Bill's Speeches

CHAPTER 5: DECENT JOBS WITH FAIR PAY AND CONDITIONS - TUESDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2018

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First of all, I’m pleased to report to this conference, as was just resolved, that if we are elected as the next Labor Government in our first 100 days, we will restore the Sunday and public holiday rates for 700,000 working Australians.

Delegates

In endorsing this chapter, I wanted to make it clear that this very important set of policies is not simply a re-run of the Hawke-Keating Accord.

Now there are lessons that we can, and we should, learn from that dynamic time.

One lesson is co-operation, consensus, working together, talking to each other. Getting people of different views in the same room, around the same table - that is the spiritin which we will approach our wages policy.

And we will start that process of bringing people together, unions, employers, the representatives of workers, the representatives of industry and small business and the sectors, we will start that process of getting the wages of Australia moving again from the very first week after the election. 

And there is a second lesson of that time. 

It's the lesson of the importance of having a wages policy.
 
A political party without a wages policy is horribly out of touch.
 
Out of touch with the real world. Out of touch with the real people.Out of touch with the real lives of the Australian people who make this country such a great country.
 
We can draw upon these two lessons, a wages policy and bringing people together but, what I understand is that we can not turn back the clock to 1983. We live in a very different economy in a very different time.
The world has quite literally changed, the labour market in Australia has changed.

Back then, when you finished a trade or a university qualification, you could walk into a full-time job with rights, not a revolving door of fixed-term contracts.
 
In 1983, 83 per cent of Australian workers were employed full time. Today, it’s down to 68 per cent and declining.

Or put another way, in 1983 there were one million part time workers, today it’s about four million part time and casual workers.

And if you look at the journey that the Australian workforce has been on in the past 35 years, there are 6.3 million more Australians who are in working than there were in 1983. But only 3 million of those jobs are full time.

We live in a time of the so called gig economy: Uber, Airbnb, Deliveroo, the internet itself, did not exist in 1983.

Right now in Australia, there's 1.6 million people here with some form of work visa or a visa that gives them temporary work rights,1.6 million people.

We see enterprise bargaining in retreat, the lowest level of ratification of agreements since the first year that enterprise bargaining was introduced.

Concerningly, award rates are now so far behind the market rates of pay that they belong to a different decade.

Industries are changing, whole industries have closed. I think about Ansett and Holden, the massive change in metal manufacturing and textiles.   
 
I think about the fact that in 1983 at least we had ships on the coastal trade of Australia, carrying the Australian ensign.

But at an even deeper level, beyond the changes and the workforce and permanent jobs, the changes in technology and industry.

We live in a time which has seen the end of the old orthodoxy, that theory beloved of classical economists, that said supply and demand works in labour markets.

That if the labour market tightens, if the demand for workers goes up so will their wages go up.

But we are not seeing that now. We are seeing growth without wages growth.

We see rising corporate profits and we witness stagnating workers wages.

This is because of a two-class jobs system in this country, where jobs growth in this country, such as it has been, has been absorbed by the insecure, deregulated job market, the causal part time labour hire market.

And when the growth is absorbed in these jobs what that means is that these workers have no capacity as the demand for their labour increases to assert better pay and this is dampening the pay of all Australian workers.

And I want to put to you that this is one of the biggest economic challenges facing Australia. 

Stagnant wages growth is bad for people, it is bad for business, it is bad for our economy and our society.

It is bad for family budgets and family savings.

It is bad for the demand in small businesses and the shopping centres in the high streets of regional and suburban Australia.
  
For too long in Australia, the Australia that is run by the Liberals and the Nationals, everything has gone up, except people’s wages. 

I speak to close this chapter of our platform because wages policy is an issue of substance that goes to peoples’ standard of living.

Their quality of life, their capacity to pay the bills and plan for the future, to dream dreams. 

Wages policy is an essential ingredient of a decent economy and a decent society.

You wouldn't talk about our economy without talking about infrastructure, or farmers or mining or small business. 

But this government studiously ignores an essential ingredient of a decent economy, wages policy. 

Wages policy is not an issue to be sidelined or disregarded.

It is not something that can simply left to the market taking us down, further every day, the road to an American style system.

Wages policy is the proposition that if you work hard you should not live in poverty.

If you work hard you should be able to aspire to a growing standard of living.

Wages policy is the aspiration and the essential ingredient to ensure that a fair go means something when you go to work. 
 
Delegates, in my years at the Australian Workers Union, I was brought up in a tradition and a system that encouraged co-operation, negotiation, positive outcomes for both sides of the negotiating table.

Australian workers go to work and seek cooperation, not conflict.

They seek fair pay and they seek dignified work and a say in their work and they seek to be safe at work.
 

And they seek dignified work and a say in their work and they seek to be safe at work. 

But collectively, I was raised in a tradition which said that our job was to strive for more productive workplaces and better pay and conditions.

But the rules have changed, most markedly in particular, in the last five-plus years of Coalition Government. 

Today's system, under Liberal National Government does not encourage cooperation. 

Enterprise bargaining, in its current form, is simply not doing the job for wages in this country. 

It doesn't work for funded services. 

It doesn't work for people who have little or no bargaining power.

It doesn't work for people at the end or the bottom of the supply chain. 

It doesn't work for labour hire and casual workers.

And increasingly, it doesn't work for well-paid workers and their employers under collective agreements which have been negotiated in good faith over the last two decades, with give and take and greater productivity because even those who participate in enterprise bargaining are now at risk of being left stranded because the system now rewards wage cutting. 

The system now rewards job insecurity, it rewards the commodification of the dignity of work. 

We need a new system set up for the 2020s, to recognise the changes in our economy, learning the lessons of the past. 

We need more focus on secure work, a better fairer definition of casual work. 

No more use of that meaningless term, that contradictory term, 'permanent casual'.

No more going without pay or conditions for three months every year because your employer keeps you on those rolling fixed-term contracts. 

And we need a new system which includes tougher laws on sham contracting and labour hire.

Multinational companies should not be able to obscure their corporate identity and deny people the proper conditions and access to compensation that they earn through their productive labour every day. 

Under Labor, if you do the same job in a workplace, you will get the same pay.

Same job, same pay. 

And delegates, working people have the right to be represented by a union in this country. 

And this means that people should be able to access their union, that unions need to be uphold rights at work to call out everything from wage theft and exploitation to harassment and unsafe workplaces. 

We will make sure that the laws that we create cannot be avoided, nor defeated, nor negated, nor ignored by multinational companies and their high-priced lawyers. 

We will focus our industrial relations laws to protect workers’ safety and their rights, not to create conflict, not to pursue vendettas and not to stage police raids for the benefit of TV cameras. 

This is Australia, not a tin pot dictatorship. And that is why we will abolish the ABCC and the Registered Organisations Commission. 

And I tell you something else that's changed since 1983, the proportion of women in Australian workplaces.

And we should be every day grateful that what economic growth we've had in terms of household wealth has been delivered in no small part, not just by superannuation but by the fact that the women of Australia are working in numbers more than ever. 

And therefore modern Australian workplaces, need to recognise and deliver equality for the women of Australia.

No more pay discounts because you are a woman.

We've already heard in this session, Tanya Plibersek and Brendan O'Connor outline another fantastic policy this morning. 

A Labor Government will finally recognise a fact that all of us know to be true: the work traditionally done by women in predominantly feminised industries, industries which employ a large proportion of women as a total of their workforce, this important work is equally valuable and equally important as the work traditionally done by men in male-dominated industries.

And that therefore, these workers, these Australian women who work should be equally compensated for their contribution, as is long overdue. 

The people I speak of, for example, include early childhood educators, our aged carers and the people driving the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The pay and recognition and training that they deserve.

And for the survivors of family violence, for women battling all of the other legal and logistical challenges that that brings, trying to pick up the pieces and stay safe.

Labor will write into the law of Australia, the law of the land, 10 days of paid domestic violence leave. 

In closing this chapter, I say to you delegates, the Liberals and the Nationals always want to say the election is just about me and the other guy.

There was the first guy, the tough guy, he said that. 

Then there was the second guy, the rich guy, he said that. 

There's the third guy, the advertising guy, I think he said it the other day too. 

But we understand here, and Australians understand throughout this nation, elections are not about two individuals.

They are about the people of Australia. 

So when we submit this wages policy, as indeed with all of our policies, we will be asking the Australian people for their judgment.

Their judgment on these questions:

Who is the best party to make sure that bargaining and wages rises start happening again?

Who is the best party to champion equal pay?

Who is the best party to fight for secure, safe, decent work?

Who is the best party to lift the wages of working Australians?

Who is the best party to stand up for middle class and working class Australians and their families?

And delegates, as in this chapter and all of our platform, I submit to you that it is the Labor Party who is the best party to champion these issues. 

It is only our party and our movement who seek to govern for all, who seek to govern in the interests of all. 

It is only our party who believes in treating unions with respect, ensuring they have a rightful place in negotiating. 

It is only Labor who seeks to govern for working Australians and for all Australians. 

Thank you very much, I commend this chapter.


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