As sporadically as the federal Parliament has been meeting in 2020, COVID-19 pandemic or no COVID-19 pandemic, you can count on them to wedge a secret piece or two of legislation which has the potential to be divisive for a majority government versus groups linked to its opponents.
And in the context of the ongoing and quite secretive negotiations over industrial relations reform, this could stoke quite a precedent.
On Tuesday, 25 August, the House of Representatives passed the remaining part of what is termed the Treasury Laws Amendment (TLA), a three-part legislation package generally aimed at general economic reform areas, and especially brought into the breech in light of the emergence of the JobKeeper scheme the Morrison government originally installed in late March.
The passage of the legislation has possessed a stop-start pattern, and understandably so, given the demands of the pandemic as well as the infrequent sitting dates of assembly of the Parliament.
Part 1 passed through both Upper and Lower houses in mid-May, Part 3 was passed by both houses in mid-June, while a wait ensued to witness the Upper House pass Part 2 of the legislation package last week.
And it is that Part 2 – an update of a similar 2019 piece of proposed legislation – which has become debatably the most contentious of the entire package.
It has raised the ire of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), with the language of that Bill stating, “Amends the Superannuation Guarantee (Administration) Act (1992) to provide that employees under workplace determinations or enterprise agreements have the right to choose their superannuation fund.”
The ACTU has analysed the Parliament’s decision as – at the very heart of the matter – going against the act and basic right of collective bargaining.
It has also been critical of the Bill, on the premise that it favours the banks-run, for-profit superannuation funds over the more successful Industry SuperFunds Australia (ISA) alliance of 15 different funds backed by the ACTU and the union movement – thereby taking the right away from workers to negotiate their choice of their own superannuation funds directly with their employers, whether they be existing employers or when commencing new employment.
“This is an attack on the basic rights of working people to bargain and win better conditions,” said Scott Connolly, an assistant secretary in the ACTU, after Part 2 of the Bill’s passage.
Consequences of the Bill’s collective passage would impact ISA affiliates’ members directly – and specifically, Cbus for the building and trades industry, HostPlus for hospitality, HESTA for the education sector, and TWU Super for those in the transport industry, to name a few.
A prejudice towards superannuation funds being run by the banking sector – such as OnePath from ANZ, Colonial First State from the Commonwealth Bank, MLC Masterkey Super from the NAB, and BT Super For Life from Westpac, to name a few – would thereby become the Bill’s beneficiaries.
The ACTU is not just going to bat for the superannuation funds that it has an interest in seeing succeed, but also points out the inappropriate context of the Bill’s passage in light of the relationship between LNP governments and the banks after the 2018-19 Royal Commission inquiry into the financial services sector.
“The passage of this Bill is a gift to the banks and bank-owned for-profit superannuation funds,” said Connolly.
“Despite years of scandals, decades of under-performance and evidence of shocking misconduct uncovered by the Banking Royal Commission, this Bill directly benefits for-profit superannuation providers,” Connolly added.
The ACTU possesses a support for the ISA funds, because of its ease and simplicity they have to benefits its members, and how the funds are efficiently looked after for its members as well.
“Workers bargain for a single fund in the workplace where they know it is in their best interest. This ensures superannuation is paid in full and on time, that workers have the best insurance available to them and their line of work, as well as access to defined benefit schemes,” said Connolly.
One intangible impact of the passage of the TLA Bills, collectively, begs one big question: in the context of the ongoing industrial relations reform negotiations – and superannuation does fall under the wingspan of the ultimate object in industrial relations, the nation’s workers – if the act of collective bargaining can be restricted in terms of superannuation, what’s stopping other industrial relations elements from meeting the same fate?
“This Bill threatens all of that and will only aid unscrupulous bosses and dodgy banks,” said Connolly, viewing the link of how those types of bosses and employers may treat the concept of superannuation.
“The union movement supported sensible amendments put forward by Labor and the Greens and supported by Jacqui Lambie to protect workers’ rights and is disappointed the Government and some crossbench Senators did not support them,” added Connolly.
The ACTU can only hope that this trend with the government’s interests does not continue into other areas of legislation and negotiations, such as into industrial relations reform.
Also by William Olson:
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