March 7, 2018  |  Second reading

Long Service Leave Bill 2017

Mr Howard – (Buninyong) (16:50:57) — I am very pleased to add my contribution to this Long Service Leave Bill 2017. In starting my contribution, I note that we are very fortunate in this country to have the opportunity to have long service work for any employer recognised in such a way that we can accrue long service leave. I first benefited from this when I travelled many years ago. In 1985 I travelled overseas with my wife, who had been working for the education department for over 10 years at the time, and she was able to take her part of the travel as her long service leave. Unfortunately I had not accrued 10 years with the education department at that time, so I took leave without pay, but I was interested in travelling to a range of different countries to find that people who heard that my wife was travelling on long service leave thought, ‘What is this amazing thing? We in America, we in Europe, don’t have that opportunity to be given leave from our job for a long period of time’. My wife had six months long service leave, and so many people were quite stunned to hear that you could get such a long period of leave.

I was fortunate a number of years later to have accrued enough time to be able to take long service leave from my teaching — I do note that I was working with the education department for a number of years and then left to go into the private sector, or at least into the Catholic education sector, but noted that if I returned within five years to the education department I would retain the long service leave entitlement that I had accrued before I left, which was a good incentive for me to return to the education department — whereupon I was able to travel for three months in India in 1994. That is another story I will not share with members at this time, but, as people know, if you can have a significant period of time away from your job, it is an opportunity to refresh your batteries and to come back to your job feeling that you are able to continue on enthused in that employment for many more years. So there is a lot of sense in employers being able to provide long service leave to their staff.

It is unfortunate that these days many people do not stay in the one job for more than the number of years that entitles them to take long service leave, but I note that for the older generation this was more regularly the case. I am always quite amazed to note that my father, for example, stayed working in the same job for 61 years. That was quite an achievement. He started with Cheetham Salt in Geelong when he was 16 and worked through a range of different work tasks over the many years he was there. He was able to stay on until he was 77 as a consultant for the same company, so he achieved 61 years in the one company. I think it is a pretty rare case that that sort of thing would happen.

What this bill really tries to achieve is a recognition that, when anybody has worked for more than seven years or whatever the arrangements are for them to have their long service recognised and be able to take leave, they need to have access to that, and it needs to be fair and it needs to recognise some of those issues that people need recognised as they take their long service leave these days. One of the things that this bill does in providing new legislation for long service leave is to say that, even if you do not want to take a long period of time off to have long service leave, you could take as little as one day off, and that is quite legitimate. So this bill now allows for people to take leave in just small chunks, rather than necessarily taking large chunks.

This bill also recognises that many people might not work regular hours in their employment, so to allow for that we need to have a standard, fair way of calculating variations of hours across their work over a period of time. So this bill does set that the average of the hours worked will be calculated over the greater number of years, from 12 months right through to five years or the entire period of employment, to ensure that there is a fair way of calculating the hours of entitlement to be considered for long service leave. That is going to benefit people who either do not work fixed hours of work in any week, so there are variations there, or who may have fixed hours but have changed their period of fixed hours over periods in their employment.

The other thing that this bill does is give employees the right to ask their employer for a statement of their employee entitlements, in which case that can be provided to them so they have that document that they can use if there are disputes that may take place. Clearly the other issue that is important within this bill is that a dispute resolution process is available, that complaints can be followed up appropriately and that if employers do the wrong thing, then penalties will apply, and that is certainly a feature of this bill.

But the other feature of this bill that has been spoken about by others is that for people taking parental leave, most of whom are women but some of whom are men, we have now put in place a standard which will make it clear which parental leave will count towards their long service leave. The bill also ensures that if they take parental leave for a period longer than 12 months, when they return from that leave their long service will not be broken. Therefore their entitlements before they took that leave will still be available to them and recognised as part of their long service entitlements.

What this bill does is clarify that for any parent taking parental leave, whether it is paid or unpaid, the first 12 months of that period will be recognised as service and then any period beyond the 12 months that they continue to take as parental leave will not be recognised as service but will also not break their long service entitlements. This is a great achievement for women especially — but not just women — who either work part-time or take parental leave. Under this legislation, once it is passed, they will know what their entitlements are. They will be able to check with their employer and get statements about their accrual of long service leave entitlements. Therefore they will be satisfied that they are not going to be dudded. They will be treated fairly, and employers will know how the system works.

I commend the minister because this legislation has not come about overnight. The minister has worked through a consultation process involving all of the peak employer groups, and she has taken on board their advice in regard to how this could work. It does not change the entitlements that employers will be required to pay. It just clarifies how long service will be calculated, and it ensures that where parental leave is taken for a period of longer than 12 months that will not represent a break in service but rather that entitlements earned pre-parental leave will continue to accrue. This will be of great benefit to a number of people. Unfortunately we know that a lot people do not get to work for long enough in the one workplace to accrue and realise long service leave entitlements, but for those who do this bill will be of great benefit.

There are a range of other things that we as a government continue to work on to ensure support for people who do not work for long periods of time with one employer, such as if they are on a contract that they are supported. Of course we recently introduced legislation supporting workers who work for employment contractors. This government continues to try and ensure that fair workplace arrangements are in place for all workers, and I am very pleased to support this bill.