It's time to change the rules

The ridiculous processes you’re having to go through with Protected Action Ballot Orders – all those hurdles tip the power in favour of the employer.

Australia is facing huge challenges, with the rules that made Australia fair for working people “really, truly broken,” ACTU Secretary Sally McManus told the IEUA NSW/ACT Branch AGM on Saturday, 21 October.

The ACTU is launching a campaign Change the Rules, calling for working people to push politicians into creating a fairer system.

McManus said the rules were broken when workers have to bargain for arbitration

“I know the Catholic employers are trying to take away the very important right you have to an industrial umpire,” she said.

“It used to be we didn’t have to bargain for it, it was part of the automatic rights of every worker. It was easy for workers to enforce their enterprise agreements or awards.”

McManus said it was a basic human right to withdraw labour as a last resort.

“The Liberal Government loves deregulation except when it comes to our rights. There’s so much red tape and legislation around enterprise bargaining it’s not funny.

“The ridiculous processes you’re having to go through with Protected Action Ballot Orders – all those hurdles tip the power in favour of the employer.

“Let’s start by freeing up those rights and taking away the red tape and legislation and making things fairer.”

McManus said inequality was at a 70-year high yet a decision had been taken that meant 700,000 of the lowest paid workers would lose their penalty rates.

“How can it be we have a system where the lowest paid workers are given a pay cut like that?”

There was record low wage growth yet profits in the private sector were up. The rules were broken for people suffering wage theft at the hands of multinationals not paying the minimum wage and the minimum wage was not enough to keep people out of poverty anyway.

Casual workforce

McManus said 40% of workers were now in insecure casual work.

“But are they really casual – they are in jobs for years and years or in rolling contracts that just go on for year after year?”

The rules are broken when it comes to taxes, she said. Half of foreign corporations and a third of Australian ones paid no tax.

Forty-eight millionaires paid no tax, not even the Medicare levy, and 19 spent on average $1 million paying tax accountants to avoid tax.

The unfair changes in rules had developed over the last 30 years, with successive governments following neoliberal, economic rationalism or trickledown economics, with the results being all the inequities described above.

“It’s a flawed concept that those at the top will put limits on their own greed and say, ‘I’ve got enough’. It’s preposterous.

“The Government needs to do that and we need people power to make them do that.

“The union movement has done it before, with the living wage, equal pay for women, super. Trade unions didn’t just sit back and say this is inevitable.

“That’s what we need to do. We need to make sure everyone pays their fair share of tax and make sure working people and their unions have better and stronger rights and make sure there’s fairness in society.

“We need everyone to be part of the Change the Rules campaign to fight for our basic rights and bring fairness back.”

A survey will be forwarded by the IEU to its members on behalf of the Change the Rules campaign later this year

“Sign people up to a movement to fight for fairness and create a wave of public opinion,” McManus said.

No democracy

IEUA Hunter Valley Sub Branch delegate Phil Jirman agreed wholeheartedly with McManus’ sentiments that there needed to be a change of rules.

Jirman said flaws in the ballot box system had led to voter suppression at his school, with those not present at the school denied input, long queues stopping some members having time to vote, and general confusion and inconvenience around the logistics of the vote causing problems.

“To the Union’s credit, they have led the membership over the hoops and obstacles put in their way to achieve ‘the holy grail’ of protected action. The amount of time, effort and cost involved seemed disproportionate to the requirements for a democratically meaningful ballot,” Jirman said.

“The amount of red tape seems designed to frustrate the members in their pursuit of industrial justice. How much did all of this cost?’

Reform welcome

South Coast Sub Branch delegate Shirley Jancetic said she too found the ballot process difficult, especially with the letters arriving at members’ homes during school holidays.

“It wasn’t easy to give them advice and direction in those circumstances,” Shirley said.

“It seems like they are making it as hard as possible for us. Teachers can’t understand why this is all happening. We just want it to be easy. Reform would definitely be welcome.”

Living in fear

Mid North Coast Sub Branch delegate Mary Murtagh said members at her school trusted the Union and had followed instructions to participate in the on-site ballot. Apart from a few part time teachers on those on excursion, everyone had been able to vote.

But she said she supported the ACTU campaign to change the rules.

“I’m annoyed about it because this is the legacy of WorkChoices obviously, but Labor had the opportunity to change this and did not. I’ve heard what we’ve got now referred to as ‘WorkChoices Lite’.

“It’s ludicrous the hoops we have to go through and members could see it was crazy.

“Sally is right about the trickledown economics. I worry about the future of my students. I have been a teacher for 40 years and it’s been comfortable. Now people will never have a permanent job and they’re terrified. It’s a disgrace.”