Release type: Transcript


Interview - 2HD Newcastle


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts

SUBJECTS: Closing Loopholes passes Parliament, skills shortage, new migration strategy.

TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Today is a really good day for workers' wages and a really good day for workers' safety ...

RICHARD KING, HOST: That's Workplace Relations Minister and Employment Minister, Tony Burke, last Thursday after the passing of legislation had cleared the Senate.

The laws will stop companies underpaying workers through the use of labour hire and criminalise intentional wage theft, and there will also be a criminal offence of industrial manslaughter, better support for first responders, particularly suffering post‑traumatic stress disorder, and improve protections for workers subjected to family and domestic violence from discrimination at work.

Not everybody's happy with the legislation, particularly mining companies, and that certainly has a big impact here in the Hunter Valley where I am. Joining me now is the Minister, Tony Burke. Good morning, Minister.

BURKE: G'day Richard, I'm still just as happy, I've got to say.

KING: Sorry, you are still just as happy?

BURKE: Just as happy as that clip you just played.

KING: Well not everybody ‑ not everybody's happy, particularly the mining industry, and I think, you know, this Closing the Loophole, is it, well, really targeting the mining industry, Minister, I mean?

BURKE: There's not many industries that use that particular loophole. The mining industry, some mining companies use it, not all, and Qantas has been one of the companies that's used it.

But most companies just pay people the rates that they've agreed to. I've employed people over the years, and sometimes I've used labour hire companies, and normally your labour hire people get paid more because they don't have the same security.

But there's this loophole that a lot of your listeners will be familiar with, where mining is one of the only industries in Australia, where because of the way this loophole gets used, casuals get a lower hourly rate than permanent employees who get all the leave entitlements. Companies have been getting away with this for a very long time. Most haven't done it. The ones that haven't done it have faced unfair competition.

So, yes, this will have a marginal impact on just how sky high some of their profits are ‑‑

KING: Well ‑‑

BURKE: Every dollar goes to paying their workers properly.

KING: BHP released a statement last Thursday. They estimate the financial impact for them will be about $1.3 billion. I mentioned earlier, Tania Constable from the Minerals Council of Australia, she's the Chief Executive, she says ‘it's the worst Bill on industrial relations she has ever seen’.

I mean for decades, it's been the case in the construction industry that everything is subbied out to contractors. What's the big difference between the construction industry and the mining industry, because the construction industry are being left out of this?

BURKE: No, no. Contracting generally is not part of this, so there's lots of service contracting that happens in mining as well. If you pay a company to come in and provide a service, that's not labour hire.

So, where this legislation kicks in, is if the only thing that's been provided is labour. So, people are just turning up as workers, and they're being embedded within the staff and things like that, that's labour hire.

Now, if someone's providing a service like a subbie in construction, or a service contractor in mining, that's completely different.

What this Bill's talking about is a situation where, you look at the workplace - and I've met with these mining teams in the Hunter - you can't tell the difference when you look at the worker, you can't tell the difference by their uniform, by their experience, by their expertise, by the job that they're doing; you can't tell the difference between the labour hire worker and the directly employed employee.

There's only one way you can tell the difference between the two of them, and that's they get a different pay packet. And the differences in the rates are extraordinary. Both Dan Repacholi and Meryl Swanson have been arguing this one for years, and Dan gives the example himself - which is just an extraordinary one - when he was working in the mines, there'd be five of them travelling for the same shift in the same car, but two of them were on a completely different rate of pay.

People were being paid $30,000 a year less even though they were doing the exact same job because this loophole's being used. So, it's high time we closed it, and if it means that there's a tiny bit less profit going to Sydney or to some overseas shareholders, and there's a lot more money going into wages in the Hunter, I'm okay with that.

KING: Right. Look, some of the other provisions under this new legislation, and there are a quite a few of them, I mean there's been a lot of talk about manufactured stone, I believe now that the functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, that will be expanded to include silica, and this manufactured stone, is that correct?

BURKE: Yeah, that's right. That's gone through as well.

KING: Right. Okay. And also for first responders suffering post‑traumatic stress disorder, what will the effect of this new legislation have on first responders?

BURKE: Yes, at the moment, one of the – you know what first responders do, and the likelihood that they can get PTSD, or post‑traumatic stress disorder from that sort of work. One of the challenges has been you haven't only had to prove that you've got PTSD, you've then also had to prove that you got it from work, even though the work that you're doing is so obviously traumatic.

So, what the change says is for a whole lot of these frontline jobs – now, not everyone in these jobs is in the commonwealth system, but for everyone who is, whether they're in border protection, whether they're ambulance, paramedics, any of these frontline jobs, Australian Federal Police, then all you have to do is prove the PTSD. It is presumed, given the nature of the work that you did, that you got it from work, and that just means we can get straight on with caring for the people who've been at the frontline of looking after us.

KING: My guest, Tony Burke, Workplace Relations and Employment Minister. We've been told continuously that, you know, that we're short of skilled workers, we're short of doctors, we're short of nurses, we're short of construction workers, et cetera, et cetera, and therefore we need to bring more people into the country, but your government will be unveiling a major new migration strategy today.

I think most of the surveys indicate that, you know, the average Aussie is worried about ‑ I think it peaked at about 500,000 last financial year, it needs to be reduced. What will this new strategy target, Minister?

BURKE: There's a whole lot of people who come as overseas students for completely legitimate courses, but there's also been this growing industry of training colleges that are not seriously running themselves for education, they're visa factories. And the people who are being brought out, they might be acting in good faith thinking that somehow, they're going to get a course, but they're not getting proper training, and all that's happening is they're coming out, entering the workforce, but not in the targeted way.

When someone comes out on a skilled visa - we've got a housing shortage in Australia, so we might pick people with skills that’ll help deal with that housing crisis, that's targeted exactly what the nation wants. But when someone's coming through these dodgy training colleges, and it's just been used as a visa factory, that's not what the immigration system's for. And that will take a little bit of pressure off some of the growth in population as well.

KING: All right. Good to talk to you. Thank you very much for your time. I hope you and all your family and friends, et cetera, have a safe and a happy Christmas. Good luck to the Bulldogs next year, I know you're a Canterbury fan. I think 10 new players coming to your club next year.

BURKE: I start the year the way I start every year, saying “It's going to be a great year for the Doggies.” I just hope next year it happens.

KING: Well, good luck, and to you and yours, have a safe and a happy Christmas, and thank you for your time this morning.

BURKE: The same for you. Thanks, Richard. 

KING: Tony Burke, our federal Workplace Relations and Employment Minister.