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Tag Archives: Tony Burke

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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Insecure work inquiry forthcoming: Tony Burke

With ever-growing concerns among those in Australia’s union movement over rising levels of casual work and under-employment, a Senate inquiry on insecure work will take place in 2021, shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke announced on Friday.

This inquiry has been announced days after industrial relations reforms measures in the way of proposed legislation announced by the Morrison government and Attorney-General Christian Porter, Burke’s counterpart in industrial reforms matters, was seen by Labor to offer precious little if anything in the way of easing the levels of insecure work.

And as the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has come out to assail the proposed “WorkChoices 2.0” legislation as resulting the cutting of workers’ pay and conditions in addition to avoiding scrutiny of insecure work issues, Burke says that Labor shares the ACTU’s concerns about putting more people into more permanent working positions.

“Some Australians like the flexibility of casual or gig work. But Labor wants to see more people in secure work, with good reliable pay and the highest of safety standards,” he said in announcing the inquiry.

“Insecure work is the pandemic that will stay with us – long after the COVID-19 threat has passed,” added Tony Sheldon, the Senator from New South Wales and former national secretary of the Transport Workers Union who will be chairing the inquiry.

Sheldon hinted that those working in the gig economy – from food delivery drivers and riders, and those operating ride-share services, to any form of temporary contract workers, freelancers, consultants and independent contractors and professionals – would be examined towards reaching more permanent employment solutions for their sectors as well as that of the entire workforce.

The recent deaths of five food delivery riders in Sydney’s CBD since the end of September has also hastened the need to bring the issues of gig economy jobs within the spheres of insecure work as a whole into focus alongside the need to regulate the nature of that type of work, said Sheldon.

“It is not acceptable that an underclass of work has been spawned where workers are denied the basic rights and minimum protections all Australians deserve,” said Sheldon.

In October, in Victoria, the Victorian Council on Social Services (VCOSS) drew links – centred around the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – between those whose employment was defined as being of an insecure nature and workers’ declining states of health and well-being.

“… our industrial relations framework has not kept pace with changes to the labour market, and neither has government policy,” the report stated at its outset.

Specific to those in the gig economy, the VCOSS report stated: “A safe workforce is a healthy workforce. COVID-19 has highlighted the heightened financial vulnerability of workers in the care sector, a lack of coordination and consistency in training, entitlements and protections, and the fragility of support systems in maintaining consistent, quality care

“Workers engaged in the gig economy, who work across multiple platforms or a mixture of platform and more traditional employment types, have no access, or limited access to sick leave and other entitlements. Wages vary across platforms, and time and travel costs between shifts are not compensated. Health, safety and workers compensation arrangements depend on a worker’s employment status.”

Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke, who announced the inquiry (Photo from abc.net.au)

Burke said the inquiry is set to commence under Sheldon’s chairmanship when Parliament returns from its summer break in February, and its investigations stemming from it could take up a majority of the year ahead of a final reporting date of November 2021.

Those investigations may include personal security areas such as in income and housing, as well as dignity in retirement, affecting roughly four million Australians lacking the benefits and entitlements tied to permanent employment.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything it’s that insecure work is not just a threat to the wellbeing of individuals – it’s a threat to the wellbeing of our society,” said Burke.

Meanwhile, Wes Lambert, the chief executive officer of the Restaurant and Catering Association (R&CA), said in October that the lack of legislative definitions over what constitutes a gig economy worker was an area which required addressing.

Lambert, stating the R&CA’s position on the heels of a deadline for submissions into a State of Victoria’s own inquiry on the status of the gig economy and insecure work, said that his organisation seeks to operate within the rules and standards to suit gig economy workers – as long as all parties knew what was expected of them.

“[The] R&CA expressly does not condone sham contracting arrangements, or any other such arrangement deliberately intended to undermine employees,” said Lambert.

“However, [the] R&CA submits that the current laws and workplace protections are not fit for the purpose in the 21st century, particularly as the world of work continues to change in the current and post-pandemic climate.

Lambert added that without any clear definitions in any current amendments of the Fair Work Act (2009), members of his industry sectors could run wild and rampant with interpretations as to what makes up gig economy participants.

“Such an arrangement, in the R&CA’s view, would create opportunities for unintentional mis-classifications resulting in disparate inconsistencies.

“More interestingly, if an employer can prove that they were not aware that the employee was not a contractor, and they were not reckless, they would not be in breach of the Act, nor be subject to any civil penalties,” he said.

So while an industry organisation such as the B&CA views and supports investigations around what next year’s Senate inquiry is trying to achieve, Sheldon says that the practice of insecure work is far from restricted to industries such as hospitality and tourism alone.

“Insecure work is not just found in food delivery and ride-sharing – it is expanding across the economy including the mining, retail, hospitality, health and aged care, university and information technology sectors,” Sheldon said.

“This inquiry comes at a critical time for our economy and for the future of work,” he added.

 

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David vs Goliath – Maules Creek vs Big Coal

The destruction of the Maules Creek community by Big Coal is enormous. Kate O’Callaghan writes about the level of this impact and how the community is fighting back.

Last Saturday, four members of a group of 13 medical professionals and students were arrested after joining an anti-mining protest at Maules Creek. Spending more than four hours chained together at the site, the so-called Medics Against Coal felt compelled to act. In March, 92 year old World War II digger Bill Ryan was one of 60 people arrested at the blockade, disrupting construction by sitting on machinery. According to Bill, “I’ll continue to protest for as long as I can walk.”What’s going on at Maules Creek that’s driving so many everyday Australians to put their bodies on the line?

Maules Creek is a picturesque agricultural community, situated north west of Tamworth in the agricultural belt of NSW. It lies in the foothills of Mt Kaputar National Park, with Leard State Forest to the south. In July 2013, Former Environment Minister Tony Burke fast tracked an approval for Whitehaven Coal to develop three open pit coal mines in the Leard Forest, thrusting the small farming region into an industrial zone.

The Leard Forest is 8000 hectares of bushland, named after the Laird family, who have been farming at Maules Creek for five generations. It was recently identified as a Tier 1 Biodiversity area by the NSW government, areas which ‘cannot sustain further biodiversity loss’. Leard Forest is home to some of the last standing and intact populations of critically endangered Box Gum Woodland, as well as numerous threatened species including the koala and masked owl. Tier 1 areas are not, however, protected from mining. Construction of the three mines will clear more than half the forest, roughly 5000 Ha, including over 500 Ha of White Box Gum woodland.

Whitehaven began construction on the Maules Creek mine in January of this year. The coal deposit is one of the largest in Australia, with 362Mt of recoverable resources. Once completed, the mine will operate 24 hours a day, loading coal onto trains to Newcastle where it will be exported to China, India and other coal hungry nations. The $767 million development is one of the largest taking place in the country, with first coal sales expected to occur in early 2015. The mine is expected to operate for 30 years.

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Image courtesy of katesenviroblog.com.au

Apart from the immediate ecological destruction caused by clearing the forest, the community has raised other concerns. The adverse health impacts caused by coal dust is of major concern for the community. The dust will be inhaled, pollute the water supply and settle on agricultural lands. Doctors for the Environment have warned that, “Communities in which coal mining or burning occurs have been shown to suffer significant health impacts.

The mines will demand large quantities of water, placing a huge strain on the surrounding agricultural lands and causing a groundwater drawdown up to 10 metres. Greenpeace spokeswoman Julie Mackan is shocked, stating that “This mine has been granted 50 per cent of high-security water for this area which, I mean I’m sitting here looking at a country getting chewed up by drought, and I find that just extraordinary.”

The Leard Forest mine area holds many significant sites and artifacts for the local aboriginal community. Traditional owners the Gomeroi people are now prevented from entering the mine site, after a dispute with Whitehaven over their failure to preserve items of cultural significance and heritage.

The long term issue is the coal itself, which when burned will contribute to 30 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, a figure much greater than the total emissions of many developed nations. Considering the annual emissions will be greater than the entire savings from the government’s Direct Action Plan, this is major blow.

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Image courtesy of katesenviroblog.com.au

Front Line Action on Coal began non-violent direct action at the Leard Forest in 2012, frustrated that the government had failed to protect the Maules Creek community from the destructive forces of Big Coal. Since then, they have seen the campaign grow dramatically and have been joined by a number of groups such as Lock the Gate, Greenpeace, 350.org and the Wildreness Society.

In March, the Forestry Corporation ordered the closure of the Leard Forest over public safety concerns resulting from protest activities. Assistant Commissioner Geoff McKechnie said that people, “accessing the roads, using their bodies as roadblocks, running on to roads, putting themselves under heavy vehicles . . . presents an extreme risk to people’s safety”.

Recently, serious questions have been raised with the misleading information behind Whitehaven’s environmental offsets. Offsetting is a measure that a company must take if it plans to cause ecological destruction. In Whitehaven’s case, they plan to destroy 5000 Ha of forest including 500 Ha of old growth, critically endangered White Box Gum. To offset this loss, they are required to create an equivalent area elsewhere, either through restoration or protection. Crucially, the offset area must contain the same habitat and species as the destroyed area.

According to their Ecology Fact Sheet, “Whitehaven has developed a comprehensive Biodiversity Offset Strategy to compensate for the impacts to native flora and fauna.” This has been strongly disputed by independent scientists and ecologists, who argue that up to 95% of Whitehaven’s offset mapping is wrong, containing very little of the threatened White Box Gum woodland.

Despite these major problems, a spokesman for Whitehaven Coal insists that the project is proceeding and protesters need to accept it. “The fact that Mine opponents do not like the outcome, or want to pursue a broader anti-coal agenda, does not entitle them to seek to interfere with its progress, and with the livelihoods of our workers and contractors”. With the government fighting with Goliath, it’s uncertain if David can ever win.

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