BILLS: Fair Work Amendment (Same Job, Same Pay)

29 November 2021

I rise to address the House about this very important private member's bill, the Fair Work Amendment (Same Job, Same Pay) Bill 2021. This legislation would ensure that workers employed through labour hire companies receive no less than workers employed directly. I do not understand what is so offensive about that to those opposite. It will also remove barriers to career paths and secure employment opportunities for on-hire work. Insecure work is a scourge in this country. If the member for Sturt doesn't think it's a problem maybe he needs to get off his shiny pants and go out and talk to the workers and actually ask them about this.

I have four children. They are grown up now and have children of their own. As a parent I did many things to prepare them for the adult world of work and responsibilities, but I can tell you one thing I never did: I never gave one of my twin girls $5 a week for doing the dishes and the other $10 for doing the same chore. No siree! Same job, same pay. As you may already know from experience, children are innately wired to recognise fairness and unfairness. They can be excellent little arbitrators and witnesses for unfairness and injustice. If I had paid one of my children more, or less, than the other, they would've been on top of me as fast as any union I've worked with.

The unfairness of the labour hire schemes is absurdly obvious. It defies the logic of any reasonable adult and the optimistic and observant logic of a child. I bring up my own household because this issue is not only a workplace one but also a household one. Underpayment at work is felt in the home. It is felt in the family. It is felt in the way these workers are short-changed by a system that doesn't value their needs, their financial responsibilities or their skills. It's felt in the stomach and the spine of workers who know they are being underpaid while working next to co-workers who are treated better. The unfairness of the system is also felt by others in the industry as the impact of labour hire workers destabilises the whole workplace and sector. There is growing uncertainty about pay and conditions and an increase in sometimes less trained, cheaper workers replacing the permanent workers. There are very real occupational health and safety concerns when there's a high turnover of staff through labour hire who do not have long to get to know the safety regulations and requirements for their position. Any workplace that operates like this can be incredibly corrosive and bad for morale.

Peter should not be working next to Paul knowing that their workmate in the mine is taking home hundreds of dollars more per week. Saleema should not be frustrated that she's being short-changed by the aged-care facility she's placed at knowing that her permanent employed colleagues are taking home more money and benefitting from better conditions. Those who are being underpaid are still facing the same rental and mortgage stress. They are facing the same bills, paying the same for groceries and reeling at the same high petrol costs. Their work is the same, their costs of living are the same, but their salaries vary dramatically. When workplaces have embraced the labour hire model, they've made it more difficult for workers to stand up for themselves. While there are some labour hire firms that operate ethically, there are many that are inherently exploitive. Our legislation targets them. Some employers use cheaper labour hire workers as an opportunistic way of increasing profit while paying workers less, and it undermines the workplace enterprise bargaining system by creating two streams of workers. Put simply: it returns all power to employers while exploiting workers.

Labor has always fought against the exploitation of workers. We've always fought for equality and fairness in the way workers are treated, from Labor's role decades ago passing legislation granting women equal pay for work of equal value to work by men to the crucial role of unions in fighting for equality and fairness for Australian workers. We know that labour hire has expanded as a practice far beyond its initial purpose of providing short-term or temporary labour to get through surge periods. The lack of regulation has allowed labour hire to expand, and its significant presence in the market is putting workers and their hard-fought rights at risk. Labour hire has contributed to the increase in casualisation in Australia, which we know makes it hard for people to get the security they are looking for. Imagine if I'd invited a neighbour or cousin into my home some 20 years ago and paid them a paltry $4 for a week's worth of dishes. My children would have staged a coup. Those opposite need to tap into the sense of fairness that all eight-year-olds seem to have. We need to call a spade a spade: workers working side-by-side doing the same job deserve the same pay. Only Labor wants to do something.