28-02-2021: As far as comprehensive attacks on pay and working conditions go, you just can’t go past the IR (Industrial Relations) Bill presented to the Australian parliament by the federal government over Christmas in 2020. The deceptive wording of the Bill’s title hides an agenda which is anti-worker and anti-Union in its very essence. Referred to as the IR Omnibus Bill, the “Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020” could, if it becomes an Act, reduce Unions to IR bystanders. In some cases, it may remove the right of workers to collectively bargain with the employer on ANY aspect of pay and conditions. There is little doubt it will vastly increase casual and insecure work, amongst a workforce which is already one of the most highly casualised in the world. As it stands, workers employed as casuals in Australia do not receive annual and/or sick leave. Labour researcher David Peetz points out that 130 out of 163 countries require temporary workers to have the same leave entitlements as permanents – but not workers in Australia.
Outright removal of workers’ rights
The Omnibus Bill is slated by establishment as a “Covid recovery” mechanism. In reality, the Covid “pandemic” fraud is the fig leaf for the onslaught against the very conditions of life workers need for existence under the rule of capital. In fact, the fake pandemic is itself the ideological and political enabler of the enforced recession in which workers suffer but the super elite prosper. Even a brief overview of the Omnibus Bill will reveal its sinister intent. If enacted, it would lead to fewer permanent jobs with the rights they entail. The casual conversion (to permanent) provisions are laughable, with an employer not being bound to convert a temporary employee to permanent if he/she believes it is not “reasonable” to do so. All Awards – the previously legislated minimum set of conditions – are likely to be reduced even further from what they are today. The Bill would allow for Enterprise Bargaining Agreements to be made even if they fail the BOOT(Better Off Overall Test), for businesses “affected by Covid”. It would allow the creation of workplace agreements with pay and conditions BELOW the Award – effectively making minimum pay and conditions laws null and void.
The current limited rights for workers under Enterprise Bargaining are savaged by the Omnibus Bill. Workers can be stripped of the right to an explanation of an agreement on which they are expected to pass a vote. Agreements that exclude the National Employment Standards (NES) can be approved. Employers can impose inferior pay and conditions in a “Greenfields” (i.e., a new workplace) agreement, meaning workers have no right to negotiate at all. The Bill also includes provisions on wage theft which make it virtually impossible to prove the employer willingly underpaid staff.
No defence without lockdown defiance
These attacks are a mortal threat to working people. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has researched and accurately decried the scale of the virtual abolition of a list of workers’ and Union rights. However, the ACTU officials only offer the meekest of resistance. ACTU Secretary Sally McManus wistfully complains that the workers which will be hurt the most by the Omnibus Bill are the “ones that helped get this country through a once-in-a-century crisis….they deserve job security and respect……Australian workers are suffering from years of wage stagnation….the rate of casualisation of our workforce desperately needs to be addressed….if this bill cannot be fixed, it needs to be dumped.” The ACTU officials talk like capitalist politicians, rather than fighting Unionists.
Needless to say, the “once-in-a-century crisis” is the fake pandemic engineered by finance capital and dealt by their marionettes heading governments, corporate media and “health” bureaucracies. Union officials have been at the forefront of consciously imposing the coronavirus pack of lies onto their members and all workers, siding with the largest and wealthiest woke corporations on planet earth in the process. Why? While Unions are mainly comprised of honest rank and file workers, the Union officials are anything but. They have a material interest in striking a delicate balance between keeping workers alive and able to slave for the “captains of industry”, and mitigating the workers’ bitter dissatisfaction at the state of their living and working conditions. Sometimes the Union officials side with the workers in this tightrope walk – but most of the time they are with the employers and the government. They are keenly aware of what is acceptable to the bourgeoisie and what is not – and they are skilled at preventing and stifling the efforts of workers in striving towards anti-capitalist goals.
There can be no defence against the Omnibus IR Bill unless and until it is combined with worker defiance of the absurd and dangerous lockdowns, and the entire “health crisis” ideology. Arguably, the raison d’etre for the fear pandemic was to drastically reduce the cost of labour power (wages and conditions of workers) through any means possible. Hence the millions of job cuts and the fascistic measures governments imposed to prevent workers from organising and fighting back – social distancing, lockdowns, forced facemasks and vaccines, tracking and tracing, quarantine and isolation. Transparently, these measures are NOT about a virus, but are political methods to remove civil, democratic and even Union rights won over the last 150 years. If workers accept ANY part of the ruling class “pandemic” narrative, they will not be able to defend the ground they stand on.
What is required to even begin the necessary fight against the Omnibus Bill, is a frontal challenge to the Union officials’ enforcement of Covid baloney. Workers need to affirm: “We reject Covid nonsense as a cover for the assault on us, and which you are assisting the government in imposing. We do not accept Corona lies and we demand permanent and secure jobs for all workers – through a six-hour day with no loss in pay.” Such an approach would lay the groundwork for the replacement of Union officialdom with class struggle militants committed to a world where workers hold power.
 Ibid, 3.