Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 - Legislation

16 March 2021

I too rise to speak on the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. This bill continues to build upon our government’s strong record on IR reform in this state, because it is the Andrews Labor government that made wage theft a crime. It is our government that introduced workplace manslaughter laws, and reforms like this go to the heart of who we are. They go to the heart of Labor governments. That is why people know that when it comes to their rights at work this government, the Andrews Labor government, will always have their back.

Now, I have got to say this IR bill we are introducing is a stark contrast, let us be honest, to the one that is currently up in Canberra right now. Whilst our government is looking at protecting the rights of workers in labour hire and other vulnerable industries, the mates of those opposite in the federal government are trying to make jobs less secure and cut workers pay and conditions. It is why you will always find me having a good laugh at those opposite when they sit there and talk about how they are passionate about workers, protecting workers, protecting workers jobs and job security—most recently today in question time. It is really an affront to workers here in Victoria. I would not expect anything less from the party, and in some instances the same people, who unleashed WorkChoices on the Australian workforce, of all the things to do in the wake of a pandemic that has exposed the heart of our labour laws and the problems within them.

When I am at home with my husband I hear a lot about what the union movement is fighting for when it comes to the Morrison government’s IR bill, and none of it is very good. Now is not the time to be making things harder for workers both here in Victoria and nationwide. While we have just heard that Victoria is on track for a strong economic recovery post COVID, we cannot risk lower wages and poorer conditions stifling growth. That is not going to help anyone. So I am glad to be here debating our government’s IR bill, because this is one that will help workers when they really need it.

Some of the key changes in this bill relate to the rights of employees under labour hire companies. I do not really think it is a radical, ingenious idea that workers who a company has employed through a labour hire service should have the same rights as employees who they employ directly. We cannot allow our workplace environment to become two tiered—I should actually say three tiered, because there is a stark difference between permanent and casual workers, as people in my electorate very much know, and the rights that they have—between direct and indirect workers. That is what this is all about: direct workers who are employed by a company and indirect workers contracted through a labour hire firm.

That is why our government launched an inquiry into labour hire and insecure work and we saw firsthand last year how insecure work allowed the virus to sweep through workplaces. You only had to look to Wyndham and the types of jobs that people in my community worked in. They were casual jobs, insecure jobs, and the virus swept through their workplaces, whether they were factory workers or abattoir workers—the list goes on. We have learned about the abuses and the risks associated with labour hire companies and insecure work, and that is what this bill is looking to change. It is going to do that by making sure that labour hire workers have the same rights under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. Most notably, labour hire employees will be protected against discrimination on the basis of employment activity, such as if they make a request relating to their entitlements as an employee. Nobody should be treated unfairly for asking questions about their employment arrangements, whether it is about their pay or their conditions, and labour hire workers should not be any different.

That is why this bill will clarify that workplace requirements to reasonably accommodate employees with a disability also extend to labour hire workers. We talk a lot in this place about better protections, better reform and better policy and legislation for vulnerable Victorians. Well, this is it again. We are also going to be protecting them from adverse actions just for appearing before an inquiry or a royal commission. It is absolutely disheartening to hear that workers were in fact afraid of coming to tell us, to tell our government, what is wrong with the system that they are part of because they were worried that they might suffer retaliation from their employer. It is bad enough that the inquiry had to recommend that this change should be made. Now, for those labour hire workers, including the ones that live in my own community, I say to you: this bill will change your life, it will change the way you work, it will change your rights.

Another key change we are making with this bill is related to portable long service entitlements, particularly for those working in the community services sector. We know that community sector workers do an incredible job, whether they are the receptionist at a community centre or they are managing the place. Under the changes in this bill the Portable Long Service Authority (PLSA) will be empowered to reimburse employers in the community sector who pay entitlements to employees on long service leave. I remember, I think it was in the middle of last year, that I was contacted by a constituent in Hoppers Crossing. This lovely lady was a local, and she managed a local community centre in my electorate. She raised with me her concerns about the regulations that were passed in relation to portable long service leave. In particular she was really concerned about the implications of paying the cost of an employee’s long service leave while covering the costs of her replacement. I have to say it is somewhat understandable. We understand these concerns. Small community centres—and there are a lot in my electorate—are not necessarily flowing in cash, and many cannot afford both leave requirements and the cost of a replacement. In some cases this ends up hurting the people who are supposed to receive help from this scheme. Well, I am pleased to say that this bill will clarify that for small community centres, they are going to be reimbursed for the cost of their employees’ long service leave.

Now, employers will also have greater flexibility in how they report the days worked by an employee to the PLSA, as they can now express this in part days or in fact hours. On top of this, where a community sector employer has not reported days worked to the PLSA, the employee will now be able to do this as well. This is going to help reduce the burden of record keeping for community organisations. I think some of these changes get the balance right, because we cannot lose important community services and it is important that those people working in the sector have the right to leave entitlements, and that is exactly what this bill does.

Another change, as the member for South Barwon talked about, that is very close to my heart is in relation to owner-drivers. It was a great pleasure of mine to debate the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Amendment Bill 2019, and I am pretty sure it was one of the first bills that I debated and contributed to in this Parliament after being elected. As someone for whom the Transport Workers Union has been such a present part of my family’s life, I am very proud that we have strengthened these laws for owner-drivers working in the transport industry. That is why I am delighted to see that we are strengthening them even further by clarifying that non-compliance with obligations to supply further information is indeed an offence. This will give hardworking owner-drivers—and there are plenty out in Tarneit, let me tell you—certainty that they can get the fair and safe working conditions that they too deserve.

This bill truly reflects our Labor government’s commitment to protecting workers. It is who we are; it is in our DNA. And the changes in this bill will deliver stronger protections in the workplace and better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable workers. Unlike those opposite, the party of WorkChoices, we are not interested in undermining workers or in undermining superannuation, collective bargaining or working conditions, and as we speak the Senate is debating a horrendous IR bill that will have devastating outcomes for Victorian workers. So let us show them what an IR bill should look like, and that is precisely why I commend this bill to the house.