ONLY LABOR WILL RESTORE PENALTY RATES

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:13): I'm very pleased to rise today to support the Fair Work Amendment (Restoring Penalty Rates) Bill 2018. This private member's bill was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition quite some time ago now, but it remains increasingly evident how important this bill actually is.

We were faced with the decision by the Fair Work Commission to cut penalty rates for some of the lowest-paid workers across our communities. In response to that, Labor called on the government in a bipartisan way to legislate to protect penalty rates so that the Fair Work Commission had guidance from the parliament about not cutting the penalty rates of workers, particularly unilaterally. We're all aware that there's a better-overall test and sometimes a negotiated outcome is reached where someone gets the offset of an improvement in a benefit for a change in penalty rates. That's a process that legitimately goes on in bargaining. This was not that. This was a unilateral cut to an entitlement that so many workers needed to make ends meet. The government was incapable of coming to an agreement that we should do something about it, so we persevere with this private member's bill.

I think it is rather telling that, as this bill comes up for resumed debate in this place over these sitting weeks, there are very rarely any speakers from the other side who are keen to jump up and defend this particular outcome. I think that says a lot about how much they know it's really affecting people in their local areas. Just as an example, in my own seat of Cunningham, where there are just over 66,000 workers in total, there are 6,054 who work under the 2016 retail trade agreements; under accommodation and food services there are 5,190; and under retail, accommodation and food there are 11,244. So, in my electorate alone, there are well over 20,000 workers who are under the awards that have been affected by this decision, and it means significant loss of income for them. For example, if you were on the fast food award as a casual level 1, you would be losing $1,098 a year. That's a lot of money for a low-income earner. Under the hospitality award, if you were a full-time or part-time level 6 worker, it is $1,271. If you're on the retail award as a full-time or part-time level 6 worker, it is $1,792. These are families who really rely on that compensation for working hours when the rest of us are having time with our family and in our communities. They're working those hours, and they're losing the compensation that was appropriately paid for that sort of work. While we're all able to continue to go to a restaurant, have a coffee or do a bit of shopping on the weekend, they're losing pay because of their requirement to work those sorts of hours.

I think the most frustrating part of this is that the Fair Work Commission and advocates, particularly across the business sector, told us that this would be great. In fact, the member for Gilmore in my own area said it would be a gift and that we would see more jobs and people working longer hours.

An honourable member:  The Gilmore gift!

Ms BIRD: As the member says, the Gilmore gift. I think that has been proven to be a very inaccurate description of this decision.

I just want to draw the House's attention to an Illawarra Mercury report that came out at the end of last year on some work that was done by Dr Martin O'Brien and Dr Eduardo Pol from the University of Wollongong and professorial fellow Ray Markey from Macquarie University. They asked the question: after the application of this cut for a certain amount of time, had it actually created more jobs or given people additional hours? They surveyed 1,000 workers across the sectors. Their findings were very clear that this had not increased jobs and, in fact, existing workers were not getting additional hours, so they were doing the same work and getting less pay. That was the reality.

The brake that it's put on confidence, particularly in rural and regional communities in places like Cunningham, is that people no longer have that additional discretionary spending and they're not spending in their own local little businesses. They're not going out themselves, so it has a cost to our local economies, and you can see that in some of the data that comes out about retail sales and so forth. So it's bad for the individual families, it's bad for our local communities because of its impact on the small business sector, and it's bad for the national economy. A really bad decision needs overturning. (Time expired)

Watch Sharon’s speech here.