Monday, 1 June 2020

The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government preparing another assault on workers' rights and conditions - this time using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse

Australian Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison is considering dumping the BOOT test - the better off overall test - that governs the nation's enterprise bargaining system for establishing wages and conditions.

It is clear that he is laying the groundwork for this in the wording used in a press conference on 29 May 2020 when speaking of jobs and industrial relations reform.

Introduced in the 1994 enterprise bargaining is the process of negotiation generally between the employer, employees and their bargaining representatives with the goal of making an enterprise agreement

The Fair Work Act 2009 established clear rules and obligations about how this process is to occur, including rules about bargaining, the content of enterprise agreements, and how an agreement is made and approved.

Since the inception of enterprising bargaining est.161,728 enterprise agreements were created. However, only est. 10,877 remained by September 2019, as agreement numbers fell off markedly after a Fair Work Commission decision that every individual worker had to be better off in an enterprise bargaining agreement than under the relevant industry award.

Employers found it harder to reduce wages and conditions after that ruling and lost some of their enthusiasm - preferring instead to increasingly casualise their staff and/or transform them into rolling fixed contract workers.

Now in the middle of a global pandemic business groups are reportedly calling for removal of more conditions from awards and workplace pay deals as key priorities.

With the Australian Industry Group calling for reform in three key industrial relations areas by: 
  • changing enterprise bargaining laws in the current Fair Work Act; 
  • simplifying awards by removing conditions dealt with in legislation such as annual leave, personal/carer’s leave, redundancy pay, notice of termination, consultation, dispute resolution, flexibility agreements and requests for flexible work arrangements; 
  • removing barriers to "flexibility" in awards which would potentially allow lowering of labour costs;
  • retaining current civil penalties for underpayment of a worker's wage rather than creating a criminal offence for serious underpayments/deliberate theft;
  • abandoning the better off overall test for enterprise agreements;
  • further restriction potential union intervention in the enterprise bargaining process;
  • further restricting protected industrial action by workers; and 
  • extinguishing the new right of casuals working full-time hours to paid annual leave and public holiday entitlements (See Workpac v Rossato & Workpac v Skene).
Using job losses due to COVID-19 pandemic public health orders as an excuse, it is apparent that Morrison intends yet another sustained assault on penalty rates, wages and conditions.

Morrison is willing to progress this assault as far as introducing a bill or bills in the Australian Parliament drafted without the co-operation of unions or even some industry sectors if necessary.

Despite protestations otherwise, it is clear that the Liberal and National political parties are opening up another front in their seemingly endless, ideologically-driven, class war.

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