Multiple attacks on rights at work
Inequality is at an all-time high, profit growth is the strongest it has been in 15 years and wage growth is the lowest on record.
A parliamentary inquiry into corporate avoidance of the Fair Work Act “paints a damning picture of a government and a minister who is letting corporations trample workers rights,” according to the ACTU.
The Lamp looks at a raft of measures including new laws and industrial decisions that aim to tip the playing field even more in favour of employers:
Collective bargaining on the rack
A decision by the Fair Work Commission to cancel the enterprise agreement covering Murdoch University staff – a decision supported by the Turnbull government – has serious ramifications for our enterprise bargaining system.
At Murdoch University, 3500 staff lost the protection, wages and conditions they negotiated with their employer in good faith.
Industrial lawyer Josh Bornstein said the Murdoch University decision “shows how easy it is for employers under our legal system to quickly eliminate employment conditions obtained from decades of collective bargaining”.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus was even blunter. “This shifts power radically to employers,” she said.
$10 million fines for striking
In a competition law bill the Turnbull government aims to increase the minimum penalty for a strike or boycott in support of another dispute from $750,000 to $10 million – 800 times greater than for the equivalent provision in the Fair Work Act banning unprotected industrial action.
Outlawing the right to silence
The Turnbull government introduced a bill into parliament last month – ironically called the Vulnerable Workers Bill – that would deny the right to silence.
The bill was an extension to all Australian workers of the coercive powers originally aimed at construction workers through the notorious Australian Building and Construction Commission.
If the bill had passed into law it would have given powers for any worker, at any workplace, who took what should be legal industrial action, to be forced before the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) to give testimony against themselves, their colleagues and their union.
Failure to comply with the FWO notice would have brought a $126,000 penalty.
Had the original bill passed it would have seen all working Australians lose the right to silence during a government investigation into unprotected industrial action.
The measure would have impacted on workers like the journalists at Fairfax who took unprotected industrial action in May when their employer announced widespread redundancies.
The ALP combined with the Nick Xenophon team, the Greens, Jacqui Lambi and Derryn Hinch to force the removal of the coercive powers from the bill. One Nation supported the government’s position.
Penalty rate cuts
One quarter of Australia’s workers work on the weekend when they give up time with family and friends and miss out on special occasions with their loved ones. Late last year 11 large employer organisations supported by numerous conservative politicians argued for a cut in penalty rates.
In February this year the Fair Work Commission obliged them and cut penalty rates in four industry awards: in the hospitality, fast food, pharmacy and retail sectors.
The decision cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for 700,000 workers by between 25 and 50 per cent.
This decision supported by Malcolm Turnbull and his government could spread to other sectors including healthcare.
Underpayment of wages and superannuation
Employers hurt thousands of workers every year by deliberately underpaying wages and refusing to pay mandatory superannuation. The ACTU rightly calls this “wage theft”.
According to Industry Super Australia 2.4 million workers collectively have $3.6 billion in super stolen from them each year.
It is estimated that the international company 7-Eleven underpaid – stole – $110 million from their employees.
A $1.5 billion work-for–the-dole program called the Community Development Program that covers 37,000 mostly indigenous workers in remote areas requires people to undertake work or training for 25 hours a week for 46 weeks per year in order to receive welfare payments.
“The workers are paid $10 per hour – way less than the minimum wage of $18.86, with no rights, no leave, no superannuation, no workers comp – so much less rights than any other worker,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said.
She pointed out that these jobs previously attracted award wages and conditions and employers were now getting free labour.