Despite the enthusiasm by those opposite for an exercise in collective amnesia, Australians will not forget; we will not forget. They’re not going to forget that the hopeless Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government went out of their way to break the social compact in this country, that they went out of their way to break our bargaining system, to dud workers and to demonise workers’ representatives.
Mr Wilson (7:15pm) – For far too long the circumstances of working Australians, especially low- and middle-income working Australians, have been getting harder. Wages have been flat and stagnant. Work has become more insecure. The gender pay gap has remained stubbornly wide. For a woman, earnings are 14 per cent less on average than they are for a man. Is it any surprise that women then retire with half the superannuation of men?
Over the last decade, conditions for some of the lowest-paid workers—the people, mostly women, who undertake some of the most important work in our communities: educating and caring for the very young, providing dignity in care for the very old—have gotten harder and they’ve gotten meaner. Without question, for the last 10 years workers have been left to fall behind, which means that, for no good reason, Australia as a whole has fallen away from our core ethos, our core value, of fairness and egalitarianism.
Now, at a time of relatively high inflation, the flatlining of wages has left Australian households suffering from sharp cost-of-living pressures. There was no reason for that to have occurred, but there was a cause. Wage stagnation in Australia didn’t happen by accident. Low wages are not a naturally occurring phenomenon. When the economy is properly managed in this country and the market is shaped by responsible policies that flow from our values and from our commitment to fairness, social inclusion and shared wellbeing, then wages rise in fair proportion to profits, productivity and workforce demand.
But all of those threads were cut by those opposite. All those sensible connections and mechanisms of fairness were severed by those opposite. Low wages and insecure work were inflicted on the Australian people by a coalition government that more or less bragged about how these were a cornerstone of their economic approach. Low wages and insecure work were inflicted by the regulatory and systemic anti fairness engineering of those opposite.
People in the Australian community, in my electorate of Fremantle and everywhere else should be crystal clear in understanding that there was no reason and no justification for stagnant and falling real wages in this country. In recent years we have seen rising and, indeed, record profits. We’ve seen growth in productivity. We have seen workforce shortages. Yet wages have gone nowhere, and workers have seen their standard of living fall. Company profits as a proportion of the economy have been at a record high, yet wages as a share of the economy have been at a record low. That is wrong. It is a perversion. We know wage growth is possible. We know it’s possible because last year, just to take an example, the wages of CEOs across 20 companies in Australia rose on average by 17 per cent. That’s nine times the increase received by average, ordinary, full-time wage earners, whose real wages went backwards last year.
The Albanese Labor government is not going to stand by and ignore a bargaining system laid waste by those opposite. This bill will restore fairness and balance to a system that was deliberately twisted into dysfunction by the coalition. The bill puts job security and gender equity at the heart of the Fair Work Commission’s decision-making process and creates two new expert panels: one on pay equity and the other on care in the community sector. It enables the commission to help resolve flexible working arrangements. It provides greater access to bargaining for low-paid workers. It will ensure that multi-employer bargaining, which is already contemplated within the act, can actually work properly when it’s the right approach to take. And, of course, it follows on from this government’s successful advocacy for a five per cent rise in the minimum wage and a 15 per cent rise in the pay of aged-care workers.
The bill will put a sensible framework around the use of fixed-term contracts, acknowledging that the number of workers who deal with that kind of rolling insecurity has increased by 50 per cent since 1998. The bill also gives immediate effect to the recommendations of the 2019 Migrant Workers’ Taskforce, thereby reducing the scope for exploitation and the potential to undermine local working conditions.
Despite the enthusiasm by those opposite for an exercise in collective amnesia, Australians will not forget; we will not forget. They’re not going to forget that the hopeless Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government went out of their way to break the social compact in this country, that they went out of their way to break our bargaining system, to dud workers and to demonise workers’ representatives. Australians are right to expect a fair deal when it comes to wages and working conditions. That is core to our way of life. Australians young and old should expect safe, secure and properly paid jobs. Women, men and non-binary Australians should absolutely expect gender equity and freedom from sexual harassment in their workplaces. And all working people should expect the ability to bargain for and achieve wages that are not perpetually falling behind the cost of living, that are not disconnected from profits and productivity but instead deliver to workers their share of effort and enterprise.
That’s what this Labor government is about. That’s what this bill is about. It could be titled ‘Cleaning up the mess and the damage of the coalition government, part 12’, but let’s accentuate the positive. This bill is what it says: secure jobs, better pay.