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Welcome news as Aussie PM ditches anti-union laws

The union-bashing ‘Ensuring Integrity’ Bill has finally been pushed off the agenda, writes TONY BURKE

THIS week, the Australian coalition government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it will no longer pursue its proposed union-busting legislation “as a sign of good faith.”

Instead Morrison says he will encourage Australian unions and business to take part in a four-month negotiation to try to solve a number of industrial relations issues.

He announced that there would be five priority areas for reform. These include changes to the Australian “awards system”; collective bargaining for workplace pay deals; casualisation and fixed-term employment; compliance and enforcement to ensure workers are paid properly and agreements on greenfield sites and new projects.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus cautiously welcomed the initiative, saying she was “glad to see the 20-year ritual of union-bashing stop.”

But she warned that job creation will take more than industrial reforms, and said the government must reconsider ending wage subsidies in September and reinvest in skills and education.

But reaching an agreement will be difficult. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has already rejected the employers’ “wish list” for the talks.

Morrison, who was roundly criticised in Australia because of the government’s and his personal handling of the recent devastation caused by bush fires, said it “never has been” his government’s policy to weaken trade unions.

Yet one of his first pieces of employment legislation following his re-election was the “Ensuring Integrity” legislation, designed to increase powers to deregister unions and disqualify union officials from holding office and the power to stop unions merging to create more powerful organisations.

The Ensuring Integrity Bill was defeated in Parliament in November last year after unions lobbied independent MPs to oppose it. 

The Bill was lost, but Morrison’s government has been looking for an opportunity to reintroduce it.

Australian unions have played a major role during the Covid-19 pandemic, helping to secure a $70 billion (£37.5bn) “job keeper” wage subsidy. 

They have won praise for negotiating increased flexibility to adapt to Covid-19 trading restrictions.

In a letter to Australia’s union members, McManus said: “Not only did you beat back every attempt to make it law in the parliament, you have shown the government throughout the pandemic that Australia only works because of working people.

“The announcement that the union-bashing Bill has been withdrawn provides us with an opportunity to focus on the real issues faced by working people. Secure jobs, fair pay and safe workplaces.”

Tony Burke is Unite assistant general secretary and the TUC general council lead on employment and union rights.

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