PARTIES CLASH: Opposition leader Bill Shorten and defending the Coalition government's handling of the issue is Minister for Small and Family Business, The Workplace, and Deregulation Craig Laundy lock horns over the labour hire issue.
PARTIES CLASH: Opposition leader Bill Shorten and defending the Coalition government's handling of the issue is Minister for Small and Family Business, The Workplace, and Deregulation Craig Laundy lock horns over the labour hire issue. MICK TSIKAS

Shorten and Laundy have it out over CQ's labour hire issue

INSECURE work and the abuse of labour hire is shaping up as a major battleground issue in Central Queensland leading into the upcoming federal election campaign.

Leading the charge to change the rules is Opposition leader Bill Shorten and defending the Coalition government's handling of the issue is Minister for Small and Family Business, The Workplace, and Deregulation Craig Laundy.

Both men have much to say, so pour yourself a drink and strap in to read Mr Shorten's comments, followed by Mr Laundy's and form your own opinion on the issue.

Comments on labour hire from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten:

Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten speaks at a Gladstone Town Hall meeting on March 20, at Gladstone Entertainment and Convention Centre.
CALLING FOR CHANGE: Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten has gone on the offensive calling for equal pay for people doing the same work. Matt Taylor GLA200318BILL

Gus used to work as a store person in Queensland. While some of his colleagues were employed full-time by the business he worked for, Gus and many of his colleagues were hired as casuals through a labour hire company instead.

As a casual, Gus had to meet performance targets that full-time workers didn't have to worry about. If he didn't meet the target, his hours were cut. If he had to take sick leave, his hours were cut. If he raised safety concerns in the workplace, his hours were cut. He would only get a few days' notice of his hours for each week. Just a few days to work out if he would be paid enough to cover his rent and bills.

Andrew has spent years working in the construction and mining industries, often employed through different labour hire companies. He's had his wages slashed without any notice, been forced to do training without pay, and worked on much lower wages than the people he was working alongside.

I have heard stories like these all over Queensland at my public town hall meetings. In Mackay, Cairns, Townsville, Gladstone and Rockhampton, locals have told me how labour hire is being used to keep them on lower wages with fewer conditions.

READ: WATCH: Labor calls for Landry to deliver labour hire action

About one quarter of businesses using labour hire casuals are based in Queensland. For many people, working with a labour hire company gives them the flexibility they want to choose when and where they use their skills.

But for others, they don't get a choice. For them, labour hire means lower pay, unpredictable hours, no paid sick leave or annual leave, and less job security.

They wear the same uniform as their colleagues, perform the same tasks, meet the same standards, attend the same meetings - but get paid less. They are treated as second-class workers.

Bill Shorten and Russell Robertson in Rockhampton.
FAMILIAR GROUND: Opposition leader Bill Shorten and Labor's candidate for Capricornia Russell Robertson spoke earlier in the year at a town hall about insecure work and labour hire abuse. Allan Reinikka ROK210218ashorten

READ: ALP's new labour hire policy aspires to level playing field

How can you plan for the future or make big life decisions with this sort of uncertainty? How can you start a family, or buy a home, or take out a loan for a car?

This isn't the Australia we grew up in. It's not the Australia we want for our kids.

It's not fair, it's got to stop, and Labor will stop it.

I've spent my whole adult life representing working people - fighting for higher pay and better conditions for people who have no one else to stand up for them.

It's always been my passion, and it will be my priority as prime minister.

I don't want to be part of a generation that passes on a worse deal for the next generation.

So if Labor wins the next federal election, we will change the laws so that workers employed through a labour hire company receive the same pay and conditions as people employed directly.

I've got a simple rule that I think should apply here: if you are doing the same job, you deserve the same pay.

Labor will also require labour hire companies to be licenced, to weed out the dodgy operators who exploit workers.

And in our first 100 days, we're going to reverse the cuts to penalty rates for people working in retail hospitality, pharmacy and fast food.

I've held seven public town hall meetings in Queensland this year. Everywhere I go across the state, people tell me they feel like the economy isn't working for them. They are worried that the opportunities they had growing up won't be there for their kids in the future.

It's time to change that. It's time to deliver a fair go for all Australians - and that means the same pay for the same job.

Comments on labour hire from Minister for Small and Family Business, The Workplace, and Deregulation Craig Laundy:

Craig Laundy
CRACKING DOWN: The Turnbull Government will continue to target the dodgy operators according to Minister for Small and Family Business, The Workplace, and Deregulation Craig Laundy. MICK TSIKAS

Labour hire arrangements are a useful and legitimate form of employment, providing thousands of Australian workers with an opportunity to earn a reliable income.

While the majority of labour hire companies do the right thing by their employees, a small number of unscrupulous operators have exploited employees, especially vulnerable migrant workers.

The Turnbull Government has zero tolerance when it comes to workers being exploited which is why we've taken strong action to toughen laws.

Our Protecting Vulnerable Workers' Legislation - which passed last year - introduces much higher penalties and stronger powers to the Fair Work Ombudsman to go after the unscrupulous operators.

READ: Coalition is tackling the issue of labour hire: Landry

Labor took no action on this issue for six years, in fact it reduced funding to the Ombudsman during the time Bill Shorten was Minister.

Now Labor has a plan that would see thousands of labour hire workers have their pay and conditions change constantly, every time they change assignments. They'd have no say about their pay or benefits and no ability to negotiate conditions with their employer.

Labour hire has been an important sector of the Australian economy since the 1950's. As well as providing steady employment for many, it gives small and family businesses flexibility to meet changes in demand, especially in agriculture and other seasonal industries.

ABS statistics show labour hire hasn't been increasing - it's been stable at less than 2 per cent of the workforce for over a decade - and all the protections of the Fair Work Act apply to labour hire workers just as they do to other workers.

Craig Laundy
POWER PAIR: Minister for Small and Family Business, The Workplace, and Deregulation Craig Laundy and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are backing their approach to address the issues of insecure work and labour hire abuse. MICK TSIKAS

READ: WATCH: Landry says ALP lying, defends labour hire approach

Labor's new found opposition to labour hire deserves to be met with scepticism when you consider their actions in the past.

Just one example, while Bill Shorten was a union leader in the AWU, his union signed an agreement that saw permanent employees at Chiquita Mushrooms replaced with labour hire workers, with reduced conditions and lower rates of pay. The company gave the AWU $24,000 during these negotiations. The Trade Union Royal Commission later found that these payments were made to compensate the union for any lost membership fees resulting from the deal.

I have respect for the union movement and its history in fighting to ensure workers get a fair go, but unlike Labor, the Turnbull Government will not take a sledgehammer to the entire labour hire industry due to a unscrupulous few and risk the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Australians.

The Turnbull Government will continue to target the dodgy operators - rather than crippling the whole industry and risking jobs and the economy. In fact while Labor did nothing, we established the Migrant Workers' Taskforce, chaired by Professor Allan Fels AO, which will soon recommend new national measures to provide further protections for labour hire workers.

Labor's ongoing campaign against the labour hire sector should be seen for what it genuinely is - less about facts and protecting jobs and more about delivering increased power to unions and pushing up their dwindling membership base.