Second reading – Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Mr PITT: It’s my great pleasure to rise to speak on the Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019. It’s always great to follow the member for Melbourne; it gives me plenty of material to discuss for the next 15 minutes.

For those opposite it’s, ‘Governance: what is it good for?’ Well, according to those opposite, absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing! We’re not talking about tiddlywinks here. This is $2 billion of workers’ entitlements. It is an incredible amount of money, held for redundancy pay, sick leave and other benefits for workers in many industries.

To follow on from the member for Melbourne, and the calls for the smoking gun and evidence and everything else: there was this thing called the royal commission—not just one but two royal commissions—recommending changes. So I think it is in the best interests of Australian workers for these changes to go through the parliament. It is in the best interests of those individuals who work in the construction industry, which is a transient industry; there is no doubt about that. It could be half a day, a day, a year, three years or six years on a major project. It’s the reason why things like portable long service leave were put in place and why these types of funds are available. But I think the fact that there is no governance and management is just quite incredible.

So we have two royal commissions recommending changes, we have the facts and we have $2 billion under management, and, once again, what we have from the opposition—and I’ll say it again—is: ‘Governance, what is it good for?’ Apparently, absolutely nothing. We need to ensure that the money is managed properly and not spent on things which are not the choice of the individual who owns those assets. And they are construction workers—hardworking construction workers. I’m sure you have many of them in your electorate, Madam Deputy Speaker Wicks, and I’m sure you’ve met many of them. I’m not the only one in this place to have worked in construction and heavy industry; they are genuinely good, hardworking people and we should ensure that their money is protected, looked after, managed and utilised for what is in their interests, and that it doesn’t become a slush fund for individuals to spend in any way that they decide.

The bill also amends the Fair Work Act to prohibit terms of a modern award or an enterprise agreement requiring or permitting contributions for the benefit of an employee to be made to any fund other than a superannuation fund, a registered worker entitlement fund or a registered charity, giving effect to recommendation 49 of the royal commission’s report. I’ll say it again: what is wrong with that? It is their money. Why can’t they make those selections? Why can’t an individual decide that they will set up their own super fund? Many of them have those, particularly those small businesses, and are able to utilise that system.

Let’s look at how this works. You go along to a major construction site and you bid for that work. You are potentially a small subcontractor or a medium-sized organisation. You’re working with a prime contractor who, in turn, is working with the CFMMEU and others. But, on arrival, what’s determined is that you must meet the enterprise bargaining agreement for that greenfields site—all of those requirements, including the contributions and where they will go—and you have no choice as to how that operation ends up. So this is about fairness, it’s about choice and it’s about giving an individual an opportunity to make their own decisions about what happens to their money.

It requires any term of a modern award or enterprise agreement that names a worker entitlement fund or insurance product to allow an employee to choose another fund or insurance product. Imagine that! You get to choose your own insurance fund! It may well be the one that you had at the last job site or in fact the one that you’ve had for some years. Or it could be the one that you know the operators of—who you are confident with and who you believe will act in your best interests—and that you think covers what you want. Why can’t you make that choice? Once again, on governance, those opposite say, ‘What’s it good for?’ Absolutely nothing according to them. We want to ensure that every individual has these opportunities.

The amendments also prohibit any term of a modern award, enterprise agreement or contract of employment permitting or requiring employee contributions to an election fund for an industrial association, giving effect to recommendation 43 of the report. Once again, imagine that—governance that prevents an employee’s money from being contributed to an election fund! I think that’s fair and reasonable. I think the majority of the people who are listening to this broadcast would think it is fair and reasonable. Why is it that you show up at a heavy construction site and you have to make a contribution to an election fund as part of your local agreement, particularly if you’re a subcontractor or anything else?

The bill will also prohibit any action with the intent to coerce an employee to pay amounts to a particular worker entitlement fund, superannuation fund, training fund, welfare fund or employer insurance scheme, giving effect to recommendation 50 of the report. So the employers have not got out of this. There were things found in the royal commission which reflected very poorly on large employers in this country. They paid for industrial peace. That is what happened: they paid for industrial peace. This bill will prevent those types of contributions being forced on employers and being forced on the employee. It is their money.

The bill will also amend the RO Act to require registered organisations to have written financial expenditure policies that have been approved by the committee of management. Once again: ‘Governance, what is it good for?’ According to those opposite, absolutely nothing! Imagine having to have financial expenditure policies? Perhaps that might have prevented the activities of some former members of this House and what they did with the union funds provided by their employees and union members. I think this is a more than fair and reasonable requirement.

The bill will require registered organisations to report certain loans, grants and donations, responding to issues raised by recommendations 10 and 39 of the report. Imagine that: you happen to be a construction worker on a site, but you have to make these contributions, forcibly. It is completely wrong. It is unacceptable. That is the reason we are putting up these changes to the legislation. The bill will also require specific disclosure by registered organisations of the financial benefits obtained by them and persons linked to them in connection with employee insurance products, welfare fund arrangements and training fund arrangements. Once again, I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker: what is wrong with that? This is governance at its best. These things should be in place for $2 billion worth of employees’ money. It is their money; they made the contribution. They did the work. It was their hard toil, their sweat, their pain. It was their hands, their tools. They are the ones that made the contribution, and their funds and their money should be looked after in a reasonable way. That is the reason we are making these changes. They are fair; they are recommended. They are put up by the royal commission.

The bill will also introduce a range of new penalties. As we know, there are some organisations, individuals and businesses in this country that do not do the right thing, and unfortunately we do need to put these penalties in place to ensure compliance with financial management disclosure and reporting requirements. Once again, this accords with recommendations 9, 10, 17 and 45 of the report from the royal commission. What is wrong with that? As we’ve heard from the member for Melbourne, where’s the smoking gun? We don’t need a smoking gun. We have two royal commission recommendations, made by credible individuals, with so much evidence it has been overwhelming. I say again: it is not just unions; corporate Australia has been caught out on a number of occasions, and this type of monopoly and activity quite simply has to end. So we will make the changes that are necessary. We will put forward the bill. We will ensure it passes this House, and I am hopeful it passes the Senate, because quite simply these are changes that need to be made. We need to ensure we protect the assets of the working individual in this country. That is what this is about and nothing else. I commend the bill to the House.

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