Tony Abbott and his big business masters have a plan to bring back Work Choices.
This plan is informed by the trauma of John Howard’s 2007 election loss where Howard and his Government were wiped out by the awesome power of the trade union movement’s Your Rights At Work campaign.
They learnt lessons.
The most important lesson is that the trade union movement has to be weakened. If the public trust in unions can be weakened, and their campaigning power diminished, then a Your Rights At Work type campaign will not be as effective.
This is what the Royal Commission is all about. It is about dirtying up unions in the eyes of the public and using whatever comes out of it as justification for a full-time ABCC-type body covering all unions with the job of harassing and tying workers organisations up in mindless compliance and threats of being jailed or bankrupted.
It’s not corruption they care about – look at Sinodinos and the NSW ICAC – they are the experts. It is nobbling the capacity of unions to campaign.
The second lesson is to be patient.
This means the groundwork had to be laid before rights are removed. Abbott is about to launch a Productivity Inquiry into the whole Fair Work Act. Productivity slumped during Work Choices, but of course the inquiry has nothing to do with productivity.
It will be a soap-box for business to argue for Work Choices laws – cutting the minimum wage, abolishing penalty rates and individual contracts.
The Murdoch press will no doubt be beating the “productivity” drum and the “independent” Productivity Commission will do Abbott’s dirty work and recommend in the strongest terms….guess what – Work Choices!
Which brings me to the third lesson - never, EVER mention “Work Choices”!
Last week Eric Abetz crowed that he believed he had “neutralised” Work Choices. Let’s be clear about this, what he means it is maybe far enough in the past for it to be fading in the public’s consciousness.
This was an essential pre-requisite to its return. It’s like having a friend who did something really bad like stealing from you. Sometimes promises that they will never do it again are not enough and time is the only think that may “neutralise” your distrust. Time and them never reminding you about it. It’s the same for the Liberals.
The fourth lesson is to bring it in slowly – not in one go.
The Senate is due to vote on changes to the Fair Work Act in the week of 22 September. These changes bring back parts of Work Choices.
They reintroduce individual contracts that can cut take-home pay, bring back Work Choices’ right of entry rules for unions visiting workplaces, put more hurdles in front of taking protected industrial action and allow Work Choices-like Greenfield Agreements.
The Government is having a go at these bits of Work Choices simply because it’s what they think they can get away with. They think they can pass off the changes as being small and “sensible.”
They think they are not enough to anger a wide cross section of workers. Of course, like their budget, it will be the most vulnerable workers who are most at risk of exploitation should they get their way.
Australian Unions are fighting back. We know these changes take away important rights and protections. We also know that it is the first step in a much bigger plan.
The ALP rejected these changes when they were being pushed by business when they were in Government and they are opposing them now. So too are The Greens.
So we are faced with the task of convincing three of the eight cross bench Senators to oppose in order to block the laws. This is not an easy task with two Senators – Day and Leyonhjelm, being Work Choices fanatics.
Madigan is likely to oppose, meaning we need two more votes from the three PUPs, Ricky Muir and Nick Xenophon.
Union members around the country are letting these Senator’s know that we will not stand for any reduction in our rights at work. We have fought too hard for them.
This is Abbott’s first attempt to bring back aspects of Work Choices. We need to stop him in his tracks.
Sally McManus is the Secretary Australian Services Union NSW & ACT.