United Workers Union (UWU) members at Peters Ice Cream in Mulgrave have been engaged in protected industrial action since January 22nd. The action is currently taking the form of an indefinite ban on overtime, with no end in sight after a recent offer was rejected by members.
The point of contention is one that has occasionally been neglected by unions, to our detriment: casual workers. The company wants to cut the hourly rate of casual workers by more than $9, while offering a paltry increase of 7.5% over three years to the full-time workers in the hope that one group will sell out the other. It’s a time-tested strategy, and has paid off for employers on a number of occasions over the years.
But not here, and not for these members. All workers at this site have stuck together to stop the erosion of their pay and conditions, whether they are affected by the casual pay cut or not.
This is not the first time workers at this site have had to take industrial action. The previous EBA also resulted in industrial action, which is certainly why negotiations for this round were started so far in advance, in March of 2020.
This is also not the first time Peters have demonstrated their callousness. During the pandemic they refused to grant paid leave for workers potentially exposed and needing to quarantine or needing to get tested. Workplaces like this were, as we now know, hotspots for spreading COVID-19 due to their staffing arrangements. With workers forced to choose between going to work while possibly infected or losing vital shifts, the company was actively demonstrating that they had no interest in maintaining a healthy and safe workplace.
The workforce at Peters is around 30 per cent casualised. This is despite steady production and steady profits, even through the pandemic. Many casual workers have been employed by Peters for a number of years, with no offer of permanent secure work forthcoming. With the ratio of casual to permanent workers being what it is, it might have been easy to dismiss the casuals and take what could be gotten for the permanents. UWU have, however, really been leading the way in how unions organise and win with casual workers.
UWU sites in manufacturing and distribution are commonly a mix between casual and permanent workers. This presents unique challenges, as opposed to sites that are entirely one or the other. Chief among these is that the two separate sets of pay and conditions make it harder to achieve fairness across the board. To combat this, UWU and other unions in similar circumstances have taken a proactive approach in recent years by aggressively pursuing casual conversion clauses in their agreements. The success of these clauses is a testament to the fact that people want secure jobs they can count on. It is also a testament to the achievements that can be made through industrial strength.
At the time of writing this, another offer from Peters is being considered, and a resolution is potentially about to be reached.
But, at the unseen edges of this progress against increased casualisation, a sinister force stirs...
The Omnibus Bill
It looms on the horizon like a dark cloud. It comes.
A pulse can be felt beneath the hill of Parliament House. Strange arrangements of stones have been found in its courtyards. There are whispers in its long hallways, as if from nowhere. It comes.
The otherworldly Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 is being summoned forth from its realm of eternal suffering by the Liberal Party. It seeks to bring only chaos and further casualisation to our world.
It gained its first foothold in our world with the advent of a great plague, but its true beginning was in a much older and much more sinister sickness: that of neoliberalism. It does anything but support Australia's recovery; it serves an agenda which is only using these strange times to hide its true intentions.
The madness comes from a place that cannot co-exist with our own. Our world follows certain natural laws: the rights of workers, the security of work and the balance of power in the workplace. Beyond the veil, where this vile entity was born, these things are unknown.
A deal was struck last week between the Liberal Party and Pauline Hanson to remove the changes to the BOOT (Better Off Overall Test), which hastens its passage into the physical world. The tradeoff seems to have been for nothing, however, as the remaining body of the bill is no less malignant with the change made.
The first thing the bill does is give a legislated definition to casual work. Prior to this, the definition of casual work had been dictated by common law, i.e. defined over time by court rulings. A legislated definition thus overrules all of these precedents, essentially rewriting all the things that casual workers have been depending on up until now. This is not a terrible thing in itself, and would even be acceptable if the definition being used was not an abomination from the void.
This new arcane definition reads:
A̘̩̰̣̹͈͉ ͍͍̞p̜̯̖͍e͈̣̗̘̖̼̹r̠̲͈s̤̲̗o̘͎̲̯̙ͅͅn̙̬̝̘̩̜ͅ ͉͙̖̙w̟i̟͓̤̥̻ll̟ ͇̦̺b̩̻̦̲̥̲e̞̖̗ ͈c͕o͓̟̬͍̘͙͇n̥͚si͖d̼̖̹͍er̻̭̥̳̳ͅe͍͇͔d̟ ̹̞͔̥̘̭͙a̘ ̟c̼̪̻̟͈ͅa̪̥͉͇̱ͅs͚͈̩͍͇u̲̘a͖̮l͖̘̮̙ ̮̬e̳̣̯m̟̞̲̦p̝̞̹l͉o̲̺̖̖y̮e͙͚̼e̬̼ ͕̲̩̠̙if̺ t͕̼̯h͈͍̘͕e̬y̻͍̠͈̣̼ ̱͙ac͕̹̙͉͈̭c̬͍͉͈̲̦e͇̟͎̫͙̠͖p̟̝͕̘ͅt͉͚ a̳̫̭̙n̝̩͙̥̣̟ͅ ͍of̬̼̭̺̖̠f͔̣er̥̬̥͇͙̬̟ ̖̘̤̘͎o̟̫͙̝͖̳ͅf̠̳͕̖̠̰ ͚̙͉͖em̼̼̫pl̮̖̟̘̮͓̠oy̝̭̦me̲̬̼̹̘̜ͅn͔̮͈t̥͓͉ͅ ̻̱̲̗wh̟̩̹͍̦er͍e ̩͍̤t͇̻h͕̼̺̙̪͙ͅere͎̞͈͚̭ͅ ͍i̯̼̠̲̥s͕̱͖͎ͅ ͖̗̹̪͔̣n̖̳̫̞͙̺͙o͍̻̥͈ ̬̼̟͓̣͓̗f̯i̝̼r͎͖̻m̼̰̮ ad̼̦̺va̮n̩c͖͔̯̻̜e͙͉̮̫͇̤ ̟̳̳c͙̘͓o̝̘̮m̟m̖͍̫i͍̱̼͇̯̦̮t̳̝̬̖̫m͖e̯͓͇̦̹̗̦n̪͍͈͔t̻̮̖̖͍͈ to͖̝͔͙̮̟ ̠͖͈̬̳̭c̥̣͇o̪̺ṉ̥t̼in͍̜͈̠u̘̬̭̗͔̤͕ị̗n̟̟̥̝g̰̝̗̺͚ ͔ạ̯̞̬nd̲̪̺͇ͅ i̲̟̣͈̪̦n͇̜̘̟d̞̝̟e̬̦͍f̼͔̻̙̭͔i̗͍̭͚n̳̜̫̮̠̘i͓̬̗t͔̩̗̹e̟̬͕͙̬̞ ͈̥wͅo̟͚͎r̭̺̳k̟̬͎ͅͅ ̟͔̜͍̼a͙c͕̙̮̼͈c̙̮͍̭̼ọ̯̻r̖̥͓̠d̞̰̳̻͔i̭̰̱̠̥n̞̤g ̬̗̻̗t̻̞̳̖̻̭͚o̲̥͈̩̼̰ ̻̠͓̰̞a͕̖̜̦̭̙͙n̦̥͎̭̘ a͙̗̗g̭̠̙̪̯͎̙r̼̗̣̲̮e͇̺̼̝̦̺̱e̥̭̹͚̝d̙̙ ̠̻͉̩p̺̺̫͚̱a̮͕t̤͖t̗͚e͎͓̼̘̩̹r͇͙̻n ̩̝̫͍o̳f̺͚̲ ͍w̟͕͇̣̫̗̬o̤̯r͚̪̗͕k͇̙.̺
Look unnatural? That's because it is. Translated, it means that a job offer does not need to be explicitly casual, it just needs to be implicitly not permanent. Where it was previously the nature of the work and the nature of the employment relationship that dictated who was and was not casual, the boss now gets to decide unilaterally. There's so many ways this could be abused by employers who want to further entrench their workforce in insecure work.
On top of that, the infernal text decrees that an employer must offer a permanent position to an employee if they have had six months of steady work in twelve months of employment, unless there are business grounds for not doing so. What could those grounds be? Pretty much anything, from what we can gather. And who will be evaluating a company's rationale for not offering permanent positions? No one, from what we can gather.
The only body that is going to fight for the rights of casuals are unions like UWU are doing at Peters, but the fight is potentially about to get a lot harder.
The bill brings a blight to Greenfields agreements as well. Where a Greenfields agreement on a new project could previously only last for four years before rolling over as an EBA like any other, the government wants to change this to eight years. What could this possibly have to do with economic recovery? No, it wants to lock unions and workers out of the bargaining process for the lifespans of entire projects.
The final instrument of this cursed entity are its so-called wage theft laws. In a true distortion of reality, they are anything but what they claim to be. Where some states, Victoria included, are enacting their own wage theft laws, this amendment pulls the floor out from underneath them. The burden of proof is so high that it is hard to see any employer being prosecuted. The theft must proven to be deliberate, which is such a hard thing to prove. It's very easy to envision bosses claiming a simple mistake, and moving on with a slap on the wrist.
The summoning continues now in the Senate, with the House's part in the ritual complete.
The way is open.
Sign the petition here and together we can delay the madness creeping into our world and our workplaces.
United Workers Union members at Peters Ice Cream in Mulgrave have been engaged in protected industrial action since January 2nd. The action is currently taking the form of an indefinite ban on overtime, with no end in sight after a recent offer was rejected by members.