Following a review of its Change The Rules campaign and the resulting Labor Election failure, the ACTU is pushing ahead with it, writes William Olson.
THE AUSTRALIAN Council on Trade Unions will remain resolute to their “Change The Rules” campaign after an internal review yielded confidential results supporting the campaign’s goals at the organisation’s executive meetings this week.
Instead, the executive committee – voting unanimously to accept the findings of a report mandated after seeing Labor suffer a comprehensive defeat in last May’s Federal Election – will tinker only slightly with the campaign in the hopes to remain loyal to its original aims.
Although pursued for comment, the ACTU declined to disclose the exact findings of the final report, or release its recommendations, citing a desire to protect its own future political and tactical intentions.
ACTU insiders claim it may take only as little as a name change to begin to repackage the campaign to give it fresh legs.
For the previous two years, the ACTU aimed to influence a new direction of industrial relations legislation with a series of sweeping reforms in its original packaged campaign.
Such reforms had promised to eliminate insecure work, redefine casualisation of the workforce, restore penalty rates to pre-July 2017 levels (a point in time before they were first cut), create a fairer collective bargaining system to bring about pay rises and to criminalise wage theft.
Ahead of the ACTU’s executive meetings, the CTR campaign which seemed quite ubiquitous – if not just thoroughly complex – through the last couple of years, was feared to have been undone by the greater political process of that Federal Election result, reducing it to mere silence since then.
Sally McManus, the ACTU’s secretary and the public face of the CTR campaign from day one, had maintained that the campaign itself was always going to be an extensive process and even if Bill Shorten and Labor had won the Election to change the balance of power in the Government, the proposed reforms wouldn’t see the light of day for a minimum of a couple of years.
“There is no way that our work ends [with the Election],” McManus said in March – two full months ahead of the Federal Election – while on tour spruiking her book, ‘On Fairness’.
“We will keep campaigning beyond the election, no matter what the result is, to Change the Rules for fair pay and more secure jobs.
Change the Rules is about changing the rules. An election is a step along the way.”
With the cost of the CTR campaign having been as much as it was – the final numbers reportedly have the ACTU spending $25 million on it from its launch, with $6.5 million of it occurring during the Federal Election blitz – and garnering so little, in the way of winning only three of the 26 Labor-aspirant seats targeted by the campaign, a review was well in order, especially with issues at the heart of the futures of working Australians’ needs remaining unresolved.
The systemic issues that CTR has aimed to address and remedy – such as stagnant wages, wage theft, the hardly-regulated gig economy, out-of-control casualisation in employment, the continued cutting of penalty rates, and the perception of a lack of bargaining power in workplace award negotiations – persist as topics fresh on everyone’s lips since the Federal Election wrapped.
Furthermore, the ACTU has every motivation to kickstart the campaign again, after the LNP-sponsored “Ensuring Integrity” Bill passed the Lower House on 1 August. The Bill, introduced by Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter, is designed to amend the Fair Work Act of 2009 to censure or eject officials who bring particular organisations into areas of disrepute — as was recently the case with the CFMMEU's John Setka’s conduct inside and outside that powerful union organisation.
Although the legislation isn’t due for debate towards expected final approval by both houses of Parliament until October, critics of the Bill fear it could be the first step towards placing stricter restrictions on union activity, if not outlawing activity widely associated with the union movement altogether.
Tony Burke, the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, recently described the “Ensuring Integrity” Bill and its lesser-known legislative pairing “Workers Benefits Bill”, in a weekly Labor Party email newsletter sent out to Party constituents as ‘extreme and dangerous’.
This article explains the difference between the govt’s rhetoric on the “Ensuring Integrity” Bill, and what the bill actually does. It’s part of the Govt strategy to keep wages low.— Tony Burke (@Tony_Burke) August 3, 2019
‘[They are] all about preventing union members from being in control of who they elect and what decisions they vote for within their own union,’ Burke added in the email.
Furthermore, the Bills possess ‘outrageous claims for the deregistration of unions,’ he added.
Porter, meanwhile, without stating plans on how to grow wages or address any of the CTR movement’s other elements, instead defends the Bills being debated as being an essential step forward in the nation’s interests.
In response to questions emailed to Porter, he replied:
‘We are now getting on with the job of delivering on all of our election commitments, which includes ensuring those who run trade unions abide by the laws of Australia.’
Michele O’Neil, President of the ACTU, says that while Porter’s Bills, if passed, “will ultimately hurt workers” inside and outside of the union movement alike, there are bigger issues at play which the Federal Parliament needs to address on behalf of all Australian workers.
“We now see that household incomes that have been stagnant for eight years and this is in a country where we have seen unparalleled economic growth over a much longer period of time — 28 years,” she said.
“We've got a Government in power who have no levers in place to do anything about wages growth. They actually have no policy about it,” she added.
The ACTU and ALP – though each categorically deny that their respective efforts are intrinsically linked – have done their fair amount of finger-pointing and scapegoating at Clive Palmer’s massive $50million election campaign spend and the spreading of various lies and propaganda by the mainstream tabloid media as reasons as to why a seemingly unlosable Federal Election was lost so decisively and changed the balance of Parliamentary power so dramatically with a clear advantage to the LNP coalition.
However, in light of the approximate time of three months since Election night, the time for playing the blame game has well and truly passed.
In taking the next step forward, the ACTU will now implement its recommendations in the coming days and weeks, in order to streamline the CTR movement in its next incarnation.
"Breaking the rules to change the law". What have we learnt from the ACTU's #ChangeTheRules campaign & where to next for the union movement? Some thoughts by NTEU NSW Assistant Secretary @DamienCahill8 https://t.co/GM1E6a74Lb pic.twitter.com/m2vORNvgdg— NTEU New South Wales (@NTEUNSW) June 12, 2019
ACTU could make a case for “changing the rules” using detailed research that precisely measures the extent of problems like insecure work & wage theft. It should outline precisely how it wants rules changed & what those changes would do to working lives. https://t.co/V5mOabokM2— Gerard May (@GerardMay5) May 23, 2019
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