ACTU’s Sally McManus vows to fight ‘stacked’ Fair Work Commission

The Australian, March 21, 2018

ACTU secretary Sally McManus has called for sweeping changes to enterprise bargaining rules, greater scope for industry-wide pay negotiations and the overhaul of a “stacked” Fair Work Commission with new powers to pursue wage theft.

In an address to the National Press Club, Ms McManus said significant changes needed to be made to the Fair Work Act because “our workplace laws from 10 years ago are now not strong enough to balance the power of big business”.

“Workplace laws written before Uber and before the Global Financial Crisis are not able to do their job of ensuring a fair go do working people,’’ she said

She said enterprise bargaining was so restrictive and excessively regulated that it was smothering wage growth.

“The economy cannot grow unless wages grow,” Ms McManus said. “Working people must have greater freedom to negotiate and our laws must assist them even up the power imbalance so they can negotiate fair pay increases.”

“Our bargaining system must allow working people to negotiate with whoever the real decision maker is, that is, whoever has the power to set the price of labour.”

Ms McManus said workers should be able “to negotiate across a sector or industry should they choose to do so”, and restrictions of what can be contained in agreements should be removed.

“We need to get rid of the complex web of rules and regulations that give far too much power to employers in bargaining,’’ she said.

“Workers should be free to bargain collectively and reach a negotiated agreement with employers without restrictions. That’s what fairness is about.

“Right now workers have a very limited capacity to negotiate agreements to protect job security, to seek jobs for young people or for effective protections against outsourcing.

“CEOs are free to bargain for whatever they want, multinationals are free to bargain complex and enforceable rights for themselves in free trade agreements, yet workers have no right to bargain for a whole range of issues that matter to them — like their own job security. This is unfair. We should have the same rights, we demand equal and fair rights.”

Ms McManus said the commission was being stacked by the Coalition with appointees with business backgrounds and was now known by workers as the “Unfair Work Commission”. She said the Fair Work Ombudsman had become “politicised” and was not stopping the abuse of vulnerable workers.

“There are no crippling fines being imposed on those employers exploiting visa workers or celebrity chefs stealing wages or developers in the construction industry who cut corners killing workers,’’ she said.

Ms McManus said “we need to put fairness back into the Fair Work Commission”.

“Working people should be able to access a fair system to get back stolen wages and stolen superannuation,’’ she said.

“When an employer breaks an agreement or an award right or acts unfairly, we need an umpire who can enforce the rules. The Fair Work Commission’s independence must be restored and it must be given the power to stop employers who rip off or treat their workers unfairly. Now, more than ever, we need an effective and fair independent umpire to hold the power of big business in check

She said she would soon meet Workplace Relations Minister Craig Laundy to push the union movement’s agenda.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Ms McManus did not believe unions should have to obey the law.

“That tells you, it gives you a very big insight into what a Bill Shorten government would be like,” Mr Turnbull said.

“He would lead, were he ever to be PM, the most left-wing, union dominated, militant government we have seen in generations.”

Mr Turnbull said the rate of casual employment had been “the same for decades”.

“You have two allow the workplace flexibility so that businesses can invest and employ and that people can work in the way that suits them and their own arrangements,” he said.

“Just remember, the most important thing is to get people into work. In the last year we have seen over 400,000 new jobs created.”

Australian Industry Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said the ACTU proposals would kill jobs and keep young people out of work.

He said the ACTU was pushing tired arguments disconnected from economic reality.

“It’s like the ACTU is reheating an old dinner that no one wanted in the first place,” Mr Willox said.

“The ACTU is rehashing flawed arguments, misrepresented statistics and discredited policy proposals that the unions have been pedalling for some time.

“The ACTU keeps pushing their casual employment proposals even though they have been rejected by the independent Fair Work Commission.”

She said the broken workplace rules had created a crisis causing record low wage growth and the spread of insecure work.

“Stolen wages, workers exploited, jobs casualised, commissions stacked and politicised, wages cut, equal pay denied, bargaining failing, poverty wages, workers dying,’’ she said.

“This is what Turnbull is ignoring. This is our national crisis. It will get worse if there is not change. Yet Prime Minister Turnbull rejects any move towards repairing our broken workplace laws.”

But Workplace Minister Craig Laundy says the union’s campaign was based on a lie and the rate of insecure work was the same as it was 20 years ago.

“This is a left-wing lunatic attempt to reset their business model,” he told ABC radio, pointing out union membership had dropped to nine per cent of private sector workers.

“Casual work is a completely appropriate way for many businesses and many employees to conduct their relationship.”

The ACTU is also taking aim at employers in the so-called gig economy, which includes platforms like Uber, Airtasker and Deliveroo.

It argues classing workers as individual contractors, as the Fair Work Commission ruled, denies them basic rights.

Mr Laundy said the workplace relations system and the Fair Work Commission were working exactly as they were designed to.

“Uber drivers and the amount they work and the amount they make is completely, as it should be, a relationship between them and their clients,” he said. “It depends on how much you work.”

Additional reporting: AAP