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Motion: Introduction of Fair Work Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2020

I move:

That the following bill be introduced: A Bill for an Act to amend the Fair Work Act 2009, and for related purposes.

Question agreed to.

I present the bill and move:

That this bill may proceed without formalities and be now read a first time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a first time.

Second Reading

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table the explanatory memorandum, and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Fair Work Amendment (COVID-19) Bill 2020 is the Australian Greens’ bill that looks to protect all workers during the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are living through unprecedented times. COVID-19 is drastically changing our way of life. This is a global health crisis, with no one left untouched by its impacts. It’s a difficult time for all of us.

But this isn’t just a health crisis. This is a crisis that touches every aspect of our life—our wellbeing, our economy, our society and our day-to-day lives. As our country has taken the necessary public health responses to this evolving situation, it is predicted that between 14 to 26 per cent of workers could lose their jobs. Whilst JobKeeper provides some support, many people in precarious work, casual employment or on a temporary working visa have been denied access to JobKeeper and many do not have paid leave to rely on. This makes them some of the most vulnerable workers in Australia.

We are on a cliff and we need the government to make sure that no one falls off. As we move towards relaxing restrictions and reopening businesses, we must make sure that we do so in a way that protects workers. This is our responsibility as elected members. This is what the bill I’m introducing today seeks to do.

This bill will provide 14 days of paid COVID-19 leave to all workers, including permanent, part-time, casual and gig economy workers. This leave will be available, in full, for each 12 month period, at the start of their employment. The leave will not accrue year to - year.

Paid COVID-19 leave will be available for workers in any of the following scenarios:

  • the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • the employee is unable to attend work because the employee’s workplace has been shut down because of COVID-19;
  • the employee is subject to self-isolation or quarantine measures in accordance with a Commonwealth, State or Territory government policy relating to COVID-19;
  • the employee is caring for another person who:
  • has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  • is subject to self-isolation or quarantine measures in accordance with Commonwealth, State or Territory government policy relating to COVID-19.

Paid COVID-19 leave is extended to gig economy workers/contractors via a COVID-19 leave order. Workers, unions and corporations can apply for a COVID-19 leave order. In circumstances where the Fair Work Commission is issuing a COVID-19 leave order, the Fair Work Commission must make a determination within two days of the application being made and the Fair Work Commission must make the order unless there are compelling reasons not to do so.

For employees other than casual employees, payment will be made at the base rate of pay for the employee’s ordinary hours of work in the period. For other workers, such as casuals and those in the gig economy, payment will be calculated at the daily rate of pay equal to the average of the daily rates of pay paid to the employee over the previous 12 month period.

This bill is a vital piece of legislation that will protect workers and protect the community. Every worker should be able to self-isolate when required without losing their income or their job, but right now, over 3.3 million Australians cannot access paid sick leave. This bill is about fairness.

This public health crisis has only further highlighted the precarious nature of casual employment, and the plight of those who work in casual employment and the gig economy who largely work without benefits such as paid leave, sick leave and other entitlements that are simply fundamental work rights. People should not be forced to choose between caring for their health and coming to work.

In these difficult times, or ever, it simply isn’t fair that so many Australians are missing out on vital paid leave, left to fend for themselves in this once in a century crisis. We must do everything we possibly can to leave no one behind. We must pass this bill and look after all workers.

We must emerge from this exceptionally difficult time as a society which has shown without doubt that we care for each other, for fairness, for equality.

This government must step in to support workers and their rights to fair conditions. When wages have been stagnant and the cost of living rising through the roof, it is absurd that this government denies support to workers who are facing weeks, if not months of under or unemployment, brought on by a global pandemic that few could have predicted.

The government needs to support Australia’s most vulnerable workers and provide a safety net to ensure that everyone has access to at least 14 days of paid leave.

The Prime Minister is abandoning casual and gig economy workers. This bill is the government’s chance to redeem themselves, stand up for working Australians and protect some of the most vulnerable during this difficult time.

This bill not only protects our workers, it also protects the wellbeing of our community and the economy and helps us to continue the important work of ‘flattening the curve’ in the interests of public health. It’s simple, when a worker has no access to paid leave, they are more likely to continue to work when they are unwell or experiencing symptoms of coronavirus. We must not push workers to the brink, many of whom have and will continue to be on the frontline and in some of the most precarious working conditions.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly agreed with this logic last week stating that ‘there are a number of workplaces around Australia where there are disincentives for people to stay at home when they are sick and so that can be financial, it can be a workplace culture. I just want to make this very clear...people coming to work when they are sick put others at risk.'

If we want all Australians to follow best-practice medical advice, we need to ensure that by self-isolating we’re not forcing workers into a situation where they can’t afford to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. The widespread downturn and shut down of Australian businesses has caused millions of casual and gig economy workers to be pushed towards the poverty line. We must not stand by and let that continue to happen as we re-open.

The government must lead, support and reassure workers and their employers. Too many have been left behind. We need the government to step in and guarantee 14 days of paid COVID-19 leave to every worker, regardless of their visa status or if they are a member of the permanent, part-time, casual or gig economy workforce.

This bill will save lives. I call on the government to urgently make this bill law, for the sake our workers and the sake of our communities.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

HANSARD LINK

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