Labor demands protections for older workers before backing Jobmaker bill

Labor demands protections for older workers before backing Jobmaker bill

Labor says it will block the Jobmaker scheme without protections for older workers, but the government insists amendments are unnecessary.

The Senate voted Tuesday night on amendments to the bill, to explicitly prevent employers from sacking or reducing the hours of employers aged over 35.

Under the scheme, businesses can receive a hiring credit worth up to $200 a week for job seekers aged between 18 and 29.

Labor argues it allows employers to replace workers aged over 35 with subsidised employees.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told parliament: “Labor will not tolerate a circumstance where workers over 35 are done over … If this legislation is seriously about additional employment, rather than replacing existing workers, then they have to support this amendment”.

He said recession disproportionately hit older people, who often never found work again.

Labor, the Greens, Centre Alliance and One Nation all united to back the changes, a rarity Mr Albanese said should “be pause for thought” for the Coalition.

Greens Leader Adam Bandt backed his stance, urging the Senate to “stare down the government and insist” on the changes if the Coalition refuses to budge.

But despite a looming stand-off, the government rejected the amendments in the lower house. The bill will now return to the Senate.

Education Minister Dan Tehan insists “all of the existing rights and safeguards in the Fair Work Act for employees will continue to apply, including protection from unfair dismissal”.

Given the credit is only available to employers who increased their headcounts, Labor’s concerns are unwarranted, Mr Tehan says.

But Mr Bandt argues the unamended bill would allow employers to replace one well paid employee with two younger employees on a minimum wage. “That is not good for those who get sacked … and it’s not good for younger people who are thrown into a world of insecure work”, he said.

The Morrison government was grilled during Question Time on Wednesday over its decision to oppose Labor’s amendments.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg defended the move saying it would not support the changes because “Labor was delaying certainty for business”.

He said there were a number of protections in the legislation and the Fair Work Act.

“The question from the Labor Party is what have they got against the creation of new jobs?” Mr Frydenberg said.

“This whole program is designed to get people who have been on jobseeker, who have been unemployed, and get them into work with a minimum of 20 hours each week.”

Scott Morrison also said workers’ hours could not be reduced and people could not be sacked and rehired under the hiring credit.

He accused Mr Albanese of seeking to create fear during the pandemic.

“It is irresponsible and it is reckless,” the prime minister said.

“They pretend to be supporting the important measures that this government has brought forward to support Australians through the crisis, and at the same time … they seek to oppose them and support them.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter also told the parliament that it was unlawful to dismiss someone without a valid reason for dismissal.

- with Jade Gailberger