Despite its deafening silence on industrial relations issues during the recent election, the re-elected Coalition government is charging ahead with an aggressive plan to change Australia's labour laws. And business lobbyists are lining up to endorse its direction. First out of the gate is a plan to amend the Fair Work Act, in the cynically mis-named "Ensuring Integrity" bill, to introduce harsh new sanctions on unions and union officials.
Our Director Dr. Jim Stanford was recently invited to testify before the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment on the bill, and its likely economic and social consequences.
The bill contains 4 substantive sections, which would extend the scope of permissable actions in the Federal Court to disqualify union officials (including elected leaders) from their posts, place unions under court administration, and deregister unions altogether. These severe actions can be sparked by a wide range of supposed offences: including civil court matters, matters not related to officials' role with their unions, and activities (like organising strikes and protests) that are considered normal and legitimate in most industrial countries. The bill would also empower the Fair Work Commission to prohibit union mergers on vague "public interest" grounds.
It is hard to fathom that in an economic context marked by unprecedented stagnation in wages, growing polarisation of income and opportunity, and a looming potential recession, the measures contemplated in this Bill have somehow become the top labour market priority of the country’s government.