For everyone Ensuring integrity or ensuring workers’ silence?

  • By Michele O'Neil
  • This article was published more than 4 years ago.
  • 4 Dec 2019

The Morrison government has made it perfectly clear since the election that one of its central objectives is to attack unions and erode the power of working people.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill originally spearheaded by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 and recently re-introduced by Morrison, is an ideological assault on trade unions.

The bill seeks to give the Federal Court ‘discretionary power’ to disqualify union leadership it finds to be unacceptable and dole out severe punishments for ‘prescribed offences’. It would also allow the court to suspend the rights and privileges of organisations or divisions, order ‘remedial action’ to deal with governance issues, and terminate any group it finds to be ‘dysfunctional’.

Even minor civil breaches by unions, union members or officials could be punishable by de-registration of the entire union, nationally.

A five-minute protest action, a stopwork meeting or even an official submitting paperwork late could see an entire union dismantled.

A five-minute protest action, a stopwork meeting or merely an official submitting paperwork late could see an entire union dismantled, with officials banned from holding office.

These laws would not apply to business, banks or politicians. By contrast, if a company executive submits a form late, they face an $80 fine.

The Freedom to Associate, to band together, to collectively negotiate and to protest, are fundamental human rights, at the heart of our democracy. This legislation that has no precedent in the developed world. It is far more closely aligned with the IR regimes of authoritarian, undemocratic countries. In fact, an international report into the bill found that the most similar piece of legislation on record was from Brazil, during a period of fascist rule.

The AEU and its members are a great example of the positive change forged by people standing together to improve and protect their rights and conditions at work. It is important that all working people understand that this bill is a direct attack on that fundamental right.

There is no amendment to this bill that would make it acceptable – this is an attack on the basic rights of working people to union representation in the workplace.

If passed in its current form, the Ensuring Integrity Bill would give the minister, employers or even a concerned member of the public the power to take action to shut down unions, tying up valuable resources that should be used to fight for your rights, pay and conditions.

The government attempted to pass this in late November, with the crossbench senators holding the deciding votes. Thanks to ministers Jacquie Lambie and Pauline Hanson it was rejected in the Senate.

Less than a week later, at the urging of the business lobby, the Morrison government has re-introduced the bill, merely incorporating amendments to which it had already agreed. It is exactly the same deal that failed to pass the Senate in November.

The union movement stands ready to continue the fight against this legislation, now in its third year, pursued by its fourth industrial relations minister and being pushed by its second prime minister. There is no amendment to this bill that would make it acceptable – this is an attack on the basic rights of working people to have union representation in the workplace.

We have seen through the banking royal commission that banks are engaging in a wide variety of criminal and unethical conduct, but this has not resulted in a response from the government that looks anything like the Ensuring Integrity Bill. Every week, we see companies getting away with wage theft and putting workers’ lives at risk, but there is no Ensuring Integrity for them.

Australia already has one of the most oppressive industrial relations regimes in the developed world.

Australia already has one of the most oppressive industrial relations regimes in the developed world. This bill is about silencing working people and making it harder for all workers to achieve pay rises and to be safe and healthy at work.

We know that direct appeals from the public are an effective way of changing a politician’s point of view.

Every call you make or email you send will make a difference – helping to stop a bill that would dramatically change the nature of unionism and work in this country for us and for our children.

This bill will hurt working people in this country. It says everything about the arrogance and desperation of this government that just before Christmas it is reintroducing a bill threatening the rights of millions of working Australians.

The union movement has been fighting this bill since the current Prime Minister was a loyal member of Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet. We will not stop until it is defeated.

Take action at standupforworkers.com

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