By Ben Wilson
It’s going from bad to worse. The attack on Australia’s union movement has gone up another notch, as the Morrison government continues with its obsession to put an end to it a an effective player in the Australian scene.
Unions are important, because they are the front line defending wages and working conditions. Without unions, both would fall back dramatically in no time at all.
Unions are also the reason why we enjoy age pensions, other forms of social security, public education and health services, and more. They won the Eight Hour Day. Their fall would have an impact outside our life at work.
Even the right to vote for other than those who have property and for women were two battles that the early unions had a hand in.
All of these were fought for and won by those who came before us, and the organising and campaigning core was the unions. It follows, that the efforts to weaken and ultimately try to kill them off is related to taking away hard-won rights.
The latest assault by the class warriors making up the federal government is the Ensuring Integrity Bill, that clearly spells out the partisan intention. This is an attempt to bar officials it doesn’t like and deregister unions more easily. In the real world, a raft of existing legislation geared to limit unions means that any official or union doing their job will get charged, brought to court and convicted.
It is telling that the same approach is not applied to employers and their organisations. There is no equality before the law, and this is exactly how it’s intended.
Showing who really calls the shots, is the spruiking from the peak organisation of the big private sector employers, the Business Council of Australia (BCA). It and the associated Murdoch media monopoly have been all out to bring in this regime.
The members of the BCA that are the main financial contributors to the Liberal and National parties and belong to the same social circles. They call the tune and the government dances to it.
Together, they built up the campaign against John Setka, the leader of the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU) in Victoria, to divide the unions and push through what the real agenda.
The BCA is now coming out and saying that the current enterprise bargaining system must be replaced by one outlawing agreements, on all but a very few matters and actively discourages wages growth.
A significant part of this is to take away the “better off overall test.” This means new agreements should not leave workers worse off than the old ones. The BCA wants this to be replaced by a “no disadvantage test.” This will make it easier for employers to pressure workers into singing so-called trade offs in order to keep a job.
There is only one rational for this. To decrease the wage share of income. And the Ensuring Integrity Bill, if it gets past the Senate, will be used against officials and unions who try to prevent this slide.
The union movement has good reason to unite and win community support. Its future may well depend on it.