Hospo Voice

Why we need to fight Australia’s new industrial relations bill

February 8, 2021

What you can do to battle the Morrison Government’s latest attack on working people

Hi, I’m Jules, a member of Hospo Voice. I want to tell you about the federal government’s proposed industrial relations bill and why we need to fight it. Don’t scroll away yet! I know it sounds bloody boring, but it’s really important for you to know about it. Why? Because it’s going to affect you and the money you take home each week. Got your attention now? Here’s what it’s all about.

The Industrial relations bill… so what’s that, then?

The Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter tabled these workplace law changes in parliament late last year. It’s called the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020

The government has worded (and spun) the bill in a way that sounds like it’s friendly to workers. After all, ‘increasing flexibility’ and ‘ending the confusion of casualisation’ sounds pretty good, right? Wrong. When you get into the nuts and bolts of the bill, workers end up getting less. 

They have introduced it to parliament, but that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. It has to be debated and hopefully (oh god please), that will result in some decent changes. However, this is what’s proposed at the moment.

Getting rid of the Better Off Overall Test (BOOT)

The first aspect is the government has gotten rid of the Better Off Overall Test (aka the BOOT). This test was put in place during the Rudd era in response to Howard’s Work Choices amendments. The point of it was to make sure you can’t be paid less than an award wage, even if you’re covered by an enterprise agreement. But this new bill would effectively get rid of this. The awards are the bare minimum, they’re not great examples of bonuses or anything like that. 

Say your enterprise agreement says ‘we’re going to pay you above the award and you’ll get better pay if you work on the weekend or public holidays’. With these changes, you’re just going to get the base rate, regardless of the days you’re working.

You know what it’s going to mean? Workers will fight over which shifts they want to do. The people who can afford to not work won’t have to work. It’ll be the more vulnerable people who have to work those unsociable hours. 

Unions have been fighting for years to make sure every worker is fairly compensated for working those hours and missing out on what’s important, like seeing their family and being sociable. 

The changes to the BOOT test would be for two years and is in response to COVID-19 affected businesses. But as enterprise agreements are in place for 4 years and could go on for much longer unless someone challenges it. Who’s going to challenge them? Employers? Unlikely…

‘Simplifying casual work

This new industrial relations bill has come up with a more simplified definition of casual workers. 

The definition is: 

A person will be considered a casual employee if they accept an offer of employment where there is no firm advance commitment to continuing and indefinite work according to an agreed pattern of work.”

So basically, any job can be casual as long as an employee accepts it. It’s taking the rights out of the hands of workers and into employers. We all learned during the pandemic how leaving casual workers without basic rights like sick leave can damage the economy and cause a risk to us all. With these types of reforms, we’re entrenching casualisation. 

The bill confirms casual workers aren’t entitled to job security, sick leave, annual leave or anything else. The government argues that with the 25% loading that casuals receive, you should use that ‘extra’ money to prepare for the future and create your own safety net. I mean, come on! With the rising cost of living and stagnant wages in hospitality, does anyone really have the luxury of a safety net? 

Not only that, but it also takes away your ability to claim leave entitlements if you’ve been incorrectly classified as casual by your employer. The Morrison government cares more about protecting employers from the huge clean-up bill from getting the classifications wrong ($39 billion!) than making sure employees receive what they are actually owed.

entrenching casual work

After 12 months of being casual, if you’ve had at least 6 months of ongoing work, your employer must offer you full or part-time employment as long as there aren’t any known business grounds that prevent them from offering it. But there’s literally no enforcement for an employer to do so. Employers know that they save money when everyone is casual because they don’t have to pay entitlements and can drop a worker as soon as a venue gets quiet.

So if no one is enforcing conversion, do we really think the employer will go ahead and offer this to you? And where’s the recourse for workers if their employer unreasonably refuses to employ them on a permanent basis?

‘Simpler’ overtime rates for part-time workers

Part of the new bill will allow part-time workers who want to pick up extra shifts to do so at ordinary rates rather than overtime rates. Just like the other areas, words like ‘flexibility’ are used to make it sound like these new reforms are the best thing for the worker, but they only benefit the employer. 

Say you’re part time because you have other things on your plate, like you’re studying or you’re a parent. You want the reassurance of an income every week and set shifts. Your boss asks if you want to work longer one night, from 8 until close. 

At the moment, you’d get an overtime rate, which might make it worthwhile taking on that extra time away from your family or friends. But with the new laws, you’ll just get the same rate of pay you were getting as a part-timer. It’s further casualising workers, reducing your take home pay and putting even more power in the hands of employers.

Removing zombie agreements

One of the good things they want to do is get rid of zombie agreements, which resulted from Work Choices. But should we applaud them for cleaning up their own mess? It’s not a bonus, it’s a mistake that should never have happened. Zombie agreements are responsible for A LOT of exploitation.

Criminalising wage theft

The industrial relations bill addresses the issues we’ve been banging on about for ages about wage theft. When an employer dishonestly underpays their workers, there will now be up to 4 years in prison and fines of up to $5.6 million. But it’s going to override the legislation that’s been put in place by the Queensland, Victoria and the ACT and it will mean the claimed money that’s underpaid won’t go to workers. Not to mention that the bar will be set much higher making it unlikely that many employers will face prosecution.

What’s next?

There’s a rawness in our industry right now. We were told we’re all in this together, but we’re starting to realise that we haven’t been looked after. Our employers still didn’t protect us, even when it was to the detriment of our health. 

And now we’ve got an omnibus bill that allows our bosses to do what they want. 

Is that really the lesson we’re going to learn from this pandemic? Let’s go harder at destroying human life? No! We should work harder to protect each other.

The only way to change this industrial relations bill is to fight for change. How can you do that? Join Hospo Voice and get involved. Fight for your rights and for the rights of your colleagues.

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