Government abandons workers on wage theft

18 March, 2021

The federal government’s controversial Omnibus Industrial Relations (IR) Bill has passed through the Senate with significant amendments.

The government was forced to remove most of the Bill to avoid defeat in the Senate.

Some of the most controversial elements of the Bill were dropped just before the final vote, including cuts to pay and conditions below the minimum award safety net and changes that would have made bargaining more difficult.

The union movement had been campaigning heavily in the lead up to the vote to ensure these attacks on workers did not succeed.

The final Bill passed the Senate with the Coalition, One Nation and Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff voting in favour.

Wage theft protections abandoned

Unfortunately, significant protections against wage theft were also left out of the Bill.

The protections would have criminalised wage theft for the first time at a federal level and implemented a small-claims process for recovering unpaid wages.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus said dropping the wage theft protections meant the Morrison government had “abandoned the only part of the Omnibus Bill which has agreement from [government], business and unions”.

“After nine months of intensive discussions, unions, employers and the Morrison Government agreed on new laws aimed at stopping wage theft, the Government is now walking away from this agreement.

“This is shameful and vindictive reaction to not getting widespread support for other changes that would reduce workers’ rights.”

After the government dropped the wage theft elements of the Bill, the ACTU had urged Senators to vote down the Bill entirely.

Stripped back Bill hits casual workers

The remaining section of the final Bill largely related to the definition of casual workers.

The Bill implements a new statutory definition of casual employment – an attempt to prevent what the government has claimed is ‘double dipping’ of leave entitlements and the casual loading.

The ACTU had been seeking a “fair” casual conversion entitlement that would have given casual workers the right to convert to permanent employment if they chose to.

The Bill’s definition of casual employment, reduced liability for employers who misclassify casuals and conversion arrangements will leave workers vulnerable.

Sally said all that remained in the Bill was “an attack on the rights of casual workers which will make exploitations even more widespread”.

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