Jobs Summit Initiatives Will Be Second Fiddle to Workers’ Struggle
Written by: Ned K. on 4 September 2022
(Above: This cartoon from Murdoch’s Australian reflects people’s cynicism about the Jobs Summit whilst perpetuating ruling class stereotypes about unions.)
The Albanese Government's Jobs Summit has been and gone. On Friday 2 September at the completion of the Summit, Albanese put out a press release on his view of the Summit outcomes.
It said the Government wanted to "maintain this spirit of cooperation and collaboration in the months and years ahead" and wanted to build a "bigger, better-trained and more productive workforce" and a "stronger economy and a stronger Australia" based on "full employment, productivity growth and equal opportunities for women".
The press release then outlined a summary of "36 Immediate Initiatives" including:
1. $1 billion in joint federal - state funding for TAFE 2023 leading to 465,000 fee-free TAFE places
2. A one-off increase of $4,000 over 2022/23 financial year that a pensioner can earn from employment without effecting the pension amount.
3. "Flexibly" use $575 million on a National Housing Infrastructure Facility for social and affordable housing, attracting finance from superannuation funds and other sources of private capital.
4. "Modernizing" Workplace Relations laws to make bargaining accessible to all workers and businesses
5. Amend the Fair Work Act "flexible work arrangements" provisions and make unpaid parental leave more "flexible"
6. Improve access to jobs and training pathways for women, First Nations People and create 1,000 digital apprenticeships in the Commonwealth Public Service.
7. Increase permanent Migration Program ceiling from 160,000 to 195,000 in 2022-23 to overcome workplace shortages of labour
8. Extend visas and relax work restrictions on International Students and fix the backlog of visa applications. For many years International Students have only been able to work 20 hours per week during term times
9. Include an objective test in law for determining what "casual employment" means
10. Establish a worker's right to challenge unfair contractual terms in employment
11. Limit the use of "fixed term contracts"
12. Ensure there are "flexible options" for reaching collective agreements
13. "Making the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT) simple, flexible and fair".
These Government Initiatives by the Government are designed to make capitalism work better for the capitalists and to make capitalism more acceptable to workers.
Some of the immediate Initiatives will be welcomed by some sections of the workers, such as more TAFE fee-free placements and improved access to jobs and training to women and First Nations People.
Devil in the detail
However, what actually what happens in actual practice with any of the Government proposed initiatives remains to be seen.
This is particularly the case when considering what the Government actually means by "Modernizing" workplace relations?
Workplace relations laws in Australia have always been to contain the workers’ struggle against exploitation by the capitalist class and to define and limit the legal ways by which workers could advance their collective interests and individual industrial rights.
The most contentious issue at the Jobs Forum was undoubtedly what was called "multi-employer bargaining".
The Business Council of Australia and other big business organizations at the Summit likened it to the "bad old days" when workers advanced their collective industrial interests by taking collective action to improve wages and conditions of employment in Awards which then became minimum standards for ALL employers to comply with in the industry covered by the Award.
These organizations represent the voice of the multinational corporations and finance capital in Australia. As the core of the ruling class, they understand what "when workers unite, bosses tremble" means if workers across a whole industry or sector are more easily able to take collective action at one and the same time to further their interests.
Hence, they sounded their alarm bells in their mass media outlets when it was reported on the eve of the Jobs Summit that the ACTU had an in-principle agreement with some small business organizations for multi-employer collective agreements.
The Albanese Government's Jim Chalmers and Tony Bourke were non-committal on the scope of any multi-employer agreement making, as was ACTU's Sally McManus.
No teeth in collective bargaining without the right to strike
The Government and the ACTU did not say whether they agreed that where it did become lawful for workers to collectively bargain on a sector or industry-wide basis, workers could take industrial action.
Under current laws, there is a limited right to take industrial action during a bargaining period after so many legal hoops are jumped through and even then, bosses run off to the courts to seek orders to stop industrial action.
Without workers having the legal right to take industrial action without having to have a secret ballot and then give 72 hours’ notice of proposed action, multi-employer bargaining will be just another tool or bosses to chip away at workers conditions and reduce real wages even further, but on a sector/industry wide level instead of on a single employer level.
The Murdoch press has reported that some employer groups see multi-employer collective agreements replacing Awards.
Combine this with both employers’ groups, the Government and (yes) Bill Kelty talking about Awards being "complicated" then the alarm bells for workers start ringing?
What else are the bosses after than changes to laws which enable them to REDUCE working conditions such as shit penalty rates, weekend rates that are currently in Awards and have to be taken in to account under the Better Off Overall Test?
Struggle against work intensification
During the Jobs Summit both Government and employers talked about the need to "increase productivity". In the workplaces this usually means for workers that fewer workers do more. This occurs in factories producing a product but also right across the services sectors such as nursing, aged care, cleaning, child care and more.
Work intensification also occurs where there are already collective single employer Agreements in place. During the life of an Agreement, workers who take industrial action are taking "unprotected industrial action" leaving themselves and their union delegates open for massive fines and dismissal.
These issues of course did not rate a mention at the Jobs Summit.
Workers are struggling against work intensification, poor safety, bullying bosses and more, every day in one workplace or sector or another.
As with the Accord of the 1980s, the Government actions arising from the Summit and what it actually places in law are likely to be very limited as far as benefits to workers is concerned.
Workers’ collective action is the way forward
While the Jobs Summit was going on, Security Guards at Sydney airport succeeded in winning significant improvements in their wages and conditions through struggle on the job and collective action.
Two years ago, they were a divided group with only a small number out of a workforce of over 300 even in a union. During an enterprise agreement process they took industrial action and joined together to win permanent jobs for hundreds of workers, or full time jobs and increases of 7% per year plus a 15% shift loading for the majority day workers.
They did this without any help from a Jobs Summit or Government Initiative.
They did it by their own efforts collectively. During the process they learned that "when workers unite, bosses tremble"!
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