Long Service Leave Bill 2017

Debate resumed.

Government amendments circulated by Ms HUTCHINS (Minister for Industrial Relations) under standing orders.

Ms D’AMBROSIO (Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change) (11:55:07) — I rise to speak in favour of the Long Service Leave Bill 2017 and the proposed amendments. The bill amends the Long Service Leave Act 1992, making it fairer, more flexible and up-to-date with today’s modern workplace environment and, importantly, with community expectations. These are the values that the Andrews Labor government is committed to achieving. The bill is also a huge step forward for women in the workplace and for those most vulnerable. Now that we are in the week incorporating International Women’s Day there is no better time to discuss what we can do to remove structural and systemic barriers that disadvantage women in the public and private employment spheres. I hope that those opposite are as committed to having that conversation as we are.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms D’AMBROSIO — Excellent. Fantastic. The government is delivering a fair outcome for employers and for employees applying for long service leave. Consultation was an invaluable step in realigning long service leave arrangements to fit today’s workplaces. Through this process it has become clear that more security is needed around employees’ access to parental leave, especially with the increasing insecurity of work that is becoming an unfortunate feature of our modern-day economy and industrial relations system. That is something that I hope will be a key feature of a future federal Labor government to work towards. Everyone knows that we desperately need a federal Labor government in action to deliver security of employment, decent working conditions and outcomes so that everybody in employment can actually receive the full value of their labour and efforts in the economy. Unfortunately the current Long Service Leave Act does not give parental leave the recognition it deserves. Currently under federal legislation unpaid parental leave can be taken for up to two years without breaking continuity of service. The current Long Service Leave Act recognises the taking of unpaid parental leave up to one year. That is certainly a breach of continuous service.

This deviation from the standard can have damaging effects on Victorian families’ future plans. It is time to give better recognition to the value of parents in our society and to stop sidelining them through a myriad of cuts and unfair laws that stop them from supporting their families, because ultimately people work to become economically independent and provide a decent livelihood and standard of living for their families. That is why our government is committed to giving families the right to be there for their children in their most important development period.

As I mentioned earlier, changes to the Long Service Leave Act will make significant strides in deconstructing what are effectively sexist barriers, discriminatory barriers, for working women in Victoria. It is no secret that often women bear the load of unexpected leave to look after children and family members. As a mother of two, I understand what mothers across Victoria go through juggling working hours to ensure their kids get the love and attention they deserve. Certainly my mother before me had it even tougher still, and I am sure that is a story that is repeated not just right across our state but across the country and worldwide as we reflect on the place of women in employment.

Part of the amendments to parental leave is ensuring that employees who have changed their working hours will have their leave averaged over their entire period of employment. This will provide women with the assurance that they will not have to choose between their paid work and the economic independence that can come of that and their families. Our government wants to make sure that the workplace is as supportive of women as it is of men and is supportive of our most vulnerable workers, who are increasingly in insecure employment. We are taking the steps that only a Labor government will deliver. That is something that is very important for us in this debate. It is only a Labor government that will ever deliver fair outcomes for people in work and of course deliver workplaces from discriminatory practices.

The bill also seeks to clarify for workers and employers alike knowledge of their rights and responsibilities in the workplace. Astonishingly, despite the simple nature of long service leave, the process to apply can be quite complex. Only one in four workers will qualify for long service leave in their lifetime, and this could be partially due to numerous failings of the current legislation. Multiple barriers are presented to those trying to rightfully claim their long service leave, and it can often be difficult for workers to pursue their entitlements because they lack the correct records or because the records are not provided to them by their workplace. This has been particularly detrimental for employees trying to access documents from businesses that have now shut down and no longer exist. This bill serves to amend this discrepancy. Workers should have the right to access documents that reflect their hours of employment. This will give Victorians more clarity and make it easier to pursue opportunities in the future.

I do want to pause here and commend the Minister for Industrial Relations for the terrific work that she does every single day looking for the opportunities and working on the opportunities to improve the economic security and wellbeing of Victorian workers. She does so not just within Victoria, but she is championing and advocating very, very strongly at a national level for better outcomes. We all know that the development of our economy, the growth of our economy, the increased productivity and the terrific work and projects that our government supports are vital to ensuring that there are good jobs out there for all of us to enjoy. We cannot do that alone of course; we need to strive for improvements to legislated entitlements, which is what our minister is doing very, very well indeed, and her advocacy at a national level is also vitally important. I commend her for the efforts that she has taken up and also for the bill coming to this house.

The bill serves to help Victorians better understand and claim their long service leave, and it is right for them to do that. I am of course very proud to speak on this legislation. It marks a win for women but it marks a win also for those who are the most vulnerable in our workplaces — those who, without a Labor government, without bills like these, without tangible commitments from governments such as ours, would have been left long ago at the outskirts of our community without any economic independence whatsoever and struggling to survive. There is a lot more that needs to be done, absolutely, certainly at a federal level, and that is why I am personally — as I am sure everybody on this side of the house is — looking forward to a future federal Labor government that comes in and actually starts to make amends for all the damage that has been caused to workers in small workplaces, in large workplaces, in the public sector and in the private sector to get them back to a position where they are valued. They are certainly valued by this side of the house, and that is why I commend the bill to the house.

Debate resumed from 24 August 2017; motion of Ms HUTCHINS (Minister for Industrial Relations).

Mr WAKELING (Ferntree Gully) (10:57:27) — I am pleased to rise to contribute to this debate on the Long Service Leave Bill 2017. This bill seeks to replace and update the Long Service Leave Act 1992 which has operated in this state in its current form since 1992. Long service leave is a provision which was invented in the mid-19th century to allow citizens of Australia to sail to and from England every decade. This was a journey that could take up to four months. Historically that is the context in which the provision of long service leave has operated within Victoria and throughout Australia.

Within Victoria our private sector employees’ conditions with respect to long service leave are governed by the provisions of the Victorian act. Some employees may have their entitlements covered by federal regulation by way of enterprise agreements or federal awards where they provide relevant provisions for long service leave. Obviously for those who work in the construction industry as defined, their provisions for long service leave are covered by the Construction Industry Long Service Leave Act 1997, which provides for portable long service leave through contributions being made to the CoINVEST scheme.

The bill that is currently before the house seeks to introduce a range of changes to the current provisions with respect to the operation of long service leave. This will include the counting of all paid parental leave as service for the calculation of an employee’s long service leave entitlement. It will also count up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave as service. It will provide that any agreed period of unpaid parental leave greater than 12 months will not break the continuity of service. It will also allow employees to apply for long service leave after a period of seven years of service as opposed to the traditional 10 years of service.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The time has come for me to interrupt business under sessional orders for questions without notice and ministers statements. I ask the Clerk to ring the bells. The member may resume his contribution when the bill is next before the house.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.