Debate resumed from 22 September 2005.
The Hon. GREG DONNELLY [5.15 p.m.]: When this debate was adjourned I was referring to the issues facing casual employees in Australia today. It is important to understand that the issues and challenges facing casual employees will get considerably more serious and, in my view, worse, as the new Commonwealth workplace industrial relations legislation comes into being. No doubt honourable members have seen the extraordinary advertising in today's newspapers; a four-page spread in all major metropolitan and, I imagine, regional newspapers. The reality is that casual employees are finding things difficult under current legislation, to say nothing about how they will fare under the new legislation. When this debate was adjourned on the last occasion I was talking about the impact of the Commonwealth's legislation on a casual employee who worked for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.
I refer now to another example: a casual employee working for Banjo's Bakehouse in Coffs Harbour. Unfortunately, the Hon. Melinda Pavey is not present in the Chamber; I would be interested to hear her views on this matter. Currently, employees at Banjo's Bakehouse are employed under an Australian workplace agreement [AWA]. I have a copy of the AWA that applies at that business. It is worth reflecting on the rates of pay for shop assistants in that bakery. Under the AWA that currently applies, the rate of pay for a permanent employee is $13.37 per hour. However, if the employee were employed under the State award, as should happen, the rate would be $14.28; that is a 91¢ discount on the hourly rate of pay for a permanent employee. For an adult casual employee, the rate is $17.80, compared to $16.71 for the AWA rate—a difference of $1.09 an hour. In addition to that headline rate of pay, it is worth noting that the AWA that applies to Banjo's Bakery at Coffs Harbour has provision for a 40-hour week. Employees under the State award are entitled to a 38-hour week, but under the AWA they have to work 40 hours to get a full weeks' pay.
All the allowances provided for under the award are abolished under the AWA. There are no penalty rates under the AWA for work on Saturdays and Sundays, whereas the award provides for penalty rates on both those days. There is no penalty rate at all under the penalty AWA for work on public holidays, but the award provides for a normal public holiday penalty rate. There is no annual leave loading under the AWA, but the award provides for an annual leave loading. There is no limitation on the number of long days people can be required to work under the AWA, whereas the award sets a proper, fair and reasonable limitation on the number of long days.
There are no minimum breaks between shifts under the AWA, whereas the award provides for a reasonable break between shifts. There is no minimum daily engagement under the AWA, so an employee can be brought in and employed for just a few hours at a time. Employees have no right to refuse a roster under the AWA. There is no benefit for employees who are rostered to work on a public holiday if it is a non-working day, and there is no provision for the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to play any role in dealing with differences between employees and employers. The AWA provides that all differences have to be dealt with through mediation. Today in Australia, under current legislation, workers are demonstrably and significantly worse off under Australian workplace agreements. Newspaper advertisements we saw today contain the following headline, "Protecting award conditions in bargaining." I quote the following directly from part of the advertisement:
In negotiating new workplace agreements certain award entitlements will be protected in the new system—
and this is the important part—
though bargaining can occur on these entitlements and approval of employees is required to change them.
The fact of the matter is that new employees can be put straight onto Australian workplace agreements, and all the key standard entitlements, which are award entitlements, will simply disappear. Under the new legislation, if it ultimately passes through the Commonwealth Parliament and survives a High Court challenge, there will be a requirement for an hourly rate of pay and four other basic entitlements: an average of 38 hours over a 52-week period; provision for some annual leave; provision for personal and carers leave; and provision for some parental leave. They will be the great statutory standards! But all the other entitlements—those that workers have taken for granted and enjoyed for decades—are about to go down the gurgler thanks to John Howard, Kevin Andrews and their Federal Coalition colleagues. In conclusion, with the stakes as high as they are, especially for those in weak bargaining positions, the Labor Party, unions and many ordinary Australians will be galvanised to vigorously oppose the Commonwealth's proposed industrial relations legislation and take-over of State systems. I urge all honourable members to support the motion.
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [5.23 p.m.]: This motion is about casual employment. The Macquarie Dictionary defines "casual" as "employed only irregularly". The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary defines "casual labourer" as "one without permanent employment, working when the chances come". Casual workers are employed from day to day. They have no leave entitlements, no severance entitlements, no set hours. They are paid hourly, and there is no guarantee of further work. In fact, if an employee is not rostered on, he or she does not have a job.
A number of employers can quite easily get rid of their casual employees by simply rostering them on for fewer hours until they find it impossible to live on the money they receive and until they have no certainty about their previous casual hours of employment. In an earlier debate the Hon. Greg Pearce referred to part-time work. I define part-time work as work for which there are set hours. Anyone in full-time employment has set hours. Employees in part-time work, permanent part-time work, or full-time employment have set hours and receive entitlements. Under the present industrial relations system in this country people have entitlements. I am not sure what the future will bring if the Howard Government's changes are implemented, as there will no longer be any guarantees of employment.
Casual employees do not have such guarantees; they are not deemed to be permanent part-time workers, who have entitlements covered in an award. They are not deemed to be full-time employees despite the fact that many have what could be regarded as permanent part-time or full-time employment. Many would dearly love to have permanent jobs in order to receive the entitlements that are enjoyed by most people in the Australian work force. Casual employees have to work because at the end of the day they have to meet certain obligations; they have bills to pay and families to feed and are therefore caught in casual work. It is not necessarily a choice that they make. Many would like to have permanent employment, but it does not always happen that way.
Today I shall refer to issues that impact on casual workers, such as leave, obstacles faced when applying for finance, superannuation payments and work entitlements. A number of case studies of people in casual employment were referred to in a submission by the Labor Council of New South Wales to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission. In one such study, a woman who had been in casual employment for 11 years with a well-known large company always went to work when she was sick because she simply could not afford to take a day off work. Even one day without pay would have made it difficult for her to maintain her household financially.
The other case studies paint a similar picture: casual workers cannot have a sick day when they or their children are sick; some do not go on holidays because they simply do not get holidays or, if they have leave entitlement, they cannot afford to take it. If they did, they would probably find at the end of that period they would not have a job to return to. As I said earlier, if people are not rostered on they do not have a job. Another alarming revelation is that if casual employees take leave, they feel that their employment will be jeopardised. One woman claimed that if workers take a day off because of sickness or for some other reason, they will be punished, resulting in them not being called in for two days. The same woman described casual employment as "not for those who were family oriented".
It is unbelievable that in this day and age people are fearful of taking a sick day if they or their children become sick. These workers do not enjoy the basic holidays that the rest of the community enjoys. The simple entitlements that we take for granted are foreign to these people. There are many other real-life stories depicting the disadvantages of employment as a long-term casual worker. Casual employees are further disadvantaged with regard to access to credit with various financial institutions. A bank manager with a high-profile bank who gave evidence of lending money over many years stated that casual workers were significantly disadvantaged when it came to applying for a loan compared to permanently employed workers. The reason for that is that casual workers have difficulty proving their ongoing employment. Because they are employed at a casual rate their pay often fluctuates, making it difficult to establish their true earnings.
Unfortunately, in a number of cases, casual employees do not even get to the formal loan application stage because they are turned away almost immediately by loan officers after their employment situation is determined. I speak from experience in this regard: A member of my family, who is employed on a casual basis, and her husband, who has a full-time position, cannot use her salary to determine their capacity to borrow in any application for a loan to purchase a home or to engage in activities that most of us take for granted. Many stories from individual casual workers reinforce the claims of this bank manager. Indeed, one casual worker who was applying for a home loan was told that she did not meet the lending criteria because, as she was a casual worker, her employment could be terminated at any time.
A man applied for a loan through a major bank, only to be refused. He then sought finance through one of the many finance companies and his application was approved—but with an interest rate of 21 per cent. Another man applied to refinance his mortgage through a major bank and was refused simply because he was a casual worker. Some years later he became permanent, reapplied and of course this application was approved straight away—even though he was probably earning less than he was as a casual employee. Of course, built into casual rates is a loading that is supposed to compensate for the benefits that full-time and permanent employees take for granted under existing awards in the present industrial relations system. However, those benefits may be up for grabs in future. Perhaps there will be further casualisation of the work force under future Australian workplace agreements.
Regardless of whether a person has been employed on a casual basis for 5 or 10 years, banks have their own lending requirements that must be met. Banks characterise these requirements as the general five Cs test: character, capacity, collateral, capital and conditions. Banks rely heavily on assessing a lender's capacity to repay the loan. In many cases casual workers also have trouble obtaining mortgage insurance. Unfortunately, these casual workers simply do not qualify because of their work situation. Casual workers not only are disadvantaged through leave entitlements and financially but do not have the advantage of accumulating superannuation payments—something that governments in this country encourage. This severely hinders their savings for retirement in later years. They are not entitled to a common, basic right that most full-time employees take very seriously. The Federal Government's Wagenet web site defines "casual employment" as follows:
Casual employees are genuinely engaged for short-term, irregular or seasonal work. The essential feature of casual work is that the employer and employee enter into a series of short-term contracts on specific occasions. There is no promise to provide work or be available for work on other occasions.
The length of time worked by casuals may vary and they are paid by the hour or day. They usually have no access to permanent employment entitlements such as sick leave and annual leave.
Many casual workers find themselves employed under this definition for lengthy periods. This leads to the disadvantages that I mentioned previously regarding leave entitlements and securing finance. Casual workers are faced with insecurity, low wages, intermittent employment and lack of basic employment entitlements such as severance pay and sick and annual leave payments. I understand that the Australian Bureau of Statistics used to define "casual employees" as "employees who were not entitled to either annual leave or sick leave". This definition has since changed to "employees without leave entitlements".
I think it is fair to say that the majority of casual workers are further disadvantaged and susceptible to workplace situations such as dismissal, underpayments and varied hours without notice. In many cases they do not receive the skills development that other full-time employees enjoy. Many employers do not give their casual workers the opportunity to develop and enhance their skills. This further disadvantages the casual worker. As a broader issue, casualisation has an effect on society in general. It affects the community. Many casual workers do not have the time to participate in or cannot commit to participating in community groups or activities because of their work situation. It is interesting to watch the Howard Government promoting its new workplace reforms and, in the process, throwing around words like "choice", "freedom", and "flexibility". I doubt that the casual workers whom I mentioned previously would agree that they have choice, freedom and flexibility in their workplaces at present. They have no choice but to go to work when they are sick, they have no freedom to go on holiday and they have no flexibility with their hours.
The Government's industrial relations reforms have not been well received. We see the advertisements every night on television and read the articles daily in the newspapers—the Hon. Greg Donnelly referred to the four-page advertisements in the newspapers today. The Federal Government is desperate to sell its reforms, and it is using millions of dollars of taxpayers' funds to do it. But has the hard sell worked? Professor Mark Wooden—who was once a friend of the Federal Government but is now a foe—has condemned the Howard Government's workplace changes. Professor Wooden went on the attack recently, giving the proposed changes a C minus because they do not promote real choice for workers. In an article in the Age Professor Wooden told the Australian Conference of Economists:
… the plans were full of political speak about choice and appeared unable to deliver any proposal that will fundamentally help the unemployed to secure employment.
He also claimed that the Government sought to cut award standards and to undermine protection for collective wage deals by removing the no-disadvantage test. He said:
… if a group of workers decide that they would like to bargain collectively, there is nothing in the current legislation, or the proposed reforms, that will require employers to bargain in good faith. Instead the fear is that many employers will offer their workers individual agreements on a "take it or leave it" basis.
Professor Wooden went even further, and said:
If the IR reforms are to provide employees with real choices, then I am on Greg Combet's side—the right to bargain collectively needs to be protected.
Archbishop Peter Jensen has also come out in defence of the workers. He highlighted his concerns about the welfare of workers under the Federal Government's industrial relations reforms. He also outlined his concerns about the increased casualisation of the work force, and said:
Further increased casualisation of the workforce should be avoided. Casual workers are disadvantaged if there is a greater shift towards 24/7 work schedules because while it increases flexibility for employers it decreases future work certainty for casual employees.
Casual employees have enough uncertainty now. We do not want that uncertainty to increase and we certainly do not want the Federal Government's industrial relations reforms to deny workers the opportunity to achieve some security for themselves and their families. Workers should not be disadvantaged for taking a day off work when they are sick and they should receive superannuation contributions. The Federal Government is always saying that people must think about their retirement and ensure that they will be financially viable when they retire from the work force. How can workers do that if they are employed casually or if the Federal Government's proposed industrial relations reforms remove every protection that workers enjoy under the present industrial relations systems in this State and across the country as a whole?
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [5.36 p.m.]: Australia has one of the most casualised work forces of any industrial nation in the world. For example, between 1985 and 2002 the percentage of workers employed on a casual basis increased from 16 per cent to 27.3 per cent. That figure is now closer to 30 per cent, which translates to about two million people working casually in our nation. Clearly, casualisation may be seen as defining the typical Australian workplace. One in every three Australian workers will soon be defined as a casual worker. It is common knowledge that, characteristically, more females than males are employed on a casual basis across Australia. Although the percentage of female casual workers has stagnated at about 31 per cent, it is reported that the percentage of male casual employees increased from 15 per cent to 21 per cent between 1993 and 2003. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that this increase can be:
… partly attributed to the growth in the number of casual male employees working in lower-skilled occupations.
The rate of casualisation in New South Wales is no different from that at a national level. In 2001 in New South Wales 27 per cent of all employees, or about 656,700 employees, were casuals. Of those employees, 32 per cent of females, or 370,600, and 22 per cent of males, or 286,100, were employed on a casual basis. In New South Wales in 2001, 60 per cent of casual employees had been employed by the same employer for more than one year, 18 per cent had been employed for more than five years and 9 per cent had been employed for more than 10 years. Those who do not move on to full-time or permanent positions may certainly be disadvantaged because they do not enjoy the same rights and entitlements as ongoing employees. Dr John Buchanan from the University of Sydney's Australian Centre for Industrial Relations, Research and Training said that policies to promote further casualisation would drive Australia towards a "US-style" jobs market, with few protections for vulnerable workers.
Notably, Professor Mark Wooden of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne has also identified in his studies on casualisation a number of important points or characteristics in relation to casual workers. These are that most casuals would prefer not to be casuals; people who are in casual jobs consistently score lower on measures of job security; average job tenure is much lower for casual employees than for permanent employees; casuals have little or no opportunity to improve their job skills; and there is extensive empirical evidence that casual employees typically receive relatively little training from employers compared with their non-casual counterparts. Casual employees receive less pay per hour, on average, than permanent employees. Where controls for occupation, hours, education and the like are introduced, casuals receive only 6 per cent more, less than the amount of the loadings, which a casual employee nominally receives.
I want to speak specifically from my experience over 27 years at Wesley Mission helping citizens of New South Wales into jobs. The experience of Wesley Employment Services relating to casualisation makes interesting reading. Each year Wesley Mission assists more than 14,700 people into full-time jobs and more than 65,000 into jobs that are mainly casual or part-time. My staff provided me with the following statistics. In the past two years Wesley Mission has assisted 1,877 people in Western Sydney suburbs to find jobs, of which 529 were casual positions, 1,228 were permanent positions which were less than six months duration, and just 348, or 19 per cent, were full-time, permanent roles.
Casualisation is increasing dramatically. It is driven by employer demands for flexibility and convenience. It dominates work opportunities in entry-level and blue-collar roles in small and medium businesses. Job seekers are generally willing to take casual roles which provide them with short-term benefits. Those job seekers end up disadvantaged over the longer term. They miss out on entitlements such as superannuation, job security and maternity leave. It is important to recognise that overall casualisation appears to increase the employment options for disadvantaged job seekers.
Wesley's experience has shown that employers—small businesses in particular—that provide the majority of opportunities in the Western Sydney suburbs face significant overheads and costs when employing permanent staff. These include unfair dismissal rules, lack of flexibility in managing shift requirements, and entitlements such as superannuation, sick leave and maternity leave. As a result, employers offer casual positions. Their costs do not change greatly per hour worked, but they are able to pay for only the work they require, when they require it. Wesley does not expect this demand to change, and is preparing our job seekers for long-term roles in a casualised work environment. In our experience, employers actually offer more jobs on a casual basis than they would if they offered only permanent roles, and that has increased job opportunities for job seekers. That has meant that many people on unemployment benefits have at least casual employment, which pays them far more money than welfare benefits.
On the issue of job seeker choice, entry-level and blue-collar job seekers are generally happy and willing to take casual roles, and are not concerned about the lack of sick leave and paid holidays. One of the reasons they give for that is that they have more cash in hand from a higher hourly rate—which, of course, I acknowledge is in the short term; our job seekers generally do not think about the longer term. People living in Western Sydney can find work closer to home: permanent positions are generally offered by large employers in distant industrial estates or retail and business districts, reducing travel costs and travel time and allowing more time to be spent with families. Also, 5 to 10 per cent of casual employees choose to have multiple jobs, generally to increase their earnings rather than a desire to work multiple jobs.
Within six months of beginning casual employment the majority of our job seekers are earning enough money to be taken off welfare benefits completely. This result is good for the individuals, their family, and the tax system. However, the more disadvantaged a job seeker is, the longer they are likely to remain in casual employment rather than permanent employment. The longer term impact is more difficult to assess. They have no certainty of income, no ability to survive periods of extended sickness, and no provision for holidays. From our inquiries, retirement savings are likely to be non-existent. Further research or study on this issue would be beneficial.
Some job seekers are treated poorly by employers, and are required to work shifts on short notice or for short periods of time. Those developments affect many individuals and families across Australia. Many specific and negative ramifications arise as part and parcel of being a casual worker. The Hon. Ian West has provided much detail on the consequences of casualisation in this nation, and I defer to his speech on the details of those consequences. Nonetheless, I will raise a few salient points. The very nature of individual workplace agreements has given employers the upper hand in negotiating terms and conditions of employment offered by them to employees. It is known that employers may adopt, or can be seen to adopt, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude in purported negotiations.
In rural and regional areas, and in certain industry sectors where unemployment levels are higher on a relative basis than other industry areas, individuals cannot afford to back down on an offer of casualised employment. Contract law is generally predicated on the principle that parties to a contract have an equal bargaining basis, but in practice it does not work like that at all. Unfortunately some employees end up with a dud deal and are significantly short-changed in the process. At times I have felt that unions are at fault for not better protecting employees. For example, I have appeared on television each week for 42 years. Every employee I know who works on the floor of a television studio has his employment terminated each year in the second-last week of November, when the studio shuts down, and they are perhaps re-employed the following February. I have always believed that to be a very bad situation and that the relevant unions ought to protect those people from being dismissed at the end of November.
Examples abound of workers, young and old, being disadvantaged in the terms of engagement. I personally know of a young lad who is putting himself through university and is working a casual job in a local cafe. His contract provides that every six hours he should be given a break and a meal. Much to his dismay, he has been engaged to work for 5.75 hours, which does not allow him either a break or a meal. Such a situation should not exist in this day and age. That being said, I also believe that the law of seed-time and harvest, as mentioned in Genesis 8:22, prevails in these scenarios. If an employer treats his or her employee in a manner that is not warranted, without mercy and grace, the employee will work solely out of obligation and not out of relationship. One of the most important principles in the workplace is for an employer to lead by example and to treat employees as he himself would like to be treated. As Jesus taught, "You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself".
The Hon. Ian West noted that the increase in rostering employees for short shifts hurts the employees because it prevents them from receiving superannuation benefits. It increases the ratio of travelling time to earning time, and their total weekly hours are below the minimum to qualify for part-time work. They never receive paid breaks, and many are forced to work multiple jobs to earn sufficient money. Employment on a casual basis not only has the abovementioned ramifications in the context of working conditions but also the emotional, financial, social and physical consequences of being a casual worker.
The experience of a casual worker by the name of Wayne Balmer provides a valuable insight into the situation faced by such workers. Many people may identify and empathise with his situation. His example is typical of what a casual worker faces in his or her day-to-day life, as referred to me by my staff who work with such people. Mr Balmer referred to working conditions leading to strain within families and said, "I haven't been able to take my family on holiday for years. I find it very hard to plan to do anything with my kids and I often miss out on their sport and other activities."
One can imagine the emotional stress attached to that situation. Not only does he suffer in his role as father because he feels he cannot provide adequately for his children, but his children would at some point feel that he does not care, that they are not worth spending time with or that their father is not being a good dad. Another important implication is that the financial stress brought about by being a casual worker can lead to a marriage breaking down. Financial stress is one of the most common reasons cited for marriage breakdown. This, in turn, has untold and devastating consequences for the children involved. Individuals, family units, communities and society in general are impacted adversely.
Financial institutions regard casual workers as lacking the necessary or sufficient financial capacity to enter into financial agreements. As was mentioned by a previous speaker, lack of financial security is a serious problem faced by casual workers because it means that such workers cannot borrow to obtain much-needed loans, regardless of whether or not they have a good credit rating or even if they own their own house. People in this boat also face daily difficulties in getting the credit necessary to access services such as telephone connections and mobile phones. It is veritable discrimination on the basis of a person's employment status.
As Mr Balmer indicated, "Budgeting week to week becomes difficult because you don't know how much you're going to earn. I have been unable to get a loan for a house or car, and forget about applying for a credit card—no-one wants to know you." Being continuously rejected on financial grounds is demoralising for the self-esteem of individuals. It is also difficult for these individuals to negotiate financial debts and day-to-day commitments, which is especially frustrating in cases where people employed casually are living on a week-to-week or fortnight-to-fortnight basis. One common and notable issue in recent weeks has been the ever-increasing petrol prices. The mark left on family budgets by the cost of buying petrol is foreseeably significant and would especially be so for the casual worker who has been required to travel far to their place of employment.
Mr Balmer also indicated that he would receive greater work satisfaction if he was employed permanently or at least guaranteed a wage. He indicated that the difficult aspect of his status as a casual worker "is just not knowing [the future] and the inability to plan anything that is hard". Mr Balmer's wife said that her husband's situation also prevented her from finding work. She said, "Because he doesn't know what he's going to be doing, I always have to be available for our kids." She said, "We'd like to go away or do more things as a family, but it's very hard. Wayne can't turn down work because of the money and if he says no, he may be overlooked the next time."
Mr Balmer's experience typifies the lives of many families across New South Wales and our nation. Some fronts may see casualisation as positive. As I have said before, it helps the long-term unemployed to at least get back into the work force and earn more than they can on welfare benefits. It stimulates economic growth as a whole and aids many small employers. However, there are many frustrated and disillusioned workers, hoping and praying that their lot changes and that they will enter into employment that becomes more stable and permanent. I agree with the Hon. Ian West that we in this House must acknowledge the plight of some casual workers and recognise the impact of the phenomenon of casualisation across Australia. I commend the Federal Government for creating so many hundreds of thousands of new jobs, but one casual employee said, "I know the Government has created lots of new jobs; I hold four of them." I commend the motion to honourable members.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS [5.53 p.m.]: I wish to make a short contribution to this debate. I find it somewhat hypocritical that the Hon. Ian West has moved this motion, particularly—paragraph (a), in which he notes the relative and absolute increase in the number of casual jobs that make up workplaces around Australia. The reason I say that is that an enormous number of people employed by the New South Wales public service are in that very classification. They are casual employees of this Government.
I want to relate the story of one employee who is known to me. This woman was employed for about 13 years, until just recently, as a casual schoolteacher in the same school, working five days a week. During that period her salary should have increased incrementally by about $15,000 to $18,000. Her salary did not increase at all because she was on the top scale for casual employees. She worked for 13 years as a casual employee of the State Government and missed out on wage increments that cumulatively amounted to something like $100,000. That is what this Government has imposed on people who work for the public service of New South Wales.
I will give some more examples, of people I used to work with when I was employed by the New South Wales public service in the Department of Land and Water Conservation. Many people in that department were employed on a similar basis in short-term positions. These people would apply for a casual job and work for 12 or 14 months and then start to wonder where they would go when the job finished. So they started applying for positions all around the State. They were not focusing on the job at hand, which they were employed to do for a one, two or three-year period. They would get about halfway through their employment period and, quite rightly, start thinking about their future.
I find it somewhat hypocritical that a member of the Government has brought forward this motion knowing full well there are many schoolteachers and people employed in various categories in the New South Wales public service who are in the situation referred to in the motion. It would be in the Hon. Ian West's interests to sort out some of the problems and employment conditions that exist in the New South Wales public service. That would be a good place to start. If he had done that, I probably would have supported this motion.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [5.56 p.m.]: I support this motion and congratulate the Hon. Ian West on bringing it forward. Casualisation of the work force is a very important issue. It is potentially cheaper for employers to have casual workers. If their work is variable, they can save money by having the labour present only when it is needed. If they do not have any work, they do not have to pay anybody. The person who loses is the employee, who might have been employed for a longer period. If employers are going to take on full-time employees they have to work out how much work those employees will do. Generally the amount of work to be done corresponds to the number of hours employees are taken on for full-time or constant-time work. If the employers underestimate the amount of work and the employees have to work overtime, they have to be paid extra, so the employers lose money.
Of course, if the employers cannot fully occupy the employees, they have to pay make-up pay. If their workload is variable it may suit them to have casual employees. If their competition also has a casual work force it is, in a sense, a race to the bottom. People provide a service and hire casual employees to do it, so it is likely that a number of groups with casual employees will be racing to set the lowest price for the service. The employees have to put together combinations of jobs, which leads to the inefficiency that was pointed out by the Hon. Gordon Moyes in his contribution. They spend more time travelling between jobs as a percentage of their work time. The world of couriers is very competitive. People were persuaded to use their own cars because in the short term they did not see the costs involved. The work is variable and people drift in and out of the industry. There are not enough couriers because prices have been forced down to a level where people say it is better to stay at home, particularly with the unpredictable cost of fuel being such an important element in that industry.
We have what you might call a perfect market in the sense that we have many entrants to the market, low barriers to entry and many players, yet there is still a shortage of couriers because people cannot make a living working as a courier. The service is suffering because of the casualisation of the work force. Many jobs have been created, but they are not secure. The cost is borne by the people at the bottom, people competing in a perfect market who can offer only their labour. Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes referred to people who cannot get a loan, which means they have to pay much higher interest rates because those lending the money are concerned that they are taking a risk and they impose a risk premium on the loan. These people have the least money yet they are paying the highest interest rates, which means that they will have the most trouble getting ahead. They cannot get a home loan so the housing boom passes them by. They are battling to pay rent if they can get rental accommodation. They have to take what they can get based on what they think they might earn and the house they are renting, which may be negatively geared, goes up in value.
It is a very tough world. Casualisation of the work force can lead to a race to the bottom. For some people the answer to globalisation has been casualisation of the work force where everyone negotiates. Ants negotiate with elephants and, needless to say, the ants do not get a very good deal. We will compete with the Third World because Australia will have Third World wages, which, presumably, means that fewer jobs will go overseas because paying an Australian would be nearly as cheap as paying a person overseas, although the total cost structure in Australia will be very much First World. I understand the negotiation process between an employee and an employer. I was a grade 20 occupational health physician at Sydney Water when my employer said, "We are going to offer you a package, which will give you more money and included in the fringe benefits will be your child's school fees, health insurance, lease of a motor vehicle and mortgage." I said, "I haven't got any health insurance. I haven't got any kids at private school. I don't want a new car. We could talk about the house mortgage, but what's the downside?"
My employer said to me, "You will be on a three-year contract instead of permanent." I said, "I won't have it." My employer said, "With the total package you will get more money. The total money in your pocket will be greater." I said, "I am quite happy where I am, thank you very much. What choice do I have?" My employer said, "Everyone has taken this package." I said "Yes, but that's not the question I've asked. What choice do I have?" My employer said, "If you do not take the package you will go back to grade 16 from 20, and if you are not placed within 12 months you will be outplaced [sacked]." I was a public sector employee with, what I thought was, a permanent job and that is what I was offered. The union said, "Why don't you fight this one?" I ended up taking the money. I was there for three years, my contract was renewed for another year and then I left. I had been in a secure job, but I had no choice. It was a matter of: Take the package or go down a whole lot of grades, which was a significant salary drop, and disappear in 12 months.
I did not have to work in the public sector. I probably could have made more money outside the public sector. I was working in the public sector because it suited me, and I should have that choice. I was doing quite a good job. We probably had the best health promotion system of any public or private company in the State. But people do not recognise that. Nobody noticed. We did not publish it, but the workers were a lot healthier thanks to our interventions. I have a friend who works at the Sydney Opera House under an enterprise business agreement. If you do not like what your boss does you appeal to the boss above him or her. If you do not like that you appeal to the boss above him or her and if you do not like that you appeal to the managing director. If you do not like that, it is tough luck. You cannot go to arbitration. That is it. You negotiate with that enterprise as an individual, as I negotiated with Sydney Water. The idea that there is an even power balance between employer and employee in the average situation is a total fantasy.
People might say, "Why would anybody believe that?" I do not know why anybody would believe that. My son's school had an excellent music teacher who had a job at one school for three days a week and another job at another school for two days a week. The school my son attends was delighted with the work he was doing. The musical development of the kids, the school choir and the school orchestra were absolutely wonderful. He had been a casual music teacher for 11 years. He was quite happy with the school, but he left as soon as he could get a permanent job. The Department of Education and Training in New South Wales had kept him waiting for 11 years for a permanent job. As Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes stated, the loss of benefits of permanency and increments in pay was considerable. Nurses often find themselves on this type of roster, although there is such a shortage of nurses now that they probably have been snapped up.
Our Prime Minister is taking our money to give us full-page advertisements. Today's Daily Telegraph had four pages of advertisements paid for by my taxes, thank you very much, to tell me how no-one will be worse off if we all go to an industrial relations system where we can trade away our holidays, sick days, long service leave, shift penalties and weekends. They are all negotiable now. We are economic entities here. We are not family people. We can negotiate as ants with elephants with no trouble at all. This sort of nonsense is absolutely outrageous. I am not surprised that Newspoll showed that not many people believed this sort of nonsense. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but, by golly, you cannot fool a huge percentage. It will be interesting to see if this lie campaign, paid for with our taxes and nicely helped by the stacked High Court—all of whom are Howard appointees, saying that this is a legitimate use of our tax dollar, do you mind—and if this outrageous use of our money makes any difference to the opinions of the average Australian.
It is a difficult question because Australia is competing in a global market and the people working here are competing against people in China or Bangladesh, or whichever country currently has the lowest wages for the outsourcing of jobs and services. Call centres are going to India because it is cheaper than Australia. It is a real problem. The casualisation of the work force is a way of forcing down wages, which will enable Australia to compete in that sense. The amount of energy the Federal Government is putting into this industrial relations campaign is interesting. As I said yesterday in my contribution to the adjournment debate, on the weekend I will attend a seminar on abolishing the States and the gridlock and complication of Australian industry caused by three levels of government—Federal, State and local.
Bickering between Federal and State governments over disability, health, education and transport is a real problem. The first priority of government decision making is cost shifting and the outcome is blame shifting rather than optimum planning. If Australia were to institute more efficient administrative and legal systems we could compete far better on the international stage. Do the politicians of Australia think, "Hang on. If we reformed our government systems we would be far more competitive?" No. There is no attention to this at all. It was mentioned by Carr, it was mentioned by Brogden, it was mentioned by Howard and it was mentioned by Abbott.
The Economic Planning Advisory Commission, the Council of Australian Governments and a 1996 National Commission of Audit examined the problem of the inefficiency of having too many facets of government in Australia, but is anyone addressing that issue? No! We are supposed to become more competitive only by implementing industrial relations reform. I think the term "reform" is being used loosely. Historically the term has meant improvement, but now it means a big change, regardless of whether the change is for the better. We might ask: reform for whose benefit?
Industrial relations reforms that will be inflicted on the Australian people will lead to considerably more casualisation of the work force. Industrial relations reforms are supposed to make Australia more competitive and create expansion of the economy, but I believe that the restructuring of governments is of equal significance—perhaps more significance—because of the advantages to be derived by industry, increases in industrial efficiency and output and, in the longer term, cost neutrality. Sadly, the restructuring of governments in Australia has been totally ignored and I believe that says something about the lack of courage of those who run this country—the Federal Government and this State Government. They do not ask themselves what the best thing would be that they could do for the benefit of this country or ask themselves, if they are going to be good at what they do, what they should do to fix this country. The schemes they come up with are to take the money from the little bloke while they live in luxury. Basically, that is not good enough.
Notice of the motion moved by the Hon. Ian West was given before industrial relations reform became acute as a result of Prime Minister Howard's control of the Senate. It has been said that the Australian Parliament has been turned into a rubber stamp for an elected monarchy, which I think neatly summarises the state of the Federal Government. The danger in what has occurred at the Federal level is the winding back of past achievements. As John Doyle said last Monday night at the Andrew Olley Media Lecture, we do not have to go back to Dickensian working conditions to appreciate the beauty or necessity of collective bargaining. Were truer words ever spoken? I support the motion. Parliamentarians ought to examine matters from the point of view of other people.
As stated by the famous poet Robert Burns, the greatest gift from God is to "see ourselves as others see us". Unless we examine circumstances from the perspective of other people, we will not inculcate humility or understanding. Increasingly, instead of embracing the universal experience of rubbing shoulders with rich and poor people from various backgrounds who have experienced various opportunities and who have various hopes and fears, we have divided ourselves into little subcultures where people think as we do, have incomes like ours and have had experiences similar to us. We see those outside those subcultures as almost foreign to us. We practically Balkanise our country, and with limited insight we proceed to advocate for our own little segment of society. I think that is an unrecognised danger.
I support the motion because I believe we have to begin examining matters from the point of view of all Australians, especially those who will be most affected by industrial relations reforms. As legislators we have to begin to infuse humanity into our roles. We have to own the problems and come up with a solution rather than simply referring to "these people", which means people other than people like us. The phrase "these people" really means "those people". We must not accept the proposition that if other people have a harder time, our services will become a little bit cheaper and we will be able to live more comfortable lives—at their expense.
During my most recent visit to New York, I foolishly paid the amount stated on a bill, but there was no way I was going to be allowed out the door without paying a 20 per cent tip. Wages amount to virtually nothing in the United States of America and tips have become wages. The tip had to be 20 per cent. People can say whatever they like, but as I am not a hairy footballer who behaves in a wildly aggressive manner, I had no chance of getting out the door without paying a 20 per cent tip. That is what routinely happens in the United States of America, but I was a foreigner who did not understand that. When casualisation of the work force becomes policy, wages are reduced to nothing.
In the United States of America some people are doubly disadvantaged because they are working without work permits—referred to as green cards—and they cannot afford to be dobbed in. They have to accept whatever is offered to them and their bargaining position is very poor relative to the bargaining position of their employers. Effectively they say to customers, "I have served you, and now you must pay my wages because the bill you have been given covers only the food, and I have to live." That is the end point that has been reached in the United States of America where the 100 million working poor cannot afford health insurance. I believe that Australia will also reach that point. The casualisation of the work force represents an abdication of the idea that the government of Australia is for all people. Although members of the New South Wales Parliament do not govern for all Australians, we must take seriously the idea of governing for the people. It is timely that this motion is being debated now.
Ms LEE RHIANNON [6.15 p.m.]: I warmly congratulate the Hon. Ian West on moving this motion. It is interesting how timely this debate has turned out to be. Members of this House often find it frustrating while attempting to bring forward motions for debate. Although this matter could have been debated at any time, the time is ripe for this debate in view of the strong push from the Prime Minister downwards and in most sections of the Liberal Party and The Nationals to make Australia a 24/7 country. The implementation of industrial relations reform will result in wages being the same, irrespective of the hour of the day or the day of the week an employee is working, and that is an absolute crime.
Our forebears worked hard to introduce and retain the decent working conditions that the majority of Australians enjoy. I believe that parliamentarians have no right to stand by while those conditions are thrown out. As parliamentarians, we must work hard to protect the achievements of the past. I congratulate the Australian Council of Trade Unions and many unions who are fighting to protect conditions that have been established over many decades, if not centuries. Australia's current Prime Minister may be described as "the 24/7 Prime Minister" because he discusses the abolition of penalty rates and holidays that will be able to be negotiated away. That all adds up to greater casualisation of the work force and the loss of employment conditions such as holiday leave loadings, recreation leave and penalty rates. The result will be that employees will be paid a flat rate, irrespective of the hours they work. For many young people, their only option is to accept casual work. That is another very dangerous trend in our society.
Let us remember that the industrial laws that the Prime Minister seeks to repeal have been fought for over a long period. Industrial rights and conditions were not simply granted to people because one day some politicians had a good idea. The Labor Party knows that industrial laws did not originate when Labor came to power but are the result of years of struggle by working people and their unions. The key aspect of the industrial relations reforms is that working people fought for acceptable wages and conditions. Let us examine why there has been a push from the conservative parties with support from some sections of the business community to break down working conditions to a large degree. Quite simply, the industrial relations reforms are designed to increase profits. If employers are able to reduce the amount of pay that a worker takes home at the end of the day, clearly profit rates will skyrocket.
I suggest to honourable members that it suits conservative parties and the business community to casualise the work force because it is harder for unions to organise a casual work force than it is to organise a permanent work force. Organisation is the key factor now, just as it has been the key factor over the past century in improving working conditions, gaining increases in pay and in establishing standards of occupational health and safety in workplaces.
The degree to which unionised workers benefit was shown recently in research undertaken by the University of Sydney's Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research. It found that union-negotiated agreements paid significantly more than non-union agreements. The rate was 4.4 per cent for negotiated agreements compared to 3.1 per cent for non-union agreements. Superior outcomes in remuneration and conditions have been achieved consistently through union agreements across both the public and private sectors. I certainly believe that is a key motivation of the Prime Minister in putting forward this new regime, which is about restructuring conditions. It will mean that the majority of workers will be paid at a lower rate. By weakening the power of unions, the Prime Minister believes that there is a long-term benefit for the constituency that he represents: it will be harder to organise—harder to achieve—pay rises, harder to improve conditions and harder to protect the conditions that we already have.
I grew up in the Menzies era, in the 1950s and 1960s. My uncles were wharfies, and I remember a great many times that that union was attacked severely by the Menzies Government. I remember the cartoons in the Sydney Morning Herald that depicted wharfies in the most despicable manner. I can remember one very horrible cartoon depicting wharfies sitting on the job, ripping chickens apart as though that was their meal; it showed them as very uncouth, terrible people. It was probably one of my very early political lessons, because when I was growing up I found that my uncles were indeed very lovely people. They were very generous, even though their take-home pay was not huge. The wharfies picnic was a great favourite of mine. I found that I was mixing with people who had great humanity, not only in a political context—although that union played a leading role in the fight against the Vietnam War—but also as they collected money on payday, along the pay line, for the Smith Family and other charities.
I see that as a reality in the highly unionised sections of the work force. However, in the media I see severe attacks on those people. We often felt that Menzies was the benchmark for as bad as it gets. But John Howard, the 24/7 Prime Minister, is trying to turn back the clock, not to the last century but to the one before that. He certainly has a battle on his hands with wide sections of the community who strongly oppose what he is trying to do to working conditions in this country. I believe that he has misread the Australian spirit on this issue, because I believe there is widespread understanding that his industrial relations changes should be strongly opposed.
Last Saturday I visited Williamstown, where about 35 workers are on a picket line because Boeing wants to push them onto a Commonwealth contract, which is similar to an Australian workplace agreement. Talking to them brought home to me where this country will head if the Federal Government gets away with its present industrial relations plan. The workers believe that their working conditions would be severely eroded if they were pushed onto those contracts. Some of their fellow colleagues, because of personal circumstances, have decided to keep their job—they have to do that. I congratulate the Boeing workers who are still on the picket line. They explained to me that the contract onto which they would be forced sets out that they would be paid overtime only if they work more than 10 hours overtime. However, they are never given more than 10 hours overtime, so they will never be paid at the higher rate.
Although that is not actual casualisation, it is certainly heading in that direction. Again, that illustrates the problem we have with individual contracts. Another very concerning aspect that was explained to me involved compassionate leave. One man had half an hour deducted from his compassionate leave because he stayed home to take a phone call from the doctor attending his mother, who is dying from cancer. That demonstrates the rigidity of the conditions imposed on those workers. A severe cutback in compassionate leave is a characteristic that is coming through in the conditions imposed in individual contracts. There are many examples of why working people in this country need to maintain the working conditions that have been won by the unions over the years. We need to improve on them rather than ditch them under the Howard 24/7 plan.
The Hon. IAN WEST [6.25 p.m.], in reply: I acknowledge the contributions of honourable members during this important and timely debate on excessive and exploitative casualisation of the Australian work force. All honourable members who contributed to this debate spoke of the recent increase, especially in the past decade, of casual employment in Australia. I believe that we all support the proper and appropriate use of casual labour and the right to secure employment. It is clear that genuine casual work arrangements can benefit some employees and employment generally. However, we have heard about some of the risks and the costs of employment pushed onto employees through casual arrangements—deliberate cost shifts through Australian workplace agreements, labour hire contracting, outsourcing and other permeations of employment onto the worker. The use of casual labour to perform long-term, ongoing, regular, permanent work is something we all oppose. Australia can compete better when Australians co-operate and work together.
Work is supposedly a partnership between employers and employees, and I agree with that proposition on the understanding that both parties are equal and have equal bargaining positions. As Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes pointed out, the practical understanding in the workplace is that the employment relationship is unequal—and that is the very reason that workers have representatives who attempt to equalise the bargaining process. That is pretty basic, and we all understand it. We can word it whichever way we like—we can talk about third, fourth and fifth parties—but we all know what it is about: it is about attempting to equalise the bargaining process.
We have seen growth in the employer prerogative as casualisation has increased. On current projections, by 2010 one in three workers will be casually employed. The rapid growth in casualisation is said to further increase with the release of WorkChoices—what an ironic phrase: the choice you have when you do not have a choice! We will have one national system; we will have no choices. There is irony in the WorkChoices concept. In the image of the current Federal Government, the re-regulation of the industrial relations system in Australia for more than 85 per cent of Australians is palpable. We are saying that we are talking about deregulation, but it is re-regulation. This is another furphy; this is about re-regulating the labour market in the image of the Prime Minister. The Federal Government has set about institutionalising the absolute employer prerogative of hire and fire, and embedding employers with the unchallengeable right to determine wages and conditions. We all understand those facts of life and we can paint them all we like, but they are the basic realities.
The Federal Government's WorkChoices legislation also delivers the type of master and servant conditions that gave rise to the chartist movement, the union movement, in its original form in the first place. It is proving to be a source of great rejuvenation within the labour movement. Earlier the Hon. Greg Donnelly showed us a copy of the master and servant Act. Australians understand the master and servant Act. They know it is simple and straightforward. There is a boss and there is a worker. There is a master and there is a servant. The boss has the right of hire and fire and he has all the power. A worker's only bargaining power comes from being able to have organised labour and to bargain collectively.
Australians know it is unfair and iniquitous to have master-servant relationships; they know it is un-Australian. Australians' loyalty and dedication to the employment contract is negligible when they do not have an equal position in that bargaining contract. How can employees be expected to have a commitment to an individual contract if it is secretive, if it is between the employer and an employee and no-one else knows about it? We keep talking about transparency; we are all about being accountable and transparent.
The arrangements we are talking about today are secretive and behind closed doors. What sort of commitment is there in a one-way street where there is absolute employer prerogative? Once employees or possible employees are offered an AWA or the like, a casual offer of employment that they cannot refuse, they no longer have any protection and are not able to say, "No, I do not want to accept casualisation of my employment arrangements." However, once they have been casualised they have no come back; it is a one-way street.
Debate adjourned on motion by the Hon. Ian West.
[The Deputy-President (The Hon. Christine Robertson) left the chair at 6.32 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.]