Change the Rules campaign

The May Day marches in Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle will focus on the combined union campaign to “Change the Rules”.

Union activists and community members will protest against the laws and regulations that undermine the rights of workers to take collective action to achieve fair pay and job security.

In a Press Club address on 21 March, ACTU General Secretary Sally McManus detailed the changes that have occurred under the Fair Work Act, discussed how the “rules” are broken and underlined the changes needed to restore workers’ rights.

“Corporations have used their power to drive holes through our rights, converting once secure jobs into insecure work, cutting and holding down wages,” she said. “Technology has changed the workplace, and the business model of the so-called ‘gig economy’ side steps all workers.”

The minimum wage no longer provides protection against poverty.

In 2017, the expert panel established by Fair Work said: “We acknowledge that the increase we propose to award will not lift all award-reliant employees out of poverty, particularly those households with dependent children and a single wage earner.”

This is why the ACTU has called for a $50 increase in the minimum wage. The Change the Rules campaign will seek the restoration of penalty rates and a “living wage” above the poverty line.

Wage growth in Australia is at a record low. The Reserve Bank Governor has pointed to a crisis in wage growth and indicated that many workers are prioritising job security ahead of demanding wage rises.

In order to rebuild our economy Ms McManus said: “Australia needs a pay rise.” She pointed to the “complex web of rules and regulations which give too much power to employers in bargaining”.

These rules restrict the rights of workers to collective bargaining and taking collective action. The campaign will focus on restoring workers’ rights and the legislative power to enforce both rights and entitlements.

In NSW, the Public Sector Wages Policy has capped salary increases for school teachers and other public sector workers at 2.5 per cent unless working conditions are traded off as employee-related savings to fund higher increases.

Federation opposes the policy and the amendments to the Industrial Relations Act that deny public sector workers the ability to pursue salary increases based on changes to work value. Federation will pursue changes to these rules as part of the campaign.

Almost 40 per cent of the workforce is currently engaged as casuals on short-term contracts, in labour hire or as “independent contractors”.

These workers not only face under-employment and insecurity but also are often underpaid, and not provided entitlements such as superannuation.

The campaign is aimed at achieving more rights and security for these workers. The aim is to define casual work and to distinguish between genuine casual employment and regular ongoing work, such as temporary teaching.

Where work is ongoing, casual employees must be allowed to convert to permanent or permanent part-time work.

Similarly, laws that allow firms to deem workers to be individual contractors to avoid paying minimum wages, sick leave and other entitlements must be changed to provide all working people with equal access to these rights and entitlements.

Ms McManus urged workers to band together to “counter balance the power of big business”. But she warned that a focus on “rules alone will never be enough”.

She pointed to the gains in conditions and living standards through the efforts of strong unions and urged people who want change, pay rises, job security and more equality to “join your union”.

Federation, in conjunction with the Australian Education Union, ACTU, Unions NSW and affiliates, is engaged in the ongoing development of the “Change the Rules” campaign.

As a social justice union we will support this campaign in the same way we engaged with the union movement in the “Your rights at Work” campaign that defeated Work Choices.