Our government wants to see an economy that works for all Australians. People in our communities deserve to have good jobs with the security, pay fairness and proper protections that are part of good jobs. To achieve this, we need laws that are fit for purpose and that meet the needs of Australians today, and that is what the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Secure Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 2022 is designed to do. This bill will fix the bargaining system, and it will help to get wages moving again. This was a key plank that our government fought for in the election campaign, and it is a key plank that we’ll deliver on now.
For people in my community, in professions like health care, aged care, disability support and early childcare support, this bill is designed to get them the pay rise they deserve. In aged care in my community, across Jagajaga we have something like 30 providers of aged care services, residential care, home care, and other forms of care. I talk to the people who work in these industries, and they know it’s important work that they do, but they also know it’s not easy work. When they speak to aged-care workers they tell me they love what they do. They love getting to know the people they support, their partners, the families who come in with that person. They love being an important part of their circle.
The care takes many forms. It’s not just helping an older person get up and about. It’s about the friendships you make, that mean for an older person they feel a bit less alone and more connected to the wider world. So it’s complex work. It’s important work. But for too long it’s been under-recognised. We have not recognised the importance of the people who work in this vital sector to make sure that they are there for older people and for all of us in our community. They have had to wait far too long for a pay rise. In fact, it took a royal commission. It took a government that was prepared to back them in, to get their pay rise, for aged-care workers to get it. If you need an example of how wages haven’t been moving in this country, if you need an example of how those on the opposite side left low-paid workers behind, aged-care workers are an excellent example.
Another industry I will talk about in relation to this bill is early childhood education. There are 135 childcare providers in Jagajaga, a lot of centres with a lot of educators supporting a lot of local kids and families. The workers and educators at these centres also do really important essential work. Again, for too long, we have undervalued this work. We have pretended that it is not complex, that it is not important to be the person responsible for helping to bring up the smallest people in our community, that it is not important work to be guiding the next generation. This is vital work, yet we have not recognised these important workers with the wages and conditions they should have.
The reason we haven’t done this is simply that the system is not set up to deliver these workers a pay rise. These people, who are mainly women working in a heavily feminised industry, have not been getting the pay rises they deserve. We saw the situation last year, as we’ve seen highlighted by the minister, where early childhood educators were not able to get a pay rise because they couldn’t find an appropriate male comparator group. There is no male comparator group! Where are the men working in early education? I’d love to see some. They’re not there at the moment, mainly because wages are too low. So we’re in an impossible bind here, that contributed to these early educators missing out on a pay rise.
This bill aims to reverse that. It will reverse the decades of really unfair outcomes for women workers in our community. Women who are holding up the caring economy will be supported by this bill to get the pay rises they deserve. The changes in this bill take away that need to find a male comparator group. They make it clear that sex discrimination is not necessary to establish that a certain type of work is undervalued. These changes will enable better access to bargaining for sectors like early childhood education and aged care. It will help workers to negotiate better pay and conditions, and that is something that everyone in this House should regard as a win.
We have spent a pandemic telling the women working in these areas that they are essential workers. We have spent a pandemic holding them up and saying, ‘You’ve kept us going.’ The very least the people in this House could do is make sure that these people get a pay rise. These industries have been undervalued. It is unfair and it is something that we have to fix. It is incumbent on all of us in this place to realise that for too long we’ve failed in this space.
We have had 10 years of drift and denial, an almost wilful ignorance, of the reality that workers in our country are facing. Now we seem to see that those opposite continue to want to deny that people in these sectors, women in these sectors, are underpaid. Under those opposite, we saw that wages were kept low in what seemed to be a deliberate design feature. In fact, at one point, I believe it was called out as a deliberate design feature of the system. Rather than bringing people together, rather than trying to make sure that we’re getting workers, employees and industry representatives on the same page, what we’ve seen from those opposite is a desire to increase conflict.
We’ve seen a rise in insecure work. We’ve seen that, in more households, people don’t know what their income will look like for the week because their job is insecure, and they’re doing all of this at a time when we know that the cost of living is increasing. The cost of living is increasing but wages are not increasing. Unemployment is low but wages are still not increasing. Yet, it seems that, for years and years, we’ve been told that, if you want to get wages moving again, you just need to wait until unemployment is low. Well, unemployment is low and that hasn’t happened, so that magic pudding isn’t really a magic pudding. It’s not going to happen. This government has recognised that. We’ve recognised that you can’t just rely on unemployment being low for wages to magically start rising. We’ve recognised that it is the work of government to make sure that people who are in insecure work in low-paid industries who have missed out on the benefits of pay rises are finally noticed and have their needs addressed.
We’ve noticed the cost-of-living pressures that people across our communities are facing. They are very real. I know it is not easy for a lot of people in my community at the moment. We know that a decade of wage stagnation has absolutely contributed to those cost-of-living pressures. In a situation where inflation is running at more than seven per cent, and wages are at about 2½ per cent, it is absolutely incumbent on the government and on everyone in this place to act. We have to find ways to get wages moving again, and that is a huge part of what we are aiming to achieve with this bill. The Australian people were clear at the election. They’ve had enough of the previous approach to wages. They have seen that their wages haven’t gone up as they should have over the past decade. They do want a change. They want this place to be on their side and to be backing in the wage increases they deserve, so I urge everyone in this place to take that very seriously as we debate this bill and as we go forward.
I want to see better conditions for people in my community and in communities across Australia who deserve better, whether they’re a worker in a sector that will benefit from this bill, whether they have a family member in this sector who helps to pay the bills in their household, or whether they’re someone who benefits from the work people do in that sector. I know people in Jagajaga value people in industries like early childhood education, aged care and health care. The parents who take their kids down to child care know the connections that those educators are making with their children. They know that’s important work. They know the impact that has on their child every single day. They want to see those workers get the pay rise which they deserve and which they’ve been denied for far too long. Our early childhood educators create the environment that helps our kids grow and develop and start on their education journey. We cannot value it highly enough. Aged care, as I said, is another area where in the past we have not recognised the key work that the workers in those industries have done. It took our government to deliver a pay rise for them. After so long, these workers deserve better pay and conditions.
We need this bill as a strong foundation to continue to build a more equitable and fair system across our country for all of our communities. This is good for workers. It’s good for the economy. It will be good for Australia. I commend the bill to the House.