Unions condemn fast-tracked changes to workers’ pay deals

ACTU secretary Sally McManus says the new rules are a bridge too far.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus says the new rules are a bridge too far. Photo: AAP

Unions have condemned changes to workplace rules that will allow just 24 hours’ notice for employee votes on changes to enterprise agreements.

Bosses will be able to force workers to vote on proposed changes to pay and conditions within one day for the next six months because of the coronavirus.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter used regulation to reduce the usual time for voting on enterprise agreements from seven days.

“This is a fair, temporary administrative change to a time period meant to deal with an extraordinary and emergent situation the likes of which we’ve never seen before,” he told ABC radio on Friday.

“I want to give businesses and their employees every advantage to be able to respond quickly to save businesses and save jobs.”

But ACTU secretary Sally McManus accused Mr Porter of bowing to bosses looking to push through pay cuts.

“Some employers have not stopped demanding rights be taken off working people,” she said.

“We saw some openly try to force changes to the Fair Work Act that would undermine people’s job security and rights at work in the lead up to JobKeeper becoming law.

“Those attempts were opposed by the union movement and were rightly refused by all political parties.”

But she said employers that had not suffered a significant downturn from the coronavirus outbreak had lobbied the government to make the change by regulation.

“They should be condemned, and the government should stop
listening to them,” Ms McManus said.

She said the move had abolished rules that protected workers, job security and rights.

“These changes will allow employers to ram through reductions in pay and undermine job security,” she said.

But Mr Porter said employers needed greater flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the change would revert to seven days after six months.

“Employees will also still be able to vote down a proposed change to agreements,” he said.

“In some cases, delays have been impractical and prevented employers from taking effective steps to improve the safety of their staff, or to ensure their businesses were able to function efficiently during these difficult and fast-changing times.

The ACTU is also concerned the government’s JobKeeper program is already being rorted. Examples included employers that have proposed holding back some of the JobKeeper payments for ‘administration fees’.

“Prior to the pandemic, Australian business had an enormous problem with wage theft,” Ms McManus said.

“We know that, sadly, too many employers will exploit the system if there are no safeguards for working people.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged employees to report any rorting of JobKeeper to police and Australian Taxation Office.

It came after Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie said she had been contacted by a worker who was offered her job back only if she gave her boss $600 of the government payment.

“That sort of behaviour where that’s occurring by employers, that’s disgraceful and it’s illegal and they should be reported to the police and the ATO to ensure that can be followed up. It’s not on,” Mr Morrison said.

“We will move quickly on that.”

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