New federal government will test rights and conditions

Our task in protecting members’ rights is going to become even more difficult after the election of a conservative government federally.

Business interests are pushing for the conservative government with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister to “reform” industrial relations. We regularly heard from Tony Abbott that he would not rush to make big changes to the Fair Work Act but he also regularly said that he would “reform” the Fair Work Act to increase productivity and make it easier for employers and employees to negotiate their own agreements. We know “reform” is code for reducing the take home pay of employees by taking away penalty rates such as shift allowances and loadings for weekend work; allowing employers to put employees on individual contracts; increasing managerial prerogative versus the rights of workers.

Tony Abbott has already foreshadowed that his government will make it more difficult for the union to meet with its members at the workplace; putting limits around what can be agreed to in enterprise bargaining agreements and of course trying to narrow the opportunity for union members to take protected industrial action in support of claims.

We are already seeing the new government’s potential approach to industrial relations with the halting of the former Labor government’s pay rises for 350,000 of the lowest paid workers in the health sector.

However this past year, members have shown the strength that collective action can bring. We have shown that with strong collective action we are able to get parties to return to the negotiating table to bargain new agreements and to respond to changes in the work place. Coupled with the state government’s determination to ‘take on’ the unions, we can expect to have our rights and conditions seriously challenged in the coming year by the federal government.

The collective resolve of members is going to be even more important under the new federal government.

We need to keep the Union strong in every workplace.

We have done it before under the Kennett Government in Victoria in the 1990s and the 12 years of the Howard Government – and we will continue to do it.

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