The rules that made Australia fair are broken

The only time when working people have won decent pay increases or improved conditions is when we’ve had the power to negotiate.

ACTU’s President Michele O’Neill and John Quessy

Economic and industrial power is vested in employers and big business leading to growing inequality, record low wage growth, mounting workloads and greater insecurity of employment.

Our members in Catholic schools know that the rules for taking industrial action are broken. They remember the tortuous legal machinations required before they were able to stop work in protest at their employer’s refusal to allow access to the industrial umpire

Members working at independent schools under multi enterprise agreements (MEAs) have been denied any form of access to industrial action by the current laws and have been forced to take or leave the salaries and conditions offered by employers. In independent schools those MEAs never provide for any workload limitations and teachers and support staff see their conditions deteriorate as work and responsibilities intensify.

All members, indeed, most Australian workers, are caught in a situation where there is no capacity to fight back against unrealistic demands outside bargaining periods every three or four years. In the intervening period employers seize the opportunity to add to workers' burden and to change work practices.

Teachers in our early childhood sector have been struggling since 2013 to bring to the Fair Work Commission a case to address the pay inequity which is based almost exclusively on gender. It should not be so difficult to prosecute a work value case. In a fair system it would not be.

The only time when working people have won decent pay increases or improved conditions is when we’ve had the power to negotiate. And that power comes from influence. Those who want to see these things change must join together and join with the national movement to Change the Rules.

To make these changes we must first change the government

In 2013 the then Labor Government legislated increases in the universal superannuation contributions which would have had Australian workers receiving 12% Super from 1 July this year. Instead those laws were undone by the Liberal/National Party, and retirement savings are capped at 9.5% with no projected movement until mid 2021.

Australia needs a pay rise; an end to continued wage suppression – a pay rise to relieve the increasing drain of growing household debt, to compensate for the rising cost of living and eventually to stimulate the economy.

To change the rules we must pledge to change the government and to vote for a party committed to re-establish the fair playing field. A party which will:

  • require genuine, fair collective bargaining
  • restore rights to collective industrial action
  • remove the capacity for employers to terminate enterprise agreements
  • close the loopholes allowing employers to avoid their legal obligations to workers
  • increase penalties for wage theft
  • provide 10 days of paid domestic violence leave in the National Employment Standards
  • restore penalty rates
  • close the gender pay gap
  • introduce new rules and new powers for the workplace umpire to stop sexual harassment at work, and
  • abolish unfair and discriminatory programs such as the Community Development Program, which discriminates against Indigenous workers.

If we, as workers are serious about these issues, if we want to see change and a return to the fairer country we once had, we must seize the opportunity to have our voice heard, to change the government and to insist that these broken rules are changed.

John Quessy