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Industrial Relations – delivering wage rises in low paid industries

Industrial Relations – delivering wage rises in low paid industries

Ms SPENDER (Wentworth) (14:24):

My question is for the Prime Minister.

Does the Prime Minister agree that real, effective wage rises in low-paid industries can be achieved through the awards, as has been shown this week in the aged-care awards, rather than through complex IR legislation that wasn't taken to the election, brings in small business and may delay wage rises in protracted negotiations? 

 Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Prime Minister) (14:25): I'll start, and I'll ask the minister to continue. And I thank the member for Wentworth for her question and for her constructive engagement in this House. I think, though, that it is not credible to say that we did not take our policy to lift wages to the election. We were very clear that we wanted to lift wages. We were clear that we would make submissions to the Fair Work Commission about those on the minimum wage, about those in the aged-care workforce. We were very clear that we would make secure work an objective of the Fair Work Act. We were very clear that we would make gender pay equity an objective of the Fair Work Act.

And one of the things that's very clear and is why we need to change the industrial relations system is not only that real wages have gone backwards over the previous decade, as a deliberate policy of the then government, but also that the feminised industries—people like our cleaners, our early learning educators, our aged-care workers and our disability care workers—have copped the brunt of the holding back of wages in this country. A fairer country deserves a fairer industrial relations system. That's what our secure work, better pay bill will do. We believe there is a need to reform the system. That was something we took and that we engaged very much on with business, and continue to do so, as well as with unions. We did so at the Jobs and Skills Summit here. It is one of the challenges that we need to meet. The Reserve Bank governor made it very clear that we need to lift wages, that it is something that was holding back the economy. That's why our legislation is worthy of support by this parliament, because we believe that very clearly we have a mandate for it. But I'd ask the minister to continue.

Mr BURKE (Watson—Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for the Arts and Leader of the House) (14:27): I reiterate that thankyou to the member for Wentworth for the way in which she's been engaged with this debate and the further conversations that are yet to happen. But I do have to note, as to why we don't just rely on the award system, that people who are on enterprise agreements earn more, and businesses with enterprise agreements get more flexibility and get more productivity. Enterprise agreements do provide a better outcome, but at the moment they are largely less available if you're a smaller business or a medium-size business and less available if it's a feminised workforce. If we can deliver the pay rise and the productivity, it's a much better outcome.

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