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Long Service Leave Benefits

MR DIMOPOULOS (Oakleigh) (16:07:05) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Long Service Benefits Portability Bill 2018. This is a very, very important bill. I address my contribution to my colleagues in the chamber but also to my colleagues in the other place, who will deliberate and vote on this bill very soon. I also address my remarks to those hardworking Victorians who work in the sectors in which we are seeking to close loopholes: the contract cleaning, security and community sectors. My message to them is: you matter and you deserve the same rights, the same rest and the same family time as every other Victorian worker. This is about decency and it is about equality. There is nothing else to be said, other than how we work to achieve those two principles in this bill.

In my view it is a fundamental principle that all workers should have the same rights and that workers should not have those rights abrogated because some work in an industry that has a different rhythm to it and has changing employers. We should not throw our hands in the air and say it is too difficult to fix this because of the market and because of the industry. We do not abrogate those rights and those responsibilities.

I take issue with the member for Box Hill’s comments. Several times in his contribution he referred to a principle that he said would be breached if this bill gets through the Parliament, and that is the principle of being rewarded for a long contribution to one employer. That has never been a principle that I have subscribed to. The broader and more fundamental principle is: if you work for seven or 10 years, if you work for a sufficiently long period in order to accrue long service leave, you should accrue that long service leave regardless of whether you have worked for the same employer or different employers, because that is sometimes not within your power — it is not your choice, as we have seen time and again in the industries that we are talking about. There are workers who work in the same place for 20 or 30 years, and employers move around them. The workers have not moved at all — they have just been the victims of changing market dynamics.

In my strong view, this is an example of market failure. This is exactly what governments need to address. They need to address market failure. Who you work for or how many employers you work for should not fundamentally matter when you are talking about accruing long service leave. What should matter is the fact that you have worked for the minimum required period. That is what should matter, and that is what this Labor government seeks to address with this bill.

Further, it is a bit disheartening to hear the opposition speak on this bill because the sectors that we are talking about are some of the most disadvantaged. Not only do they include the most difficult jobs — including that of security guard, which can involve work at any time, 24 hours a day, including at night and in freezing cold and very hot temperatures. Community sector workers have to keep applying for their jobs every year through funding rounds. They also have to deal with probably the most disadvantaged people in society, including people who are suffering from family violence. They hear really tough stories, and their jobs are very insecure.

There is also contract cleaning. My mother was a contract cleaner for many years and her name is Helen, which was the name of the worker in the case study that the member for Macedon outlined. These are not glamorous jobs. They are not jobs that attract high salaries or bonuses. For that reason alone I would think that it would be meritorious for us to address a fundamental right like long service leave for hardworking workers who do not get the benefits that workers in the banking industry or those at the top end of Collins Street get. These are the workers we need to look after.

This is absolutely about Labor values — addressing inequality and market failure. I am proud of this government because we do that every single sitting week. Every single sitting week there is a bill that in some respects addresses equality and market failure. Coming up later today is the Justice Legislation Amendment (Access to Justice) Bill 2018, which seeks to do that in another area of public policy. We have done that in spades with the prevention of family violence, and we have done that in spades with the budget that the Treasurer handed down today.

I will for a moment turn to better access to TAFE. We are providing free access to 30 TAFE courses. That is exactly what Labor governments do in terms of addressing inequality, disadvantage and market failure — better aligning the skill shortage in this state with the opportunities that young people have.

The member for Macedon has already talked about the case study of Helen, and Helen’s story resonated particularly with me. Like my mother, she is a Greek Australian and her name is Helen. Like my mother, she is a contract cleaner. Her employers shifted and changed under her feet. She cleaned the same offices; she did not choose to leave, so she should be entitled to long service leave like other workers in her community.

I would say to the Greens that that was a very uncharitable contribution by the member for Northcote, and to be honest I was surprised by it. She is on the same side as us on this issue, and it was quite uncharitable of her to say that the community expects more from a Labor government. What do you mean ‘more’? That is exactly what we are delivering. This is our bill, and we are introducing it to the Parliament. I would ask the member for Northcote that when we do not have to disagree and take digs at each other, let us not do it. On this bill we do not have to do that, so let us just not do it.

In terms of the opposition, when the member for Box Hill was on his feet I was conscious that in politics you can be driven by values or you can be driven by ideology. We are driven by values, so as a Labor Party and an Andrews Labor government we say: what is it that addresses our values and is true to the values of the labour movement and the government, and how can we give expression to those values? We are doing that in this bill by addressing inequality and market failure. We say: let us just get it done. We will work out the problems and deal with the issues. That is why we are going to set up a statutory authority and put experts on its board, and that is why a whole range of provisions are included in this bill.

What have those on the other side done in relation to this bill? They have looked at a public policy issue and asked themselves, ‘How can we not do it? How can we find every single problem?’ The member for Box Hill is better than that, but he listed every single problem. He gave the example of someone whose primary job is to work in the office of a cleaning company but then once a month has to go out on the floor and clean, and he asked how he or she would be treated. Of course they are issues that we will absolutely resolve, but they are not issues that would stop us living up to our values with the introduction of this bill. That is the difference between those on the other side who seek to be in government and those who are in government, which is our proud Labor government here in Victoria.

I would also like to just mention some salient points in the last few minutes of my contribution on the bill. The intention of the scheme is to provide workers with an entitlement similar to what they would have received under the state’s default long service leave legislation. The legislation caps the levy at a maximum of 3 per cent, and I note the member for Box Hill’s comments about the higher end of the 3 per cent, but it is an absolute cap on the contributions at 3 per cent. New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT all have these schemes, and we need to have them as well.

Employers will be required to register themselves and their employees. In fact employees can also self-register. An employee will be able to not work in the industry for up to four years before the continuity of service is interrupted, although they would not be credited with any service during that period when they are not working. Periods of leave — for example, parental leave — will be treated the same as they are in the Long Service Leave Act. There is scope for mutual recognition with other jurisdictions. We have left that open, as the minister said in her contribution.

In the last few seconds of my contribution I would like to echo the words of the member for Macedon. The fact that we are here is an absolute credit to the workers in those industries over generations, and my heart bleeds for those who will not benefit from this bill because their time has passed. But it is a credit to the industry of those workers, the union movement and this Labor government that we are even debating this bill. We are going to change the lives of workers in those industries in the decade going forward. I am proud to support this bill, and I commend the minister.