Senate Inquiry Into IR Omnibus Bill

In December 2020, the Senate of Australia launched an important inquiry into the federal government's proposed Fair Work Amendment Bill.

Core features of the legislation include clarifying and expanding employer power to hire workers on a casual basis, obtain greater flexibility in the use of permanent part-time workers (adjusting hours up or down without penalty, much like casual workers), and exercise greater unilateral wage-fixing influence in enterprise agreement (EA)-making.

The Centre for Future Work were glad to make a submission to this inquiry. The submission assesses major components of the legislation, and finds measures proposed will result in the expansion of employer power to use insecure labour and low-wage enterprise agreements, placing further downward pressure on already record-low wages.

Alison Pennington presented evidence in-person to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee in Adelaide on February 10th. A transcript of her testimony is available here

The Centre for Future Work's opening statement to the Senate Inquiry is available here, published through Medium.

Please read our full 32-page submission to the Senate Inquiry here

 

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Omnibus IR Bill Will Accelerate Non-Union Agreements & Further Reduce Wage Growth

The federal government’s omnibus Industrial Relations bill proposes sweeping changes to labour laws which will generally enhance the power of employers to hire workers on a just-in-time basis, and will put further downward pressure on Australian wages (already growing at a record-low rate). One outcome of the bill will be an acceleration of enterprise agreements (EAs) written unilaterally by employers, without negotiation with any union. These non-union EAs will be favoured for several reasons if the omnibus bill is passed: EAs will be exempted from the current Better Off Overall Test, employer-designed EAs will be subject to less scrutiny at the Fair Work Commission, and employers will have less stringent tests to ensure their proposed EAs are genuinely approved by affected workers. All of these changes will lead to a significant increase in employer-designed EAs that reduce compensation and conditions, rather than improving them – signalling a return to the WorkChoices pattern of EA-making.

In a new report, Centre for Future Work Senior Economist Alison Pennington assesses the major ways in which the IR bill will accelerate non-union EA-making, and considers three specific ways this in turn will undermine wage growth in Australia compared with existing collective bargaining laws.

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Migrant Workers Abandoned in the COVID Recovery

COVID continues to sweep Europe and the US, while Australia celebrates near-elimination of community transmission. But Australia’s public health success has not come without significant economic and social hardship for large sections of our community – especially migrant workers. Thousands of migrant workers were pulled off the job to stop the spread of COVID-19, and excluded from key government income support programs including JobSeeker and JobKeeper. Temporary migrant workers are still left without access to Medicare. 

In this short, accessible commentary, Senior Economist Alison Pennington outlines how the pandemic, the resulting recession and government COVID-era policies have increased risks to migrant workers’ financial security, and health and safety. Building more secure, inclusive labour markets can reduce risks that future major events don’t hit the most vulnerable hardest.

This commentary was prepared for presentation to the Migrant Workers Centre Conference, November 2020. 

 

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2020 Year-End Labour Market Review: The Pandemic and Insecure Work

A year-end review of the dramatic changes in Australia’s labour market in 2020 has confirmed that the worst economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic were felt by Australians in relatively low-paid, insecure jobs.

Workers in casual jobs lost employment at a rate 8 times faster than those in permanent positions, according to the new report from the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute. Part-time workers suffered job losses 3 times worse than full-time workers.

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IR Bill Will Cut Wages & Accelerate Precarity

The Morrison government has proposed sweeping changes to labour laws that will expand unilateral employer power to cut wages and freely deploy casual labour. Together, the Coalition's proposed changes will accelerate the incidence of insecure work, undermine genuine collective bargaining, and suppress wages growth. Impacts will be felt across the entire workforce - casual and permanent workers alike. 

In this extended commentary, Senior Economist Alison Pennington explains the main components of the IR Omnibus Bill, assesses their impacts on workers' wages and labour protections, and offers some strategic analysis on how labour advocates can work towards addressing insecure work. 

This commentary was originally published in Jacobin. A shorter edited version was published in Michael West Media & John Menadue's Pearls and Irritations. 

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Call for Applications: Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Fellow

As recently announced, the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute are honoured to house the Carmichael Centre, a new research centre recognising and continuing the legacy of union leader Laurie Carmichael. A key component of the Centre will be the Laurie Carmichael Distinguished Fellow, a research and educational position funded for an initial 3-year period.

We have launched a search for the first Carmichael Fellow. Please see this call for applications for further information. Applications close at midnight (AEDT) on Monday, 18 January. Thank you for your interest in the Carmichael Centre!


New Centre to Recognise Legacy of Laurie Carmichael

A new research centre dedicated to the legacy of one of Australia’s greatest union leaders will be established in 2021 at the Australia Institute.

The newly formed Carmichael Centre will be established at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, in the name of legendary manufacturing unionist Laurie Carmichael, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 93.

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Planning and Supporting Transition, not Delaying it, Best Way to Help Fossil Fuel Workers

New research by the Centre for Future Work, commissioned by health care industry super fund HESTA, finds that a planned transition of Australia’s labour market away from fossil fuel jobs could occur without involuntary layoffs or severe disruption to communities—if governments focus on a planned and fair transition. That transition needs to include: a clear, long-term timeline, measures to facilitate inter-industry mobility and voluntary severance as fossil fuels are phased-out, and generous retraining and diversification policies.

Released following the UN Climate Ambition Summit (12 Dec), which highlighted the need for Australia to accelerate the phase-out of fossil fuels, the report finds that delaying climate policy cannot protect the quantity or quality of fossil fuel jobs, which will inevitably decline as the global energy system shifts quickly to renewables. To best protect these workers and communities, pro-active transition planning must start now.

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Profile: Combining Economics and Social Justice

The Centre for Future Work's Director Dr. Jim Stanford was recently profiled in a feature article published in In The Black, the journal of CPA Australia (the professional body for certified accountants in Australia). The profile, by journalist Johanna Leggatt, discusses the history of the Centre for Future Work, and Stanford's philosophy of using popular economic knowledge to strengthen movements for social change and workers' rights.

We are pleased to reprint, with kind permission from In the Black, this profile, titled 'The People's Economist'. Many thanks to the journal and to Ms. Leggatt for the generous article!


A Women’s Agenda for COVID-Era Reconstruction

Women have been uniquely and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession: losing more jobs and hours, shouldering a higher unpaid caring work burden, and undertaking essential and frontlines jobs. Without targeted action to rebuild women's jobs and ease caring demands, decades of collective advances toward decent paid work could be eroded.

Alison Pennington, Senior Economist with the Centre for Future Work assisted The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) preparing the timely report Leaving Women Behind: The Real Cost of the COVID Recovery. The report documents the gendered impacts of the crisis and the federal government's COVID-era policies, and outlines a public investment strategy to undo the damage of the crisis, and ensure women play an equal role in an inclusive economic recovery.

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