by Francis Leach
Navigating the dangers of a global pandemic is not the only threat that Australian workers and their families have to deal with in 2021.
They are also faced with a threat to their job security and livelihoods posed by Scott Morrison’s proposed new workplace laws.
True to form, the Liberal Government has resorted to its old playbook when faced with any economic challenge – cutting workers’ pay and conditions – as though it were some magic solution to a problem they neither have the policies to address or the commitment to fix.
With over 15% of the labour force either unemployed or underemployed (that’s over 2 million Australians), what’s Scott Morrison solution?
It is the same old trickle-down economic dog-and-pony show the Liberals have been hawking about for decades now, and once again, unions and workers everywhere are standing up and saying no to a failed ideology that has only the interests of big business and the well off in mind.
So, what’s in the legislation that Attorney-General Christian Porter dropped in Parliament just before Xmas?
It’s a grab bag of the business lobby’s wish list favourites that contain some real nasties for workers, including.
- From cleaners to miners, aged care workers to waiters, checkout operators to nurses – all could take a massive pay cut if Morrison is successful in suspending the Better Off Overall Test.
- If you abolish something called the Better Off Overall Test, guess what will happen: workers will be worse off.
- Workers could lose their public holiday penalty rates. They could also lose their weekend, early morning and late-night shift penalties under these changes.
ACTU President Michele O’Neil has made it clear that Australian Unions will stand their ground in opposing the Government’s plans to shift the burden of recovering from the pandemic’s economic impact squarely onto the shoulders of Australian workers.
“The Government has listened to the more extreme elements of the big business lobby, and they have breached their own assurances that no worker would be worse off,” Ms O’Neil said.
“So if they proceed with [the bill], then they’ll pay the price of that.”
ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus, is adamant that the proposed laws shift the power imbalance further in favour of employers and big business, which would be a disaster for workers.
“This is what happens when there is a serious power imbalance in our workplace laws. Employer’s having too much power equals very low wage growth”, she tweeted.
When the full scale of the COVID-19 pandemic began to materialise in early 2020, it was Australian workers who faced the greatest risks posed by this deadly virus. These were the very people who stepped up and took on the responsibility of shepherding a frightened nation through uncertain times.
They are the frontline workers in our hospitals and nursing homes dealing with the sick and frail, retail workers in shops and supermarkets serving stressed and worried customers, public service workers who kept the wheels of government turning, and educators who kept Australian kids learning and gave them a sense of normalcy amidst the crippling uncertainty of lockdowns and outbreaks.
Those workers kept their end of the bargain by ensuring Australia functioned at great risk to their own personal well-being.
And what will be their reward for the hard-won gains of stabilising our communities and keeping the risk of a widespread outbreak of the virus to a minimum?
Further cuts to their pay and conditions and the worry of infection being joined by the unease of not knowing if you’ll have enough work or money to pay the bills and send your kids to school.
Scott Morrison’s proposed laws are not only cruel, they’re economic trash as well.
Australia’s economy is driven by the engine room of domestic spending. Decent wages and secure work are the foundation stones that gives ordinary Australians the confidence to spend, generating more jobs and economic growth, something that benefits all of us.
There is no greater example of this than the success of the union led JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs that the Morrison Government finally agreed to after being scared into action by the appalling scenes of endless job queues snaking around Australia’s suburban streets.
The money from those programs kept the economic heartbeat of the nation ticking during the pandemic, and the principles underpinning the success of those programs remain as true then as they were then.
The key to a better, sustainable economy is one that puts workers, families and communities at the top of the list of priorities, not the interests of big business and consolidating wealth in even fewer hands.
Australian workers deserve to have an economy that serves their best interests and puts the wellbeing of their families and communities at the top of its agenda.
Scott Morrison’s workplace changes are a betrayal of the heroes of the pandemic.
And Australian workers need to make that loud a clear.
Find out more about the campaign against Scott Morrisons’ proposed workplace laws here
Listen and subscribe to Francis Leach and Sally Rugg’s new podcast “On the Job” here