Bill's Speeches

PRIVATE MEMBERS BUSINESS - PUTTING LOCAL WORKERS FIRST - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2016

PRIVATE MEMBERS BUSINESS - PUTTING LOCAL WORKERS FIRST

 

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA

 

MONDAY, 28 NOVEMBER 2016

 

***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***

I move this bill be now read a second time.

This legislation is about three things: jobs, jobs and jobs.

Right now, over 700,000 of our fellow Australians cannot find a job - not even one hour of paid work each week. 

More than a million Australians regularly record they would like more hours of work, more security at work, but can’t find it. 

800,000 members of our society are on the disability support pension, who this government prefers to criticise and demonise rather than support into work.

In our regions, in country towns and in the suburbs, Australians have been locked out of employment .

Denied the dignity of work, the security of a decent income, the opportunity to better themselves. 

This parliament should be working to change that. 

Not with hollow displays of empathy, or empty talk of agility, but with action. 

It's why I am asking the Parliament to support Labor’s plan to put local workers first. 

Mr Deputy Speaker

Skills and capacities from overseas will always be a necessary part of our modern, globalised, open economy. 

But currently, I think Australians would be surprised to know there are more than a million visa holders in this country who have some form of work rights. 

And big parts of our temporary work visa system are being used and abused by dodgy labour hire firms and unscrupulous employers. 

These operators are ripping off guest workers, using them as cheap labour to avoid Australian laws, to avoid paying Australian wages and to avoid meeting Australian standards. 

And in turn, giving these guests to our country a terrible experience to report on when they return home.

The power of the employer to exploit visa holders is often absolute. 

We’ve seen it with Pizza Hut, 7-11 and now Caltex. 

These are not dodgy sub-contractors, not backyard outfits. Multi-billion dollar, multinational companies, paying people less than half the minimum wage. 

Relying upon pyramid sub-contracting and legal artifice and dodge to avoid paying their proper obligations. 

We all saw the appalling footage, just last week, of a staff member at 7-11 being taken over to the store ATM and made to withdraw money so they could hand back cash to their boss. 

This isn’t an oversight or an exception - this is the business model. 

No-one wins from this.

The vast majority of good employers, businesses doing the right thing, are put at a disadvantage.

Australia’s international reputation suffers.

And the wages of working people – all working people – are undercut.

As someone who has spent their life representing Australians who go to work every day, I will not stand for it.

As a party brought forth dedicated to the proposition of a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, we will not stand for it.

And as an alternative government that believes in a fair go all round, we are proposing action to deal with it. 

I’m proud that as Minister for Workplace Relations, we toughened up Australia’s 457 visa laws so employers were required to look locally first.

The now Prime Minister, the now Minister for Immigration and the now Treasurer all voted against Labor’s sensible changes. 

They voted against better market testing and more controls in Opposition – and they’re doing nothing about it in Government.

It staggers me to hear the discredited Deputy Prime Minister championing these practices in the regions. 

When youth unemployment is: 

  • 13 per cent in Townsville.
  • 18 per cent in Armidale
  • And 27 per cent in Cairns

It’s no wonder the Nationals are becoming notorious for selling-out the bush.

It’s no wonder farmers are furious with the mess the Nats have made of the backpacker tax. 

It’s no wonder the Deputy Prime Minister’s personal erratic  intervention has thrown the Murray-Darling Basin agreement into disarray and enraged his colleagues, from the Prime Minister down.

It’s no wonder the beleaguered Attorney-General is openly debating whether there’s any value in being paired up with the National Party. 

What else do we expect from the Deputy Prime Minister, the only man in Australian politics who doctors the Hansard and ends up looking worse.

During the mining boom, there were pockets in Australia – including in places like Canberra where unemployment was hovering around 4 per cent. 

The world has changed, the economy has changed since then – and our policies need to change with it.   

When full-time unemployment is on the rise, we need to go further. 

But under the Liberals, the average number of 457 visas granted for cooks each year has more than doubled. 

Visa grants have increased for: 

  • Bricklayers
  • Carpenters
  • And café managers

457 visas are legitimately meant to fill a gap, to bring in special skilled workers to do jobs an Australian couldn't do. 

Instead we see Australians missing out on jobs as: 

  • Electricians
  • Motor mechanics.
  • Cabinetmakers and joiners

And at the same time, apprenticeship places have fallen by 130,000. 

On this side of the house, we know temporary work visas are not the long-term answer to national skills shortages. 

We need a national training agenda, we need to invest in Australians - in TAFE, training, skills and apprenticeships.

And we should not be discouraging our people from learning a trade or getting a qualification by sending the message that employers can just bring in someone else willing to do the job for less. 

The legislation is about supporting the Australian wages system, upholding our standards – and creating Australian jobs.

And it sets more rigorous evidence requirements for labour market testing for firms seeking to use 457 visas: 

  • A mandatory requirement for jobs to be advertised – for a minimum of 4 weeks. 
  • A requirement for labour market testing to occur no more than four months before the nomination of a visa worker position.
  • A ban on job ads that target only overseas workers or specified visa class workers, to the detriment of locals.

And a crackdown on job ads that set unrealistic requirements for vacant positions – ads specifically designed to exclude locals.

If employers genuinely need a 457 visa-holder for their business, they should have to provide evidence and information to prove it. 

We simply ask employers to show the need for the nominated occupations– and to prove none of these positions can be filled by Australians. 

Employers will also be required to document their recruitment efforts, including the wage rates the jobs have been advertised at – and any relocation assistance offered to Australian workers.

Today I’m asking the Parliament to support a new Australian Jobs Test.

The Australian Jobs Test would mean that before the Minister for Immigration approves any labour market agreement, they would need to consider: 

  • Whether the Agreement will support or create Australian jobs.
  • A labour market needs statement provided by the employer demonstrating why they need to use temporary skilled migration.
  • A training plan adopted by the employer showing how they will improve the skills of local workers.
  • Whether the visa workers will be able to transfer skills to Australian workers.
  • The employer’s plan to support 457 visa workers during their stay in Australia, including information about workplace entitlements and community services.

This Australian Jobs Test would apply for the life of the agreement, and it would be an additional safeguard to labour market testing, not a substitute for it. 

The quality of Australian work – and the safety of Australian workplaces – is a first-order priority for the Labor Party and indeed the labour movement. 

This legislation raises the standards for 457 visa workers in occupations where it is mandatory for Australians to hold a licence, registration or membership.

For example, in trades such as electrical or plumbing occupations where workers must hold State and Territory occupational licences.

Labor’s new system would simply require visa applicants who hold a passport from a nominated country in these occupations to either: 

  • hold the relevant licence when they apply for a visa; or
  • undertake a mandatory skills assessment to demonstrate that they meet the standards, professionalism and safety required to obtain the license.

These standards must be met before the Minister grants a 457 visa.

The new visa conditions spelled out in this legislation would require 457 visa holders in licenced occupations:

  • to obtain the licence within 60 days of arriving in Australia;
  • not to perform the occupation before obtaining a licence;
  • not to engage in any work which is inconsistent with the licence or its conditions; and to notify proactively the Department of any changes to their licence.

Now, I understand it’s not traditional for an opposition to put forward concrete legislation like this, so early in the term of a government - but someone has got to do it.

It might be easy for us to sit back and complain, to try and garner a dividend from the government’s inadequacy. But this issue is too important for that. 

People doing it tough should not have to wait three years for this parliament to wake up, to hear their concerns, to act. 

Today is a chance for our parliament to do its job.

This Government cannot have it both ways. It can't complain about Labor raising these issues and also, try and undermine Labor for raising these issues and trying stand up for Australian standards.

We recognise that guest workers are part of the Australian economy. 

But we also recognise that the Parliament should focus on making sure that we give our own unemployed, our own under-employed the best possible chance and the best start in life.

Unlike the Government who come to this issue belatedly, in the Labor Party, we know where we stand – and we mean what we say.

We are proud of our globalised economy - but we are also proud of having policies which:

Buy Australian.

Build Australian.

And employ Australians.

I commend the bill to the house. 


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