End the entitlements rip-off!
Andrew Jackson Australia-wide, manufacturing workers are demanding an end to the rip-offs and rorts used by employers to cheat them of their rightful entitlements. They are now fighting for the introduction of Manusafe, a union-backed institution to safeguard their futures. In Adelaide, 359 Tristar workers have gone on strike demanding that Manusafe be included in their enterprise bargaining agreement. With an uncertain future facing the Australian car manufacturing industry, the workers are demanding their entitlements be safeguarded against future redundancy. Another 800 workers in Adelaide went on strike at Electrolux, over the company's refusal to negotiate on the issue. At Maintrain in Sydney, 210 workers went on out on a strike in which Manusafe is a central issue. For over four weeks the Maintrain workers have been willing to sacrifice short-term wage losses in the fight for long-term security. In recent years the NSW Government has outsourced the maintenance of its State Rail trains to Maintrain, a subsidiary of Goninans. This means that although they are providing a service for the Government, the workers do not have the security of government employment, and are at the mercy of the private sector. End the rip-off! Onetel, HIH, Steel Tank and Pipe and National Textiles are only a few very public examples of the hundreds of cases each year where companies are managed into insolvency, with the workers left being owed millions. Every year, more than $400 million of employee entitlements are lost due to corporate bankruptcies, fraud and mismanagement. Owners, directors and managers pay themselves multi-million dollar annual bonuses, and then wind up the company when the coffers are bare. Complex corporate structures are set up so that workers are separated from their entitlements. Corporations use "shelf" companies that have no assets to employ their workers. This allows the parent company to pocket profits, while should they choose to sack the workers, there is technically not a cent to pay them. Companies claim bankruptcy here in Australia, but start up replica operations overseas to profit from lower wages. The workers have had enough, and are using nation-wide industrial action to force employers to pay their entitlements into Manusafe, a secure fund to protect workers' benefits as they accrue. How does Manusafe work? Each month, employers will be required to contribute to Manusafe, on behalf of each worker, an amount of money that will guarantee enough to cover that worker's annual leave, sick leave, long service leave and severance pay. The amount paid in for each employee will vary depending on: the worker's base rate of pay and the amount of benefit awarded (such as leave loading), as varies from workplace to workplace. Claims against the fund are made when the worker's benefits fall due. The employer will initially pay the employee and then claim reimbursement from the Manusafe fund. If the business is taken-over or sold, the employer must have all entitlements fully paid up by the date of sale. New benefits for employees The immediate benefit is that all workers will have a rock-solid guarantee of being paid their entitlements when due. Manusafe will also bring a new benefit to workers — portability of entitlements. This means workers will not lose, or be forced to cash in accrued benefits when they move from one employer to another. Thus a worker will be able to take long-service leave after 10 years of work in the manufacturing industry, regardless of whether it has been served with one, or several employers. If a worker with a Manusafe account starts work with a non-Manusafe employer, the entitlements will still not be lost. Sickness, long-service leave, and other entitlements that would not be paid on termination will be held over until they move to a new Manusafe employer, or the current employer signs up with Manusafe. Industry benefits Employers will reap the benefit of reduced administration costs, as Manusafe has the potential to take over much of the payroll administration now carried out by companies, just as superannuation funds do now. Manusafe does not charge the company administration fees; the costs will be covered by the surplus created from interest and investments. Manusafe is dedicated not only to the preservation of workers' entitlements, but also to the preservation of industry in Australia. Manusafe will use surplus funds to invest in Australian manufacturing, thus helping the long-term survival of our industries. Who manages Manusafe? The unions currently working together to establish Manusafe are: AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union); CEPU (Communications; Electrical and Plumbing Union); AWU (Australian Workers Union); LHMU (Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union); CFMEU (Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union); and the TCFUA (Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia). Yet, contrary to spurious claims by Industrial Relations Minster Tony Abbott and the (employers') Australian Industry Group, this scheme in no- way is used to benefit the unions. All monies in Manusafe will be subject to strict controls and the supervision of a board of trustees comprised of both union representatives "and employer groups". Yet the employers have so far refused to take up the half of the board positions offered to them. All surplus funds will be used solely for the benefit of fund members — the employers and workers — and not for profit. Misinformation campaign Employers are waging a misinformation campaign designed to destroy Manusafe at the outset and discredit the unions. They claim that Manusafe is too costly and will burden them with new charges and cause them cash-flow problems. Firstly, It must be remembered that employers should already be putting cash aside to cover their workers' annual, sickness and long-service leave entitlements. The only difference now is that as workers' entitlements accrue, the employer will use them to benefit the workers, and not as an unsecured, in- house, interest-free loan. The Manusafe scheme also requires the employer to pay an extra contribution equal to 1.5 per cent of the employee's wage. This guarantees additional funds to cover workers made redundant by company bankruptcies or restructuring. Companies claim they shouldn't have to pay this, as it might never be needed. Yet hundreds of thousands of workers have suffered redundancies for these reasons of the last decade. Over 70,000 jobs have disappeared completely since 1994. Because of the employer-induced casualisation of the Australian workforce of the past decade, hundreds of thousands of workers now receive an additional 20 per cent on their base rate of pay — in part to compensate for the lack of job security. At the cost of only 1.5 per cent, employers can now offer their full-time employees the same protection against future uncertainty. Manusafe — a future set in concrete Labour's employment spokesperson, Cheryl Kernot, has come out in support of the striking workers, but stopped short of endorsing the Manusafe scheme. Kim Beazley has promised that a Labor Government will protect all Australian workers' entitlements by adding a 0.1 per cent surcharge onto employers' existing Superannuation Guarantee payments. Yet Labour's promise is precarious at best. Firstly, a Labour win at the next Federal Election is not set in concrete. Should manufacturing workers, who are currently negotiating enterprise bargaining agreements forgo, Manusafe on the promise of a party not in power? Perhaps not, especially given that retrenched workers were given no protection during the 13 years of the previous Labor administration, a time when massive economic restructuring took place. And with Labor enjoying millions of dollars in corporate sponsorship these days, they might find it difficult, once in office, to enforce on their big-business mates any scheme designed to benefit workers. Chris White, Secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia says, "The failure of the government to introduce a national scheme has led to unions in the manufacturing sector to campaign for this entirely reasonable and fair Trust scheme". "These are workers' entitlements and they deserve to be protected from incompetent or unscrupulous employers, and from the workings of the boom- bust cycle."