Pay rate system is a joke, says ACTU boss
Summary: The award system is a joke, enterprise bargaining is dying a natural death and key workplace relations institutions are politicised, ACTU secretary Sally McManus says.....
Stepping up the union movement’s campaign for changes to the federal workplace laws, Ms McManus told a conference in Adelaide today that “the rules are broken and the institutions enforcing them are letting workers down’’.
Despite the Coalition and employers arguing Labor’s Fair Work Act favoured unions over business, Ms McManus said the workplace laws “have tried to sideline unions”.
Over the past 25 years, she said, awards have been simplified, rationalised, modernised and reviewed to within an inch of their lives.
She said award rates of pay had not kept pace with rising costs and awards were a shadow of their former selves. “The award system is a joke,’’ she said.
Ms McManus said enterprise bargaining was introduced in legislation in 1993, with provisions that were quite simple.
“At first, it was sold as a means of unlocking productivity. Employers would have the capacity to press for changes in award conditions at their workplaces. The trade-off was workers were to have access to protected industrial action to press their claims,’’ she said.
“But 25 years later there is little left to trade off. Too many workers are now required to do whatever they are asked to do, virtually whenever they are asked to do it.
“Taking industrial action is too difficult and seems to becoming even more difficult. Access to protected industrial action for workers has become too technical and too risky.
“The system gives employers greater access to lockouts. And they are using it to press for reductions in pay and conditions. No trade-offs, just reductions.”
Ms McManus said employers had learnt to game the enterprise bargaining system that was in a mess.
“The practice of just saying no to claims for pay rises is becoming the norm,’’ she said. “Instead, agreements are rolled over with token increases, below inflation, or worse — and increasingly common — a demand that workers receive less pay and give up conditions.
“To press such claims, employers can threaten, or actually, terminate existing agreements and put their workers back to the award. This can be a 40 per cent pay cut because award wages are so low.
“In extreme cases, the prevalence of which is again increasing, employers lock workers out to press their claims. Global mining Giant Glencore has locked out its workforce at the Oaky North mine for over six months. The commonwealth government’s own bargaining policy has resulted in no pay rise for Customs and immigration workers for 4½ years.”
But Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said Ms McManus’s attempts to portray Labor’s Fair Work Act as unfair to unions and workers did not stand the most cursory of scrutiny,
“Labor’s Fair Work Act increased union power in over 100 areas and substantially boosted the entitlements of workers,’’ Mr Willox said.
“When the act was introduced it was widely criticised by employers and widely applauded by unions. The changes that the unions are now seeking include increased rights to strike, less power for the Fair Work Commission to make decisions that benefit businesses and a raft of new entitlements for employees and unions.
“The unions want us all to believe that giving them more power to organise strikes and to force employers to cave in to their demands is just the medicine that the community needs.
“The reality is that we live in a globally connected world where businesses need to remain productive, efficient and globally competitive in order to survive and grow. The success of workers is integrally connected to the success of their employers. Secure jobs and higher wages can only be offered by businesses that are successful.”
Ms McManus said the Registered Organisations Commission and the Australian Building and Construction Commission were politicised.
“The ABCC sees its role as prosecuting the CFMEU,’’ she said.
“Enormous resources are being spent on court cases seeking fines against that union for carrying out union business. It enforces a building code designed to cut workers terms and conditions.
“It prosecutes for right of entry breaches and pursues relentlessly union officials who encourage workers to exercise their right to strike. This week it was revealed that displaying the Eureka flag on construction sites is being banned by the ABCC.
“You won’t often hear me quoting Warren Buffett but I think there is something in what he said about charges laid by a regulator against JP Morgan Chase. He said: ‘If a cop follows you for 500 miles, you’re going to get a ticket. You’ve had a lot of cops that have been following for a long time and they’re going to write some tickets’.
“By contrast, and as a consequence of the allocation of resources by union-hating governments, Australian employers aren’t being followed and they aren’t getting many tickets.”