SENATOR ANTHONY CHISHOLM
LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND
ABC CAPRICORNIA MORNINGS WITH PAUL CULLIVER
THURSDAY, 10 DECEMBER 2020
SUBJECT: IR changes
PAUL CULLIVER HOST: You might remember early on in this pandemic a big part of the economic response from the Government was wanting to find a consensus on industrial relations reform. It involves extensive consultation and negotiation with the unions. The legislation has now come out. What does the Labor Party think of it well, Senator Anthony Chisholm is Queensland Senator with the Labor Party and joins us. Good Morning Senator.
SENATOR ANTHONY CHISHOLM, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: Good morning, Paul.
CULLIVER: This legislation obviously covers various aspects including workplace pay deals, award simplification, it deals with compliance, it looks at casuals and it also deals with deals for new work sites. So, I might actually start with casuals. And it more or less defined casual employment as anyone that the employer and employees intention, ought to be casual at the start of their work engagement. Is this the right definition to you?
CHISHOLM: We're concerned about it because it obviously disadvantages casual workers in the sense of, it can undermine their penalty rate. This will also potentially lead to a lack of pay for when they do overtime so it'll sort of treat additional hours as that, rather than as overtime. So, what we think we've got therefore is going to lead to lower pay for casual workers, and it's particularly concerning because it's actually a lot of those industries that have got Australia through the last six or seven months as we dealt with the pandemic. It will apply to retail those workers at supermarkets who put in the extra hours, whilst many people across Australia have been locked down, they're the ones who are going to suffer a reduction in pay and conditions because of these proposed changes.
CULLIVER: We were speaking to Senator Matt Canavan earlier this week. He was talking about how there would be a path for casuals to become permanent or ongoing workers. Do you see that in this legislation?
CHISHOLM: It says that it will treat casual employment under a different name. So just sort of saying they'll be called a different name, but it's not going to lead to better pay and conditions. In fact, it's actually going to lead to a pay reduction. So, what that will give them is a different definition, it's actually not going to ensure that their pay and conditions are improved. And I suppose the endpoint for Labor is we're not going to sign up for anything that is going to see some workers worse off with pay and conditions.
CULLIVER: Well on that, people may have heard of better off overall test (BOOT) as people may have read into it. This is a rule that exists in Australia, that if you strike a deal it has to be, resulting in employees being better off overall compared to the award rate, under this legislation it will be suspended for two years. What do you make of that?
CHISHOLM: We're extremely concerned by that. So, the BOOT test was brought in by the Rudd Government, when we won an election in 2007 and ended Workchoices. That was brought in to ensure that no workers were worse off when going through enterprise agreements with their employer and the fact that the Government is trying to use the cover of the pandemic to get rid of that is only going to lead to one outcome and that people's pay and conditions being worse off. The fact that the Government is trying to use the cover of the pandemic to get away with something like this. That's basically been an ideological issue of theirs since the Howard days is extremely concerning and that's why we said we're not going to have a part of this legislation while that is still in it.
CULLIVER: We know that there were extensive negotiations with the unions in the lead up to this legislation being drafted and did they get what they wanted?
CHISHOLM: Well, three things I'll say about that is, one is that the Government never engaged the Labor Party on this, so they said they wanted to reach consensus and engage with different parts of the economy. They never engaged the Labor opposition so, I think that just shows you what their motivation was and what the unions said yesterday and I saw some of their media, they said that the key elements of these changes, like the BOOT test and like the change in casual employment were actually not considered as part of those meetings that they were involved with. So I think they're a bit mystified that the Government have come up and dropped this yesterday on the Australian people with two days before Parliament wrapped for the year without any actual genuine consultation on what are the substantive elements.
CULLIVER: As far as the end of the day, the reason, more or less, the reason given for this legislation change being suggested is partly because we're in a recession and we, in theory, can do things better when it comes to industrial relations. How different, could this legislation look, what would you have liked to have seen this be achieving?
CHISHOLM: Paul, I think the Labor opposition federally with Anthony Albanese as leader we've proven this year that we want to be constructive where possible, and so we worked with the Government on Jobkeeper on Jobseeker and on other changes that have enabled Australian's to get through COVID-19. But what we're not going to sign up for is anything that leads to a reduction in pay and conditions for workers, and that's what we think that's the start, so it's those vulnerable workers, the ones that don't have a strong negotiating position that might be doing casual hours or don't have full time employment. They're the ones that are going to be most impacted by them so the Government should withdraw the bill, and actually engage in some genuine consultation about what the future needs to look like we're open to having that conversation but we're not going to sign up to something that is an ideological issue, done under the cover of COVID.
CULLIVER: Are you saying they should start again?
CHISHOLM: Well, what we're saying is that they should actually involve in genuine conversation, so the first we saw the legislation was when they dumped it yesterday in Parliament. And what we understand from the unions who had been involved in talks, they were surprised by elements of this as well. And so I think it just goes to show that the government weren't genuine in its consensus discussion about this. And at the end of the day, we are not going to stand for something that will see a reduction in wages and conditions for working Australians.
CULLIVER: There are various parliamentary processes and review processes, though, do you think that something can be, you know, good outcomes and good moderation can come through the parliamentary processes.
CHISHOLM: I think from a Labor point of view and as I said we have been constructive where possible, that Labor just cannot sign up to any form of change that is going to lead to a reduction in pay and conditions. And that's what we see in the substance of this when it comes to the BOOT test and some of the changes that would apply to those people who are involved in flexible work, cuts to penalty rates, not treating overtime appropriately so that I suppose it is just a red flag for us. We cannot come at it. And that's why the message to the Government has been strong from Anthony Albanese and the Labor team to say, pull it back. And let's actually have a genuine conversation.
CULLIVER: All right, Senator thanks for your time.
CHISHOLM: Thanks Paul.