archive: July 2019

10 July 2019

Brad Chilcott notes that while the Government is urging business to speak publicly for law reform, charities are being silenced: “Scott Morrison loves ‘quiet Australians’. The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government especially loves quiet charities, quiet scientists, quiet environmentalists, quiet journalists, quiet human rights commissioners, quiet workers in quiet unions and a quiet public broadcaster. It will burn for anyone who stays quiet — and threaten to burn down anyone who raises their voice. … [I]n Australia a charity who states their opinion about what potential government will be better for the people, communities or environment they serve or represent risks deregistration… This situation is merely the status quo — yet the Coalition has shown a determination to further silence the charity sector and their allies throughout their time in power”, through gag clauses in funding agreements, the appointment of a hostile Charities Commissioner, and attempts to legislate event tighter restrictions. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister openly begs the business lobby to provide political cover for harsher industrial relations laws: “We would expect business organisations such as yours to build the evidence for change and help bring the community along with you too.”

8 July 2019

The Liberal Party wants to use its surprise election victory to look after its mates, and big business has wasted no time rehashing its usual requests. Two of its top lobbyists have published a six point wishlist [$] in their newsletter, The Australian. Translated, here is what they are calling for: 1. Allowing bosses to interfere in the registration and democratic leadership of unions; 2. Allowing bosses to declare permanent staff ‘casual’ regardless of their actual rosters; 3. Weakening the Better Off Overall Test to allow employers to undercut minimum wages and conditions; 4. Restricting how workers can control funds they have negotiated as part of an employment agreement; 5. Making it easier to unfairly sack people or discriminate against them for being union members or speaking up for workplace safety; and 6. Allowing construction bosses to impose working conditions for more than four years without ever negotiating with workers. A grab-bag of ‘fixes’ for the few aspects of the Fair Work Act that put a brake on militant employers stripping wages and conditions.

Last week Australia’s first modern slavery reporting period commenced. It will require about 3000 businesses to make an annual statement explaining what they are doing to address the risk of slavery in their supply chains — but other than finger-wagging, companies face no real penalties. A former UK anti-slavery commissioner who helped draft the Australian law says it is too weak: “There need to be sanctions. There also need to be situations where any profit that comes from slavery needs to become tainted money and taken away from the business… [A]ny profit should be taken away to compensate these kids and pay reparations.” When the government starts pushing for tougher penalties against unions that break administrative rules in fighting for workplace safety, remember that it wants companies that profit from slavery to face no punishment. (The NSW Parliament has passed a tougher law that applies to more businesses and includes penalties for non-compliance, but a year later the Berejiklian Government still refuses to enforce it.)

6 July 2019

Scott Ludlum has written an excellent overview of the current wave of youth-driven environmental protests: “Some forms of protest have long ceased to have any impact. … Direct action works best when it surprises people. … The emergence of Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike 4 Climate are important contemporary examples of protest cascades that have caught the popular imagination and grown so rapidly that those in power were caught off balance. How these movements develop from here is an open question, but in their own way they are powerful examples of how novel recombinations of old tactics can open new opportunities for mobilisation and movement growth. … This is the generation that is choosing not to accept the theft of their future gracefully. They’ll be less activist when things are less shit.”

5 July 2019

Following a series of significant US court cases awarding compensation to workers who developed cancer after being exposed to the weedkiller Roundup, gardeners working for the Blacktown City Council expressed their concerns. The council demanded they continue working with the potential carcinogen, and threatened to sack anyone who refused. More than 500 workers took the correct action — they went on strike demanding a more reasonable response, given that other councils have banned the product and their concerns are not unwarranted: “The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says it ‘probably’ causes cancer.“ To resolve the dispute, Blacktown agreed to try a different product that does not include the suspect chemical. This shows the power of workers standing together and withdrawing their labour to achieve reasonable improvements in workplace safety — but in Australia this strike was illegal and the workers now risk being prosecuted by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

4 July 2019

I am unspeakably angry about Labor’s gutless decision to legislate huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Australians. What I think about it isn’t fit for print. I’ll borrow instead from Waleed Aly: “Precisely what business does Labor have waving something like that through? … How is such a regressive change to income tax consistent with its world view? … I cannot escape the feeling Labor’s indecisiveness draws exactly the wrong conclusion from the election, and endangers it in potentially long-term ways. … [D]oes anyone in the Labor Party seriously believe that a single vote deserted them because Labor didn’t support a significant tax cut for people on $200,000 in five years’ time? … [By opposing the tax cuts] Labor could have preserved some sense of what it’s about as a party — the starting point for a narrative, if you will. Seems to me the greatest risk was to abandon that.“ Instead, Albo Labor is positioning itself as a weak party that believes in nothing.

3 July 2019

Radio National’s Who Runs This Place is a very interesting and wide-ranging series looking at various aspects of power in Australian society. The latest episode focusses on people power, and discusses the decline of union influence. Tim Lyons of Reveille Strategy (subscribe to their newsletter) makes a good argument about the state of the unions: “I think unions actually have very little power. Certainly less power than you would think from the public discourse. And I think two things really stand out to prove that fact… you wouldn’t see record low wage growth and an epidemic of wage theft if unions were powerful. … The critical thing really is for unions to … develop membership propositions that work in those smaller enterprises, then I think we’ll see membership growing.” Lyons goes on to promote worker cooperatives as a strategy for collectivising the so-called gig economy. Plenty of other interviews, too, with people like Tim Dunlop, Sally McManus, Marcia Langton and Megan Davis — well worth listening to.

Evidence is mounting that penalty rate cuts have failed to deliver the promised jobs and extra working hours. Dr Jim Stanford found that employment growth in the industries affected by the penalty rates cut was far lower than in most other industries: 0.9 and 1.7 percent in retail and hospitality, compared with 2.7 percent across the whole economy. “The conventional belief that simply cheapening labour and further exposing workers to lower and insecure wages will somehow elicit more job opportunities is not validated by empirical reality.” Meanwhile, professors from the University of Wollongong and Macquarie University looked specifically at the times of the week affected by the penalty rate changes and were “unable to establish any evidence of a relative increase in the prevalence of Sunday, public holiday or weekly employment for modern award employees or employers”. These wage cuts — with another round kicking in last week — are nothing more than a transfer of money from low paid workers to their bosses.

2 July 2019

In 2016, the Coalition introduced new laws targeting the CFMMEU, introducing $210,000 fines for unlawful pickets in the building industry. But the union has turned the tables — it is now using the law to target bosses who unlawfully block union access to building sites. In one lawsuit, the union is seeking penalties against a site manager who allegedly abused safety inspectors and tore up their entry permits [$]. In another, the union is seeking $4 million [$] in a case accusing a project manager of illegally blocking them 67 times, and Victoria Police of unlawfully picketing them thirteen times; in one incident, concrete slabs were suspended over operating train lines, but safety inspectors were banned from the site. (Police routinely illegally side with dodgy bosses.)