Sky News, AM Agenda with Laura Jayes

22 February 2024


Laura Jayes: Welcome back. You're watching AM Agenda. Joining me now is the Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres, and we're just having quite an animated conversation in that ad break about this right to disconnect. We're also talking about the right to work from home. Now, I just had a long conversation with Tony Burke about these. During that conversation, I got a message from a staffer at Parliament House saying that's not true in relation to what Tony Burke was saying about having an allowance. Staff can't opt in and out of the allowance, not at a Ministerial level. They just get it automatically and have to work overtime. That doesn't seem like Ministerial staffers do have a right to disconnect at all.



Senator Ayres: Well, first thing, it's actually good to have a journalist who's actually interested in the issues around the modern world of work actually makes a difference.



Laura Jayes: My question, please.



Senator Ayres: And these are the issues that are shaping modern workplaces?



Laura Jayes: Yes.



Senator Ayres: Now, for parliamentary staffers, they are. Or Ministerial staffers in particular, which is the group that we're talking about. This has nothing to do with the right to disconnect. This is all about… The commission review is all about working from home terms, the right to disconnect terms, the right to disconnect. Many workers are paid an allowance for being available. Many agreements. If you're a maintenance worker, if you're in any number of categories, you're paid an allowance for being available. Ministerial staff are paid that, you and I are paid a rate that recognises that the world of work intrudes on our home lives in a way that is normal for us and we're paid well for it. Yes, there are some workers in our economy who are just paid the minimum rate, but on call.



Laura Jayes: If I could stick on Ministerial staff, though. Sure, they are a bit limited for time. This staffer is saying that's not true, and they don't have a choice whether to opt in or opt out. They just get that extra paid.



Senator Ayres:: An allowance.



Laura Jayes: Yeah, they don't have a choice.



Senator Ayres:: It's a good allowance.



Laura Jayes: They don't have a choice.



Senator Ayres: Well, it's an allowance. It's a good allowance.



Laura Jayes: It's not actually a right to disconnect.



Senator Ayres: But the right to disconnect, as Tony was explaining to you, as is clear in the legislation, is all about people not being paid.



Laura Jayes: I don't have a good example.



Senator Ayres: What it establishes is more of a balance in the workplace. Now, it's interesting, our opponents…



Speaker B: The scales are like this now.



Senator Ayres:  Well, we've had, as Tony pointed out to you before, a decade of wages going backwards, we're restoring a bit of balance, best in future to the workplace.



Laura Jayes: Absolutely. But what about productivity? Because that is the big concern.



Senator Ayres: Can we deal with these two things in order? Flexibility.



Laura Jayes: Yes, sure.



Senator Ayres: Our opponent’s all about flexibility when it's about never ending casual jobs, labour hire. Suddenly, when there's flexibility that's in the interests of ordinary working people in our suburbs and regions, the sky's going to fall in. The sky's going not to fall in.



Laura Jayes: That'd be great if government employed most people in this country, but they don't. Businesses do. They need to get, you know, productivity out of their employees. We all need that for a thriving economy. What I'm concerned about is, and we spoke to Dai Le about this, you know, this is not some conspiracy on the right of politics. Dai Le has a…



Senator Ayres: You're saying that Dai Le is not on the right of politics?



Laura Jayes: What I'm saying is that she represents manufacturers, she represents minimum wage earners. Where do you think she is?



Senator Ayres: Well, what I think is that these are all the big issues.



Laura Jayes: She won a safe labor seat.



Senator Ayres: These are the big issues in the modern economy, the care and work agenda, real flexibility that suits modern parents. We actually want to create good jobs in a modern economy. That means good jobs in the private sector, good jobs in small and medium enterprises, by making sure that workers and employers have got some roles.



Laura Jayes: Sure. But where is the ambition you have for Australian workers at the moment? What I see is all these regulations that are not required and not well articulated as to why they're required. And it feels like a dumbing down of Australian workers. Where's the ambition? Where's the worker, the young person that you're saying to; if you work harder than your colleagues, you can get ahead. It's all, you know, collective mediocrity. That bothers me. So, where is the ambition? How do we compete with bigger economies? If you're working from home and more people want to work from home, and I get how convenient it is, why wouldn't a business just go…actually, I can get a cheaper person in Southeast Asia to do the same job, if they're not coming into the office, why wouldn't they do that?



Senator Ayres: Laura, that is the most sort of unremittingly negative view of the world I can imagine. I talk to firms all of the time. I talk to workers all of the time. These big issues about work and care, about women in the workplace, young men and women grappling with the responsibilities of family and work. What we want to create in the economy is good jobs that a family can rely upon. We want to lift productivity by employers and workers working together. Now, we've had an experiment. Let me finish this point. We've had an experiment with the alternative view where the last government, the Morrison, Turnbull and Abbott catastrophe, drove wages down, hostile to the union movement, hostile to balance in the workplace. And what happened? Productivity has fallen through the floor. Now we are building a new model and that is about workers and firms are working together in the workplace to do better. Now, the big drivers of productivity, look at my area in manufacturing. What is one of the biggest drivers of productivity in a modern economy? It's the amount of manufacturing jobs and investment that you have in the economy. Lifting the component of Australian workplaces that are manufacturing workplaces is good for work, good for school leavers in outer suburban areas and regional economies, but it lifts productivity too.



Laura Jayes: Okay



Senator Ayres:  That's the focus of the government.



Laura Jayes: Coupled with all of these, coupled with these IR [Industrial Relations]changes and your changes to stage three tax cuts. You've just told people on 150 grand a year and more that they don't earn as big a tax cut as they were promised and it’s in legislation. That's what I'm talking about. In ambition, right? A rich person, which you deem rich, earning around 200 grand a year, cannot afford to buy a house in this country. Have you seen headline after headline…



Senator Ayres: You know, that low and middle income…



Laura Jayes. So, when people actually do get ahead and they achieve, you say, oh, no, we're still going to tax you at this rate. Do you agree with Paul Keating that it's confiscatory?



Senator Ayres: But the question…



Laura Jayes: No, that's the question.



Senator Ayres: The way that you frame the question, it seems like the only people who have ambition are people who are doing well. The truth is, low and middle earners have ambition for themselves and their families. The government's tax package, which I'm glad we're talking about because Peter Dutton wants to talk about anything but the government's tax package, is all about making sure that low and middle income earners get a fair shake, can deal with the cost of living a bit more squarely.



Laura Jayes: Than if they break out of that, you're going to penalize them.



Senator Ayres: Yeah, people over $150,000 are still getting very good tax cuts like you and I will still get very substantial tax. Middle income earners right now in 2024 need a fair shake from the tax system. The government is all about making sure that those workers are able to earn more and keep more of what they earn. That is the right package. Well, that's a great ambition for the Australian economy. Let's work together to lift wages. Let's make sure that we've got good jobs that reflect modern standards and grapple with the big issues in modern workplaces like the work and care agenda. Lift productivity together and create more jobs. We have created 650,000 jobs over the course of this government. That is a record for a new government. We have got real wages going up for the first time that any of us can remember. And we're working with firms and unions and employees and employers right across the country to make workplaces better.



Laura Jayes. So, you're working with unions or firms more?



Senator Ayres: Well, we're working right across the board. We're not afraid of working with either side of this argument. It's a labor government…



Laura Jayes: Not a lot with business at the moment. Is that fair?



Senator Ayres: Well, I've just come back from Western Australia, where I spent two days working with Rio Tinto, the big rail companies, working on building more rail jobs in Australia, particularly in the freight sector. We are working with modern employers, with big companies and small, all of the time to create better jobs and more investments.



Laura Jayes: You're about to be interrupted by your boss, so we'll leave it there.



Senator Ayres: Well, I'll let him do that.



Laura Jayes: Anthony speaking live at the moment. Let's have a quick listen in.