THURSDAY, 6 MAY 2021
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
Thank you very much for the invitation to address you all today.
After a year of meeting over zoom, remotely delivering speeches and cancelled interstate trips, it is a pleasure to once more stand in front of a crowd of friendly faces.
We might not be back to normal – and won’t be until the vaccine is fully rolled out – but it is better none the less.
As always, I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather – the Larrakia people– and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
I would also like to acknowledge the presence here today of:
- Newly-elected TWU National President Ian Smith, and I thank outgoing President Richard Olsen
- National Secretary Michael Kaine
- My parliamentary colleagues Tony Burke, Glenn Sterle and Tony Sheldon
- All the presidents and secretaries from state branches
- And all the members of the TWU joining us here today.
We could not have gotten through the past year – and would not be getting through the pandemic – without the great workers who make up the TWU.
It was TWU workers who kept food on the shelves, medicines in the pharmacies, trucks moving, planes in the sky, food deliveries on the go, allowed essential workers to get to work and returning Australians to get home from overseas.
While many of us – especially us Victorians – spent a large part of last year staying at home, it was you who allowed us to do so.
Most recently, it was of course TWU workers who got me and my luggage safely to Darwin.
We all owe you a large debt, and for that I say thank you.
But I know that it hasn’t been an easy year. For many of you, it’s probably been the hardest year you have faced in your working lives.
Truck drivers – the backbone of our nation – had to contend with confusing border restrictions and, ridiculously, the closure of truck stops and rest areas.
I’m not sure how a truck driver is meant to take their cargo across the country without stopping for food, rest or the toilet, but for a period that was what was being asked.
Even despite these hardships, truck drivers persisted.
You kept the trucks rolling, and with your union, you overturned cruel and unnecessary rules.
Working closely with Senator Glenn Sterle – a proud man of your union – Labor was proud to advocate on your behalf.
The next heroes of the pandemic were food delivery drivers and riders.
With people stuck at home, many unable to venture outdoors, more and more relied on others to deliver their food. Small business would have gone under without your services.
You delivered an essential service, as did the rideshare drivers who kept workers moving and helped us get around when we needed to.
Only a few short years ago, rideshare was an alien concept to most of us, but you have quickly become essential to our modern society.
I know that this work hasn’t been easy – and you haven’t been sufficiently rewarded for it.
Disgracefully, the Government and many of your employers are yet to deliver the rights at work that you deserve.
I know that Tony Burke spoke about this yesterday, but I guarantee you that Anthony Albanese, Tony Sheldon, Glenn Sterle, Tony Burke, myself and all of Labor will be with you every step of the way.
Labor’s Job Security Senate Inquiry – led by Senator Sheldon – and your TWU campaigns are putting pressure on employers and starting to see results. It was that pressure that saw Menulog announce they it will trial directly employing its delivery riders.
But there is more work to do.
The notion that you do not have a direct employment relationship with these companies is simply a nonsense that has allowed them to reap enormous profits off the back of insecure and, as we sadly saw this past year, dangerous work.
It has been a very long and difficult year for aviation workers.
We all know that our economic recovery will in large part depend on aviation workers.
As we get back in the air, we are still going to need baggage handlers, ground crew and cleaners, maintenance workers, pilots, air crew and engineers.
But instead of being protected, many of you have been laid off, abandoned by the Government, excluded from JobKeeper and forced to take cuts to your pay and conditions.
Still, despite the personal toll, when I meet with any of you, you always spend less time talking about what is happening to you and more worrying about others.
You realise that if this can happen to you, it can happen to anyone.
In December last year a number of aviation workers came to Parliament, all of whom were facing down the prospect of being laid off by Qantas.
Most have now lost their jobs.
A Qantas worker, Sean Toohey, stood in front of the assembled media and asked, “How do I explain to my three girls that it is not whether you do a good job or not, it is just that they can bring someone else in and do it for cheaper than you? How do you teach your kids that?”
“How do you teach your kids that?”
It’s a question none of us can answer.
We tell our kids to work hard, to do their best, and to believe that they will be rewarded with stable jobs and a good income. But we all know now in 2021 that this is no longer true.
We saw through the pandemic that rather than tackle the issue of insecure work, the government failed to support these workers and in many cases the supported the businesses making this worse.
We had Dnata workers, who used to work for Qantas, until a previous outsourcing decision approved by the Government saw their operations sold to a foreign company.
But when it came to the Government’s JobKeeper program, the nationality of that owner was enough to see them denied $1,500 a fortnight in government support and laid off without pay. Because of the Morrison Government’s decision, a thousand have lost their jobs.
They joined the third of Virgin’s workforce who lost their jobs, not to mention the many aviation workers across regional airports across the country left out of government support.
Earlier in the pandemic, back in April, I stood at Melbourne Airport with Virgin Australia workers as their employer entered voluntary administration.
They spoke about how their workplace was like a family.
How they supported each other, knew each other’s kids, and how much they were hurting.
Many of them had lived through the Ansett collapse and they knew just how devastated their industry was going to be.
But the Morrison Government ignored their cries, and thousands lost their jobs as a result.
Just last month another 240 Australian aviation workers at Cathay Pacific were told their jobs would be lost.
This crisis isn’t over and you and I both know that it isn’t only the aviation sector where people are hurting.
If we have learned anything from this pandemic it is that too many Australians are in insecure work.
And, if we don’t do anything to stop it, things will only get worse.
Around 37% of workers entering this pandemic had no sick leave entitlements.
It was this insecure work which helped spread the virus as people were forced to choose between going to work sick or losing the roof over their head and as some worked in hotel quarantine across more than one worksite.
Their work insecurity left us all vulnerable to the pandemic’s spread.
As we emerge from this crisis, the lesson we must learn is that secure work is key to our community and prosperity.
If Australia is to have a “comeback” worthy of the name, we need to do better than this.
In the aviation sector, this means we finally need a national plan for the sector.
This national plan will need to have a particular focus on protecting regional routes and regional jobs.
We want to be a Government that supports the aviation industry as it rebuilds post COVID, and we want this recovery to have workers at its heart.
The two-airline model has worked, and we need to ensure its survival.
We will ensure that aviation industry policy and employment laws protect Australian jobs in the industry and address the issue of unsafe, low paid and insecure jobs across the sector.
Supply chains need to be accountable, transparent and have enforceable policies to address the issue of unsafe, insecure, low paid and unfairly paid jobs.
Anyone doing the same work, should get the same pay and conditions.
We committed to cleaning up supply chains at our recent national conference, and it will be a priority for the next Labor government.
Labor will similarly support our truck drivers.
An Albanese Labor Government, working with the TWU and other industry groups, will as a matter of urgency, develop a national system to ensure that workers are paid fair rates and enjoy safe working conditions.
This is becoming more and more important by the day with the emergence of new technology and the gig economy in passenger and freight transport accelerating a downward spiral throughout the transport industry.
We need to break that cycle, and the way we do it is ensuring everyone get, paid what they deserve, that they have safe conditions, and that their rights are enforceable.
I commend the union for the work you have done with our major supermarkets to address safety issues in the supply chain.
This approach could not be more different from a Government which sees the COVID recovery as being funded by cuts to workers pay and conditions.
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister tried to drive industrial relations changes through the parliament which would have hurt workers, cut their rights and slashed their pay.
The Government tried to get rid of the Better Off Overall Test, for the obvious reason that they have no interest in workers being better off.
They tried to make jobs more insecure – because they don’t understand how important secure work is to families and to society as a whole.
Working closely with the TWU, the ACTU and the entire union movement, we managed to beat back the worst of the Government’s changes.
Of course, I thank Tony Burke for his leadership in that fight.
In defeat though, the coalition showed their true colours.
In as act of pure spite, the Government withdrew the elements of their bill which had bipartisan support – ripping away wage theft provisions.
The Government knew they had the numbers to easily pass that element of the legislation.
Instead they decided to give wage thieves a free pass as part of a tantrum about not getting away with cutting workers’ wages.
It was a disgrace, and it is typical of this government’s approach.
It is the same approach that sees them claim it is “too complicated” to deliver rights to delivery drivers and rideshare operators – even though the UK is doing just that.
It was “too complicated” for them to deliver Virgin Australia the support they needed or extend JobKeeper to workers at Dnata and council-run airports.
It is the same approach that sees the Government tick off Qantas outsourcing workers, pumping up their profit margins by outsourcing essential work which we all know ends in a race to the bottom for pay and conditions for workers.
It should never be “too complicated” to deliver workers the rights and pay they deserve.
Labor doesn’t see it as too hard or too complicated.
When we were last in Government, Labor tackled the long term issues facing our transport sector. We developed an aviation white paper. We set out comprehensive strategies for ports and freight, and were the first government to truly invest in and recognise the importance of road safety.
And now, we know that the same long term vision is required yet again. We know the national freight task is growing larger and more complicated, and a lack of federal leadership means not all sectors are sharing in the economic benefits of this.
We must improve the way our freight sector works, make it more efficient and better coordinated to ensure we can make the most of the export opportunities of today and also tomorrow.
Much of this is contingent upon the nation’s infrastructure. An Albanese Labor Government will invest in the strategic, productivity boosting infrastructure the nation needs and we will ensure these investments are well targeted and well spent, in close partnership with industry and state, territory and local governments.
As Tony set out yesterday, an Albanese Labor Government will take real action to improve job security.
I know the last year has been tough, but we must work together to truly make things better.
I look forward to continuing to work with you as we head into this critical election year. We are going to need every bit of your support.
Thank you again for having me, and all the best with the rest of your conference.