Scott Morrison declares intent to send industrial relations back to the Howard era

By Jim Hayes

We all knew it was coming. Scott Morrison has announced the introduction of new anti-union laws.  And we can expect to see the worst that has been tried for a long time.

On Monday this week, Morrison announced in a major speech to the West Australian Chamber of Commerce, that he was going to “cut the red tape,” in order to speed up approvals for major projects. He called it clearing the “cholesterol in the arteries.”

This is obviously directed at giving a hand to the mining companies.

He cited economic challenges in Australia and the global situation, as causing the necessity for continuing with the government’s tax cuts and economic policy agendas. Industrial relations and unions were tied to this.

In this there is an admittance that the Australian economy is in trouble, and that the trade war between the United States and China and Britain’s Brexit, will make the global economy less stable and impact on Australia.

The solution offered, in short, is to make big business happier.

A part of the package is to increase control over the unions.

Scott Morrison used the manufactured controversy over Victorian secretary of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU), John Setka, to support his intention to re-introduce his Ensuring Integrity Bill to the parliament next week. It contains tougher penalties for unions and officials who “break the law.” The Bill was previously blocked by Labor and the Greens.

The Setka controversy is manufactured, because it hinges on alleged comments made at a meeting of the union. Setka and others who were there deny they were said. But this hasn’t stopped misreporting and trial by media. There is are also pending harassment charges relating to his marital situation. This was not union business and his wife. They are together again, and is standing by him.

That this gets used as the hook to bring in further anti-union laws, shows how intent the government is to achieve its aims.

It doesn’t stop at the Ensuring Integrity Bill.

The Primer Minister announced that, “in his new capacity as Minister for Industrial Relations, I am asking Christian Porter to take a fresh look at how the system is operating and where there may be impediments…”

This is political double speak for looking at laws to bring in a more punitive industrial relations system.

Scott Morrison called on the business sector to help campaign on the effort.

In a recent interview with the Financial Review, Christian Porter openly said that the CFMEU should be deregistered. The same could be used to target other unions, for not complying with the increasingly restrictive industrial relations system operating in Australia.

Much of the government’s economic, social and industrial relations policies are lifted out of the pages of the Business Council of Australia’s (BCA) call, released in April this year and called “A Plan for a Stronger Australia.”

Within its pages is the government’s tax cuts. There is the call for a more flexible workforce. A big part of this is to remove controls over business.  This refers to government controls. It also applies to the role of unions. Scott Morrison borrowed his “red tape” comment from here.

The Plan also concerns for the strengthening of the capacity of Fair Work Australia’s (FWA) to consider the wider economic impact of its decisions. These impacts will take the form of the government’s partisan interpretation of what is good for the economy.

Hidden within the Plan, is what looks like the revival of John Howard’s shift towards strengthening enterprise agreements reached directly between employers and employees. Union involvement is left out. There is a hint of support for the revival of individual contracts.

The government had had already announced the intention to further curtail the ability of the FWA’s Fair Work Commission (FWC) to deal with agreements concerning social issues like the gender pay gap, penalty rates, and the operations of labour hire contractors, which are regarded at the province of the government.

The BCA’s Modern Workplaces Relations policy provides more detail about what it wants. The shopping list includes a more strict limitation on what enterprise agreements can cover, increasing the power of the FWC to further restrict  “protected industrial action,” and further denying the right of union officials to enter a workplace, so they can only come in if they are representing a union member and if they have the permission of the employer.

The policy explicitly calls for the introduction of individual contracts and the trade off of rights on the job for pay increases, and calls for retention of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), to provide extra punitive measures for construction unions resisting the imposed limitations on what they can do.

These are the measure we can expect the Morrison government to try to implement.

The union movement is moving to resist this with its Stop Morrison’s War on Working People campaign.  A part of it is an online petition.

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