The big news about the Productivity Commission’s draft report has been the attack on Sunday Penalty Rates. That’s not surprising –4.2million Australians work on Sundays, and cuts to Sunday pay in the retail and hospitality industries will almost certainly trickle through to others.
But in case you didn’t get around to reading the 1000 page report because you were, you know, working, here’s a brief overview of some of the other nasties it contains for working Australians.
“Employers [should not be] required to pay for leave or any additional penalty rates for any newly designated state and territory holidays”Yep. No new holidays, ever. This is as good as it gets.
It’s not like new holidays are announced often. But this recommendation effectively denies any new celebrations or commemorative events forever. Which is pretty darn depressing.
“The Australian Government should remove the emphasis on reinstatement as the primary goal of the unfair dismissal provisions…”The commission is recommending that employers found guilty of unfairly dismissing a worker should have more flexibility to avoid reinstating the worker.
This has serious consequences. It could, for example, increase the incentive for employers to sack union workers who are agitating for better conditions. Paying a fine to get rid of the union worker illegally could be preferable to dealing with the ramifications of a better informed, more organised workforce.
"Adverse action" (discrimination against workers who know and use their rights) has a devastating effect on our industrial relations system, breeding a culture of fear and intimidation. It already happens (just this week, Andrew the truck driver was sacked for talking about occupational health and safety - sign the petition to support Andrew here). Any changes that make it even easier to sack workers for using their rights will further undermine our entire framework of rights at work.
Remove the Better Off Overall TestThe Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) allows workplace agreements that do not meet legal minimums, so long as the employee receives compensation that means they are “better off overall”.
The Productivity Commission wants to replace the BOOT with a new “no disadvantage test”. Despite the innocuous name, there is no information yet on what that test will look like, or what it will consider. Minister for employment, Eric Abetz, has said “it stands to reason that [a working mother] would be trading up by sacrificing penalty rates two days a week for the nonmonetary benefit of spending time with her children”. That’s great Eric, except she shouldn’t have to sacrifice those penalty rates! The claim of “non-monetary benefits” is just one example of how employers may wish to subvert existing minimum legal standards under a new test.
Increase the termination notice period for Individual Flexibility Agreements to up to 1 yearA “flexibility agreement” under the current system can be terminated quickly if the reasons for the need for flexibility change. Under the new “no disadvantage test”, Flexibility Agreements could lock you in to lesser conditions (and “non-monetary benefits”) for up to a year. Funny. That doesn’t seem very flexible. At least not for the worker.
“Terms that restrict the engagement of independent contractors, labour hire and casual workers, or regulate the terms of their engagement, should constitute unlawful terms”.This is the biggy. Australia already has the second highest rate of insecure (casual, labour hire) work in the developed world. Employers love labour hire and casual contracts, because it enables them to get around all those pesky rights and conditions negotiated by actual employees. It also puts their precious brand at arm’s length from any exploitation that occurs: “Don’t ask me – Shonky Brothers Incorporated manage all our labour issues”.
Insecure work is a huge problem for Australian workers. When you can be terminated at a moment’s notice, it’s almost impossible to get a home or car loan. You wait by the phone wondering if you’ll get a shift – you can’t plan joint family breaks if you never know when you’ll next work. It’s impossible to plan for the future. Some workers are stuck on these contracts their whole careers.
So workers and unions have been trying hard to negotiate agreements that prevent their employer outsourcing work to labour hire, or that require employers to bring casuals on as full time employees after a certain time. The productivity commission is recommending that unions aren’t even allowed to negotiate such clauses with agreement from employers. Funny how “flexibility” only seems to go one way.
The productivity commission’s recommendations are an unprecedented attack on Australian workers’ wages and conditions.
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