SUBJECT: Wongawilli Mine strike, Labor’s plans to protect workers

STEPHEN JONES, MEMBER FOR WHITLAM: It's great to be here and showing our support to Bob Timbs and the mine workers here at Wongawilli. As I said to the blokes little earlier. We actually want this to be resolved industrially. We don't want to see guys out on strike. We want to see them sitting around the table negotiating but clearly they haven't been able to reach a resolution. Our message to the owners and our message to the union is get around a table and see if we can get this sorted out.


But one thing we are very firm on and that is we cannot have a situation where labour hire companies are able to undercut the wage of permanent workers and that is an ongoing business model because that's not fair to anybody. It's not fair to the permanent workers, it is not fair to the casual workers and it's not fair to the businesses who are trying to run and do things properly.


So it might be legal but we don't think it's right and if this can't be resolved industrially as we hope it is, Labor's commitment is we're going to change the law. We're going to change the law to ensure that labour hire can't be used to undercut permanent workers. Same site. Same job. Same rates of pay.


JOURNALIST: You talk about this issue not being political but in the next sentence you talk about a political fix. We've got the union teeing off at the Government for their stance on the issue. How is this not political?


JONES: Well, it's an industrial dispute, but it's an industrial dispute that has been allowed to go on because the laws are not fair. So we hope that the employer and the unions can sort this out and do the right thing. But what is quite clear is that the laws are not fair. You cannot have a situation where labour hire can be used as a means of undercutting the terms and conditions in an agreement that has been reached in good faith where one group of workers are basically being pitted against another group of workers. It's not fair to anybody.


JOURNALIST: Do you see a future for this mine if this continues? It's 100 people in your electorate that aren't going to be with a job?


JONES: Well I fear for the future of the workers and for the company, we want to see people get around a table and negotiate find a resolution that deals with all the issues in dispute. I'm confident that that can happen. I heard this morning that this has been extended by another week. I hope it can be resolved before that. If it can't, you know, we've seen in this area disputes play out over over the years. I hope it's resolved sensibly. Our commitment, whether or not this dispute is resolved, is we're going to change the law to make it fair.


JOURNALIST: How are you change the law? How will that work?


JONES: We'll make it unlawful for labour hire to be used as an instrument to undermine the wages so you can't have a situation where workers negotiate a Collective Agreement or they have an award and the day after that agreement is sorted an employer can come in and remove half of its workforce and replace them with labour hire workers on a lower rate of pay.


It's just not fair but does not create a stable situation for the workers, the employer or for the country. So we'll change the law to fix that anomaly.


JOURNALIST: So Bob mentioned that the workforce is casualised in 2015, and obviously, we're only two or three months out from the election now, why weren't we standing here two years ago or 18 months ago doing this?


JONES: This is not the first time there's been a dispute over contractors and labour hire in this region, or in this country. There's been a number of them that I've personally attended.


But what we're having is a situation where a pattern is occurring now, where employers, labour hire companies, businesses, many of whom are trying to do the right thing, but some of whom clearly are exploiting loopholes in the law, which we just don't think are right.


JOURNALIST: There's multiple situations we're seeing across multiple workforces, and industrial disputes going on and they all seem to be revolving around this casualisation argument. Is this one of your biggest priorities heading into a federal election, to get the message across to people who might have friends and family standing out here on a picket line?


JONES: Well, we think the use of casual workers got out of control. You can't have somebody who's employed one year, two years, three years doing the same job week in, week out, year in, year out and they're somehow called a casual.


This just got out of control. There is a legitimate place in a workplace for casual, for labour hire, but they've got to be used properly and if they're not being used properly we're going to look at the law and say does something need to be done with our industrial relations law, which ensures that these sorts of loopholes are closed down and that this sort of abuse doesn't occur. We do have a problem with casual employment in this country. It's got out of control. We want employers, businesses and unions to be able to sort it out, but we're going to look at the law if we win the election as well.


JOURNALIST: The Coalition seems pretty determined and pretty keen to take on this fight in industrial relations, do days like this play into their hands by painting the union as disruptive, and you know, I guess that whole them trying to link Labor with the unions in disrupting industry.


JONES: Oh look they're really picking on the wrong guy, in the wrong town. A bloke like Bobby Timbs actually convinced hundreds of workers to stay on the job, even though they weren't being paid by this very same company that owns this mine.


This is a guy who convinced his members to stay on the job to help their company through financial difficulties to keep the mine open to ensure that they had a long-term future.


So if the government wants to paint Bobby and the CFMEU down here as evil guys, they're not going to get away with it because we know that he's a fair dinkum bloke and if he raises an issue it's a fair dinkum issue, and that's why I'm willing to support him.