I rise to speak in support of Ms Pulford’s motion to condemn the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations for deciding to cease funding JobWatch.
One of the most important aspects of one’s life is secure employment; it is very important to a whole range of people over the course of their lifetimes. Unfortunately securing a job is often our first experience of getting to know what terms and conditions are and what it is like to be a member of the workforce. It is essentially trial and error in terms of gaining that information and knowledge unless you are a member of a union; however, many people are not members of a union and therefore require answers and information.
More than 30 years ago a number of people came together with an understanding that there were gaps in the system that needed to be addressed, particularly for those workers who come from non-English-speaking backgrounds, workers who have not necessarily completed any formal education, and for a number of young workers who would not have had any experience of being in the workforce. All of those more vulnerable workers needed quick and easy access to information so they could be guided in their workplaces.
We were very fortunate that we had a group of Victorians who understood that need, and they created an organisation called JobWatch. JobWatch’s role has been talked about today, but its role is so important that I think it is appropriate to go over the things that it has provided to Victorian workers for more than 30 years.
JobWatch provides a free and confidential telephone information service, which is very important to a whole range of people. JobWatch also conducts community legal education and training sessions and seminars for the general community, and those training sessions and seminars are open to university students, apprentices and people from a whole range of organisations. The training covers topics too numerous to mention, but includes issues of sexual harassment, pregnancy, superannuation, remedies in terms of warnings and terminations of employment to mention a few.
JobWatch also provides a whole range of publications that can be downloaded from computers for easy access by people who want to secure that information, and they cover such areas as casual employment, independent contracting traps, redundancy and retrenchment, unpaid trial work, unfair dismissal, working overseas, modelling and acting, termination of employment and private training courses. JobWatch also provides representation and assistance through legal casework and campaigns and does a lot of law reform activity with a view to promoting workplace justice and equity.
For all of those reasons JobWatch has enjoyed bipartisan support from governments in this state regardless of whether they have been coalition or Labor. JobWatch has collected very important workplace data that has been used to support a whole variety of initiatives and cases.
JobWatch has also drawn our attention to behaviours and practices in the workplace that are not only unlawful but also unacceptable by anyone’s standard, and of course bullying is one of those cases in point. I think it was Ms Pulford who highlighted a case from the late 1990s that set the campaign tone in our endeavours to stamp out bullying and intimidation in the workplace.
Having said that, I think it is only proper for us to ask why this government has now determined to cease government support, to cease financial support and to allow such an important organisation to be closed down. We have been advised that the coalition government, through its Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Richard Dalla-Riva, believes that the existence of JobWatch is not ‘aligned to the objectives’ of his department.
I agree with Mr Leane.
One would have thought that one of the key imperatives of Mr Dalla-Riva’s portfolio would have been to have workplaces where people are informed about their rights and responsibilities, where individuals have information and assistance readily at their fingertips and that a government would support organisations that foster level playing fields in our workplaces. One would have thought that a government would support organisations that provide access to information, particularly to workers in regional areas, because JobWatch has a toll-free number so that regional workers can have easier access to its service. Often geographic distance and issues surrounding confidentiality in the places in which regional workers live prevent them from or add barriers to their accessing information that they might have been able to access if they lived in metropolitan Melbourne. From my direct experience as a member for Western Victoria Region I know that regional workers in western Victoria have used and very much support the work of JobWatch.
We have heard from previous speakers that a high proportion of the people who seek assistance from JobWatch are those who are the most vulnerable in our workforce. The reason we have organisations such as JobWatch is they serve a genuine purpose and provide assistance to those who need it most. We all know that money is not made by providing such advice and support, and that is why government needs to step in and support organisations such as JobWatch.
Yesterday I went into the Assembly to hear the Treasurer outline the coalition’s first budget. He made much of the word ‘care’ and was quite repetitious in stating how his government was a caring government. A caring government, however, is one that delivers and does not simply talk the talk.
I therefore support the call for the minister to explain in detail to the house the reasoning behind the decision to cut funding to JobWatch. I repeat: I do not want him to hide behind a sentence that is just a bland, bureaucratic statement that gives no information about the basis of the government’s decision.
The staff of JobWatch are owed a much more comprehensive explanation of the government’s decision, particularly given that the workload of JobWatch has consistently increased, not reduced. Now JobWatch staff will be looking at redundancy and unemployment themselves. Victorian workers generally are owed an explanation as to why they will not be able to access a free, confidential service that provides a critical reference in their working lives.
There needs to be a full and proper explanation of why the government is not prepared to fund an organisation that provides information and enables workers to protect themselves — that is, an explanation needs to be given to current and future workers from non-English-speaking backgrounds who have often not been put through the rigours of a formal education in their country of origin, through no choice of their own; to women and young workers in workplaces where sexual harassment and bullying occur; to those who are underpaid; and to those working in unsafe environments.
I continue to be surprised by the sheer vitriol of those opposite when workers, employees, unions, union members and industrial relations advocacy are mentioned. It is as if there is something innately wrong with being a worker, particularly one who dares to ask questions about their employment conditions.
I now understand the depth of their hostility towards workers and their families, as they have deliberately chosen to pull the rug from under the feet of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable workers in the state by discontinuing the funding of JobWatch.
All by itself and so early in its term of office, the government is creating a narrative that says it does not care about workers and their families. It refuses to understand the need for this very important organisation. It has broken its promises to teachers, police and other public sector workers regarding their wage rates. It has legislated for employees to work on Easter Sunday without penalty rates. Now we have this situation where the government wants to completely smash the good work of JobWatch.
On top of that we have had only one speaker from the government so far in this debate; I think there have been six or seven on the Labor side.
The minister has not even bothered to turn up in the chamber. The one government speaker we heard from is a newly elected member of Parliament who had clearly not done his homework and did not even want to talk about the issues before us today. Mr Pakula had to come in and give him a budget 101 lecture, which he still does not want to listen to. He walked out of the chamber as soon as he had finished his feeble attempt to make a contribution to the debate on this important issue.
I ask this house to strongly support the motion before us. It is a proper and serious motion. Victorian workers deserve better than what the government has done to them today.