Contributed by Ben Wilson
At the John Curtin Research Centre on Thursday, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) unveiled a plan to move along the Change The Rules campaign, which intends to bring Australia a new industrial relations system.
The most important component, is a push to ensure that the lowest paid have enough in their pockets, to keep up with industry and community standards. This would mean a significant wage increase for a substantial part of the Australian workforce.
Tied to this, is ensuring that the wage regulation system ensures equal pay for women. Referring to those industries that rely mainly on a female workforce and pay less than others, ACTU secretary sally McManus said, “A feminised industry should no longer mean a low-paid industry.”
A legal process where those not getting their entitled wages or superannuation entitlements, without having to endure a lengthy and costly process, will be fought for, and extended to cover appropriately with discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
“Employers should also have the expectation that there is a good chance they will get caught,” McManus added.
A push to return to industry wide campaigning and put an end to the single enterprise bargaining system imposed by the current industrial relations system is key to the campaign. At it stands, the present single enterprise system, with its set of restrictions, has weakened the capacity of unions to represent their members. This is one of the main reasons why the wages share of national income has been slipping. This has given rise to the argument, that that a strong union movement, capable of properly representing its members is essential to maintain living standards and justice in the workplace and across the community.
Last month’s Roy Morgan Wealth Report, showed that by 2017 most of the gains were going to the wealthiest 10 percent of the population, and the share going to the poorest 50 percent is slipping.
The report is based on face to face interviews with over half a million individuals over 20 years to 2017 and is therefore highly accurate. It shows that inequality is a growing problem.
Economists and the Reserve Bank have called for a reversal, because the problem is becoming serious enough to have a negative impact on the whole economy, pulling down economic participation and restricting the Australian market, which is essential for businesses to operate successfully.
Therefore, the unions’ effort is not only about achieving justice. It is also tied to saving the Australian economy.
Although, the present focus is on presenting to and pressuring for support from the Labor Party, Greens and crossbench, in the lead up to next year’s federal election, this is a matter that transcends this, and will be vitally important in the post-election period.
There is no guarantee that what the unions are calling for, will be enacted in the parliament in the short-term. This means that the campaign is highly likely to have to be extended in the workplace, and to build even more community support.
Changing the rules is good. However, on a wider basis we would appreciate investigatinng why courts can change the (Magistrate rules) without apparent accountability and which can discriminate against the weaker parties, e.g. one recent case where the defendent went to the court to submit his evidence and the principal registrar refused to accept it, stating that the rules had changed and the evidence was to be submitted to the magistrate on the day of the hearing. Now I aks you, what chance or even what time would the mafistrate have to read and thorughly understand the evidence when the evidence is submitted in the court. None or very little I would argue. In this case the magistrate refused to accept the evidence submitted until after some considerable argument. I know this forum is limited to worker issues but I believe it also overlapps in some cases with the courts. We would want to see more accountability and transaparency from the court system to ensure fair hearings.