Federation Chamber - 17 September 2018
Watch Matt's Speech here
Mr KEOGH (Burt) (19:05): Sixteen hundred workers from mines and refineries across Kwinana, Pinjarra, Waroona and Wagerup continue to strike indefinitely, waiting for Alcoa to come to the table and finalise negotiations for a new enterprise agreement. These workers are not fighting for more money; rather, they've actually accepted pay freezes. They're merely fighting for some job security in the unpredictable job market in which they operate. They are dedicated and reliable workers, many of whom have worked for Alcoa for longer than I or the member for Canning have even been alive. Alcoa want to be able to force redundancies whilst maintaining there won't be any, all while the workers are mining and refining bauxite for the benefit of an American company.
These workers are ordinary men and women who live in our suburbs, and Alcoa is treating them in a disgraceful way. These mums and dads have been effectively negotiating with a gun to their heads, as Alcoa has applied for the workers' existing enterprise bargaining agreement to be cancelled. The hearing for that case started in Perth today. Alcoa did not always treat its workers this way, but now Alcoa is taking advantage of a federal government that favours the big end of town, a government that champions big business, a government that is intent on attacking workers and their unions, a government that is about putting people last, not first.
This motion from the member for Canning has some points to commend it. It recognises that there is industrial action going on in his electorate. That action has been ongoing for over 40 days, but better later than never. It acknowledges the cost that this action has had for both Alcoa and its workforce, as well as their families and the regional community. Well, yes, with Alcoa one of the largest employers in the Peel region, with many employees also from the Rockingham, Kwinana and Armadale areas, the region has been knocked about. But it's a little disingenuous, isn't it, to equate the financial 'hardship' faced by a company with a profit of over $1 billion with that faced by the 1,600 workers, their families and regional towns like Dwellingup, Pinjarra and Waroona when they have not been working for over a month and are fighting for job security. This is partly why there has been so much local support for these workers.
However, the motion notes the impact of energy prices and the work—the member says—that the federal government is doing to bring them down. Newsflash, Member for Canning: Alcoa has its own power plant for some refineries and is effectively a price maker, as it's the largest industrial consumer of WA's reserves of domestic gas. In any event, none of the government's energy policies—when it's had one, two, three, four, five of them—relates to Western Australia, which is not part of the National Energy Market.
Finally, the motion calls on Alcoa and the AWU to reach an agreement. Despite Alcoa's claims that they are happy to talk, they are actually unavailable to talk until at least next week, having thrown up worker votes and commission hearings to get in the way of actually working together with their workers and the AWU to conclude these protracted and stalled negotiations. I implore Alcoa to sit down again with the AWU to hear what they and the workers have to say. They only want what is in the best interests of themselves and their families and are more than willing to talk.
Ten days ago, Alcoa workers met with the member for Canning. They had a simple request that he put a motion in parliament that an EBA remain in place until both parties agree to a new EBA—essentially, that employers not be able to unilaterally terminate an agreement as Alcoa is seeking to do. Yet that is the one thing that this motion from the member Canning doesn't do. He can't bring himself to join these workers—like I and the Leader of the Opposition, the Premier of Western Australia, the member for Brand, Senator Pratt, Senator Sterle and the Labor candidate for Canning, Mellisa Teede, have done—in calling for and supporting a change to the rules.
A Shorten Labor government, if elected, will stop employers from being able to terminate agreements without the agreement of workers and their unions. A Shorten Labor government, if elected, will also implement a very simple policy—same job, same pay. No longer will employers be able to get away with dressing labour hire workers in the same uniforms, in the same company logo, doing the same work but for less money. These changes are about getting our AWU Alcoa workers and all Australian workers a fair go. We must, for their sake and the sake of many others, change the rules of industrial relations in this country. We have a chance to turn the pages over. We can write laws we want to write. Workers gotta make ends meet before we get much older. Australian workers are all someone's daughters; they're all someone's sons. How long can we allow negotiations down the barrel of a gun?