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Take care of your workplace rights - think about your vote on 7 September

05 September 2013 By ASU

fedelectionbutton2013-400pxThe ASU has been closely monitoring the release of policies over the federal election campaign. Our analysis indicates that in terms of protecting your rights at work and building a better life, the two major parties are very different in what they’re offering. We are providing this information to members and supporters to assist you in making the best choice for you, your family and your lifestyle.

As your advocate for your workplace rights, we have been focussing on industrial relations policies and connected policies that affect your life as a worker. This includes policies around superannuation and family assistance, as well as those strictly covering workplaces.

In this piece we have tried to summarise the policy areas where changes could materially affect your well-being and risk your security in the workplace, whilst providing details for you to consider. If these things matter to you, we encourage you to read further about these issues to satisfy yourself before you vote.

Click on the three sub-headings below to read the details.



New anti-bullying laws to be watered down by the Coalition

New laws to make it faster, easier and cheaper to stop workplace bullying will be watered down by a Coalition Government before they are even enacted. Set to begin on 1 January 2014, the new laws introduced by the current ALP Government have been hailed as great leap forward to protecting people in the workplace from the scourge of bullying. The laws empower the Fair Work Commission to hear matters and issue an order for bullying to stop. The Commission is also obliged to act on an application within 14 days.

The Coalition has proposed to bring in another layer in the proceedings, requiring applicants to seek the involvement of an "independent regulator" before applications can be made to the Commission. This will only create more red tape and delay real action. The adverse effects of bullying are widely understood, and the faster it can be stopped can mean the difference between resolving issues and irreversible damage to relationships and individuals.

The Productivity Commission review of the Fair Work Act

Tony Abbott has promised a Productivity Commission inquiry into the Fair Work Act but has not provided any details about the terms of reference of such an inquiry. The Productivity Commission places great faith in "the market" and is likely to view laws that guarantee unfair dismissal rights, penalty rates and other workplace protections as a "regulatory burden" on big business. Will this be a Trojan Horse sent in to raid our rights at work? Given the Coalition's form in workplace relations, we think so. By handing over to the Productivity Commission, which we don't believe is the appropriate body to review workplace laws, Abbott is able to play a small target for IR at this election and then blame any draconian changes that arise out of the inquiry on the Productivity Commission.

Reintroducing the ABCC – the building industry watchdog

Originally introduced by the Howard Government, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) was finally abolished by the current ALP Government. The body had excessive coercive powers which included removing people’s right to remain silent. The ASU and other unions campaigned persistently to get rid of this body which effectively created one law for construction workers and another law for everyone else. The Abbott Coalition has promised to reintroduce this unjust body and extend its reach.

Individual arrangements that can cut take-home pay

The Coalition intends to extend current individual flexibility arrangements to cover all matters that can be covered in collective bargaining, including trading of monetary benefits for non-monetary benefits. This opens up the potential for abuse with individual workers having to fend off employer attempts to remove their benefits. Read the ACTU factsheet for more.                                                                                                        

Penalty rates and award conditions under threat

The ALP Government introduced measures to protect penalty rates but the Abbott Coalition refuses to commit to safeguarding them. In fact, Opposition IR spokesperson Senator Abetz has shown sympathy for employer applications to undermine penalty rates, as have other members of the Coalition. The Retailers’ Association recently confirmed meetings with Senator Abetz and other employer groups about their intended application under an Abbott Government to threaten penalty rates. Read this article in The Australian, Bosses push penalty rates cuts, by Ewin Hannan for more about the Abetz and employer meeting. Read the ACTU factsheet for more.                              

A weakened independent umpire

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) is the independent umpire for workplace issues, but the Coalition’s policy says they will consider a further layer over the top of the FWC with a new appeals body. This is despite the fact that decisions of the FWC can be reviewed by Australian courts. There are no details about the proposed appeals body or who would be on it. Read the ACTU factsheet for more.

Giving more power to employers to wield over workers

Amongst other measures, the Coalition policy shows they intend to return to WorkChoices by allowing employers to arrive at Greenfields Agreements by making an agreement with themselves! The employer will not have to bargain with unions and workers. It also creates a series of hoops that unions must go through in bargaining before protected industrial action can be undertaken or before an agreement can be certified, even if the employer agrees. Read the ACTU factsheet for more.

Making it harder for unions to represent you

Tony Abbott has announced a number of changes that affect our ability to ensure workers’ interests are represented. These include the Coalition’s policy to return right of entry provisions to what they were under John Howard. The Coalition also intends to increase bureaucracy for unions while saying they want to cut red tape for everyone else. Read the ACTU factsheet for more.

We also believe it is important to note the views of powerful business groups like the Business Council of Australia who are urging a Coalition Government to go much, much further with workplace changes than what has already been announced. The Retailers' Association has met with Senator Abetz to discuss their moves should the Coalition win. If these groups are agitating loudly for more IR change, an Abbott Government will be listening closely.

There are two main points at stake with superannuation in this election: one relates to a delay in the timetable for increasing the superannuation guarantee and the other to the removal of the Low Income Superannuation Contribution.

Superannuation guarantee increases - Abbott’s delay means a cut to your retirement savings

The superannuation guarantee was a proud achievement of the union movement. Starting at 3%, it has grown over the years as it has proved a successful measure for ensuring a more comfortable retirement for workers.

The current ALP Federal Government put in place a timetable for increasing minimum superannuation contributions from 9% to 12% phased in over a period of years. This increase was campaigned for and commended by unions as being another step towards providing people with a liveable income in retirement.

However, the Coalition, should they form Government on 7 September, have decided to delay the timetable for the increase by two years. This translates to a significant cut to retirement savings for all workers.

Under the ALP’s changes a person aged 30 today on average full-time earnings would retire with an extra $127,000 in their savings. But if the Coalition forms Government, the same average 30 year old would retire with $20,000 less in superannuation savings due to the delay they have confirmed.

Low Income Superannuation Contribution – to be abolished by a Coalition Government

The Low Income Superannuation Contribution was also introduced by the current ALP Government to help bolster the retirement savings of low income earners. It provides a concession of up to $500 for eligible contributors. The Coalition has confirmed they will abolish it.

This area is a complex interplay of various policies including education, paid parental leave, child care assistance, school kids' assistance, etc. To work out what's best for your family, it is necessary to consider all the policies.

Paid Parental Leave (PPL)

Tony Abbott's paid parental leave policy is certainly a very generous offer and it is not surprising that many taking it on face value don't understand the objections to it from the Nationals, business and unions, amongst others. We'll let the others make their own case but the ASU and other unions are very concerned about all the uncertainties in Abbott's policy. We have written to Tony Abbott seeking clarification – see our recent news item and a copy of the letter here: ASU and other public sector unions seek certainty on Abbott’s paid parental leave policy.

There are technical difficulties with the scheme that suggest it may not even be delivered at all. Add those difficulties to the business rejection of the scheme and the opposition of the Nationals (the Liberals' partner in the Coalition) and it is easy to foresee it either never seeing the light of day or being delivered in a watered down state.

Beyond even these difficulties, unions see other problems with how this works in the industrial sphere. For decades workers have bargained for paid parental leave and many have been successful. In gaining these benefits, those workers have foregone other benefits or even increases in pay. Abbott's PPL policy asks you to opt-in by opting-out of pay and conditions won by the strength of collective action. It is also unclear how this could legally be achieved.

Consistent with widespread reports on costing, the very expensive Abbott PPL scheme will be partially funded by investors (including self-funded retirees and all of us with superannuation) through the loss of tax credits on investment income. As with our comments on superannuation elsewhere in this piece, workers' retirement savings are being plundered.

The next important question to ask is how does the Abbott PPL scheme work in with other family policies? Paid parental leave is a financial boost which helps at the beginning of a child’s life to assist families but children need to be looked after for more than one year!

Flexible workplace arrangements for carers

Returning to work for parents is often a difficult process and the right to request flexible arrangements was enshrined in the National Employment Standards to ensure the needs of children are met. Coalition policies indicate that although parents will still be able to request flexible arrangements, they will need to trade off pay or other conditions in order to access the flexibility. This would result in carers becoming 'second class' workers on reduced wages and conditions and is potentially discriminatory. The intent of the right to request was to assist carers to return to work – not to pave the way to erode the workplace rights of vulnerable employees.

Child Care Rebate – making child care affordable

The Child Care Rebate has ensured that child care services for those returning to work are affordable. The Rebate was increased from 30% to 50% under the current Federal Government. Tony Abbott has said he wants the Rebate extended to private carers like nannies, but he won't increase the funding for the Rebate. This would mean it will be spread thinner so child care costs for those using centres must rise.

Other related policy areas

Another measure to be eliminated by a Coalition Government is the Schoolkids Bonus. This is an annual payment to assist families with ever growing education costs. Unlike Abbott’s PPL scheme, it provides annual assistance, recognising the ongoing needs of children beyond when they are born.

The Coalition has also neglected addressing policy areas that allow women in the workforce to prosper and take care of their families. These include closing the gender pay gap, equal opportunity, discrimination or leadership development.

The ASU believes that although the Abbott PPL scheme is generous on the surface, there are many question marks hanging over it. Will it be delivered at all, or delivered watered down, and what other family assistance measures does it replace with fewer families able to access them? You can read further details about how policies for families are affected here: ACTU analysis of major parties policies shows Coalition is worse for women and families: one policy is not enough


Think about your vote on 7 September!

Your vote is your business, but it is incumbent upon us to provide our members and supporters with information and resources to help them decide. Whichever Government we get, make no mistake, we will be impacted at work, either positively or negatively, by the policies they put in place.

In addition to this summary of policy areas we believe are important to consider before making your vote, we have also provided a web page of resources which includes:

  • Links to the major parties’ websites so you can examine their policies in full.
  • Links to the major fact checking websites, which is a new development at this election.
  • Fact sheets prepared by the union movement addressing the main areas of concern in industrial policy.
  • Extensive news items covering many issues in greater detail.
  • A presence on social media to provide information efficiently and effectively and to respond quickly to breaking news.

We hope you, our members and supporters, have found these resources of use in your deliberations.

Regardless of who wins Government on 7 September, this will remain unchanged: the ASU and the union movement more broadly will continue to fight to protect and advance your rights at work.



Contact Details
Name: David Smith, ASU National Secretary
Telephone: 03 9342 1400
More info: ASU Federal Election 2013 Resources Webpage