Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry and Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt.
Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry and Queensland Labor Senator Murray Watt.

Parties vie for CQ support with industrial relations reform

Industrial relations reform may the key to securing the electoral support of Central Queensland and its workers, but the devil is in the details if Senator Murray Watt’s recent visit to Rockhampton is anything to go by.

Mr Watt visited Rockhampton’s CFMEU office last Friday to promote the policies to do with casualisation, particularly in the resources sector, that Federal Labor will bring to the next election.

“We understand the export dollars, the royalties, the jobs that the resources sector produces, and we think it’s got a really bright future here in Central Queensland,” he said, but promised a “real crackdown on the kind of cowboy labour hire firms that unfortunately we’ve seen proliferate throughout Central Queensland over the last few years”.

“If people don’t have secure work, it means they’re not confident to go out and spend in local businesses and create jobs in local businesses: they can’t get car loans, they can’t get home loans, their families are always stressed – it’s no way to live and it’s no good for the local economy,” he ssaid.

He said Labor’s policy for labour hire workers was contained in the mantra “Same job, same pay”.

“It’s not fair that right now, from Rockhampton to Gladstone, Moranbah to Middlemount, there are workers side by side – one paid through a labour hire company, the other paid as a permanent employee – with up to a 20 per cent difference in their pay each week,” Mr Watt said.

“If you’re working as a labour hire casual, whether it be in mining or any other industry, under a Labor government, you will have to be paid at least the same amount as a permanent worker.”

Casual coal miner Chad Stokes was at the meeting with Mr Watt.

He has three children and works in Blackwater, where he has been a labour hire worker for seven years.

“It puts a lot of pressure on your family,” Mr Stokes said. “It’s mentally draining at times.

“Six months ago we got told on a Monday that we mightn’t have a job by the Thursday, and there was 85 people put off overnight.

“Eight times I’ve actually been affected, through mates. They’ve got to go home and tell their wives that ‘I haven't got a job.’ It’s a big mental issue, I believe.”

He thought Labor’s policies would improve the conditions for casual workers.

“We haven’t had nothing in the last six years, with the casual employment, so I think it’s great,” Mr Stokes said.

“The same pay, same job is a good thing. Most casuals now are getting paid 40 to 50 grand less than what a permanent worker is getting paid.”

Chad Stokes.
Chad Stokes.

Member for Rockhampton Barry O’Rourke said although a contingent of casual workers was sometimes required, that did not excuse different conditions for people employed for an extended time.

“There is always a need for peaks and troughs, no question about that,” he said.

“But then you have people like Chad, who’s been there for seven years, effectively doing the same job as a permanent employee without entitlements, without sick leave, without rec leave, and getting paid less.

“I understand peaks and troughs – that will happen – but not when you’re long-term.”

Mr Watt decried a bill currently under Senate committee scrutiny, the The Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020, which he said “paves the way for Scott Morrison to give a pay cut to thousands of workers across Central Queensland and across the country”.

“What it will do is remove what’s known as the Better off overall test in the current legislation,” he said.

“The legislation that the government is putting forward still leaves it up to employers to decide if someone is casual or not, no matter how often they work, how regularly they work, and it doesn’t give anyone any appeal rights if they ask to be converted to permanent and the boss says no.”

Member for Capricornia Michelle Landry responded that the policies mentioned by Mr Watt amounted to a $20 billion business tax and would in fact cut the pay of casual workers.

“Labor’s plan to give casual workers and independent contractors paid leave entitlements and allowing them to transfer them from job-to-job is not only a job-killing tax on business, but will drive up costs of goods and services.

“Labor can’t even say what its own policy will cost but the Attorney-General’s Department has costed what Labor is promising: there are 3.3 million casuals and independent contractors in the workforce Providing them annual leave, sick leave and long service leave will cost $20.3 billion every year.

“Will casual workers lose their 25 per cent loading in return for getting paid leave under their policy? That would mean a massive pay cut for casual workers – on average of $153 per week or almost $8,000 a year.”

Ms Landry said the Federal Government’s reforms included stronger penalties against wage theft and criminal penalties for wage theft.

She said they would give casual workers the opportunity to shift to permanent work after 12 months of work, and give part-time workers the chance to work extra hours if they chose to do so.

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