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Tag Archives: Fair Work Commission

Porter’s bills may sink BOOT into penalty rates, warns Burke

Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke has warned that Australian workers may lose their penalty rates by the end of January 2022 – not via targeted cuts, but through knock-on effects previously outlined in Attorney-General Christian Porter’s industrial relations reform bills.

In contrast to the planned penalty rate cuts the Turnbull and Morrison governments executed in a three-year interval from 2017 to 2019, workers may see their wages drop markedly across four major summer-based public holidays if the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) results in being revamped upon passage of Porter’s proposed legislation of two bills on industrial relations reforms.

Successful passage of Porter’s legislation, crafted and presented in federal Parliament’s final sitting week of 2020 last month when representatives between union leaders and the business lobby failed to previously come to an agreement on areas of reform, could even see the BOOT halted for any length of time.

“Australian workers could lose between $840 and $1170 from their pay packets next summer holidays if Scott Morrison gets his way and public holiday penalty rates are scrapped,” Burke said on Thursday.

The BOOT – according to the Fair Work Commission – in considering labour and remuneration terms which may be more or less beneficial overall to employees in an individual agreement versus that of a Modern Award for a particular industry, views an overall assessment being made as to whether employees would be better off under the agreement than under the relevant award.

Instead, under Porter’s scheme of industrial relations reform measures, the BOOT could be suspended in particular situations as deemed practical by the FWC, thereby leading to workers’ wages potentially being lost during the summer holidays.

“The Government recognises the BOOT’s importance as a key safeguard for workers,” Porter said last month in promoting his reform bills.

“Given that many industries are still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic, it also makes good sense for the FWC to be able to consider agreements that don’t meet the BOOT if there is genuine agreement between all parties, and where doing so would be in the public interest,” he added.

In a retaliatory blow aimed against Porter’s bills, Burke has taken the difference between the base and public holiday pay rates of typical award workers who work standard eight-hour days across Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Australia Day – four public holidays over a month’s span.

Moreover, Burke has compiled a list of figures taken from the government’s own fair pay calculator to arrive at his conclusions.

“Millions of workers across the economy are vulnerable to attack under Mr Morrison’s nasty industrial relations changes,” said Burke.

And by Burke’s figures, no one industry will be immune to the changes, provided that the reform bills are approved.

“From cleaners to miners, aged care workers to waiters, checkout operators to nurses – all could take a massive pay cut if Mr Morrison is successful in suspending the Better Off Overall Test,” he said.

The list of which workers in each industry could stand to lose the greatest amounts of their wages per December and January public holiday:

  • In aged care – $270
  • Banking, finance, or insurance (Level 3) – $293
  • Cleaners (Level 2) – $263
  • Junior fast food worker – $227
  • Retail – $220
  • Underground miners – $287
  • Hair salon attendants and/or beauticians – $272
  • Registered nurses (Level 5) – $223
  • Hospitality (Level 2) – $210
  • Restaurant waiters – $215

Burke also added that in the other 48 or so weeks of the year, suspension or bypassing the BOOT could potentially see workers losing their weekend, early morning and late-night shift penalty rates as well as those for public holidays.

“If you abolish something called the Better Off Overall Test, guess what will happen: workers will be worse off,” said Burke.

Porter claims that, in a summary of his authored reforms, a re-establishment of enterprise bargaining via a 21-day approval deadline will drive wage growth and gains in productivity, even at the expense of the BOOT on a case-by-case basis.

And if it runs side-by-side with other areas of the proposed legislation, particularly, a simplification of awards in what Porter has specified as the retail and hospitality sectors, it may have the reverse effect.

The union movement remains understandably livid over the possibility of penalty rates being collateral damage in any applications of industrial relations reform.

“When WorkChoices was introduced, employers rushed out to cut wages — the same will happen if this law passes,” Sally McManus, the national secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), said last month in response to Porter’s industrial relations reform bills.

“We believe this is the wrong thing for the country.

“We should be protecting working people at this time in order to grow the economy; you can’t go about hurting working people — that’s exactly the opposite to what you should be doing,” McManus added.

Burke also pointed out that the intentional cuts to penalty rates failed to create a single job, despite government promises to the contrary when the proposals were first floated.

“But now they want us to believe that cutting more penalty rates, cutting overtime, cutting shift loading, cutting allowances will create jobs?” Burke said.

Burke feels that Porter’s industrial relations bills should be doomed to fail – and the Morrison government is lacking priorities to growing the national economy out of recession.

“Pay cuts are bad for workers and bad for the economy. For Australia to recover from the recession we need people with the money and confidence to spend,” said Burke.

“The government says the economy is doing well enough that businesses no longer need JobKeeper. But then they say the economy is doing so badly they need to cut the pay of workers.

“They can’t have it both ways,” added Burke.

 

 

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Unflappable unions remain focused versus IR reform bills

In the federal Parliament’s final sitting week of 2020, Attorney-General Christian Porter has been unveiling the industrial relations reform “Omnibus Bill” via a piece-by-piece treatment – and Australia’s union movement has remained step-by-step in pace with a battle over the proposed legislative-based reforms.

In fact, Sally McManus, the national secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), has applied the blowtorch to the government – in the hottest of acetylene fashions, yet in her characteristic calm, measured delivery – in claiming that all of the hard work of the previous five months of industrial relations reform negotiations has been undone.

“These proposals were never raised during months of discussions with employers and the government,” McManus said on Tuesday, one day before Porter read two bills which would comprise the Morrison government’s measures of reform.

“The union movement will fight these proposals which will leave working people worse off.

“This was not the spirit of the talks with employers and the government, this is not about us all being in this together,” added McManus.

When the nation’s union and business leaders convened in June in Sydney and Canberra to commence bilateral negotiations on industrial relations reforms, both McManus and Porter – as well as many of the assembled representatives from both factions – agreed that if no accords were met, then the government would be drafting and introducing their own versions of reform measures.

That agreement had implied that the government’s measures would be geared in the form of a compromise between the interests among the two sides.

Instead, based on the early leaks over last weekend of the bills’ elements and highlights, they would be heavily favouring the business and employer groups’ lobbying efforts.

The two bills – the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Withdrawal from Amalgamations) Bill 2020 and the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 – introduced by Porter in Parliamentary business in the upper house were finally released on Wednesday morning, and according to the ACTU, the government’s version of reforms under Morrison and Porter in these pieces of proposed legislation would:

  • Break up merged unions within the currently-legislated five-year interval in which mergers must remain intact;
  • Allow employers to cut wages and conditions to their workers, even to the point of allowing awards to dip below the safety net of minimum awards;
  • Reduce rights of casual workers, and can even demote part- and full-time workers to a status of casuals, in order to revoke leave entitlements;
  • Enable casual workers to become permanent part- or full-time employees tied to a single employer – however, if that option is not offered, workers have no recourse to challenge or enforce it;
  • Place the “better off overall test” on the back burner for workers for an interval up to two years, despite what Porter claims to be a boost to the process of enterprise bargaining;
  • Remove the Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) requirement that workers currently possess a right upon starting a job that their agreements must be explained to them within a seven-day interval;
  • Enact anti-wage theft legislation, but with penalties which the ACTU sees as weaker than that in some states, such as in Victoria;
  • And avoid assessments of penalties to employers for reducing or restricting rights to casual workers, while those workers would lose the right to due process to appeals

As a result, McManus can only feel a sense of empathy for the nation’s workforce, casuals and otherwise, especially happening a little over a fortnight before Christmas, at the end of what has been a challenging year for everyone.

“Working people, essential workers, have already sacrificed so much during this pandemic, these proposed laws will punish them,” said McManus.

 

 

The details of the bills come on the heels of a report released by Griffith University, where industrial relations research professor David Peetz wrote one conclusion that a majority of leave-deprived casuals also are not likely to receive casual loadings and other entitlements.

In citing this report, the ACTU puts it in the perspective not merely in regard to the industrial relations reform bills which were pending at the time, but to the lack of rights and entitlements which casual workers possess – rights and entitlements which are now hanging in the balance.

“The majority of casual workers are working the same hours every week, but with none of the entitlements that permanent workers can rely upon. They are being ripped off. The proposal from the Morrison government will not only entrench this, it will take rights off casual workers,” said McManus.

“On top of the lower pay and reduced rights, casuals also contend with the constant stress of having no job security,” added McManus.

Meanwhile, Porter – who also doubles in the Morrison government as its minister for industrial relations – refuted the ACTU’s claim that one in four workers will be worse off for wages under these bills.

“It is quite absurd,” Porter told Sky News on Wednesday morning.

“This isn’t about pay cuts for people, this is about more jobs, more hours, more ability to move from casual to permanent employment,” he added.

Porter also said that as daunting as the proposals in the bills are, no verdicts were expected this week.

In fact, debates marked with as much passion as facts and the ideologies of modern politics may cause the fates of these bills to last well into 2021, a reality which is not lost on Porter.

“It should also be said that the introduction of the [bills] today is by no means the end of the consultation process, with a Senate committee likely to examine the legislation in detail over the coming months,” Porter said on Wednesday.

“This is an opportunity for further submissions to be made by all sides of the debate and the government will be willing to consider any sensible amendments that pass the simple test of being good for job growth.

“The danger is that if those inside and outside the Parliament revert to their traditional ideological corners, these critical reforms could be delayed or even blocked, leaving business without crucial supports and workers without an opportunity to get back into jobs,” added Porter.

 

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The Brandis diaries

On Monday we will be treated to the theatre of the shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfuss, taking the Attorney-General’s department to the Court of Appeal over a denied freedom of information request regarding George Brandis’ diary for the first six months or so after the Coalition took office.

It appears Mr Dreyfuss wants to demonstrate that Mr Brandis did not consult with anyone about his new national security laws.

Brandis’ office has trotted out the most ridiculous excuses as to why they can’t release the diary under FOI, ranging from it would be too much work, to George’s safety being put at risk if people knew his movements, to some people maybe not wanting anyone knowing they met with George.

The whole thing is bizarre.

Why would Dreyfuss want to prove there was no consultation when his party have already passed the legislation? There may be more to come but surely they should have asked the interested parties’ opinions before they voted yes?

And the idea that knowing who George spoke to 2 years ago could lead to people knowing his travel patterns which “may increase the security threats relating to his personal safety” is ludicrous, as is the department’s assertion that it would take too much time. They have chosen to present a defence in court instead which one would imagine would require even more time.

Not to mention the cost.

Monday is also the day that the Federal Court will hand down its decision on the civil case mounted against Craig Thomson by the Fair Work Commission.

Senate Estimates recently revealed that the cost of this civil matter to the taxpayer thus far has been $4.1Million and as Wixxy points out, that does not include the cost of the criminal case, the police investigation that went for years, the FWA investigation that also went for years, the Senate Inquiry into the FWA investigation, and the KPMG report into the FWA investigation.

The courts have become the plaything of politicians where the cost of scoring political points seems irrelevant to them.

There is no question that our freedom of information is being eroded and must be addressed. Government secrecy is increasing rapidly with Ministers being given unilateral powers not subject to judicial oversight. The right of appeal is being removed in certain cases and security agencies are being given unprecedented protected powers.

As the government increasingly withdraws from transparency and accountability, shrouding their actions in secrecy, they are, at the same time, increasing their powers of surveillance over all of us and removing our rights through special detention and deportation laws.

If Dreyfuss was truly concerned, rather than wasting time and money, he would have voted against this erosion of human rights and done more to force the government to disclose what is being done in our name and to put the threat to national security into true perspective instead of encouraging the hyperbole.