The union movement has worked to block the worst elements of the Morrison government’s ‘Omnibus Bill’, which would have cut the wages and conditions of AEU members, and workers more broadly, in ways that would dramatically reduce job security.
Late last year, the federal Coalition introduced a bill into parliament that would significantly undermine key elements of the Fair Work Act and provide for new arrangements that would hurt workers.
If the bill had become law, these changes would have negatively affected the wages and conditions of many casual employees and part-timers in certain industries, and provide employers with considerably more bargaining power.
Blocking the bill
Thankfully, the union movement has been successful in blocking four of the five key elements of the Omnibus Bill. If Morrison’s plans had been successful, workers would have faced cuts to take-home pay and conditions, as well as fewer rights and reduced job security.
Unfortunately, one element of the bill did pass, which includes a new, worse, definition of casual employment. Thanks to Morrison and his supporters, employers will now have even more power to designate a worker as a ‘casual’, with fewer rights than permanent employees, even if the work performed is regular and permanent. This will reduce liability for employers who deliberately misclassify casual workers and displaces decades of legal precedents.
The government pursued these amendments even though exemptions for exceptional circumstances already exist for employers that are struggling during the post-pandemic economic recovery.
Many of our members in disability services and TAFE are likely to be affected by these changes. In the Victorian TAFE sector, approximately 19% of the teaching workforce is employed as casuals, while around half of the workforce in the disability services sector is in casual employment.
A hard-fought campaign
In late February, the Morrison government used its majority in the House of Representatives to pass this anti-worker industrial relations bill. Labor and the Greens voted against it. Unions across Australia, through the ACTU, campaigned hard against the government’s proposal, building pressure on crossbench senators and highlighting how these changes would have a devastating impact on workers and their families. Morrison originally wanted employers to be able to force workers onto agreements that would provide less than the award’s minimum standards. Following union pressure, the government pulled back on this.
The heavily amended Omnibus Bill ultimately passed the Senate on 18 March, 35 votes to 33, with One Nation and Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff voting in favour of the attack on working people. Independent senators Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie joined Labor and the Greens to defend unions and workers. Morrison has signalled that his government is unlikely to further pursue the defeated provisions.
While we should celebrate this victory, it is important to note that the one positive element of the bill – a cross-party push to clamp down on wage theft – was cynically withdrawn at the last minute. This attempt by the federal Morrison government to undermine the wages and conditions of millions of workers was straight out of the Liberal playbook – designed to tilt power further in favour of employers. With your support, we will continue to fight these efforts and protect workers in early childhood, schools, TAFE and beyond.