The Guardian • Issue #2019


Promising: Workplace reforms on the horizon

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2019

In an honest assessment, the Albanese government has come out the gate with a series of important industrial reforms: an increased minimum wage, paid family, and domestic violence leave, and a move towards the abolition of the ABCC.

And, according to Labor, more positive reforms are to come.

Earlier this month, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke indicated, in a speech to the Australian Industry Group in Canberra, that the government would be looking to axe an employer’s ability to cut workers’ pay by utilising the “nuclear option” of getting rid of enterprise agreements. Said Burke:

“The solution to a decade of wage stagnation cannot be a heavy-handed tactic that causes wages to go backwards. If you want wages moving, a tactic that allows for 40 per cent pay cuts is not in the national interest. On face value, I cannot see how this tactic can possibly be justified.”

Qualifying the tactic as a “rort,” the comments were warmly welcomed by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus who said: “After a decade of inaction and neglect under the previous Government it’s encouraging to see a Government standing up for working people and doing what is needed to get wage growth moving again.”

This tactic has been recently attempted to be used by Svitzer who have been refusing to come to the negotiation table to ensure that its seagoing workforce get decent pay and conditions.

Furthermore, Burke is looking to remove the “red-tape” that disincentivises multi-employer collective bargaining. While stopping short of union demands for industry-level bargaining, Burke stating that:

“Sometimes you can get a situation where the employer and the workers agree and the red tape in the system blows the whole thing up […]. Ultimately if an employer and their workforce agree, and the union agrees, and people are going forwards in their wages, then why would we want to stand in the way of that?”

Allowing for multi-employer bargaining moves industrial relations towards a friendlier terrain for pattern bargaining, in which unions make identical pay demands of employers in the same industry.

While keeping the demand for industry bargaining, where all workers in an industry can have a common set of pay and conditions, giving workers’ dignity in life, is the goal, this is a step forward for workers’ rights in Australia.

What is important is that we continue to fight for the right to strike. Australia has Draconian laws around this fundamental, internationally recognised right. Under Australian laws, workers can only strike during bargaining, and even then under certain conditions such as giving their employer three clear days notice of the strike.

Without a fundamental restructuring of our industrial relations system, many of these well-intentioned reforms won’t have an impact. Let’s continue to fight for better pay and conditions!

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