Libs’ long-service lurch

SIX months out from an election and Vicki Dunne has the Liberals threatening long-service leave. It might not be official Liberal Party policy, but voters will have to remain suspicious.

Indications are that the Liberal front-bencher will be trying to persuade colleagues to get rid of long-service leave benefits, probably arguing about improved productivity in the ACT and a snowball effect for the rest of Australia.

The Greens’ Amanda Bresnan challenged these ideas and provided an important insight.

“A few weeks ago… Dunne said that the Liberals were fundamentally opposed to portable long-service leave schemes and Dunne has again said that today,” she said.

But the Liberal Opposition spokesperson on industrial relations went much further by challenging long-service leave provisions for all workers. She “condemned” the government’s legislation to extend long-service leave to security workers, raising a fair question about whether long-service leave should be portable to workers within an industry – such as people working in the security area – rather than being rewarded for loyalty to a specific business.

In this area she challenged previous portability provisions for the community sector and was arguing extension of the scheme to other low-paid workers is not something the Liberals support.

However, she made a paradigm shift for the Liberals in challenging the whole right to long-service leave across all workers.

Even if cutting long-service leave entitlements is not in the Opposition’s platform at the next election, Dunne’s pronouncements should be unnerving, at the very least, for workers in the ACT public service. And they come at a time when even the Labor Budget at the Federal level has attacked superannuation benefits.

“The concept for long-service leave is a reward for loyalty of service to an employer”, is the argument that she was originally making. However, Dunne went on to suggest that long-service leave entitlements are “unique to Australia and NZ and was established in early colonial days. In those days it was considered reasonable for citizens to be able to sail home to England or Ireland or from wherever they came… in the knowledge their job would still be there when they returned. It is a real and intended purpose now redundant for many obvious reasons”.

Thanks for the history lesson.

Bresnan fired back: “Every time we have seen legislation come before the Assembly that is about making Canberrans working lives better, the Liberals oppose it.

“There is no stronger example of individuals and families who are doing it tough, working on low wages at irregular hours, which has an impact on people and their family lives. What this is about is giving them time with their family.”

Long-service leave might not be on the agenda for a party platform at the next election, but such public positioning, particularly by the person with this responsibility, has to make us wary.

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