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Workers’ power and closing the loopholes industrial laws

Written by: Ned K. on 18 February 2024


Above - the Perfection Press women, as part of their campaign, released a CD available here.

The federal Labor Government has succeeded in having its Closing the Loopholes industrial laws passed through both Houses of Parliament.

The new laws will find their way into the Fair Work Act and become operational over the next 6 to 12 months.

The new laws make some attempt to regulate working conditions for gig economy workers and owner drivers in the transport industry. They also provide a more detailed definition of casual employment which may assist some casuals to be recognised as permanent workers with at least minimum paid sick leave and annual leave.

David Peetz, a researcher well-respected by workers and their unions, recently wrote an article online in the Pearls and Irritations website about the recent changes.

Peetz's most astute observation about the "rough and tumble" in parliament by Dutton and his cronies about the new laws is that possibly the most important change of all the laws went through "under the radar", so to speak.

Peetz was referring to the changes to the Fair Work Act arising from the Closing the Loopholes Bills that for the first time since the early 1990s see the term Union Delegate and rights of Delegates included in the industrial relations Act of the day.

The Fair Work Act will now require the rights of Delegates in workplaces to be included in Awards and Enterprise Agreements.

Peetz has done very detailed research of the impact on workers’ collective strength in workplaces of the decline in Union Delegate numbers in Australia during the period from early 1990s to about 2015.

His research showed a direct correlation between decline in union membership in workplaces and the decline and/or complete absence of Union Delegates in workplaces.

His research also showed the relationship between strong Delegate networks and stronger industrial outcomes in wages and conditions, respect of workers by bosses and better job security and control of casualization of the workforces, even during the onslaught of Workchoices and the (Un)Fair Work Act years.

Peetz's research findings are backed up by two recent disputes that have been prominent in the media in the last few weeks.

The dispute between stevedore multinational DP World and the MUA and their members saw these maritime workers take industrial action in various forms over a number of weeks against DP world in order to win wage increases and better conditions.

Why were the MUA members able to maintain their struggle for a considerable period of time and win?

One important factor was that throughout all the attacks on the MUA since at least the 1930s, their members have maintained organization and elected Union Delegates across the whole maritime industry.

The second dispute that made headlines was the shocking and utterly disgraceful exploitation and sexual harassment of migrant women farm workers at the biggest tomato producer in Australia, Perfection Fresh.
Twelve courageous women farm workers with the strong support of their Union, United Workers Union, have taken Perfection Fresh to the Federal Court after being sexually harassed by labour hire male workers in positions of power over them.

One important reason these women workers have been able to take this action is because the hundreds of mainly migrant workers in their workplace at Virginia, north of Adelaide, have courageously organized themselves (supported by their Organizer) and elected their own leaders including Union Delegates. Without that level of collective Strength within the tomato glasshouses of Perfection Fresh, the twelve women's decision to take action would have been much more difficult.

As David Peetz correctly points out, even with the new laws giving formal recognition to the rights of Delegates in workplaces, it is up to union leaderships to ensure that workers are given full support and opportunity for development when they step up as Union Delegates in their workplace.

Workers will soon notice which Unions want to organize the unorganized and further develop the already organized.

If David Peetz's research is still valid today, when workers unite and organize, bosses will tremble.


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