Labor’s quest for workplace security
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has promised an ALP government would substantially increase the legal rights and protections for Australians in insecure work.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has announced an ALP industrial relations policy that contrasts markedly to the Morrison government’s partly defeated IR “omnibus” bill.
According to experts, the Morrison government’s bill creates a pathway for employers to cut pay and make work less secure (see The Lamp February/March).
Albanese says changes in the labour market, particularly the rise of the “gig” economy, requires new laws that “ensure more Australian workers have access to employee protections and entitlements currently denied to them by the narrow, outdated definition of an employee”.
The two major parties are now offering significantly divergent economic pathways out of the pandemic.
When announcing the new policy, Anthony Albanese recognised the role of nurses and aged care workers for “shielding us from the horror the pandemic has wrought in the nations across Europe and across the United States”.
“Instead of rewarding you, Mr Morrison is cynically using the pandemic to launch a full-frontal attack on your pay, your conditions and your job security,” he said.
While technological develop-ments and the coronavirus had all transformed the workplace, workers’ fundamental aspirations remain the same, he said.
“For millions of Australians, the essential prerequisite to raising a family, buying a home and building a future, is a good, secure job and enough super to retire comfortably.
“Not being forced into a casual job – but good, permanent work that comes with protections such as sick leave, family leave, annual leave and penalty rates.”
Eight years of suppressed wages
Albanese says during their eight years in office, the Liberal–National government has steadily undermined these protections.
“They want to reduce workers’ security to the point where bad employers are unfairly favoured, which then places competitive cost pressure on good employers,” he said.
“After eight years of deliberately suppressing wages, cutting penalty rates and attacking trade unions, the government is now using the pandemic as a cover to cut pay and make work even less secure.”
In contrast, Labor proposes to include “job security” as a key objective of the Fair Work Act.
“This will require the Fair Work Commission to bring a sharp focus to job security when making decisions about your rights at work,” Albanese says.
“Labor will ensure the independent umpire has the capacity to inquire into all forms of work and determine what rights and obligations should apply.”
Learning from COVID
The ALP also plans to respond to one of the most confronting revelations of the pandemic: how many workers – casuals, contractors and gig workers – had no right to paid sick leave.
Workers in casual jobs found themselves very vulnerable to lay-offs. Casuals lost their jobs eight times faster than those in permanent employment and nearly one million casual workers were left out of JobKeeper.
Anthony Albanese says a Labor government would try to introduce more job security in the public sector.
“We will conduct an audit of employment within the Australian Public Service and, as a model employer, take steps to create more secure employment where temporary forms of work are being used inappropriately.
“We will call time on the relentless outsourcing, offshoring and short-term contracting that has undercut the capacity of departments to do their jobs and undermined the frontline services Australians rely on.”
Two pathways out of the pandemic
The Morrison government and the Anthony Albanese-led opposition have vastly divergent workplace policies as Australia starts to climb out of COVID:
Labor’s plan for job security
- ‘Job security’ explicitly inserted into the Fair Work Act
- rights for gig economy workers through the Fair Work Commission
- portable entitlements for workersin insecure industries
- casual work properly defined in law
- a crackdown on ’cowboy’ labour hire firms to guarantee same job, same pay
- a cap on back-to-back short-term contracts for the same role
- more secure public sector jobs by ending inappropriate temporary contracts
- government contracts to companies and organisations that offer secure work for their employees.
The Morrison government’s IR bill
- Suspends the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT)
- enables employers to define any employee as a casual with no leave entitlements or job security
- allows employers to increase hours for part time employees without an overtime premium
- gives employers the power to put part-time employees on the same hours that casuals currently have but at lower pay rates
- allows employers to dictate “flexible work directions” to employees to perform new types of work or at new locations
- contains penalties for wage theft that are inferior to those found in state laws
- allows for Greenfields agreements on new “major” projects (which could be a hospital) that would prevent employees from negotiating better conditions through industrial action for up to eight years.