Morrison to pull down wages and rights at work

Contributed by Joe Montero Ugly and Adam Carlton

The expected new industrial relations law, known as the omnibus bill, was introduced into the Australian parliament yesterday. The tag came because it contains a list of measures, openly designed to provide employers more power and workers with less.

Two key ones are providing the mean for employers a path to cut take home pay and increase the flexibility of part-time work.

Both these and other measures require the removal of the present every worker be left better off condition. This bill does exactly that. The condition could only be broken in exceptional circumstances. This might not have been a lot.

Watering down to a vague ‘appropriate’ and ‘considering all the circumstances’ gives employers to green light, to go full speed ahead.

Knowing that changes promising to leave most less well of will be unpopular, the bill was tabled just before Christmas, when the capacity of people to respond is at its weakest.

The timing allowed the pandemic lockdown to be used as the cover, pretending that this is necessary to get businesses operating again.

But this is the industrial relations agenda that has long been an article of faith with this government, in directly in line with its commitment to extreme neoliberalism, of which, labour market deregulation is a pillar.

It is not right.

Australian unions face a tremendous challenge, and it goes well beyond the union movement. The bottom line is, whether Australia is prepared to stand up and not cop this assault on basic rights.

The main battle will be on in the new year.

It is encouraging that the Labor Party has said it will not allow wages to be cut, and that the Greens will not support it either. Pressure is on the independents to join in not letting the bill through. There may be a battle in the Senate.

The recent Change the Rules campaign provided a valuable lesson. It failed because all the eggs were put on winning the battle through parliament, which meant, building a movement in the workplaces and communities did not receive nearly enough attention.

The lesson is that victory will only be won if it is first won on the ground.

Union march in Melbourne. Although the Change the Rules campaign mobilised union members but failed to build a movement from the ground up

Taking up this new battle requires a shift in strategy.

The time has come for the union movement to pull away from relying on feel good talks, to draw a line in the sand, and mobilise the ranks.

The union movement must appreciate that it cannot win this battle on its own, which means, seeking to build a movement with as many allies as possible. The point of unity is rights at work and the livelihood of communities.

This intended change in the industrial relations landscape of Australia is not just a matter for the workplace and unions. It will leave a mark across society.

Falling living standards will impact on local small businesses. The marginalised will be even worse off than now. Social problems will rise, as people are driven to find ways to survive and cope. The ongoing damage to the economy will be serious.

The push for labour market deregulation exists to create a cheap labour force. This must be brought forward and exposed.

Labour market deregulation is built on the illusion that it will create the trickle down effect, through inviting business growth and the creation of jobs. In reality, labour market deregulation has little to do with growth and jobs.

It is about turning away from generating profit through innovation and producing a better product or service, to replace this with profiting from shrinking the workers share. This parasitic form of profiting eats away at the fabric of the economy.

Paying a smaller share to the worker ties in with the shift to casualised work and the use of labour hire companies. At one stroke, this cuts the wages share and forces a section of workers into even cheaper labour, which in turn, puts downward pressure on all wages.

This is backed by keeping Centelink payments at a poverty level.

Taking on the new industrial relations law means to also take on the falling wages share, the casualisation of work, and the inadequate social security system.

Opposition on its own is not enough.

To his must be added a campaign around solutions to create a better future, where rights at works and the wellbeing of communities are protected.

Defending rights at work means fighting for a labour law that is written into the constitution, which explicitly sets down rights to a job, collective agreements, membership of and representation from a union, a legal obligation on the employer to negotiate in good faith, and the right to collective industrial action if this fails.

An alternative economic plan is needed. There are already several proposals for this circulating. They have a lot in common and the best can be brought together. Several of the threads common to these proposals are the following.

  • The failure of the private market to invest and do so appropriately, means that government intervention is necessary. A new public bank is needed to support the improvement of infrastructure and create new public industries. Better regulation of finance is needed.
  • Public programs that create jobs, while they provide for needs.
  • The rebuilding of Australian manufacturing must be given priority as an engine for growth, which provides linkages through the economy.
  • The future depends on shifting to a green economy and suitable new technologies. This must also be a top priority.
  • Jobs created must be full time and permanent in most cases. The casualisation of jobs to replace permanent full time jobs must be outlawed. Suitable exceptions can be made for family run businesses.
  • A living income for all those on Centrelink payments, so that they can participate and are not forced into becoming a source of cheap labour.
  • The expansion of and creating jobs in important services, that improve the lives of people and create better conditions for their participation in the workforce and community. Examples are health, childcare, and education.
  • Increase public investment in affordable housing. Lowering the cost burden of housing will enable people to spend more on other things.
  • Assistance provided for the growth of cooperatives and other forms of community enterprises driven by collective needs rather than private ownership.
  • Taxation reform that puts an end to the tax evasion industry and based on capacity to pay, to provide the funding for a worthwhile economic plan.

These and other proposals should we weighed up and adapted appropriately to a campaign to defeat the intended industrial relations bill and build momentum for change.

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