Employer groups call out for war on wages and conditions

Predictably, big employer organisations are coming out after the election and telling the Morrison government to make further changes to Fair Work Australia in their favour.

The charge is led by Australia Industry Group chief Innes Wilcox, who is publicly pushing for what he calls the “need to revitalise the enterprise bargaining system and crack down on the rorts.”

The Australian Industry group is mainly the peak organisation of the manufacturing and construction industries. Wilcox’s words must be taken within this context.

What do the words above really mean then? Take this for example. It gives a very good idea.

“The Fair Work Act needs to be amended to ensure that an employee engaged as a casual and paid as a casual, is not entitled to be paid annual leave or other entitlements that casual loadings are paid in lieu of.”

On the surface this is about stopping double dipping, as if it is a major problem. It is not about this. The real target is anything that gets in the way of cutting the conditions of and expanding the the extent of causal work.

This falls in line with the growing practice of using labour hire firms as a tool to casualise the workforce, which has been supported by Innes Wilcox and his organisation.

His is paid to pursue the conditions that will supply the cheapest labour.

In the same vein, there is opposition to the restoration of penalty rates.

Supporting this, is his call for “clearer and tighter rules around union right of entry in critical sectors such as construction.” This is an old battleground, where the Australian Industry Group wants to keep unions out of the workplace.

The Reason? To take away the major defence workers have, when they are victimised, are not paid the proper wages and conditions, or safety standards are neglected. Such protection costs the employer money and gets in the way of increasing exploitation.

This is the stuff that Innes Wilcox wants action on from the Morrison government.

The Australian Industry Group is not in its own in this.

Speaking on behalf of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, Its CEO Steve Knott, has come out to say that the Morrison government has now been given the mandate to reject what he calls the “divisive class warfare rhetoric and false characterisation of our workplaces being in need of radical change.”

Let’s talk a bit of reality here. The Change the Rules Campaign was about bringing in a new industrial relations system that essentially takes us back to the old awards system, which despite all its faults, at least gave some more scope for negotiation, and provided a little more fairness in terms of income distribution.

Change the Rules has also been about opposing the rise in the casualisation of the workforce and the decline of conditions at work, a fairer workplace, and raising the capacity of unions to serve their members.

None of this is particularly radical.

In context, it means that Steve Knott is calling for the Morrison government to step up going in the opposite direction.

If anyone has unleashed class warfare, he and other leaders of employer organisations have been doing it. Is it any wonder then, that the unions rise to meet the challenge?

The closest the unions have come to class warfare, is to mobilise millions of their members to fight for a better deal.

Employers’ organisations are backing a move to change the law to provide even greater control over union funds than is the case at present, and to make it easier for Fair Work Australia to deregister unions.

These are only the first shots. The heat will be turned up, and the unions are already working out their response to the new situation.

There is a lot at stake in the coming battle. If the Morrison government and the major employers get their way, wages will stagnate even more than they have in recent years, underemployment will grow and there will be fewer proper full-time jobs around.

But there is no guarantee that they will win out in the end.

An early starter has been the Transport Workers Union, which is launching coordinated industrial action involving 38,0000 workers across airports, the transport and retail industries. The purpose is to win higher wages for casualised workers.

Addressing the union’s national council in Cairns on Tuesday, its secretary Michael Kaine said: Over the next year we will launch the most concerted push in our union’s history to bolster our bargaining power.

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