Remember, “We’re all in this together”?
That was Scott Morrison’s slogan of the week at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
As a wise person once told me, it’s more important to watch what they do, not just what they say. In the case of our current Federal Government, what they’re doing is attempting to erode workers’ pay and conditions.
It’s the Liberal Party’s only tune, and they’re cranking up that tired, old jukebox once again.
Whilst the country is buffeted by one COVID-19 blow after the other, it seems the only thing on Scott Morrison’s agenda is exploiting the uncertainty created by the pandemic to lock-in new, draconian workplace laws that further punish workers.
The Government’s Senate inquiry into the Industrial Relation Omnibus Bill is doing the rounds – it paints a devasting picture for the tens of thousands of workers potentially impacted by the proposed changes.
If passed as it stands, the Omnibus Bill would upend a raft of protections put in place for workers including:
- Allowing employers to bring in agreements that do not meet the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) – meaning they can include cuts to pay and conditions.
- Rolling back penalties for wage theft in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT.
- Allowing workers to be classed as casuals, even when they have ongoing, regular hours.
- Giving employers the ability to ask workers covered by awards, including hospitality and retail, to work at different locations or perform different duties, with no oversight from the Fair Work Commission.
- Stripping overtime pay from part-time workers in retail, hospitality and other awards.
- Doubling the length of Greenfields agreements to eight years – leaving workers on large infrastructure projects with no ability to negotiate changes to workplace conditions like rosters, or address OHS concerns.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus sees clearly what the government’s agenda is.
“From the start of the consultation process, we were very clear that we would never support legislation that left workers worse off; this Bill does not pass that test,” Ms McManus said.
“At a time when we need certainty, security and wages in the pockets of working people, this bill would push us in the opposite direction – cutting pay and increasing insecurity.”
It isn’t just the union movement that is alarmed about the damage the Liberal’s latest Industrial Relations folly will do.
University of Adelaide Law Professor Andrew Stewart told the Australian Financial Review the changes will signal to employers that the only way to grow your business will be to whack your workers with even tougher conditions and pay reductions.
“All those changes plus the agreement-making changes seem to send a message to employers that the way to recover from the recession that the pandemic has caused, is to do so at the expense of your workers and do so by driving wages down,” explained Professor Andrews.
“Even if that helps individual employers … it is sending entirely the wrong message at a time when the governor of the Reserve Bank is saying the economy needs wages to be growing to underpin more sustainable growth.”
The economic gymnastics the Morrison Government is engaged in is dizzying.
As Australia’s economic growth figures continue to struggle (the latest figures from the Bureau of Statistics show GDP grew 3.3 per cent in the September quarter but declined 3.8 per cent in the year to September 2020), the Liberals are hell-bent on reducing the spending power of Australian workers.
It is that same spending within the domestic economy that is the key to Australia’s economic recovery, which Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe admits will be “uneven and drawn out.”
It is ideology first, common sense to the back of the queue, according to Sally McManus.
“Cutting wages for the workers who carried us through the pandemic will be bad for small business and prolong the recovery.
“We should be trying to build a stronger, more resilient workforce, rather than returning to failed policies which put profits for big business ahead of job security and wage growth for working people,” she said.
The fate of the government’s Omnibus Bill will rest in the hands of the Senate crossbench, who will be charged with the responsibility of once again being the line of defence against the Liberal’s ideological excess.
They too have heard this one before. It’s on them now to press stop on Scott Morrison’s tired, old tune.
The ACTU will make its submission to the Senate IR Omnibus Bill in Canberra, Thursday, 18th February.