The federal Coalition government's latest union-busting bill is not only an attack on the rights of workers to organise for better wages and conditions — it is an attack on democracy and prospects for a better future.
The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 was first introduced in parliament in 2017 but failed to get majority support in the Senate. This time there is a real risk that right-wing minor party and independent senators will pass the bill.
The bill will give governments and the courts greater powers to interfere in and deregister trade unions.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation senior federal industrial officer Kristen Wischer writes that the new law would mean:
“The Federal Court must make orders on application to disqualify a union official convicted of an offence that is punishable by imprisonment for five years or more.
“The Federal Court can disqualify a person from holding office on a wide range of grounds, including the person is not a ‘fit and proper’ person or has breached certain industrial laws.
“Allows the Registered Organisation Commission (ROC), the minister or a ‘person with sufficient interest’ to apply for orders deregistering unions, altering union rules or controlling the use of union funds and property, including appointing an administrator.
“Allows third parties to intervene in the process of unions applying to amalgamate and imposes significant hurdles for amalgamation, even where members are in favour of the amalgamation."
It is not hard to see how governments that are already doing their best to further weaken the power of workers and boost the bloated profits of the corporate rich would have a field day with such powers.
The bill pretends to be about "ensuring integrity" in unions, but the best way to do that is by ensuring unions are strong, militant and democratically accountable to their members.
Instead, this legislation seeks to smash strong and militant unions. If successful, workers' rights and conditions are not the only things that will suffer.
Without strong unions we would not have many of the social gains and democratic rights that unions fought for and which governments today are attempting to wind back.
Unions also have a major role to play in helping society rise to the challenge of the global climate crisis. While there is a way to go in enlisting the full support of unions, important initial steps have been made through union involvement in School Strike 4 Climate mobilisations.
The government's hypocrisy on "integrity" is exposed by its refusal to act firmly against banks that have cheated and bullied customers and laundered money. It has also refused to bring to account politicians who have rorted the system, continues to ignore its human rights obligations to asylum seekers and First Nations people, and has made Australia a climate rogue state.
This tsunami of bad behaviour — none of which is tackled by the bill — can be traced back to its shameless stance in support of a tax-dodging and socially and ecologically destructive corporate super rich getting even richer.
This bill is about giving even more power to a billionaire class that has shown itself to have absolutely no integrity.
[Tim Gooden is a Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union delegate, a Geelong Trades Hall Council executive member and a Socialist Alliance activist.]