Industrial relations change will fail to answer rising cost of living

Contributed from Victoria

The Albanese government is working to bring in a change to the Fair Work Act. It is going to be amended to allow bargaining ac ross multiple workplaces. Or is it?

Organisations representing major employers have been turning the screws to ensure there are plenty of holes to drive a truck through and ensure no significant change. Unions are pushing in the opposite direction. They argue that the change is necessary to give workers the industrial capacity to increase wages to deal with the rising cost of living.

Behind the rhetoric, the government is tilting towards the employer organisations. The main policy push is to improve wages in feminised industries and use it to improve gender pay inequality. This will affect industries like aged disability care, and early childhood education, where wages are notoriously low.

Photo by Mick Tsikas/AAP: Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott is leading the charge to limit change

Progress on this front is important and the Albanese government should be supported in this. But this doesn’t is different from tackling the rising cost of living across the board. All wage earners and those on fixed incomes such as pensions and unemployment benefits are hurting. Unless there is improvement across of all this, little is going to change. Theis requires answering the falling wage share of national income.

The Fair Work Act with its conditions, including the banning of multi-employer industrial campaigning, was designed to hobble unions and workers’ industrial capacity and achieve exactly the fall in the wages share that has come about. The purpose? To apply the policy that claims making investors richer will cause a trickledown effect that benefits all.

Anthony Albanese and his government have hung on to this illusion, which remains an orthodox article of faith for the political elite, despite the mountain of evidence that shows it doesn’t work. No alternative will be countenanced.

Tony Burke, the Minister for Employment made this clear when he said, “the prohibition already in the act on pattern bargaining will remain,” when he introduced the bill into the parliament.

Photo by Mike Bowers/The Guardian: Workplace minister Tony Burke revealed amendments to Labor’s industrial relations bill after a week of intensive talks with business groups

In addition, workers seeking to be covered by the right to protected industrial action under the Act, will be compelled to give the employer 5 days of notice of any action. Anyone with any acquaintance with industrial relations reality will know that this will open the door to victimisation, and that the result of any industrial action depends on the timing. Workers in workplaces providing supporting action for those in another workplace, where it is permitted, will have to give 3 days’ notice. Employers are given free rein to do as they wish.

The amendment allows the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to step in and impose an order, if it deems that a dispute has become “intractable.”

Another downside is that there is a shift away from the better off test that is supposed to ensure a deal can’t leave workers worse off. The test will not apply to future agreements.

The introduction of a measure of protection for those in “flexible work, fixed term contracts, and the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), designed to render unions in the construction industry ineffective are understandably welcomed by unions and most of their members.

This should not blind anyone from the importance of taking on the rising cost of living, understanding that wages must rise, and that this will depend on the capacity of unions and their members to act. Ensuring proper reward for effort demands this. So does an economy hamstrung by wealthy shareholders unprepared to invest sufficiently in the future of Australia

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