Unions to get muscle in Labor’s IR overhaul

The Australian, September 14, 2020

Labor will use the COVID-19 economic recovery to pursue an aggressive industrial relations ­reform agenda, increasing the power of unions and imposing “new rights and forms of equality” in Australian workplaces.

The ALP draft national platform focuses Labor’s industrial ­relations policy priorities on ­increasing wage growth, protecting penalty rates and implementing “full gender equality” in the workforce through measures ­including 26 weeks of paid parental leave.

The policy document recommits Labor’s pledge to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and repeal the Building and Construction Industry Act, handing power back to union leaders targeted by the ABCC.

Senior ALP figures will negotiate the final platform for Labor’s workplace relations policies with ACTU secretary Sally McManus and other union bosses ahead of the next federal election, which could be called as early as late 2021.

The draft policy document says a Labor government would set up a workplace relations system which reduced the “incidence of underemployment and insecure work”.

“Labor will support employers and unions to develop working time arrangements that are consistent with workers’ preferences and needs, and that will reduce ­excessive working hours and maximise employment creation,” the document says.

“Labor supports penalty rates as a means to compensate workers for working excessive or unsociable hours. Labor will prevent awards being varied to cut workers’ take-home pay.”

The draft policy document shows Labor will include union representatives, alongside business and community leaders, on boards, committees and consultative bodies providing “advice to government”.

An ALP government would also encourage companies and ­unions to “replicate the success of other nations in making employees real and valued stakeholders through representation on company boards”.

The trimmed-down ALP policy platform focuses heavily on the impacts of COVID-19 and the need to provide stronger protections for workers.

“Labor believes that in the workplace there is a need for new rights, new forms of equality that recognise the full range of human diversity, new types of safety and a better balance between work and life.

“Labor believes that Australia is, and should be, a fair wage country. Competitive external pressures on our economy cause some to argue for a cut to Australian wages and conditions. This would be bad for confidence and demand, damage economic growth, and put Australia on a race to the bottom on wages and conditions.”

A Labor government would ­introduce 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave and move to legislate to protect notice of termination and redundancy pay as a “basic employment right”.

It would also “strengthen and improve workplace regulations” to ensure workers in the gig economy, including Uber drivers, can earn a “living wage and have ­access to the same protections and standards as all Australian ­workers”.

The draft document says Labor would work with trade unions and employers to ensure workers had access to “their workplace rights” and the “right to join a union”.