On Monday 4 December 2017 Lee Rhiannon made the following speech during the second reading of Fair Work Amendment (Repeal of 4 Yearly Reviews and Other Measures) Bill 2017.
The Greens do support this amendment. We must ensure that penalty rates aren't traded off for other conditions, and that's what we can achieve here. This is an incredibly important moment. We know that wages growth is at a record low and that the workers who receive penalty rates really depend on them. They are absolutely essential for so many workers—we've had the evidence before parliamentary inquiries and we know it from our own experience. So many of the workers who depend on penalty rates really have their backs against the wall, at the moment, with the way things are going in Australia.
There is a very useful study that's come out from the Australia Institute. Their Centre for Future Work released a report that warned that at current levels of wages growth it would take 17 years for higher base wages for retail workers to offset penalty rate cuts. There is an idea that penalty rates are just an add-on to the base rate that workers get, but that base rate is not delivering the living standards people have a right to expect. That's why we need to ensure that penalty rates are not traded off for other conditions.
We believe that the parliament should also reverse the Fair Work Commission's decision to cut penalty rates for some of the most insecure and low-paid workers. Ensuring workers are properly compensated for working unsociable hours really goes to the essence of how we should work in this place. Yes, we at times have unsociable hours, but at the end of the day it is only for a few weeks a year. For some workers, this is what their work is like every day. As the previous speaker, Senator Cameron, set out, we're on the eve of Christmas, when we have some of the biggest public holidays in this country, and, because Christmas Eve falls on a weekend, the hardship that will bring will be enormous. There will be some people who will not see their families that weekend because of Saturday and very late-night shopping. This is very savage and a reminder why we need to protect these conditions.
The Australian community continually sees this place passing laws that benefit just a small section of wealthy people in this country. We have an opportunity here to right some of those wrongs—to ensure that penalty rates are protected and locked in the law.