JobKeeper Package: One Million Casuals Left Behind

08 April 2020

First of all, I would like to acknowledge all of those Australians who are currently going out to work, whether it's in this place or elsewhere across the country: thank you for the service that you are providing. It's very hard, with the 'stay home' messages, but I do want to acknowledge and thank those workers leaving their homes each day and going to work. I'd also like to acknowledge that many of those workers are members of my union, United Workers Union, and I say a special thank you to them.

I then want to congratulate the government on this bill—for taking the advice of Labor and for implementing what's become known as the JobKeeper package. For many workers, we know it will be a lifeline. It will enable them to keep vital connections with their employer and to be ready to play a part in getting Australia working again once we're through this COVID-19 pandemic. But this legislation does not go far enough. Most working people were already doing it tough. Before the pandemic, they had not seen their wages rise. Wages were stagnating or they had no wage increases at all. Many were part-time workers working second or third jobs to make ends meet. Many Australians were experiencing mortgage and rent stress. These issues haven't gone away. They're still there.

For some Australians, this JobKeeper package will be a lifeline. But for the many millions who will miss out, the government has deserted them in their moment of need. And I just want to talk about them. We've heard Labor senators in this place talk about the million casual workers who will miss out on this package. We can't allow that. Some of those workers are labour hire staff. Many of those workers are women and young people. We've also got visa workers, international students and local government employees who are not eligible for the JobKeeper scheme. And, as we move through the next week, more and more workers will be identified. WA's largest employer, Crown Casino, directed by the government, closed its doors overnight. It threw out its many casuals, many of whom will not be eligible for JobKeeper and many of whom are international students. Those are the people we need to be looking after into the future. They've been left totally without an income. We don't want to create a situation in this country where casual workers go to work sick because they have no other alternative. That's dangerous and it's irresponsible.

I want to talk about aged-care workers, who have also been hit. They're low-income, they're part-time and they're predominantly women. Many work second jobs to make ends meet. They're in a double jeopardy, because, for many of those women, their second job is with an agency commonly referred to as a labour hire company. Well, guess what? They're not eligible for JobKeeper either. And not only that: because they're working in a vulnerable sector, these workers have been directed by their employer that they can only have one job, and that's the aged-care work that they're currently doing as their first job—and I'm glad the minister's in here at the moment, because that's what employers are being told in Western Australia. I'm sure we can get you examples if you're interested, Minister. And so we see that these workers have now had their income halved overnight.

These are the workers the Prime Minister has thanked for their service, and yet he has not looked after them, and they now are without their second job because their employers see that second job as too risky. Their employers have said to them, 'If you want to continue working here in aged care, you have to give up that second job.'—and that second job is with a labour hire company, so they will be excluded from the JobKeeper package. These are the very workers that the Prime Minister has stood up and thanked for their service. Well, he's not taking care of them. They're taking care of the most vulnerable in our community, but the Prime Minister has clearly let them down. This could be fixed overnight. This could be fixed with a flick of a pen by the Treasurer, Mr Josh Frydenberg.

We know many workers are making sacrifices. Security guards at the airport in Western Australia have lost 80 per cent of their hours. Imagine what that does to—again—low-income workers. And they are probably not going to qualify for JobKeeper because they work for very large multinational companies who won't be able to demonstrate that they've made the required loss to enable them to get in line for the JobKeeper payment. Again, these are workers who are on the front line, and who are at work right now, but they have lost 80 per cent of their hours.

To try and keep workers employed, employers are also asking full-time workers to share out their hours. So someone who was full time is now being asked to go part time, with unending contracts, for who knows how long. This is clearly not fair.

Last week I spoke to many councils in WA. I've got to tell you: councils are absolutely pulling their weight. They are checking on the most vulnerable in our community. They're redirecting staff to go and work for Red Cross. They're offering staff to the WA government to put on COVID helplines. And yet councils are not eligible for this scheme. They're freezing their rates. I spoke to one of our largest councils in WA, who were more than happy to pull their weight and more than happy to freeze their rates—$89 million in lost revenue for that council. It's not only the rate losses; they've also closed their revenue raisers—their gyms and their pools. So they're already losing more money on top of that, and yet they are not eligible.

WALGA, the WA Local Government Association, says that, in WA, it represents about 6,000 workers being stood down—6,000 workers with no access to JobKeeper. The government really does need to fix this. Mr Frydenberg needs to fix it for aged-care workers—the workers who get thanked almost daily by the Prime Minister and who are putting themselves at risk. Mr Frydenberg needs to fix it for long day care. He needs to fix it for family day care. He needs to fix it for local government. He needs to fix it for security. And the list goes on. Yes, it's a good start, but it's not good enough, because too many Australians are being left vulnerable, left with no money and forced to work when they're sick. This is not fair. It's a risk to all of us to have workers who are clearly unwell out there working, and I urge Mr Frydenberg, tonight or tomorrow, to fix this for those millions of workers who are currently not eligible for JobKeeper.