Employers get rich from wage theft, banks make millions from unlawful fees, nursing homes are mired in scandal and the Morrison government cracks down on … unions!
The federal Liberal/National government wants greater power to interfere in the work of unions and make it harder for them to win pay rises and protect jobs.
The Ensuring Integrity (EI) Bill now before parliament would give the government, employers, or any other party with ‘sufficient interest’ the power to intervene in the running and work of unions.
The bill would make it easier to disqualify people from holding union office, deregister a union, change a union’s eligibility rules, restrict the use of funds or property of a union and more.
Labor and the Greens oppose the bill, meaning the government needs the support of four of the
six crossbench Senators for it to become law.
NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes describes the proposed laws as fundamentally unfair.
“They would not apply to business, not apply to banks and not apply to politicians, despite their serious unethical conduct,” he says.
He says the Australian union movement is already heavily regulated and the EI bill goes further than any other western democracy in interfering in unions.
“During the last election campaign the Morrison government insisted it had no plans to reduce workers’ rights.
“Now, Morrison is doing the bidding of big business by dusting off previously failed legislation to weaken the ability of working people to organise.”
No accountability for politicians’ poor behaviour
Brett said numerous scandals in banking, aged care and other corporations had revealed wage theft, fraud, money stolen and elderly people left without enough food.
“However, no one in any of those scandals has been barred from holding office, nor has a single organisation been deregistered.
“If the proposed anti-union laws applied equally to corporations we would see banks, multinational pizza chains and the restaurants of celebrity chefs closed down for repeatedly breaking workplace laws and their top executives sacked.”
Members of Morrison’s own government had not been held to account despite their involvement in numerous scandals, such as ministers going to work for lobbyists, MPs hiding their investments from the public and questionable uses of allowances.
“The Morrison government does nothing about this – it won’t even enforce the weak ministerial code of conduct that is already in place.”
The bill has also attracted criticism from overseas.
The general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Sharan Burrow, dubbed the legislation “an extraordinary act of vandalism really in terms of the democratic rights and freedoms of Australia”.
Burrow, a former Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president, said the bill would do
“far-reaching damage to our democratic structures”.
“Nobody can look at this with an objective eye and say it is anything but an act of some sort of ideological revenge.”
Bank crime gets a free pass
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus has contrasted the federal government’s push to criminalise union activity with its hands-off approach to bank crime.
In an article in The Guardian newspaper, Sally said banks and other financial institutions had admitted to tens of thousands of breaches and the banking royal commission – which Scott Morrison opposed – had uncovered crimes and unethical conduct.
“People would be right to ask why isn’t the government cracking down on the banks?” she wrote.
“Why aren’t they holding press conferences denouncing their behaviours? Why is Scott Morrison having his photo taken with the CEO of a major bank instead of calling for the resignation of the big four banks’ CEOs?
“Why aren’t new laws that stop the banks ripping off working people Morrison’s first priority?”
Instead, Morrison was seeking the power to “knock off member-elected union leaders and shut down their unions.”
“The banks have been forcing farmers off their land, laundering money for drug dealers, charging fees to dead people and forging signatures that have resulted in Australians losing their life savings and even their homes.
“All the union movement is guilty of is standing up for safe workplaces, more secure jobs and fair pay under a regime of oppressive laws that are out of step with the rest of the developed world.”
Nurses a potential target
Labor industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said the anti-union bill, if passed, would allow employer groups to apply for unions to be deregistered.
“Some of the examples that would make you liable for deregistration are extraordinary,’’ he told ABC radio.
“So, for example, if the nurses’ union decided that a group of nurses who wanted to campaign on better staff ratios, and in doing so, it wasn’t registered lawful industrial action.
“They were simply concerned about the issues of the patients, they had unprotected industrial action. The union could be deregistered for that. The entire nurses’ union deregistered for an action like that, and that action could be brought by anyone deemed to have a sufficient interest.”
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