Doorstop – Southbank
11 December 2012
SUBJECT/S: FWO’s public holiday awareness campaign, polls, 2DAY FM
BILL SHORTEN: Good morning everyone. I'm here with Nick Wilson, the Fair Work Ombudsman. The work of the Fair Work Ombudsman is one of the quiet achievements of the Federal Government. Every year, over a million people, hundreds of thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of businesses, many of them small businesses, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman to find out, are they being paid the right wages and conditions? For employers, they want to know what's the right thing to do, and are they doing it right? This summer, this Christmas break will be no different.
What we will see this summer, this Christmas break, is that whilst many of us are sitting down enjoying Christmas time, having lovely meals, catching up with people, having lovely holidays, there'll be tens of thousands of other Australians who will be working this Christmas to make sure we can enjoy our Christmas break. What's important is that many of these young people who are working this Christmas are paid correctly. For many young people, this'll be the first job that they might have had, and it is important that people get paid properly. There'll be thousands of small businesses who'll be working hard, trying to make a modest profit, and by the same token provide really good Christmas experience for their customers in retail, hospitality and accommodation.
They also want to know what the right thing to do is. So the Fair Work Ombudsman, on behalf of the Federal Government of Australia, is engaging in a campaign to make sure that employers know what the right thing to do is and that employees are not getting ripped off. Last year there were 340,000 hits on the internet by people trying to ensure that they know what to pay on public holidays - 340,000 internet enquiries. Last year - and Nick Wilson can go into more detail - there were hundreds of enquiries and investigations and underpayments of people. We want to make sure that if you're working this Christmas that you get paid properly.
We want to make sure that business understand what their obligations are so they don't by mistake get into trouble themselves. So this is a Christmas campaign to make sure that all the people in retail and hospitality are paid properly and getting the right answer. It doesn't matter if you're a business employer or an employee; it is as close as turning on the computer or making a simple phone call to the highly professional staff at the Fair Work Ombudsman. I might ask Nick to give some examples and talk a little bit and take questions.
NICK WILSON: While many of us will be enjoying Christmas Day and Boxing Day and having the day off, there obviously will be tens of thousands of people who work on those days and other public holidays over the New Year period. We're encouraging all employers and employees to find out what they are entitled to be paid if they're working on those days. A bit of prevention obviously is the best thing. Find out the information before those days occur, what you're entitled to be paid or what you should be paying your workers. We'd be encouraging people to contacting the Fair Work Infoline or view our website information.
Each year, after the public holidays we find around about 800 to 1,000 people contact us to say they've been underpaid, and very often they have been. They've been paid flat rates instead of the penalty rates which they're entitled to under the public holiday awards. We encourage people to avoid that problem of having to make back-payments by doing a bit of precautionary research beforehand.
JOURNALIST: Who will be our worst offenders, do you know? Where's the biggest issue? Is it retail around Christmas?
NICK WILSON: Well, often you find that it's retail and hospitality or industries which are casualised where there's the greatest problem. In the industries where people are working according to shifts, we find less problems. But even in those sort of cases, we do find a temptation by employers to cut corners and not pay the penalty rates.
JOURNALIST: Minister, a number of restaurant owners and shop owners in towns like Noosa have said that they'll have to close down and won't be able to open over the Christmas period because they can't afford to pay staff penalty rates. Surely this isn't good for anyone.
BILL SHORTEN: We just want people to adhere to the law. The challenges of tourism, in parts of Australia, have a lot more to do with the high Australian dollar, have a lot more to do with the difficulty in getting people to work in these industries, than they do over what you pay someone on New Year's Eve. In Australia, we all understand that if we want to have a good holiday and we want to get good service, then there's someone else working to achieve that outcome.
What we are saying today is that there is a safety net in place. It is a reasonable safety net, and that we want to make sure that employers know where to go to find out that information. And that employees know that they’ve got rights at work too.
We need to be very clear: every Christmas and New Year literally hundreds of people are being underpaid. In my experience small business never wants to rip people off – they just want to know what the rules are. But I don’t think any of us can stand by and say it’s a good thing to see literally hundreds of people ripped off.
QUESTION: Don't you think that it's obviously going to have a negative effect on the economy if these businesses can't even open, or will not open, because they can't afford to pay staff. Therefore employees aren't even getting the work over this period.
BILL SHORTEN: The argument that paying people their legal entitlements is somehow unproductive for Australian business has been around since we've had the award system one-hundred-and-ten years.
The minimum adult wage is sixteen dollars an hour. Businesses who struggle with paying people their minimum entitlements are - I think they're not looking at what the real challenges are in their business. Australia is not Bali, it is not Thailand, it is not a third world country. I believe strongly that when you work unsocial hours, when you're delivering services to the rest of us at Christmas time and New Year's when the rest of us are on holiday, having a great time, you should be paid what you're meant to be paid.
Also what I'd just say to those critics of people who say that we shouldn’t have a decent minimum wage in this country and a proper safety net is that who do you think can afford to go to your shops, who do you think can afford to eat in your restaurants if people aren't earning a decent living wage?
QUESTION: Don't you need to recognise though that the employers, the remaining recommendations of the - the sort of business review would probably go some way to alleviate the [inaudible]?
BILL SHORTEN: There's no doubt that there's plenty of challenges in the high street of the Australian economy and some of them come to mind pretty quickly. The high Australian dollar has seen a record number of Australians take holidays overseas but low paid workers shouldn't be trying to answer all of the challenges of the Australian economy.
It is a good thing that the Reserve Bank has lowered the cash rate, the official cash rate. We have had numerous successive reductions in the cash rate. This is good for business confidence.
You see that there are a number of measures which the Australian Government has been rolling out. Since Labor's been in, we've cut personal income tax rates so we are contributing to the confidence in the Australian economy. What I do know is if you're on a junior wage and you're on an hourly rate, which is even less than sixteen dollars an hour, I think that you should be paid your legal entitlements.
Today is all about saying to employers there's free advice available. Today is all about saying to employees if you're unsure of your rights, you do have rights at work and you should contact the independent regulator, the Fair Work Ombudsman, to find out what they are.
This Christmas those of us who are on holiday, eating at the lovely restaurants, what we need to do is to make sure that we're not having a good time at the expense of someone else, especially the people who are working serving us on those days that they can't be with their own families.
QUESTION: Do you think Labor's getting its fair entitlements in the polls?
BILL SHORTEN: Polls go up, polls go down. What I know is at the end of this year there's three or four bits of fundamentally very good news. The information which I look at as a representative of Australian people is what's the unemployment rate.
The unemployment rate, despite softness in the Labor market, is at 5.2 percent. There are nations all around the world that would like to have our unemployment rate because it's relatively low compared to most of the rest of the world.
I look at the interest rates and there is downward pressure on them. And I also look at the news for the people with disability and their carers and the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the deal which has been struck between the Federal Government and New South Wales.
If you ask me what do I think about the polls, which you just did, what I would say to you is what I think about the National Disability Insurance Scheme - that's a good thing. What do I think about downward pressure on interest rates - on balance, that is a good thing for the confidence in the Australia economy. What do I think about low unemployment - I think that's a remarkable achievement in very difficult global economic circumstances?
QUESTION: Do you think [inaudible] issue contributed to the current problems?
BILL SHORTEN: No. I know that some people want to have members of parliament talking about the polls. For me what's important is hard work. What Australians want is positive not negative. What Australians want is hope not fear. What Australians wants is a government that can navigate its path to the future.
What we say about the future is that we're dealing with lives of the Asian century. We've lifted superannuation this year, which helps people who work hard and gives them some money to retire with. We've got downward pressure on unemployment and so therefore when we talk about the polls I just don't get as focused on them as some do.
QUESTION: Just on Fair Work Australia. When [inaudible] vice president and roughly when?
BILL SHORTEN: In terms of Fair Work Australia and appointments we've got an independent merits based process. I don't know if the advertisements have gone in for new positions there. But we will do what we've done in the time that I've be Minister. The process will be independent, appointments will be balanced and we'll get the people for the jobs.
QUESTION: Any potentials that you know of at the moment?
BILL SHORTEN: No.
QUESTION: Don't you think that people are recognising that fact? Why do think you have a primary vote of around [inaudible]?
BILL SHORTEN: Let's see tonight if we run out of this interview our reference to the positives of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, low unemployment and downward pressure on interest rates. You know people do tend to respond to what they see in the news and that's fair enough.
I'd say though there is more good news in Australia at the end of this year, which has been a hard year, a tough year, than there is bad news. We just want to make sure that this Christmas the young people, the people working hard, just get their fair minimum entitlements. That's what people expect governments to do - Labor governments to stand up for those who need assistance when they're working hard so the rest of us can have a lovely safe fun Christmas.
QUESTION: Minister did you see the [inaudible] in the Fin Review about the [inaudible] sitting down on the job?
BILL SHORTEN: I've seen references to it in a Fairfax publication. I'd be amazed if there are documents of any serious nature going around saying that you can't sit down. Presumably the person who typed up that communication has got be sitting down when they said it.
I'm sure that this must be put out by some mid-level person with probably more time on their hands than productivity goals that they've got to set. In my experience most people work hard and they don't need advice about whether or not they can sit down or stand up.
QUESTION: Minister, are you playing any role in the HSU elections in Victoria?
BILL SHORTEN: No.
BILL SHORTEN: I understand that the Silcar proposed redundancies are underway at this stage and that's my advice.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the 2Day FM events show a need for greater regulation?
BILL SHORTEN: I think that the 2Day FM incident is a tragedy of some proportion. I think that the prank call was idiotic but I also think some of the witch-hunt on the Twitter-sphere is also extreme. The independent regulator is going to check and is weighing up what it does and there's nothing I could add to that in terms of Australia.
In terms of the family of the lady in England, not that I can put myself in her shoes and the shoes of her family, but I just ask people when they're commenting on this how would that family - what would that family feel like when they read how it's being reported. And if you can imagine that the family would feel upset by the way matters are being covered then that should be a good self-discipline imposed upon everyone else.
I think this is a tragedy which reverberates. I think that the announcers seemed to be - as is appropriate - completely mortified and shocked. I think the family going through it must be in a world of pain and I'm not sure that everyone else commenting on this is going to assist that family deal with what is really a most unspeakable tragedy.
QUESTION: Minister, some of the stuff that's going on in the HSU Victorian elections is quite inaudible] is it proof that this Government's - the Coalition's policy of tougher governments for unions is the right one?
BILL SHORTEN: The Government - this Government moved to put an Administrator into the HSU. We want to see elections; we want to see the members decide what happens in that union. The Opposition gave no strategy at all in terms of the putting forward the Administrator.
I think that in terms of the relentless attack on unions the Opposition are union-baiting anti-union bigots. They never ever say anything good about unions and I think that it'll be remarkable if we see the Opposition this Christmas come out and say that people should be paid their minimum entitlements.
What matters is that in Australia we've got people going to work, working cooperatively between employer and employee and what also matters is making sure that employers are able to make a profit and that employees are able to be paid what they are owed.
That to me is the basic rule of industrial relations and the Opposition don't seem to get it at any point and I hope that in some point in 2013 they'll reveal their workplace relations policy because it's a better kept secret - no it's probably the best kept secret I can think of.
QUESTION: If it is a campaign of smear and sleaze that you have said a number of times - Tony Abbott is being run - is today's poll figures a recognition that it hasn't worked?
BILL SHORTEN: I don't think I referred to the Opposition Leader at all in this press conference but…
QUESTION: A number of times…
BILL SHORTEN: I think Australians are unimpressed by the World War One style of the Opposition approach to politics, which is all mud, which is all barbed wire and trench warfare. What Australians want in 2013 from politics, after they've had a break from it, is they want to hear both sides of Australian politics articulate a direction for the future. Our direction's clear - we're pro jobs and we've seen that on our watch. We are pro helping people and we see that through reasonable conditions of work. We're pro skills, and we’ve seen that through record investment in skills. We are pro supporting people in retirement, we are lifting superannuation and we are certainly, and most fundamentally, pro education. We're seeing that through the Gonski report. And we're also very committed to social justice and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
When the Opposition can write down a list of five or six things that they're for, not just things that they're against, then we will have a decent political debate in this country.
QUESTION: And who will win the election?
BILL SHORTEN: That will be up to the Australian people. Thanks everyone.