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The Coalition's union destruction agenda

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Attorney-General Christian Porter has been responsible for legislation that could effectively damage unions and workers' rights (Screenshot via YouTube)

The LNP, particularly Attorney-General Christian Porter, continue to take steps to destroy workers' rights and outlaw unions, writes William Olson.

DRIVEN BY MOTIVATION to water down employment laws in Australia, a series of relatively recent but little-known changes to longtime Fair Work Commission legislation could influence the industrial relations reforms initiated by the Liberal-National Party to be pushed through Federal Parliament by the end of the year.

However, it can also be perceived that it is happening via a conflict of interest through the Attorney-General’s office. 

On 28 February, the FWC took away the provisions from the Fair Work Act of 2009 which mandated reviews within the Act examining Modern Awards to take place every four years, effective immediately and across all 33 enterprise agreements and State reference public sector awards under the Modern Awards structure.

The Commission’s President Iain Ross’s ruling in a statement on the FWC website reads:

‘We produced the provisional view that… for the purposes of the application and transitional provisions, no other reviews of the 33 awards concerned had commenced before 1 January 2018. It follows that none of the 33 awards concerned can be further dealt with as part of the current 4-yearly review.’

Combined with the amount and depth of appointments the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Governments have made to the FWC since 2013 to shift the balance of that tribunal from an independent body to one favouring the LNP in making policy decisions regarding industrial relations, Australia could see a connection made which could make the Ensuring Integrity and Workers Benefits Bills a stark reality to unions and the working class by year’s end.

Those Bills, the brainchild of Christian Porter – who doubles as the Attorney-General as well as being the Minister of Industrial Relations – would collectively censure or eject officials who bring particular organisations into areas of disrepute, as well as restrict contact between union officials and whoever they wish to deal with and dictate restrictions on how employers or workers can apply their funds gained in any of the Modern Awards.

In addition to the Bills being connected to the recent FWC rulings governing over the Modern Awards, the union movement itself fears that the Bills could put steps in place to deregister or outlaw unions in Australia.

The FWC, incidentally, operates under the command of Porter, in his role as Attorney-General.

However, when one views the appointments to the FWC put through by past and present Federal jobs and employment ministers Michaelia Cash, Craig Laundy, Michael McCormack, Kelly O’Dwyer and Bruce Billson, the trend since 2013 has been to appoint officers to the tribunal who can tend to rule on behalf of employers and businesses rather than those who can side with workers and employees, or even adjudicate objectively.

Regardless of whether that string of 20-plus consecutive appointments being on the side of employers and businesses exists as either an intentional tactic or being purely coincidental, that trend has made it easier for the FWC to assist the aims of the LNP to water down elements of the Fair Work Act (2009), and thereby make the attempts to pass its own industrial relations reform legislation a bit easier.

And the Australian Council of Trade Unions views that as a highly worrying collective sign which possesses dire consequences for Australia’s working class, as Porter continues to review the Fair Work Act.

Sally McManus, secretary of the ACTU, said in a statement earlier this month:

The big problems holding Australia back are low wage growth, insecure work, wage theft and our ongoing failure to close the pay gap for working women. These problems will not solve themselves. They require action from the Federal Government to fix them.

 

Working people deserve leaders who are on their side. The Morrison Government has persistently chosen to side with big business against working people, in court and in Parliament. 

 

Unless the Morrison Government addresses these issues in the Porter Review, it’s simply another case of Scott Morrison and Christian Porter siding with big business over the working people they are elected to represent.

And the “connect the dots” sequence of actions by the LNP is no accident — it has been carefully calculated, choreographed and plotted to occur when it has achieved a clear numbers advantage in the halls of Parliament. 

Not to mention highlights the conflict of interest of Porter in light of his position as Minister for Industrial Relations and the reform bills he has introduced in the Parliament, advocating from his post as Attorney-General rather than being someone who objectively oversees the tribunal for workers and employers alike.

Tony Burke, the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, remains determined that he will possess the support – backbench numbers in the Senate included – to defeat Porter’s proposed bills.

Burke opined in a recent editorial:

The Government is trying to claim the bill gives unions the same treatment as corporations. I don’t accept there should be equivalence – unions are fundamentally different to corporations in both duty and structure – but if that’s the test the Government has set for itself, it is obvious it has failed. There remain glaring double standards.

 

So Labor will oppose this bill. While the changes proposed by crossbenchers last week are positive, they cannot salvage what is fundamentally broken legislation.

He also emphasises that it isn’t the actions and consequences of union leaders like the CFMEU’s John Setka that Porter’s bills are aimed at, but rather ‘a woman in her 40s who works in aged care’ as the average union member.

‘If a group of nurses decide to take unauthorised industrial action by handing out leaflets explaining that they don't think the nurse-to-patient ratios are good enough, their entire union could be dissolved,’ Burke adds, in citing an example of who may be hurt the most if Porter’s bills pass.

William Olson was a freelance journalist from 1990-2004 and hospitality professional since late 2004. You can follow William on Twitter @DeadSexyWaiter.

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