deliberate abolition of the last line of defence between construction employers and a militant union, we will see building costs skyrocket, businesses fold and jobs lost.
For these and for many other reasons, I join with my colleagues on this side of the House in opposing this legislation. And I do implore the government to go back to the drawing board and to rewrite this unfair bill, which will only compound and worsen the serious economic issues our nation is facing.