The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has called for a national day of rallies for June 20 to stop the attacks on workers.
This is the second national day of action called by the CFMEU this year, with a previous round of rallies having taken place in March.
This latest round of rallies calls on workers to stand up and fight back against a range of issues affecting workers, including the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), cuts to Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers, rampant wage theft by employers and the ongoing exploitation of overseas workers.
The ABCC legislation triggered the double dissolution and took Australia to the polls in July. The federal government has since passed the legislation with the assistance of crossbench senators Derryn Hinch, One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, and David Leyonhjelm.
Despite several amendments made to get the legislation passed, the new ABCC is an attack on the civil liberties of construction workers. The legislation removes the right to silence for construction workers who are questioned by the ABCC. It also bans workers, unions and employers from agreeing to limit casualisation, from promoting the employment of apprentices and bans measures that give workers job security.
Since its reintroduction under the Turnbull government, the ABCC has come under fire, including from Federal Court Justice Tony North who accused the commission of wasting time and money in taking two CFMEU officials to court for “having a cup of tea with a mate”. That particular case cost the ABCC $100,000.
As of July 1, Sunday and public holiday penalty rates will be cut for full-time and part-time workers in the hospitality, fast food and retail industries. Labor has introduced the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Take Home Pay) Bill, which if passed would ignore the Fair Work Commission ruling made in February.
So far the bill has passed in the Senate with the support of The Greens and Jacquie Lambie, but is yet to be voted on in the House of Representatives. Cuts to penalty rates will disproportionally affect young workers and women who are already on low wages and rely on Sunday rates to cover the basic costs of living.
Large retail and fast food chains have come under fire for wage theft, including Aldi and Domino’s. Aldi was accused of wage theft after it was revealed they require employees to work off negative hours which are unpaid. The National Union of Workers is threatening to lodge a complaint with Fair Work if complaints cannot be solved directly with Aldi management.
Associate Professor Louise Thornthwaite has written on the rampant wage theft practices, going so far as to call it a crisis that means the living wage is effectively disappearing.
The exploitation of migrant workers is ongoing, whether they are 457 visa holders, backpackers or international students. The Turnbull government has done nothing to curb the rampant exploitation of migrant workers, while the Labor opposition resorts to dog whistle politics to pander to the One Nation voter base.
A recent Federal Court ruling has also jeopardised union officials’ right of entry. Some time ago the Right of Entry Permit from the Commonwealth Fair Work Act was linked to the State government’s Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 and restricted those without Right of Entry Permits from coming onto site to help with workplace health and safety issues. Consequently, health and safety representatives used to bring the organisers onsite through another section of the Act, but the recent court ruling has closed that option.
CFMEU Occupational Health & Safety teacher Sue Bull said: “This latest court decision means our organisers will have even less chance of helping our members in a very dangerous industry. We still have the highest fatality rate after the agricultural sector. It really is an attempt to stop construction unions from organising their members, leaving them prey to worsening unsafe conditions, greater casualisation and declining rates of pay.”
On June 20, it is important that workers and their families come out in large numbers around the country to fight back against the ongoing attacks on wage and conditions.
Rallies are being held at:
Australian Capital Territory
12 noon 148 Bunda Street, Civic, Canberra
New South Wales
11am Belmore Park, Sydney
11am Pound Street, Grafton
10am Emma Miller Place, Brisbane
12 noon Victoria Square, Adelaide
10:30am Victorian Trades Hall, Melbourne
11am Solidarity Park, Parliament Place, Perth