by Chloe Ward
The Morrison Government’s backdown on one of the most dangerous parts of its industrial relations bill is a step in the right direction for workers—but this fight is far from over.
On Tuesday, the Government dumped plans for a two-year exception to the better off overall test—a.k.a. the BOOT—which would have allowed employers to cut workers’ pay and conditions under the cover of the coronavirus crisis.
Australian Unions, Labor and the Greens all campaigned against the proposal, and the Senate crossbench made clear that the IR bill would not be passed if the Government persisted with its plans to change the BOOT.
But even with the most contentious and best-publicised legislation removed, this bill is still dangerous. It cannot be allowed to pass.
“This bill will see work become more insecure while we attempt to recover from a devastating pandemic and recession. This will make life harder for millions of workers and prolong the recovery”, ACTU President Michele O’Neil said this week.
“We cannot let struggling Australians be further marginalised by the damaging measures in this bill.”
The Morrison Government is still trying to pass permanent changes to IR law that would side with employers at workers’ expense. Employers will no longer have to explain agreements to disadvantaged workers—including non-English speakers, young people, and people without union representation. The Fair Work Commission will lose powers to scrutinise negotiations, with a 21-day time limit to sign off on new agreements, while unions will no longer be allowed to assess non-union agreements.
The Government has no plans to dump provisions in the bill that will deny casual workers’ entitlements, create a new, precarious type of ‘casual part-time’ worker, and undermine conditions for workers on big construction projects.
Australians have rallied against the rest of the package, which is still in front of the Parliament. This week, faith organisations came out against the IR bill, pointing out how it will harm unemployed and insecure young workers. Epidemiologists from the Australian National University have highlighted the health risk of industrial relations reforms that promote insecure work—an issue we’re all well acquainted with, a year and several lockdowns into the coronavirus pandemic.
Of course, Scott Morrison tried to sell the decision to abandon changes to the better off overall test as a compromise—not a massive failure in the face of public and Senate opposition to his Government’s plans.
Morrison has called on Labor to ‘drop the politics’ and get behind the rest of the IR bill, including plans for a pathway for casuals seeking permanency and stronger penalties for wage theft. But even these measure aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, with no strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure workers can exercise these new rights.
It reads as a con. When Scott Morrison tries to sell an illusion of reform while taking away workers’ rights, it’s a failed ad man talking, not a Prime Minister.
Australian workers don’t buy it. They know they can do better, and they know they must do better, with Australia’s economic recovery dependent on getting the country working, in good, secure jobs in essential services and the industries of the future.
Compare the Government’s IR bill to Labor’s plans to overhaul IR laws. Last week, Labor leader Anthony Albanese committed to strengthen pay and conditions for gig economy workers, introduce portable long service leave for insecure workers, and reform the Fair Work Commission to make it give greater consideration to job security in its rulings.
Labor has also pledged to abolish the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission, both direct products of the Coalition Government’s obsessive anti-union agenda.
On Tuesday, Morrison asked if the Opposition is ‘going to cling on to this as a way of continuing to engage in a political debate here in Canberra?’
Once again, the Prime Minister is missing the point. This is a political debate, that started with Morrison’s attack on workers and I, for one, hope Labor does ‘cling on’. Workers’ rights, safety, and livelihoods are at stake. And once removed, it’s so very hard to get them back.