Monday, June 6, 2016

Oppose Downward Push on Workers’ Incomes in All Its Forms

Ned K.

During the election campaign union members across the country have been running a good grass roots campaign, Save Our Weekends, No Cuts to Penalty Rates. 

The purpose of the campaign goes further than the ALP election campaign in that it is designed to create enough awareness and support in the community to make it risky for either Labor or Liberal in a post-election government to wash their hands of any decision by Fair Work Commission to reduce weekend penalty rates in any sector of the economy.

The Save Our Weekends campaign is part of a broader strategy of progressive people within the working class movement to build an independent working class agenda and movement.

The idea of progressive workers initiating a movement with an agenda independent of the Labor Party in particular is being well received in the community and in workplaces. The evidence supporting such an idea is plain for all to see in deals between Coles and the 'yellow' union leadership of the right wing ALP-affiliated SDA to reduce penalty rates in an Enterprise Agreement and the infamous Bill Shorten involvement in a shonky deal for Clean Event/Spotless workers. 

More Sinister Attacks On Living Standards Underway - Migrant Workers Affected Most

However there are more sinister attacks on weekend penalty rates and shift rates that have the potential, if not opposed, to have an even greater impact on living standards than the current attempts by big business to reduce penalty rates on weekends, initially in the hospitality and restaurants sector.

One of these attacks on living standards takes the form of employers requiring workers to register their own Australian Business Number (ABN) as a condition of employment. This has been going on in industries like cleaning, security, road transport and construction for a while. It became more prevalent when workers defeated the Howard Government's individual contracts (AWAs). 

Attempts to introduce individual contracts in a new form have not been successful due to workers' experience of AWAs. So employers in the sectors mentioned above are targeting migrant workers for cheap labor and 'sell' ABNs as a way for a new migrant to 'be their own boss' which they are told will help them progress their Visa status towards permanent residency. 

The result is that these workers end up being paid as low as $15 per hour on an ABN with no annual leave, no sick pay and no worker's compensation protection unless they self-insure. As for superannuation payments, most of these workers have no knowledge of this entitlement. The super exploitation of these workers, especially if they work on weekends and evening or night work results in them being underpaid by up to $15 per hour on average. Throw in any overtime worked as well and the underpayment or super exploitation is even higher.
These workers are difficult to organize because of their precarious situation, but it appears that this form of employment is spreading beyond the new migrant worker population and occurring in areas such as aged car and private sector disabilities where government policies of both major parties move to "consumer directed care". 

"Consumer directed care" is a euphemism for deregulation of these industries, making it difficult to trace who is the actual employer of the person performing the care work, and putting the onus on the consumer of care to police how the provider of their care is paid. So even the minimum safety net pay and conditions of employment are not applied as workers thrown out of other industries become more desperate for any work that keeps them out of the eye of the Centre Link "police".

Challenge For Unions

The challenge for unions is to allocate organizing resources to these sectors and to include these workers in the fight to build an independent working class agenda. A difficult challenge but history of workers struggles in the early days of capitalism when unions first formed shows that where there is a will there is a way!

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