AMWU in bid to take on contractors

The Australian, October 6, 2016:

Independent contractors would be legally represented by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union under a plan to arrest the union’s declining membership by seeking rule changes.

AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian said yesterday the union had applied to change its rules to allow independent contractors to become members.

The union, which in decades past had the power to dictate the direction of national wages policy, has moved to recast its operations as it faces the prospect of significant membership losses in the manufacturing sector. The union movement lost 140,000 members in the year to February.

Mr Bastian said there has been an explosion of insecure work ­arrangements, including a rise in the number of independent contractors over the past 20 years. “For many workers, these arrange­ments are not even a choice,’’ he said. “It is a sham arrangeme­nt forced upon them by employers seeking to slash costs at workers’ expense.”

Mr Bastian said it was critical the union responded.

“We recognise that a trad­itional collective bargaining proposition will not cut it if we want to reach out to these workers and other workers in the new eco­nomy,’’ he said.

“As well as expanding our coverage, we are rethinking our membership proposition to workers in independent contractor ­arrangements. That includes ­potentially offering different types of workplace services that speak to their current experiences.”

University of Adelaide law prof­essor Andrew Stewart said the union would have to apply to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission for a “collective authorisation’’ to collectively bargain on behalf of independent contractors. “If you get it, it means you can bargain,’’ Professor Stewart said.

“But what you still can’t do is threaten or go ahead with any mass withdrawal of services ­because if you do that then that breaches the boycott provisions in the Competition and Consumer Act.”

The Transport Workers Union also represents independent contractors.

Ken Phillips, the executive ­director of Independent Contractors Australia, played down the impact of the union’s move.

“They are very bad at repres­enting employees and they will be just as bad at representing independent contractors,’’ he said.

He accused the union of being motivated by the desire to “scrape together some money wherever they can and doing some anti-competitive deals with the large businesses”.

“Industrial relations is not about the protection of the worker any more,’’ he said.

“The unions are running a business in conjunction with the big businesses to screw over the workers. Everything else is just show and tell, a dance routine.

“It’s like the stage show musical Chicago, it’s all flim-flam.

“The ­industrial relations system is about keeping the eye of punters on the juggler, who is keeping all the balls in the air, and then you have the pickpockets running around the stadium ­taking the money out of everyone’s pockets.”