Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2023

28 November 2023

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (22:07): I am pleased to speak in support of the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2023. I congratulate the Minister for Industrial Relations, and Minister for Work Health and Safety for introducing the bill, which is delivering on a key promise made by the Minns Labor Government before the election.

We promised to abolish the wages cap, which artificially kept the wages of our essential workers down, and we promised to improve recruitment and retention in the public sector. Those issues have plagued our public sector because of decisions taken by the former Liberal-Nationals conservative Government.

The bill is a good thing for the 6,735 public sector workers in my electorate of Charlestown and for working people across New South Wales. It will help repair the damage done by 12 years of cuts and neglect by those opposite. It strikes the right balance, supporting our workers and futureproofing the industrial relations system of the State. First and foremost, the wages cap is dead. As the Minister for Industrial Relations said:

The Liberal‑Nationals' wages cap eroded trust between essential workers and government, suppressed wages and led to the staffing crisis.

The removal of the ability to regulate a wages cap means that no future government will be able to reinstate a cap without a change in legislation. It means that no future government will be able to hamstring the most essential workers in our State—including our paramedics, nurses, teachers, police, firefighters, cleaners and so many front‑facing public servants—without having to fight it out on the floor of Parliament. In short, no future government will be able to take that step without making their case and being held to account. That is how our system should work.

The re-establishment of the Industrial Court is also a major win for New South Wales and for our State's workers. It is a practical, efficient step that will take pressure off the Supreme Court and speed up outcomes. The re-made court will be a modern body, serving as both an arbitration tribunal and as a separate judicial court for industrial issues. The court will have jurisdiction over matters including the underpayment of wages. Let us face it: Wage theft is theft. Seeing employers who offend having to answer for that will not only deliver justice for victims but also serve as a deterrent. To that end, the Industrial Court will also be capable of issuing orders to resolve disputes and issuing fines to ensure compliance. As the Minister said:

These reforms won't just benefit the state's essential workers, they will improve workplace safety for millions in NSW by providing specialised health and safety judges.

Everyone in the State will rightly applaud that. The requirement for the court to take into account the New South Wales Government's fiscal position when exercising its responsibilities in relation to the public sector, including in wage disputes and workplace health and safety, ensures a level of balance that was completely missing from the previous Government's industrial relations policy. The court will also serve as an important guardrail in the bargaining process, with the authority to bring parties to the negotiating table in order to resolve disputes. The bill will also see the introduction of mutual gains bargaining, which will mean agencies and unions negotiating for mutually agreed improvements for the benefit of essential workers.

I thank my colleague the Minister for Industrial Relations for her longstanding work in this space. I thank the Industrial Relations Taskforce, led by Anna Booth and the Hon. Roger Boland, for its contribution. I thank the union movement and I especially thank the countless workers in the Charlestown electorate and right across the State who have campaigned tirelessly for a better deal for themselves, their co-workers, their families and their communities. I commend the bill to the House.