Federal election 2016: dodgy deals expose rank hypocrisy

THE AUSTRALIAN, JUNE 3, 2016

Grace Collier

 
Columnist
Melbourne

Down in the lab: Bill Shorten, Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite and Tanya Plibersek visit the University of NSW yesterday.

Behold the rank hypocrisy of Labor Party leader Bill Shorten. He is mad keen on protecting workers’ rights and penalty rates. Oh yeah, really, he is.

Right now, the Fair Work Commission is holding a formal review of penalty rates. Why?

Because of a law passed by federal Labor, when last in power.

Currently, employers have ­applications before the FWC to have penalty rates cut. The commission might decide to cut them.

Who gave the commission the power to do this? Shorten did. He amended the law during Labor’s last term in government.

And what does Shorten have to say now, about whether penalty rates might be cut by the FWC?

“What if alien life makes contact with earth?” Who knows what this nonsense means.

Whatever you think about penalty rates, and whether they should be cut, if they are, blame Bill Shorten … and the aliens.

Then what about workers at big retailers such as Coles, Woolworths, McDonalds, Bunnings and the Super Retail Group? They are unlawfully being robbed of their penalty rates because the Shop Distributive & Allied ­Employees Association, Labor’s biggest union backer, did a dodgy deal with big business. The first of those deals has just come spectacularly unstuck.

The longstanding Coles enterprise bargaining agreement has just been struck out by the FWC because it makes about 30,000 of the 77,000 workers it covers worse off. It is estimated these workers are losing out on $70 million a year of lawful entitlements.

The EBA was struck out only because one Coles worker, ­Duncan Hart, challenged it. ­During the case, the SDA opposed Hart, and sided with Coles.

What does Shorten have to say about that? The SDA and Coles “have to rectify the mistakes, full stop. They need to fix it up”.

Really? How?

Ordinarily, employers are obliged to rectify wage rip-offs by making backpay to workers, for a period of six years. Perhaps not this time though — scenarios like this are in uncharted territory.

Will Shorten make Coles pay $420m in lost wages to these workers? We asked him. No response was given.

If Shorten does, what about all the other retailers? There must be billions of dollars in lost wages owing. Will Shorten extend the same decree to every employer with a dodgy SDA EBA? We asked him. No response.

What about the rivers of gold flowing from these big retailers to the SDA? You didn’t think the SDA would offer employers dodgy EBA’s for nothing, did you? How many hundreds of millions flows from the retailers to the SDA, into their various entities, before finally landing in Labor coffers?

Will Shorten renounce this dirty money, raised from selling out the lowest paid? We asked him. No response was given.

Finally, what did Shorten have to say about why this dodgy EBA was passed by the FWC in the first place? He said the commission ­applies a test designed to catch these situations, and his faith in the system was now “vindicated”.

Really? The dodgy EBA has been in place for many years. It was rubber-stamped by the commission because the SDA vouched for it. Statutory declarations from Coles, and the SDA, swore the EBA made all workers better off.

To recap, big companies can pay big unions for EBA’s that rip workers off.

A lot of money that should be going to workers, in penalty rates, ends up in Labor coffers. And Shorten has nothing of any value to say about it.

Doesn’t sound like a very good workplace relations system to me.