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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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10 comments

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  1. TuffGuy

    Pants down Porter obviously never had any intention of working with anyone but the employers and is basically giving them everything they have asked for. These are the same employers who have been recording record profits for years. These are the same employers who stole jobkeeper money to boost shareholder dividents and executive bonuses whilst withholding the money from employees. These are the same employers who are already massively ahead in profits thanks to penalty rate cuts whilst NOT employing more staff with the savings.

  2. Karen Kyle

    Same old same old, When the Libs are in charge workers are totally disenfranchised.

    And although casual wages have been too low for years, and few casuals are Union members because they can’t afford it, and Unions have been hollowed out until we are a shadow of what we once were, we are still the dangerous powerful enemy.

    The only good thing in this situation is that the ACTU is still out there punching, even for non Union members.

    Lets hope the Senate can give the legislation a good tidy up to make it fair. Even if they do, don’t expect it to be policed. Employers can get away with a lot. And they do. Every day.

  3. Kronomex

    Like I always say: The LNP, the best and most corrupt political party that money can buy.

  4. Kerri

    So Porter claims “job growth” to be the main aim?
    Not fair work for fair pay?
    Not people who live pay cheque to pay cheque rather than business owners who had the finance to start a business in the first place?
    Yeah! Sounds fair!

  5. Andrew J. Smith

    Just wait for the media, followed by govt., or in lock step, focus upon negative ‘union’ stories e.g. CMFEU or AWU and comparing them all to the CCP or as misogynist….. many older and/or conservative voters are often led too easily into bagging all unions while ignoring that the average unionist is probably the nurse caring for them or the teacher of their (grand) kids.

    Further, I like to challenge (working) critics of unions to explain how can or do they obtain pay rises, by individuals ‘asking their boss for a raise’? Generally through collective action (that benefits both members and non-members) for more leverage while our ideologically transfixed LNP government want to wreck everything related…. aka imported US radical right libertarian ideology.

  6. Gangey1959

    “A Fair Go for those who Have A Go”
    Yeah…Nah.

    Where I drive a forklift has a sign on the canteen wall that says ” Every day, Think. What can I do to make My Job Better?” I was there ’til 2.00am this morning, doing what was supposedly a record day/night’s output. At Christmas, the full timers might get a couple of beers and a sausage on the barbie, but i and my casual mates will get squat. Except the expectation of working Christmas day because of what the place is and they need the output to keep the shop shelves full (and the profits rolling in.) There is no suggestion from the company that ANY of what goes on is their responsibility. All of the covid protections came from the workforce, not from the company. They just want MORE.

    I read the other day that our all Aussie mate twiggy made himself over $1.2B in ONE DAY sending iron ore to the land of the lying dragon. A couple of questions.
    Is he going to pay his fair share of tax on that ?
    Did any of his worker get any sort of bonus for their efforts in producing what have been mammoth profits for him this year?
    Where is the pic of uncle twiggs in the fluoro orange and dirt with mining truck for the front cover of “Mining for Seniors”?

    With the number of companies who’s FIRST instinct with jobkeeper was to utilise it to pay shareholders and corporate bonuses, why would any person, even a liarbral politician who wants to be re-elected, believe that business in general will not take every opportunity it is given to reduce wages and conditions and send their profits upwards instead of outwards into the workforce that generates them?

    AG plonker is just another puppet dickhead, with his head up his arse and his mind on his own post-retirement position in some corporate brown nose sinecure. Our biggest problem is that the opposition don’t seem to be up to the task of giving the government the pasting that it so richly deserves, over everything from sports rorts to this current fiasco of IR.

    Let’s have another year of this bullshit government for the wealthy, and bring on the next election.

  7. Florence Howarth

    It appears he also is only working with a selective few of the employers. There were things that the unions & business agreed on. They are not in the bill.

  8. Paul

    When the LNP finally realise what the rest of us already know, that bigger profits no longer have any real relevance to more jobs?
    Only then will be have a chance to move forward.

    Disposable income is the big economic driver and always has been..

  9. Caz

    Thé latest justification when questioned about the BOOT test is « everyone having a job is good for you ». WTF??? Everyone having a secure well paying job is good for everyone. That is just common sense. Well the high praise for the frontline workers who kept the shelves packed, the elderly cared for, the mail delivered didn’t last long. Reminds me of the Pied Piper. When it comes to paying the piper a proper wage, the good burghers of Canberra reneged. Perhaps Scamo’s arrogance has rubbed off on the whole of government. He thinks just because we have given him credit for listening to the science, we will give him carte blanche to f…k us over. Well sorry old boy, we are not so indebted to you that we will let you treat us like mugs. Perhaps you have just given Labor a lifeline. Let’s hope they make the most of it.

  10. wam

    Crisis style management someone finds something that sounds good so make a bill bribe a senator and bob’s your uncle.
    The more you try it the easier it becomes and the bolder you become.
    These men have moved on from robodebt with no corporate or individual responsibility. Despite the opposition to and any evaluation of the project one senator scurrying from the chamber was enough to donate millions to indue shareholders and leave thousands of non-smoking, non-drinking Australian citizens at the mercy of indue computers.
    Racist stereotyping is alive and well on conservative sites.
    With success like that what’s a little work choices revisited should be a doddle to get the principle back and with 66% the next elwection will get both houses and whoopppeee

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