Long Service Leave Bill 2017

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (17:21:00) — I am very proud to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Long Service Leave Bill 2017. This bill, just like the Labour Hire Licensing Bill 2017, strives to create a fairer and more equal Victoria. This bill is fundamentally important to Victorian women and fundamentally important to families, but most importantly this is the right and fair thing to do. When our working conditions improve, our society improves. When our society improves, we all benefit. Labor believes this, and we believe it in our heart and at our core. This is Labor. I am very proud to be a unionist. I am proud to be standing here with my colleagues this evening knowing that it is always the Labor Party and the Andrews Labor government standing up for those who need it most.

It is beyond wrong that the current set of rules discriminate against women who take parental leave. If you think about jobs — being a doctor, nurse, teacher, ambulance officer or even member of Parliament — it would be hard to argue against the fact that there is no more important job than being a parent. I notice the member for Essendon is in the house. I often have conversations with the member for Essendon about the parenting of his children. He is a great source of information and a great source of stewardship as a father. I certainly know the time, energy and effort he puts into his family, and I imagine that raising a child, raising a human being, into a kind, decent, warm, compassionate person is something that would be incredibly difficult.

You have to ask then why is it that our current set of rules and the current framework discriminate against those who take parental leave, penalise those who take time off to care for children. This bill takes a significant step to rectify this imbalance and make the system fairer for those who need it the most. It is hard to believe that in 2018 the system is still structured in such a way that women who take parental leave are penalised in the form of discontinued long service leave and of course financial disadvantage, which a number of members have spoken about in their contributions.

I have heard a number of examples that are certainly extremely concerning, and I just want to touch on one that I was having a look at this afternoon. It speaks of a woman who works for six years at a company and then takes 13 months of parental leave. Under the current act, under the current system, under the current framework, when she returns the clock will be reset to zero and she will have to work at that company for another 10 years effectively before she can take long service leave. That is 16 years instead of 10 to receive the same entitlements as her male counterparts. That is simply not right and simply not fair. Even then this woman will not receive the full benefit if, like many women, she is one who returns to work on a part-time basis after caring for the children, as then the calculation will be made on the lowest basis. As I mentioned, this is simply unfair and plain wrong.

This bill, as we heard from the previous speaker, the member for Dandenong, is a result of much hard work that was done in getting it to the house this evening. We know that the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources conducted a review of the Long Service Leave Act 1992 in 2016. The review involved face-to-face meetings with employers, workers and community organisations and a call for public submissions. Through this process the review identified a number of problems with the operation of the current act. Many of these have been discussed this evening. They of course include a lack of clarity in the way the current act is structured and framed, a lack of flexibility in how leave can be taken — that is, leave can only be taken in two or three periods — and that leave can be taken after 10 years continuous service but is paid when employment ends after seven years. So there is disparity there, and these differing arrangements can be confusing.

The current act treats interruptions to service resulting from parental leave less favourably, as I have already mentioned, than other forms of leave, and the transfer of business arrangements often works against some employees where businesses may be sold. Enforcement of the act is hampered because the department’s authorised officers have no power to demand the production of employment records, so not only do you have what is a confusing system but you have a system that often actively penalises those who take parental leave and those who may wish to take their leave earlier.

This bill does a number of things to rectify many of the deficiencies in the current law. It will specify that leave must be granted as soon as practicable after it has been requested. It will allow employees to take a minimum of one day’s leave. It will allow employees to take leave after seven years of service — this will bring the taking of leave into line with the payment of leave on termination. It will simplify the way the long service leave entitlement is defined in the act and it will make arrangements fairer where an employee’s hours of work change, particularly if women reduce their hours due to family commitments, and a number of speakers have discussed that this afternoon. What we know is currently employees whose hours of work change or who have no fixed hours of work are entitled to the greater of the average hours worked over the previous 12 months or five years. The bill proposes to add a third calculation so the average of the entire period of continuous employment is considered.

There are a number of important measures contained within the provisions, and what is very clear, and it was certainly clear through the submissions process, is that there are a number of deficiencies that exist in the current framework. Having the ability to expand the definition of ‘asset’ to include an intangible asset and to have it apply where a business is sold will provide for that situation where the business may be sold and then there is nothing for the employee whatsoever. We know that that just continues to harm those who rely on these provisions the most. I think the member for Carrum discussed at length in her contribution the fact that she was not aware of the provisions that currently exist, especially around parental leave. I have to say that when you go into looking at the details around the bill it is very clear that there is great unfairness currently contained within the provisions, and it is important to get these matters solved, get these matters corrected so people are protected in their workplace.

Currently the Long Service Leave Act treats parental leave less favourably than all other forms of leave. If an employee takes more than 12 months unpaid parental leave, they lose continuity of service and any accrued long service leave entitlements. What this does is undervalue the vital contributions parents make to their workplaces, particularly women, who are disproportionately affected by this unfair — and, I have to say, outdated — arrangement. Under the Andrews Labor government’s changes, any period of paid parental leave and up to 12 months of unpaid parental leave will count as service — a very important provision — and no amount of parental leave will break continuity of service.

The new long service leave laws are a huge win for women both in my community and right across the state. What we are doing through this piece of legislation is taking a significant step forward in the rights and protections of those who do not just deserve these protections but need them the most. We are making long service leave fairer and more accessible for all Victorians, especially women, parents and carers. I acknowledge the Minister for Industrial Relations. I thank her for her hard work. Her department has done a great amount of work, and I proudly commend the bill to the house.