The New South Wales Coalition government’s bill imposing big fines on unions taking industrial action is being held up in the Legislative Council because Labor, the Greens and a number of cross-benchers oppose it.
The government has launched an industrial war on public sector workers campaigning for pay rises that match inflation.
Finance minister Damien Tudehope announced in June he was going to fine unions $55,000 for taking strike action without Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) approval. Fines of up to $27,500 would be levied for each strike day with up to $110,000 levied on unions that repeatedly breach IRC orders.
Unions are currently fined $10,000 for the first day of industrial action outside IRC authorisation and $5000 a day after that.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey described the bill as “some of the most anti-democratic legislation I’ve ever seen”. He told The Guardian on June 23 that “it’s completely bloody-minded”.
Unions NSW has launched a community campaign against the new anti-strike law, including sending more than 11,000 emails to crossbench MPs and crowd-funding an advertising campaign to inform the public. Around 15,000 people have publicly opposed the bill.
The union movement also opposes the government’s draconian anti-protest laws — the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 — which was rushed through parliament in April with the Labor opposition supporting it.
The law aimed to stop climate protesters taking non-violent direct action in Sydney and Newcastle. It imposes fines of up to $22,000 and/or up to two years in jail on those who protest on select roads, bridges and near railway stations.
This law aims to bankrupt citizens who take action over the climate crisis or other important social and economic concerns.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) Sydney branch secretary Paul Keating criticised Labor’s support for the anti-protest laws.
Keating told Paul Gregoire from Sydney Criminal Lawyers: “Any type of fines on workers and unions regarding strike action, for defending their right to work or for better wages and conditions are repressive. And they should be abolished.”
He said that governments had “hyper-regulated” unions over the last three decades, including with “significant fines attached to any form of industrial action”.
NSW laws have prevented public sector unions, including teachers, nurses, transport and maritime workers to seek a wage rise over 2.5%, he said.
We know with public sector wage rises there will be a “flow-on effect” into the private sector and “workers benefit from that”.
He said Labor was correct to oppose the fines on trade unions but that “they should be ashamed” of “providing free passage to the anti-protest laws”.
He said Labor supported these laws, using the excuse of not supporting a fringe group even though they were “acting in a non-violent way”.
“Their actions were [about] civil disobedience. And, we know that the anti-protest laws are far more reaching.”
Keating said the MUA believes the anti-protest laws are “there to repress and oppress the rights of workers, trade unions and our communities” and that “Labor is on the wrong side of the working class, our communities and the trade union movement [on this issue]”.
[Support Unions NSW’s “Proud to Protest” campaign here.]