BILLS;Fair Work Amendment (Transfer of Business) Bill 2012;Second Reading – 26 Nov 2012

I rise to speak to the Fair Work Amendment (Transfer of Business) Bill 2012. I am proud to be a member of a government that has saved 200,000 jobs during the onset of the global financial crisis and I am proud to be part of a government that also went on to create another 800,000 jobs. I clarify the previous speaker’s comments that this government is sacking 12,000 people—she has probably taken that from a media release. She should ring the Special Minister of State’s office and check that, because it is not correct.

I am also proud to be part of a government that, when savings needed to be made, focused on efficiency reforms through smarter travel, smarter advertising and smarter use of property and information and communications technology. In other words, not only have we taken action to protect jobs through economic management but we have also made our best efforts to protect jobs in the Australian Public Service.

Creating and protecting jobs is part of Labor’s DNA—unlike those on the opposite side, who opposed the stimulus package and would, if they had their way, have sent 200,000 Australians back to the dole queues. Not only do we believe in protecting jobs but we also believe in jobs that deliver fairness to workers. That is why we abolished Work Choices and introduced the Fair Work Act, restoring the rights of millions of workers across Australia.

It is unfortunate that not every government in Australia believes as fervently as we do in job security. It is unfortunate that not every government believes in fairness and in protecting the entitlements of Australian workers. Right now, across Australia, there is a war being waged on workers, and it is being waged by the Liberal-National governments. It is being waged against public servants who are being sacked in their thousands and who are having their rights trampled on. The LNP government in Queensland, led by Premier Campbell Newman, has announced that it will cut 14,000 public sector jobs. The Queensland government has also legislated to override employment security provisions and to put limitations on the use of contractors in state public sector agreements. It is clear that Mr Newman is paving the way for outsourcing public sector jobs so that he can cut the hard-won wages and conditions of Queensland public servants.

Mr Newman is following the leads of his mates in Victoria and New South Wales. In New South Wales the O’Farrell coalition government has cut 15,000 jobs in two budgets, including 800 jobs in the TAFE sector as a result of its $1.7 billion education cuts.

And in Victoria, Premier Baillieu has given executives in the Department of Premier and Cabinet bonuses over $600,000, while proposing to sack 4,200 public sector workers. The Baillieu government’s main target is the training sector, where they have proposed $300 million in cuts—particularly to TAFE. I think that is a complete shame. This is at a time when the Gillard government is making record investments in education and training.

There is an emerging pattern here. When coalition governments come to power they immediately start to attack hardworking, decent public servants. The actions of Messrs Newman, Baillieu and O’Farrell are a portent of what is to come if a federal coalition were elected to government. Mr Abbott’s party has already committed to slash 12,000 public service jobs—and may need to cut more if they are to fill their $70 billion budget black hole.

I know those opposite cry foul at the claim that they would take the slash-and-burn approach of the Newman, Baillieu and O’Farrell governments, but just look at their form. They opposed the stimulus package, which helped save thousands of jobs during an economic crisis. They have already announced that in government they would halt the construction of the National Broadband Network, abolish the trade training centres program and cut essential health services like the GP superclinics, eHealth and the after-hours GP hotline. Leading up to the 2010 election they proposed to cut $1 billion from vocational training and apprenticeships programs. Not only are these essential, vital public services but they are also primarily provided by public servants, who take pride in the work they do and many of whom have families to support.

I mentioned the federal opposition’s plans to slash jobs in the context of this bill because this bill is about protecting workers affected by state government cuts, and it is clear that under an Abbott-led government they would have no protections whatsoever. Unfortunately, we cannot stop the likes of Mr Newman and others gutting the public services in their states. But what we can do is protect the entitlements of those workers where they are re-engaged as contract workers.

The transfer-of-business provisions of the Fair Work Act protect employee entitlements where a business changes hands and the new employer employs the old employer’s workers to do the same job. These provisions currently only operate where both the old and new employers are covered by the national workplace relations system—in other words, by the Fair Work Act. The Fair Work Amendment (Transfer of Business) Bill 2012 will ensure that where there is a transfer of business from a state public sector employer to a new employer in the national workplace relations system, that the employees will see their existing terms and conditions protected, their accrued entitlements protected and their prior service recognised.

The transfer-of-business provisions already apply where employees are transferred from the public services in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Victoria, because these employees are already part of the national system. However, it is important that public sector employees in other states have their benefits and entitlements protected when that state decides to transfer assets for outsourced work.

Let me remind the Senate what the transfer-of-business provisions of the Fair Work Act are intended to do. They are designed to stop employers restructuring their business in such a way that they can undermine employee entitlements. The recent post-implementation review of the Fair Work Act strongly endorsed the transfer-of-business provisions. The panel considered that there is a clear need to protect employees in transfer-of-business situations and found that transfer of business, as defined in the act, provided better protections for employees than the previous arrangements. However, there are no protections under the current Fair Work Act should a state government decide to restructure its operations, such as by outsourcing.

This bill creates a new federal instrument called a ‘copied state instrument’. The instrument will copy the existing terms and conditions of employment for a transferring employee where those terms are derived from a state award or agreement. The bill ensures that a term of copied state instrument has no effect if it is detrimental to the employee when compared to the entitlement of the employment under the National Employment Standards. The bill would also generally ensure that the employee’s service with the old employer counts as service with the new employer for the purpose of determining the employee’s entitlements.

As a previous industrial officer for the Australian Services Union, one of the entitlements I campaigned hard for was the portability of long service leave entitlements between local governments. So I understand the importance of this provision. It is particularly important in this scenario because we are talking about employees who are transferred not by their own choice but by that of their employer.

This bill sends a strong message to those Australians working in state, territory or Australian public services, and that message is that only Labor will protect and strengthen the public service and only Labor will uphold their rights, entitlements and working conditions. In contrast, the Newman, Baillieu and O’Farrell governments have declared war on their public servants.

It is clear to me and it should be clear to workers in the Australian Public Service that this is the same sort of approach that an Abbott-led coalition government would take. We just need to look at the behaviour of their state colleagues, their election commitments in the past and the $70 billion black hole they will need to make up for should they form government.

For those Australian workers out there, including federal public servants, who hear the opposition say they are not planning to declare war on public servants, who hear them say that WorkChoices is dead, buried and cremated, just remember that the war on workers declared by Messrs Newman, O’Farrell and Baillieu was not declared by any of those gentlemen prior to their election as premiers.

If that is not enough evidence, we can also point to the fact that the coalition voted against this bill in the other place and will oppose it today in the Senate. Not only do they oppose this bill but just a couple of hours ago they opposed a bill that would protect the entitlements of workers affected by the bankruptcy or insolvency of their company. It just goes to show that those opposite, the party of WorkChoices, have no commitment to protecting the rights and entitlements of Australian workers. As always, it falls on a Labor government to protect workers against the attacks on them by the Liberal-National coalition. I commend the bill to the Senate.