Labor will seek to crack down on big employers using “sham” enterprise agreements to cut the pay and conditions of permanent employees if the ALP wins the next election.
In an address to the National Press Club today, opposition workplace relations spokesman, Brendan O’Connor will announce an ALP government will seek changes to the Fair Work Act to stop large companies “gaming the system”.
Mr O’Connor, according to The Australian, will cite the highprofile dispute at Carlton and United Breweries where an enterprise agreement that caused the company’s standoff with its Melbourne employees was voted on by three casual workers in Perth.
Esso Australia also sought to replace its offshore catering workforce with employees earning significantly less than the redundant workers. Rather than negotiating an agreement with the workers who would be subject to it, a new supplier struck an agreement with six workers in Western Australia.
Mr O’Connor will reveal a Labor government would legislate to make clear the workers who vote on an agreement must be broadly representative of the workers ultimately covered by the agreement.
Under the proposed changes, it will no longer be possible to specify that an agreement supported by workers in one place covers employees employed in very different locations. Short-term casual workers will not be able to reach agreement on terms that bind permanent workers.
Labor would also change the law so that workers and unions could apply to the Fair Work Commission to renegotiate sham enterprise agreements. Mr O’Connor will say that companies are increasingly using enterprise agreements “voted on” by shortterm casuals to bind permanent workers, and using agreements voted on by workers in one state to bind employees anywhere in Australia.
“What is occurring in today’s labour market is a growing gaming of our industrial relations laws by employers who are cheered on by a complicit government,” he says.
He adds that the government has emboldened too many employers to avoid their workplace obligations, “secure in the knowledge that this government cares more about destroying unions than it does about ensuring workers receive decent pay, conditions and job security”.
Outlining Labor’s approach to workplace relations, Mr O’Connor will reiterate commitments to restrict the capacity of employers to terminate agreements; stop workers being forced into sham contracting arrangements; define “casual work, combat phoenixing, and introduce a national labour hire licensing scheme”.
“Turnbull and his Liberals have not taken any action that improves the bargaining position of employees relative to employers,” he says. “In fact, they are so out of touch, they have actively encouraged employers to engage in tactics to game the fair work laws and cut workers’ wages and conditions.” The announcement came as the ACTU called for unions to be empowered to inspect the records of businesses suspected of exploiting workers under an overhaul of visa rules.
In a submission to the government’s visa simplification inquiry, the ACTU says temporary migrant workers should also be given legal protections under the Fair Work Act to combat unscrupulous employers.