Bill's Transcripts

774 with Bruce Guthrie


774 ABC Melbourne, Bruce Guthrie

05 December 2012



SUBJECTS: Fair Work Ombudsman; working conditions; ALP


 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             Before we talk about the Fair Work Ombudsman, obviously Senator John Faulkner's come out yesterday in a speech in Melbourne and it's been interpreted as a call to abolish Labor factions. Is there any hope that that is ever going to happen?

 BILL SHORTEN: Oh listen, I think Senator Faulkner is fair dinkum. I think he's passionate and I think he's been speaking up about making sure the Labor Party operates the way its objectives and its voters expect it to for the last 20 and 30 years. In terms of any specifics, I didn't attend the speech last night. I think that he does make some strong points, really strong points about the need to be transparent, to encourage people to take an interest in politics, and that it can't just be treated as the cynical preserve of a few.

 I have to say though that looking at what this Federal Labor Government's doing, there's more causes for optimism for me than there are for pessimism. This is a Labor Government who's getting quite a lot done from disability reform through to a fair go at work and creating the environment where we've got a strong financial position. So there's a lot of reasons to be positive as well as negative, but I do agree with Senator Faulkner that the Labor Party has to be improving its processes.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             Should we be doing away with the factions?

 BILL SHORTEN: Oh, well I don't know how you do that, pass a law and say no one can belong to any particular sub group in the Labor Party. The Labor Party is a passionate organisation and it will always organise around ideas, you know, the extent of government intervention in the economy for instance, so I think that the question you asked is one issue.

 I think we need to be aware of the presidentialisation of Australian politics. We need to compete on ideas, not just personalities. Once upon a time there were debates in the Labor Party between support for the Eastern Bloc or America. Some of those debates have gone and perhaps they've been replaced by too much attention on personalities, not enough on ideas about the future.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             Okay. The Fair Work Ombudsman, one of the roles of the Ombudsman is to chase back pay on behalf of workers is it not?

 BILL SHORTEN: Yes, the Fair Work Ombudsman is a Government agency who provides assistance to both businesses and employees who are unsure about their rights or responsibilities at work. It takes over a million phone calls a year but just today they've - and they report to myself - they have collected $170,000 worth of back pay for Melbourne workers in the last financial year. In Victoria alone nearly $8 million was collected for nearly 4,000 workers.

 This shows you that with the best will in the world there's still a need for a strong safety net and the Ombudsman's part of that.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE: Did you say $8 million for 4,000 workers?

 BILL SHORTEN: In the last 12 months.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             Wow, there must have been some big payouts.

 BILL SHORTEN: Well 4,000 people, that's right. A lot of small businesses just want to know what is the right thing to do, so quite literally they get - the Fair Work Ombudsman has a telephone service. They get hundreds of thousands of calls from small businesses wanting to check what they're meant to do, but the fact that some workers or thousands of workers in Victoria alone in 12 months have had millions of dollars repaid to them shows that when the Tony Abbott Coalition talk about oh, you've got to deregulate the labour market, well I tell you there's 4,000 people in Victoria last year who got ripped off and that's only from the Government numbers.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             And I would have thought that going into Christmas where there's a lot of casual workers and people being brought on to cope with the Christmas crush, this would be a pretty busy time wouldn't it for people who perhaps are not used to being in the workforce, even kids that are maybe joining the workforce for the first time and who learn too late that maybe they were short changed?

 BILL SHORTEN: That's right.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             What do they do?

 BILL SHORTEN: Well they can do a couple of things. First of all for the small business people listening to this show in between serving customers, they can contact an employer association or the info line on - of the Government, 13 13 94. Also what can happen is for employees, people starting their first jobs, parents wanting to make sure their kids are not, you know, getting exploited or inappropriately reimbursed for the work they do, they can either contact the relevant trade union or they can contact the Government info line on 13 13 94.

 I would say to people who think that bad things don't happen to people in workplaces any more or who believe the conservative mantra, we should just deregulate the labour market and get rid of trade unions, there are literally thousands of people around Australia as we speak who are probably not being paid correctly and they just do need assistance with their rights at work.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             And is it only just about pay rates or - I mean if a worker thinks that they're being asked to do something that's not, shouldn't be part of their job, can they also seek assistance?

 BILL SHORTEN: Yes, they can and they can contact the same - I mean common sense should always prevail, but what I would say to people who don't have a degree in industrial relations law is - and most people don't - is follow your gut instinct. If you think that what you're being asked to do is inappropriate or unsafe, if you think that the behaviour you’re receiving at work is harassing or bullying - you know, some people say it's just a joke and others say he needs a sense of humour – back your own instincts.

 But there are people out there who just want to help provide information. Most people go to work and never have a problem, but for some these conditions that we're talking about here, there was an Elwood retail assistant who was underpaid penalty rates. There was a manager underpaid wages in lieu of notice, annual leave and long service leave. There was an international student working as a night manager in East Melbourne who was underpaid. There was a computer programmer in the CBD underpaid, a Kew marketing worker underpaid redundancy entitlements, an apprentice underpaid wages, annual leave.

 So the other thing is your rights at work don't just apply to people who wear overalls and hard hats and work on construction sites. These issues that go into offices which go into hospitality, go into retail, everyone's got a right to a fair day's wage.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             And just finally on another matter, the ACTU's about to launch a campaign for family friendly hours and the right to take employers to the Industrial Relations Commission if they don't provide those hours. At least that's one interpretation of it. Is this a headache that the Government could do without?

 BILL SHORTEN: Oh well, employer associations are constantly asking for things, so are unions. That's their job. In terms of family friendly workplace, that is the way of the future. That's why this Government's got a pretty good track record. We've increased the child care rebate. We've also provided parental leave. I think that again in workplace relations and there's a lot of people who say you've just got to deregulate the labour market or whatever, similar to that. I just would say to people - treat employees the way you would like someone else to treat a member of your family and then from that principle comes a lot of practical outcomes and I think family friendly workplaces are going to be part of the future. We'll negotiate with employers and unions sensibly about their ideas.

 BRUCE GUTHRIE:             Okay, thanks for joining us.

 BILL SHORTEN:     Thanks Bruce.


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