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Speech: Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Bill 2017

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 26 Aug 2017

Wednesday 16 August

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:00): From listening to the debate—through you, Chair, to Senator Xenophon—I wasn't hearing that the minister was being accused of actually conducting the wage theft herself, but, because we have a weak bill with built-in failures, the bill will allow wage theft to continue and to flourish.

That's why we need this amendment. We really do need the amendment with regard to reversing the onus of proof. That's been set out very clearly. We need that reverse of the onus of proof for employers, and it needs to be in place. What is relevant here is the companies involved. If they've done the right thing, they've got nothing to fear under this amendment. They have a job to do and they've got their books to keep; that's all part of what they do. If they're doing the right thing, they have nothing to fear by this amendment. That's the essence of it here and why we need it.

Again, let's remember what we're dealing with and what the title of this bill is: 'protecting vulnerable workers'. There's a whole lot of holes in this bill that, as the debate goes on and the minister has to set out the details, become more apparent. This is one of them, and it's one of them that needs to be tightened up. That's why the Greens are supporting this amendment.

I think it's worth reminding ourselves of the background to the bill, because it is informative of where the government is coming from. This bill, the protecting vulnerable workers bill, wasn't the government's idea in the first instance. It came about because of all the scandalous stories out there. Again, let's remind ourselves: we're in such a privileged position with our work conditions, the wages we get and how we work. Yes, people in this place work incredibly hard, and I acknowledge that, but we're very privileged compared to these workers, who are often treated just so appallingly. That's why we need the tightest bill before us.

The government don't come from that background; they don't come from a position of doing the right thing by working people. Their job—why they are elected—is to look after the companies. We see that time and time again. Why they have now brought the bill forward is the media coverage of the scandals in so many major companies in this country, companies that we all interact with. We're coming across workers who clearly are being exploited as we buy our newspapers at the corner convenience shop or buy petrol at these big franchise companies.

This was massive, and the government had to do something about it. But they have left too many holes in this. This one needs to be plugged; the amendment before us does that, and it deserves to be passed.

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