I refer to the data in the latest Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia publication by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Can the minister inform the house about the lower rates of pay that Western Australian employees are currently receiving under Australian workplace agreements?
Mr J.C. KOBELKE replied:
I thank the member for the question. The Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia publication unfortunately provides evidence of the disturbing trend for Australian workplace agreements, or AWAs as we know them, to be used to reduce wages and conditions of employment. Despite the Howard government’s rhetoric about AWAs being a great development for employers and employees - similar to what we heard from the Liberals when they were last in government - this data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that AWAs provide the lowest rates of pay of any form of agreement in Western Australia. In May 2004, Western Australians working under AWAs had average total weekly earnings of $728.40. Western Australian employees on AWAs now earn, on average, $65.10 a week less than those working under collective federal certified agreements, and $21.80 a week less than those working under collective state industrial agreements. AWAs are no longer concentrated in professional areas such as the mining industry, in which people are paid well, but rather are being promoted in low-paid areas, in which they are being used to undercut the basic salaries. We know that AWAs are a sign or resign situation: the employee either signs the AWA or does not have a job. AWAs are being used to lower wages. AWAs are also being used as a form of pattern bargaining, which of course the Howard government is totally against; however, despite that, it is using the Office of the Employment Advocate to push pattern bargaining in order to reduce wages and conditions for lower-paid Western Australians. The ABS figures demonstrate that clearly. AWAs are quickly replacing the previously discredited Western Australian workplace agreements as a way of reducing pay and conditions for people in Western Australia. If the Howard government has its way and introduces its new fair pay commission, the minimum wage will be reduced even further, and that will flow through with a negative effect. The Gallop government will put Western Australians first and will fight to prevent any federal Liberal government attack on the basic working conditions of Western Australian men and women.