Dragging the chain on wage theft ‘must stop’, says ACTU

The Australian, ACTU secretary Sally McManus. Picture: AAP
ACTU secretary Sally McManus. Picture: AA

ACTU secretary Sally McManus has urged the Coalition to address wage theft and low wages growth by speeding up the process for ­recovering underpayments and giving unions greater rights to pursue sector-wide bargaining.

In a letter to Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter, Ms McManus said the government should also use its workplace review to change how the annual minimum wage was decided, ­increase the capacity to pursue equal pay orders, and extend ­protections to workers in the gig economy.

Ms McManus’s four-page letter, obtained by The Australian, said the government should reject employer proposals, backed by government backbench MPs, to change unfair dismissal laws.

She said proposed changes making it easier to sack workers unfairly were inconsistent with Scott Morrison’s stated objective that the review deliver changes that improved wages, jobs and the economy.

Several of the proposals by Ms McManus were consistent with policy commitments made by Labor before the ALP lost the federal election in May.

Mr Porter said last night the government would soon be releasing a series of discussion papers ­focusing on several areas of the ­industrial relations system that it believed could be improved.

“The issue of wage theft, and specifically the criminalisation of deliberate underpayments, is one of the areas that will be examined as a ­priority,’’ he said.

Outlining the ACTU’s four main priorities, Ms McManus said increases in award rates by the Fair Work Commission during the past three years were the only reason wages remained marginally ahead of inflation.

“Ending the low-wage crisis requires reform in critical areas including changing the ­annual minimum wage review to put a greater emphasis on the needs of the low-paid,’’ she said.

Labor promised to force the commission to prioritise lifting workers out of poverty above business viability and jobs growth when determining the minimum wage.

As well as reversing penalty rate cuts, Ms McManus said the government should change the bargaining rules to encourage agreement-making between parties at an industry or sector level alongside enterprise bargaining.

The ACTU also wanted the Fair Work Act changed “to allow ­unions to properly fulfil their role in improving employer compliance on wages”.