Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 7 Hansard (17 August) . . Page.. 2375..
MR GENTLEMAN (continuing):
Workers were presented with a new enterprise bargaining agreement but all of a sudden the 40-page contract was slashed to a seven-page document. WorkChoices allowed management to cut workers entitlements. WorkChoices has left 14 employees at SITA and their families with an uncertain future. WorkChoices has left 14 employees and their families with the stress of not knowing when negotiations may resume.
SITA is claiming that it cannot afford to give its waste workers a fair rise, a claim that seems questionable when the company made a global profit of $US1.554 billion last financial year. This morning I went to the SITA yard to offer support to these workers and I was there again at lunchtime to give the 14 workers an opportunity to talk to someone.
It is appalling that workers can be treated as poorly as this. Those 14 workers are being punished unfairly because of the WorkChoices legislation. WorkChoices has given management the tools and the opportunity to treat its workers like slaves. WorkChoices has taken away the rights of the independent umpire within the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. If this were to have occurred 12 months ago, an appointment would have been made with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and an agreement probably would have been imminent.
While I am on the subject of arbitration I would like to read some notes from Justice Rothman at a presentation last Thursday. Justice Rothman is one of the justices that attended the High Court hearing. He states:
Now that the new system has destroyed the capacity to hold down wages-
and he is talking about arbitration loss-
it is just as likely that wages at the unskilled level will, over time, fall, but that wages at the skilled and professional level will rise at rates far greater than has ever been the situation in the past.
Further the Federal government proposals, while weakening unions that depend upon the arbitration system to survive, strengthen the capacity of those unions that have significant support amongst their members and the capacity to negotiate on their behalf.
The history of arbitration has been to create a society in which the wages gap is far less than in other Western democracies. This is at least one of the bases for the egalitarian nature of Australian society and our general relative cohesiveness. In 1983 and 1988 the reforms widened the wage gap significantly. These current reforms will take that process even further.
Such reforms will create a society more like that which we see in the USA and UK. I suppose this is the result of globalisation. Ultimately it is a choice as to the kind of society that is desired. It would certainly mean that lawyers, doctors, engineers and others, probably teachers, would earn far more, relatively, than they have in the past. But these are choices that governments are elected to make. You as professionals-
he was addressing a crowd of lawyers-