Doorstop Interview — Parliament House Canberra
SUBJECTS: Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill.
TONY BURKE, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: It's a good day for Australian workers and this week we will finally be able to close the door on ten years where wages were deliberately kept low. The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill is there designed to make sure that we can give people a pathway to secure jobs, we can help close the gender pay gap and we can get wages moving again in Australia.
I'm very grateful to the Senate crossbench, all the crossbenchers, for the conversations that we're having, and they'll continue, but in particular grateful to both Senator David Pocock and to the Green Party in particular Adam Bandt and Senator Barbara Pocock for the conversations that have led to a series of amendments.
Ten years of waiting has been long enough. Ten years of waiting has been too long and I'm really glad we were able to get this moving this year.
JOURNALIST: So just explain the changes for small businesses.
BURKE: So, the first change is the small business threshold in the single interest stream, which means if you don't want to be part of a multi employer bargain you're out. It goes from 15 to 20 in terms of how many employees.
What does that mean in real terms? It means now 97.5 per cent of businesses in Australia can opt out if they choose. But there's a further protection for businesses that employ fewer than 50 people, in that if they want to get out it's effectively easier for them to argue their case before the Fair Work Commission.
JOURNALIST: So, with the 20, can you explain if that includes casuals?
BURKE: So, it's a head count but the term that the legislation uses is systemic casuals. So, you'll have some workers who keep a whole lot of casuals on the books who don't actually work there. That won't kick them over the margin. It's the same way the Commission's worked it out, but it's done in terms of head count, not full time equivalent.
JOURNALIST: Realistically when could some workers see their first pay rise as a result of these changes?
BURKE: Well, some things happen immediately. So, for example, the power of some businesses to unilaterally terminate agreements which could result in immediate pay cuts. There were some threats of that over recent months. Those protections go back to workers again straight away. So, some protections happen immediately.
The big change that will happen very quickly will be some businesses that have refused to bargain for quite some years now. There's a lot that used to bargain and then stopped. They'll come back to the table. They'll come back to the table for two reasons. One, the better off overall test will still be fair, but it will be much simpler than it's been for a long time.
The second thing that will happen is for those businesses that want to make sure that they're not involved in multi employer bargaining, if you have an agreement directly with your [indistinct] staff then you're ineligible for multi employer bargaining anyway and some companies will come back to the table very quickly because of that.
JOURNALIST: But realistically sort of not till the end of next year do you think is when people would actually see a pay rise?
BURKE: It will depend on where you work. It will depend on where you work. Some people will have an agreement that's not yet expired and so that's locked in for that period. But certainly, there will be some movement in wages for some workers that will happen very quickly. And my view has been I wanted to get wages moving as fast as possible for as many people as possible, and that's why we've been wanting to make sure we got this legislation done this year, and we're now confident it will be done this week.
JOURNALIST: In the same way you'll take credit if wages do start to move will you also take responsibility if in a year's time they're still stagnating? Will that be, you know, failure of these changes to the bargaining system?
BURKE: Look, there'll still be more that we need to do so, for example, the gig economy remains effectively award free. You have a situation where it is possible in the gig economy for people to pay less than the legal minimum rates of pay for employees. So, there's still more work for us to do. We're not pretending this Bill's the end of it but this Bill, Secure Jobs, Better Pay, provides a real pathway for a whole lot of workers to see their wages start moving again. And we're very mindful of the yawning gap that's out there in household after household at the moment as prices have been going up and wages haven't been moving.
JOURNALIST: The expert advisory panel, can you explain how many people on it, how will you choose them, when it will be set up by?
BURKE: Yeah, it will be it's not my portfolio that one so Amanda Rishworth will have more of the detail than myself, but it'll be a full range of experts who are there independently, and they'll be able to provide advice directly to government and that advice will become public at least two weeks before a [indistinct).
JOURNALIST: Are you expecting it to get through today in the Senate?
BURKE: No, the Senate will work through its program. The Senate has a lot of legislation to do, and I know they've been working through how they'll reorder and work that out. So, I'm expecting it to get through this week. I have no doubt that the Liberal Party will do everything they can to slow down pay rises every additional minute possible. We will hear some pretty extraordinary comments from the Liberals, particularly Senator Cash who doesn't really rely on nuance so there'll be, we've already been told, some pretty extraordinary Armageddon style comments from the Liberal Party. That'll continue. They'll do everything they can to slow it down but I'm very confident with the agreements that were forged over the weekend that this will happen this week.
JOURNALIST: And will you definitely have to sit on Saturday in terms of the House of Reps?
BURKE: I don't see how we avoid sitting Saturday. The Senate is definitely sitting on Friday and if they amend any legislation, whether it's my Bill or any other legislation, then the House of Representatives needs to be able to return to be able to adopt those amendments. So, I don't see that there's any option other than sitting Saturday.
I remain astonished that the Liberal Party keeps railing against us all having to come and work here on Saturday. It's odd. To say we'd all go back the next week would cost the Australian taxpayer a fortune because you'd be flying people back and forth around the country, where all we have to do is stay an extra day and we can get this done. I mean I really don't understand why the Liberal Party's just so obsessed about them having to work on a Saturday. Plenty of Australians do.
JOURNALIST: Thanks very much.
BURKE: Thank you.