Speech on Esso Dispute and Corporate Tax

2.19pm | January 25, 2018

A few weeks ago, I spoke in this chamber about the attempts by Streets ice cream to play the Fair Work Commission system, trying to terminate the 2013 staff agreement and offering significant pay cuts and loss of conditions. Fortunately, since then, Streets has withdrawn its termination application to the Fair Work Commission and has reached an in-principle agreement that it will protect pay, shifts and conditions. This backdown was in response to the strong public support for the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union campaign to boycott Streets ice cream. I would like to acknowledge the work of the AMWU and all of the unions who drove that campaign, and the support of the Australian community to upholding Australian values and fairness. That is what unions are for, that is what they achieve and that is why it is so very wrong that the people in this chamber who sit on the other side attack unions every single day that we come to this place.

Unfortunately, Streets isn't the only one. There are other employers trying to work their way around the Fair Work Act in ways that are simply not fair. Tonight, I want to bring attention to the way that Esso, its contractors and its subsidiaries are trying to work their way around the Fair Work Act in a different but no less troubling way. I met with delegates from the ETU, the AWU and the ANWU this week who have been out on strike and locked out of their workplace for hundreds of days. Esso, the Australian subsidiary of ExxonMobil, processes oil and gas from the Bass Strait at their Longford plant in Gippsland. But in May—as long ago as May—the company that Esso outsources its maintenance to, UGL, suspended negotiations with around 200 maintenance workers. They created a process that required workers to sign new contracts with a subsidiary company—a shelf company no-one had ever heard of before—throwing all of the agreed pay conditions, all of the shift arrangements and all of the workplace conditions out the window.

The proposed enterprise agreement that was offered by this UGL subsidiary, MTCT Services, offered up to 30 per cent less pay and conditions, and no restrictions on roster arrangements. This isn't just a tough choice. It's no choice at all. This doesn't sound like negotiation in good faith. This does not sound fair. And this does not sound to me like it is in the interests of the Australian community. This is not how workplaces ought to work. Labor is committed to reform to stop employers gaming the system. Even more bitter for these communities facing difficult and challenging times are the allegations levelled about Esso's corporate structures, which, it is alleged, seek to minimise tax payments. If the reports are true, in the last two years Exxon has reported $18 billion of revenue whilst paying no corporate tax.

The Senate Standing Committee on Economics—I'm a member of that committee—has, for some years, been investigating corporate tax avoidance. Today the Senate has agreed to extend the reporting date of that inquiry to allow the committee to continue its work. In light of these allegations, in light of this analysis, my very strong view is that the committee should examine these allegations. The committee should examine the allegations that Exxon has engaged in aggressive corporate tax avoidance.

I fear that this won't be the last time that I rise in this chamber to talk about the ways employers are working around the safeguards of the Fair Work Act and it won't be the last time that I rise here to talk about the ways big companies are seeking to avoid their tax obligations—and, in doing so, seeking to deprive all Australians of the revenue that government needs to provide hospitals, schools, infrastructure and apprenticeships. I commit that I will continue to draw attention to these attacks on Australian workers and Australian families. A Labor government will fix the Fair Work Act to stop employer attempts to work around the principle of fairness. We will continue the reforms that we began in government to ensure that corporations pay their fair share of tax.