Cutting red tape or cutting workers' wages?


PRIME MINISTER TONY Abbott introduced a “red tape repeal day” on March 26. About 9500 regulations contained in more than 50,000 pages of legislation and related documents got the chop.

One of the “red tape regulations” that will be scrapped is the Commonwealth Cleaning Services Guidelines, which apply to cleaners employed on government contracts.

These regulations were introduced following an audit of cleaning contractors carried out by the Fair Work Ombudsman in 2010. The audit found that 40% of audited businesses did not comply with their legal award obligations. Almost $500,000 was recovered for 934 underpaid workers.

The response of the federal Labor government was to introduce Cleaning Services Guidelines in 2011 to protect vulnerable workers in an industry that has long been infamous for its level of exploitation.

Under these arrangements the wages of workers employed by firms that had secured government cleaning contracts were increased by between $4.53 and $5.93 an hour above the minimum award wage.

This meant that workers’ pay on the entry-level rate went from $664 for a 38-hour week to $836. At the higher skill level they increased from $724 to $950. From July 1 these workers will now have their wages cut by between $172 and $225 a week.

Earlier in March another change championed by the now former assistant treasurer, Arthur Sinodinos, was introduced into federal parliament. This was also aimed at “unnecessary regulation” — in this case the legislation introduced by the ALP to strengthen consumer protection against financial planners.

Sinodinos had previously said these changes went too far and imposed “significant burdens” on the industry. So he proposed changing them by removing the requirement that financial planners act in the “best interests” of the people who are paying for their sage advice.

This means that a financial planner used by, for instance, the National Australia Bank (NAB), can advise clients in a way that is in the bank’s best interest but not the interests of the person paying for the advice. Industry charlatans will no doubt be popping the champagne bottles.

It is, of course, entirely coincidental that Sinodinos used to work for a bank. Which bank? NAB as a matter of fact.

All of these changes are called “deregulation” because the word has a nice ring to it for right-wing politicians. It is meant to convey the message that getting rid of legislation that interferes with individual rights is a necessary part of good government.

But it is not deregulation because some form of regulation always remains in place. It is, in fact, re-regulation in favour of capital and this is how it should be identified. What we can confidently expect from this government is more of it.