Page 1094 - Week 04 - Wednesday, 16 March 2005
people for the work they perform. It is also our way of ensuring that all workers in this country share in the benefits derived from Australia’s economic prosperity.
Without an independent umpire to decide how these benefits should be apportioned it is likely that those workers not represented by a strong union will be unable, in the future, to negotiate a wage rise. As usual, it will be part-time, casual, unskilled and semi-skilled workers, predominantly young people—and older people—women, and people from non-English speaking backgrounds who will be most affected by the cessation of the living wage cases. These are the people with the least ability to articulate and negotiate their way around a complex system.
It is deplorable that we, as a country, are considering returning to the bad old days where might rules the day in relation to wage rates and conditions. It is very disheartening to watch the unravelling of machinery for social equity and fairness that has taken decades to build. I think that is what is most depressing about all this—the knowledge that in the future someone is going to have to start rebuilding it all again.
The Greens support the continuation of our collective bargaining system, particularly in relation to the provision of a minimum safety net for our lowest paid workers. Our preference is to see the income disparity between Australia’s highest and lowest workers reduced rather than increased. It remains incomprehensible to us that our corporate sector pays some workers hundred of thousands—in some cases millions—of dollars per annum and others less than $25,000 per annum. Who evaluates the relative worth and contribution of these workers, and who decides that one is worth so much and the other so little? Apparently this judgment is the employer’s alone.
I commend the ACT government for joining with other states and territories in supporting a $20 a week increase to minimum award wages under federal awards. I also agree with Mr Gentlemen that the living wage case is vitally important to all Australians. I wonder, however, at the benefit to anyone of discussing this matter at length in the Assembly when nothing we say here will influence either the AIRC or the federal government. I would prefer us instead to be discussing here how the ACT government could militate against the effects on the work force and the community of low wage rates in certain key occupational areas in the ACT, for example, care workers. This is a matter I will address further, later this afternoon, when responding to Mr Gentlemen’s motion on working conditions in the ACT.
MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The discussion is concluded.
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (4.22): I am pleased to say a few words in relation to the motion standing in Mr Gentlemen’s name, commenting further on matters of industrial relations. Mr Gentlemen asserts in his proposal that the Office of the Employment Advocate pushes employment contracts that distinguish between voluntary and compulsory overtime. I think that demonstrates a lack of understanding of the role of that office because what he should know as a former industrial official—and I am sure many