Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (15:24): I rise to speak on the Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill 2021. I believe this bill is essential as it enhances protections for Victorian workers and enables them to ask the most basic employment questions without discrimination.
We have a responsibility to ensure that every worker can ask their employer what benefits or entitlements are available to them and to make it crystal clear when employees are entitled to long service leave. As we know, Victoria has a diverse and talented workforce. While there are many protections already in place for our workforce, we must ensure these protections are up to date and reflect the modern issues within those workplaces.
Across Victoria approximately 18.4 per cent of our population has a disability. Protecting those individuals who have a disability and who are disadvantaged in some way in the workforce is critical to encouraging others who have a disability to seek employment. In addition, it is about making workplaces and the wider Victorian community realise that those with a disability are capable and can work just as effectively and efficiently. As such, they deserve the same amount of respect as every other worker.
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This bill extends protection to contract workers who give evidence before the royal commission. I believe this is critical, as the only way to improve a system is if those working in it can speak out without the ongoings on and conditions that they face.
I also believe that as a state we have come a long way from when I first joined the workforce. The balance between workers and employees is a tricky one but one that is worth improving. In particular wage theft has been and continues to be an issue here in Victoria. Over the last couple of years we have heard some shocking stories from the hospitality industry of individuals being significantly underpaid or employers failing to pay long service leave or holiday pay when it is due. To stop this it is absolutely vital that we have an authority that actually regulates, monitors and enforces wages across Victoria.
From my experience with the commercial passenger vehicle industry, I know that it is not enough just to legislate and give regulatory bodies the authority and power to enforce the rules but that it is up to the government and its departments to ensure that the new Wage Inspectorate Victoria has the staffing and the resources to uphold the high standards created by these amendments and enforce them. I urge the wage inspectorate unit to use these resources wisely. It is vital that this regulator makes itself accessible to our most vulnerable workers and works alongside employee groups and community legal centres to ensure everyone has access to these new protections.
We know that for many vulnerable workers government departments can be difficult to navigate. That is why there should be an emphasis on accessibility and community engagement. In addition it is important that the government now puts in place mechanisms to enable workers to get back their stolen wages as soon as possible, enabling them to get on with their lives. As we are all aware, the pandemic has seen many individuals struggle financially. Thus the return of wages owed to some individuals will make a huge difference to their financial circumstances. I also note that unfortunately for some individuals the return of their wages may no longer be possible as many companies have been forced to close down or go into liquidation as a result of the pandemic. I urge the government to look into the issue and provide support to these individuals as they arise.
I believe this bill will hopefully bring us closer to enforcing all the recommendations and findings outlined in the report of the Victorian inquiry into the labour hire industry and insecure work. We must continue to enhance workers rights and to prevent wage theft more effectively. I commend this bill to the house.