Workers' Collective Action Needed To Win Significant Changes To Industrial Laws
Written by: Ned K. on 11 March 2023
The federal Labor Party promised significant changes to the Fair Work Act when elected in 2022. The promises were due to pressure from workers through their Unions.
One of the major demands from Unions was for the Government to amend the Fair Work Act to enable multi-employer collective agreements and maintaining the right of workers to take industrial action in pursuit of improved wages and conditions in those multi-employer agreements.
The Fair Work Act has been amended to enable multi-employer agreements with the new laws taking effect in mid-2023. No doubt the employers as a class will do all they can to oppose workers’ claims that reduce employer power in the workplace and threaten their profits. Time will tell how successful workers are in winning significant concessions from the capitalists through multi-employer collective agreements.
In 2023 the federal Labor Government has committed to workers through their Unions to introduce Bills in Parliament to make further changes to the Fair Work Act.
These include a "Same Job, Same Pay" Bill to require labour hire companies to pay the "shop rate" of the host employer. Labor hire companies have become an industry in themselves and provide casual, unorganised labour in most industries of the economy.
If such a Bill gets through parliament to become law, the risk to employers and labour hire companies who do not pay the "shop rate" to labour hire employees will be greater.
No doubt some sections of the capitalist class will still use labour hire workers on starvation wages and take their chances. However such a Bill may also result in workers who are organised in their Union to force their employer to take the next step and directly employ all workers, including casuals needed for busy times.
The Labor Government has also committed to workers through their Unions to introduce Bills to safeguard minimum pay and conditions in the Gig economy. The detail of these safeguards is yet to be revealed. Given this is a growing trend in the economy of capitalism extending far beyond Uber drivers, this is likely to get through parliament in some form as big companies using the Gig economy want some regulation to assist their competitive position against smaller operators.
The Minister for Industrial Relations Tony Burke has also mentioned that he is aware that there is also a need for new laws against sham contracting which can take many different forms apart from use of registered labour hire companies. For example, an employer demanding that a worker applying for a job has to have an ABN and then paying them as little amount of pay as the employer thinks they can get away with. If such anti-sham contracting laws are made, they will be ineffective in may sectors of the economy where capitalists use migrant workers on temporary visas or workers whose visas have expired.
Workers' Right To Organise
As important as the above issues for workers are, arguably the most important changes that a Labor Government makes for workers are laws about their right to organise in the workplace and their sector. Workload or work intensification have increased astronomically as workers’ rights to organize collectively have declined.
Taking industrial action has never been a right in law in Australia except for the limited right to protected action during a collective bargaining period. Industrial action during the life of an Agreement or where there is no Agreement, only the Award, is illegal under bosses’ law.
The Labor Government is not likely to change this state of affairs at all. However, workers through their Unions do expect Labor to include in the Fair Work Act laws about the rights of elected Union delegates to represent their members in the workplace and for paid training leave.
This will be an assistance in organising the unorganised and building workers’ collective strength in the workplaces more generally.
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