Workers’ rights: 10 broken rules that need changing

August 24, 2018
Tim Gooden is a long standing unionist and a former secretary of Geelong Trades Hall.

Our current industrial laws are anti-worker, anti-union and unjust. A campaign to change them is a must.

But what should we be demanding from the government, whether Coalition or Labor?

While not an exhaustive list, here are 10 basic demands we need to win, otherwise the bosses will continue to have the upper hand.

1. Restore the right to organise on the job without penalties or restrictions.

Workers should be able to organise and seek support from their union in the workplace at any time, without restriction or penalty.

2. Remove the fines and sanctions against workers and their unions for taking industrial action. 

Workers face fines of $10,000 for withdrawing their labour (even for a 2-hour stop work meeting). Fines for some unions are now in the millions.

Meanwhile, bosses lock out and sack workers with impunity.

3. Lift award rates of pay and conditions to levels comparable with relevant enterprise bargaining outcomes.

Awards have been stripped over time, and enterprise bargaining has only delivered for workers in the best organised sectors.

We need to share the gains won in wages and conditions across industries to benefit low-paid, unorganised and insecure workers.

4. Outlaw employers’ ability to terminate Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs).

Emboldened by an anti-union government, bosses are using this as a weapon against workers during negotiations and disputes.

5. Reverse the cuts to penalty rates.

Workers employed on weekends and public holidays should be compensated through the payment of penalty rates.

6. Legislate for fully-funded equal pay for early childhood, social and community service workers.

The federal government has reneged on its commitment to fund equal pay for early childhood educators.

These workers should be paid on an equal basis with workers in other sectors who perform skilled work after years of training.

7. Abolish all anti-union laws.

Despite Labor’s promises to “rip up Work Choices” and get rid of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), it only tinkered with the ABCC and left much of Work Choices intact while in government. This made it easier for the Coalition to revive its anti-worker laws.

The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 must be repealed. This set of laws could be used against unions even after the ABCC has been abolished.

8. End the exploitation and abuse of temporary visa and migrant workers.

Temporary visa and migrant workers should be guaranteed access to unions and the same wages, conditions and rights as other workers.

They should also be guaranteed access to permanent residency and citizenship.

Bosses use the vulnerability of overseas and migrant workers to increase profits and drive down wages and conditions. The only way to undermine this strategy is to lift all workers up to the same level, regardless of where they come from.

While temporary workers can be threatened with deportation, workers will continue to be exploited and undermined in their workplaces.

9. Outlaw sham contracting, piecework, the abuse of casual employment and zero hours contracts.

Underemployment is a growing problem. Sham contracting, casual and piecework employment, and jobs in the gig economy transfer all the risks onto workers.

10. Implement real job creation programs.

The manufacturing sector is being destroyed and skills, training and apprenticeship schemes are being lost. We need to build more schools, hospitals, aged-care facilities, public housing and public transport.

We need job creation schemes that tackle the environmental and social challenges of today, and provide and maintain essential social services to raise the standard of living of all.

Australia has one of the highest levels of unpaid overtime in the developed world. More jobs means the work can be shared around and we can start to reduce working hours.

[Tim Gooden is industrial spokesperson for the Socialist Alliance and a Victorian Socialists candidate for the upper house Western Region electorate.]

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