I am very pleased to rise to speak on Mr Barton’s motion, and I also congratulate Mr Barton for bringing this motion to the house. We have had many conversations about the gig economy and how it is now influencing so many aspects of workers’ lives here in Victoria, across the nation and indeed across the world. Mr Barton would not be bringing this sort of motion to the house if the current system was supporting those workers. It is clearly not.
Ms Terpstra said most of what I would have said in relation to the contribution from Mr Quilty in the Liberal Democratic Party, but just to add my 5 cents worth to that contribution: if the LDP think that this is just about regulation, they need to read what is in the motion. They need to understand the issues, because it is far deeper than that. It is about, fundamentally—and Ms Shing is right—industrial relations: a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay and having a system that supports that. But indeed the motion goes further than that and it talks about the safety of workers and the importance of the safety of workers and the right of everybody in our economy, regardless of the work that they do, to go home at the end of their working day, whatever that is, in whatever circumstances that might be—and I remind Acting President Melhem about phones in the chamber. It is a very important set of issues that Mr Barton does bring to the chamber.
I have worked in industrial relations for most of my working life. We have seen over many, many decades changes to the working environment, not always for the better. Here in Victoria there was a lot of disappointment in areas that I worked in back in the early 1990s when Mr Kennett handed over the industrial relations powers from this state to the commonwealth. What we saw systematically and what we have seen systematically since then is an erosion of workers’ bargaining power, an erosion of their rights and an erosion of their safety at work. Some people will say, ‘Well, he’s an ex-union official. He’s just going to say, “Union power has reduced”’. Of course it has, because after Mr Kennett handed over those powers to the commonwealth, to Mr Howard, what was the first thing that Mr Howard kept telling the people of Australia? It was that unions are bad—‘Unions are bad. They’re horrible people, they’re nasty people, they’re terrible people. They shouldn’t be trusted’. And yet today in 2022 the people who earn the most wages in this country are unionised workers. We have repeatedly had conservative governments in this state and federally and in other jurisdictions around this nation telling people that unions are bad, but just have a look at the reality of the situation.
Unions are not bad. Unions do unapologetically fight for better wages and better conditions for working people—and all strength to their arm and long may that continue because it is so important. It is so important that there are champions in the industrial relations system who do advocate for better wages and who do advocate for safer work practices, particularly in the area of transport. We have seen over the last few years this industry just explode in terms of the number of people that now participate in the transport sector. It is enormous, whether it is Uber rideshare or Uber Eats or many of the others—Menulog, all of these other players that now exist in the market. Of course what we see and what we hear are some pretty ordinary things about the conditions that those people work under. Indeed we hear often from the Transport Workers Union, even in the more unionised and regulated parts of the transport sector, that we still have some very, very unscrupulous and very ordinary work practices that are imposed upon people with the threat of, ‘If you don’t do it, then we’ll get somebody to replace you. Somebody else will do it, and the choice is yours’.
Mr Quilty would remember back in the days when we were in the tax office together some of the early challenges that we had as workers in the tax office when the commonwealth government were looking to offshore or outsource our work—the introduction of these overseas call centres to replace the work that we were doing—and the disputes that we would have been involved in back in those days. It is all part of the same set of circumstances—that is, where we are seeing the growth of insecure work across many industries, particularly the transport sector through the gig economy, and the challenges that they face. I could stand up here for the next 4 hours and talk about this because this is a great passion of mine, but I know that in the time remaining Mr Barton has a lot to respond to from previous speakers. I am sure that most of what I have said has probably already been said, so what I am going to now do is sit down and finish my contribution to enable Mr Barton to at least have a few minutes to sum up.