Bill's Transcripts

3AW with Tom Elliot

3AW with Tom Elliot
11 FEBRUARY 2013

SUBJECT/S: Workplace Relations

TOM ELLIOTT:       It is eight past four. The Federal Government has reopened the debate about work place flexibility.  Labor is proposing to change the Fair Work Act so that all workers who have caring responsibilities, so people with school aged children or people who have elderly relatives requiring care, have the right to ask their bosses for a more flexible roster to change their working hours.

Now I'm actually all for this. I think that workers and business owners or CEOs should be able to work together to try and come up with flexible working arrangements that suit both parties.  But what I've found odd about the Government's proposed changes to the Fair Work Act is that actually there's no compulsion on businesses to agree to this.  So the worker can go up to his or her manager and say I would like to come to work two hours late on Monday and in return I'll work late on Friday for example because that suits me.  The manager can just say well no we're not going to do that, end of story.  So is this a fundamental change to workplace? 

Also another thing that concerns me about this at the other end of the spectrum is if you're a small business and you've only got three or four employees and to be honest if one person can't turn up at the right time it affects everybody else badly, how is it that you can just manufacture this flexibility out of nowhere.

I'll go to calls in a moment, 9690 0693 or outside Melbourne 131 332.  Joining me now as promised before the news is the Federal Minister for Employment and Work Place Relations Bill Shorten.  Mr Shorten, good afternoon.

BILL SHORTEN:     Good afternoon Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT:       Now I was intrigued when I read about these proposed changes to the Fair Work Act.  Is there some reason why if you're giving people the right to ask for a more flexible work place there's not some requirement on business to respond to the request?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well it's about live and let live. I think in the modern day a lot has changed in the last forty years.  For instance rather than just having dad go to work, you know a job for life, nine to five, mums are working more than ever and fathers want to spend more time with their kids.  So I think to create a productive profitable workplace in the future I think we need to start encouraging just complete straight dialogue.  Where if you've got to look after your kids, say you've got to go to the specialist appointment, say you're a carer of a child with autism and the school bus doesn't turn up and you've got to try and work out how you can get the child to school, I think that we need to be - I think we should have flexible arrangements where people have the right to request.

But going to your point you made before I came on which is saying I should be - what's the compulsion?  It's not possible I think for a Government to know the circumstances of every business. 

TOM ELLIOTT:       Sure.

BILL SHORTEN:     If there's a genuine business need why you can’t. I mean you mentioned what about a small business of three or four people?  If you've got one person who opens the shop every day and you need that person and they signed onto those conditions, all of a sudden they say we can't open the shop anymore, well you know each set of circumstance is different.

So we're wary about legislating particular business outcomes. But on the other hand going back to where you started and I started, I do think that we need to start changing the debate about flexibility and job sharing.  What makes a good employee isn't necessary just watching the clock is it?

TOM ELLIOTT:       Sure no, absolutely not.  To look at the business of politics to the extent that one can call it a business I mean Nicola Roxon has said that she wants to resign from the parliament and spend more time with her daughter.  Would it be fair to say that she didn't find being a Federal Politician as flexible as perhaps she would have liked?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well yeah I can understand that.  I've had - now I've got children the time demands are different.  It's a matter of balancing it. I get that if you work in a very small business it mightn’t be possible to be able to grant that flexibility.  It depends on the circumstances. But there are a lot of dads out there who do want to spend more time. You know I can't speak for your circumstances or anyone else's but I know that perhaps what my father and grandfather would have thought was the amount of time spent parenting vis-à-vis the time they spent at work, for us blokes it has changed.

TOM ELLIOTT:       No doubt.  Your parliamentary colleague and I use that word advisably Julie Bishop has come out recently and said that in fact people and particularly women can't actually have it all.  That people have to be aware that there are trade-offs in terms of how much time they spend in their career verses time at home, time with children and so forth.  Would you agree with that?

BILL SHORTEN:     I don't think anyone, man or woman, can have everything you want.  I mean to that extent I agree.  But when it comes to flexibility in the workforce I do think that we need to start pushing the boundaries a bit.  Getting people to job share.  I know I employ people directly so for me it's not a theory.  I know that for working mums, it's not just working mums, but to pick working mums who have got the school drop off and pick up you know a dream job is between quarter past nine and quarter past three.

TOM ELLIOTT:       Exactly.

BILL SHORTEN:     So for me the question I have to ask myself is well do I really need everyone at the same place at a particular time?  You know when I can get the same work done in a different configuration.

TOM ELLIOTT:       That's the sort of flexibility I guess you're trying to encourage businesses to have without making it absolutely compulsory.

BILL SHORTEN:     Yeah, yeah and that's - you know we've been criticised by the far left in the Greens saying there should be all sorts of debate and compulsion.  Well I know enough about the way things work to know that you can't just say one size fits all because it doesn't.  But I do think that for workers who have got children who are school age, I do think that for people who are caring for others with a disability, I do think for people who have suffered domestic violence or helping people with domestic violence, I do think older workers looking to downshift, I do think it's not out of the ballpark to have a right to request and the business needs to give it serious consideration.

TOM ELLIOTT:        Mr Shorten just finally on an entirely separate matter.  There's a rather unusual strike going on here in Werribee at the treatment plants and local workers who are unemployed are protesting what they say is the use of imported Filipinos workers on 457 visas.  Do they have a legitimate point there?

BILL SHORTEN:     Well there are two sets of issues.  One is the way you're protesting.  Is that legal according to state law?  That's one set of issues.  The Victorian Government and the Victorian Police are going to have to work that out.  We always say that people should adhere to the law state or federal obviously.  There is another issue though behind it which is if there are jobs which Australians are qualified to do and this is not the Pilbara where arguably perhaps there’s big projects with a labour shortage, this is Werribee.  I'm a little perplexed if there are not Australian boil makers and welders who couldn't have done that work.

TOM ELLIOTT:        Indeed.  We'll leave it there.  Bill Shorten Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations.  Thanks for your time.

BILL SHORTEN:     Great cheers.


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Mr Shorten’s Media Contact: Jessica Lindell 0408 642 804