Flat White

Will the government miss another free kick from the union movement?

9 March 2017

6:54 PM

9 March 2017

6:54 PM

Today thousands of CFMEU members across Australia took the day off work to march in solidarity with retail and hospitality workers who will see their Sunday pay packets cut as a result of the Fair Work Commission’s recent ruling on penalty rates.

In typical fashion, the event proved less of a peaceful protest than an unseemly imbroglio as belligerent union members swamped city streets and major high-rises, bringing hundreds of private businesses to a standstill and harassing our greatest living Prime Minister.

According to my friends working in Brisbane’s inner city hospitality scene, the early autumn heat prompted union members to down their flags for a midday tipple that ended in pub staff being subject to hours of foul-mouthed abuse and contempt.

Yet the fact that Australia’s most militant union took a paid excursion to inflict pain and misery on the very workers they professed to be supporting isn’t even the strangest part of the whole penalty rates stoush.

The real irony is that the union movement, with the direct knowledge of the Labor Party, have done more than any Coalition politician to slash weekend penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers.

Thanks to the SDA, the Labor Party’s biggest union affiliate, the vast majority of retail workers and a healthy share of hospitality workers receive far less than the double time rate recently cut by the Fair Work Commission and have done so for quite some time.

Enterprise agreements brokered by SDA union officials that trade-off penalty loadings for a meagre rise in ordinary hours between Monday to Friday have long been standard fare in Coles, Woolworths, Big W, McDonald’s, KFC and K-Mart stores.

It’s estimated these agreements leave at least 40 per cent of these businesses workforces out of pocket compared to the general award minimum, usually the part-timers, casuals and students; the very groups the union movement has spent the last fortnight arguing will be hardest hit by the Fair Work decision.

So why does an organisation that styles itself as the friend at work you can’t afford to be without do the precise opposite of what it proclaims to do?

The answer is these cost-cutting enterprise agreements are rewarded by special access to new staff, often impressionable teenagers, who are pressured into joining the union during their induction. Add on overpriced ‘training courses’ and a range of other kickbacks and you’ll find the arrangement is founded upon a very tangible quid pro quo.

If the CFMEU were more interested in standing up for the working man than hurling obscenities in public and stopping traffic, they might care to avail themselves of these well-documented facts.

If facts did matter, it would’ve been the SDA’s offices – not the law firms, accountants and public servants who work in Brisbane’s Waterfront Place – whose offices were stormed today.

As for Bill Shorten, Ged Kearney, the union movement and most of all, the SDA, it’s for some transparency.

The union leaders and Labor politicians of yesteryear had not just the gumption, but the conviction, to say what they mean and mean what they say.

If double time penalty rates were truly as sacrosanct as the Labor party now claims they are, why did they accept hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations, accept conference delegates and elect to parliament union office bearers who made a business out of cutting Sunday pay?

The last two weeks has been a masterclass in the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of today’s labour movement.

In political terms, pointing out the breathtaking hypocrisy of his situation should be a free kick for the Coalition. Sadly, everything we’ve seen so far from the government on penalty rates has been spitting in the wind.

John Slater is Executive Director of the H.R. Nicholls Society

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