Member action prevents WorkChoices 2.0

25 March, 2021

The determination and activism of union members across Australia has forced the federal government to abandon many of the worst aspects of the dangerous IR Omnibus Bill.

A substantially reduced version of the Bill passed through the Senate last week (exact date), after the federal government faced a lack of support for the Bill from crossbenchers.

Four out of five elements scrapped

Of the five original elements of the IR Omnibus Bill, only one was passed, with the most controversial elements of the Bill dropped just before the final vote, including capacity to make 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’ rights did not succeed.

Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus said working people had worked tirelessly to defeat the worst aspects of this Bill and thanked the politicians who opposed the Bill.

“We thank Jacqui Lambie, Rex Patrick, the Greens and the ALP for standing with workers, their integrity stands in stark contrast to the actions of One Nation and Centre Alliance, who have chosen to sell out working people,” Sally said.

The defeat of four of the five aspects of the IR Omnibus Bill is a significant result for Australian workers, who have clearly said they will not tolerate cuts to conditions, pay or job security, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wage theft given green light by federal government

In a vindictive move by the federal government, significant protections against wage theft were excluded from the Bill at the last minute.

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.

Ms McManus said dropping the wage theft protections meant the federal 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 federal government agreed on new laws aimed at stopping wage theft, they are now walking away from this agreement.

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

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 reduces liability for employers who misclassify casuals and conversion arrangements will leave workers vulnerable.

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

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