Back to All News

Speech: Long Service Leave

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 14 Sep 2016

Senator RHIANNON  (New South Wales) (18:05): In respect of the document just presented, the government's response to the report of the Education and Employment References Committee on long service standards, I move: 


That the Senate take note of the document. 


The response from the government is highly inadequate. We really see a government that does not care about working people. We know that the nature of work is changing enormously: there are high levels of casualisation; people are moving in and out of different jobs; people may have many different careers over even a 10-year period. What we are seeing here again is the Liberal-National government looking after their constituencies. Their constituencies are big companies that want to make money, want to make profits. They do not want to have to manage the situation where people are having to change their work and should be compensated for that. Long service leave is part of that. We know that workers had to fight hard for long service leave in the first place, and here we are seeing a government, with these recommendations, wanting to limit the requirement—a real requirement of today—to bring long service leave into the 21st century. 


You would have to say that this government is only interested in the profits of their coalition donors That might outrage people, but why wouldn't you do the right thing by working people on the basic standards of how their work plays out? So many people do not get the benefits of long service leave at the moment, and who does that benefit? It benefits the companies that they work for, so I find the way the government has brought this forward quite contemptuous. In some ways, it reminds me of the feudal lord on top of the hill who thinks that they can get away with treating people abominably. For a while that works, but people will organise and fight back.  


It is an issue that the Greens feel very strongly about, and I congratulate Greens state MPs around the country. Two years ago they came together to bring in a portable long service leave scheme for all employees. That is what the government should have done. That is the recommendation that the government should have backed with the report before us today. It certainly is what the Greens are working for, and I know are many in the union movement and the organised workforce.  


Because, again, to remind ourselves: after 10 years of work, people deserve a break. That is all we are talking about. Whether it is one job or many jobs, people deserve a break. We get a break. People who are working in all sorts of jobs also deserve those basic conditions. Traditionally, most Australian employees would get that break when they take long service leave after 10 years continuous work with one employer, and that is what needs to change. Such a simple, decent requirement should be in place. It should have been enacted long ago. The call has been in now for many years but, again, this government is showing where its real interests lie.  


Industry-specific, portable long service leave schemes currently operate in most states for specific classes of workers. This means that workers retain their rights to leave even when they move between different employers in the same industry. A limited form of portable long service leave also applies in many states and some federal Public Service jobs, so the move is on. It is happening. It is already in law—particularly in the public sector we are seeing that shift. Here we see the government just not wanting to know. They should be working with industry and different employers to introduce what is fair and so urgently needed.  


What happened in 2014, as I mentioned, is that my state colleagues, Greens MPs, in the various parliaments—and we have Greens MPs in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania—came together with a commitment to deliver portable long service leave for workers in all industries. Yes, there may be some complexities in getting it organised, but that is what the law is for. Our job is to use the law—you would hope—for progressive change, change that will make life better for the majority of people, make a fairer society.  


Again, let's remember, what we are dealing with here is a report that shows how mean this government is and how they will not do the right thing. It is not some new scheme; it is just tweaking the long service leave scheme to adapt to current working conditions. The Greens are calling governments across the country to support workers in their states by modernising this basic entitlement—an entitlement that needs some modernising—and here we have the Turnbull government dragging the chain. The Liberals and Nationals are so out of touch—out of touch with a lot of their own voters for that matter. Again, their constituency is delivering for corporate Australia, and they do that in spades.  


More than 90 per cent of employment growth over the past 20 years has been in casual and contract work, where long service leave is unavailable. So, if you go down the path that the government clearly wants to take us with no changes to long service leave, fewer people will receive this benefit, because work is fundamentally changing. It is not just that people end up having many jobs; many of them, as I just said, will be in contract work, casual work and they will not receive this benefit.  


As we know, workplaces are modernising. Work is becoming intensified, and it is also very important that we address the need for work-life balance and, again, long service leave is part of achieving that. That is why it was introduced in the first place. It was not something that one day people turned up in parliament and thought: 'That's a good idea. Let's give workers long service leave.' It wasn't that employers suddenly thought: 'Let's give workers long service leave.' Another important campaign by the organised workforce and of unions struggling, campaigning and going on strike was how we won long service leave.  


But now we know the benefits of it—and I would argue that most companies would benefit from long service leave when their workforce has the opportunity to address their work-life balance; however, we have this mean government, a government that really is very short term: short term in vision, possibly short term in how long they last. We need to remember that long service leave makes it possible for workers to take that much-needed break after 10 years. I cannot emphasise this enough. We all know how important it is to have a break with our family and loved ones. Think of this place on Thursday at the end of a sitting week: people are busting to get out of the place. We all share stories of how much we are looking forward to getting home. I emphasise that to reflect on the importance of having time out of one's work. After 10 years, workers deserve it, and this government is stealing that opportunity from the workers of this country and an increasing number of the workers, as the nature of work and the nature of employment changes.  


The increasing movement between employers and the casualisation of the workforce makes portable long service leave an absolute necessity. I would say it is a necessity for the modernisation of society because, if we end up allowing our workforce to become so alienated from work because of the hardship of trying to manage, it is actually not good for business. It is not good for governments. It is not good for the wider society, because you need that cohesion, and cohesion comes with decent working conditions.  


As I said, portable long service leave already applies in a number of select industries, so it is not as though what the Greens are recommending is some incredibly radical new proposal; it is happening but far too slowly. These recommendations were to get on with it, and we are seeing the government really dragging the chain. 


So reading this report was deeply disappointing. It was probably not surprising, but it was deeply disappointing. But it will be revisited. We will win this change, because the organised workforce—the unions in this country—while certainly diminished in numbers, is growing in strength. I am very confident that we will win this one day. 


Question agreed to. 

Back to All News