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Over recent months ANMF members have joined thousands of union members and community supporters in a national campaign to ‘Change the Rules’.

Rallies held throughout the country called for a major overhaul to Australia’s workplace relations system to reduce the massive imbalance in power between employers and employees under the current Fair Work laws.

The Fair Work Act 2009 provides the legislative framework for our national industrial relations system and among other matters, deals with National Employment Standards, modern awards such as the Nurses Award 2010, enterprise agreements and bargaining.

The majority of workplaces are covered by the national system including nurses, midwives and carers employed in the public sectors in Victoria, ACT and NT, aged care, private hospitals, private practice, community health and diagnostic clinics for example.

A major exception is nurses, midwives and carers employed in the public sectors in NSW, QLD, SA, WA and Tasmania whose employment is regulated by respective state based legislation.

‘Change the rules’ is about restoring some balance in the system and providing a fair go for all workers. While there always is an imbalance of power between employers and workers, key elements of our current industrial relations system have shifted that power even further in favour of the employer. Stronger rights at work, including the ability to organise, participate and be represented by your union are fundamental to securing and maintaining decent jobs and a reasonable living standard for all working people.

For many in our community, the system is unfair and ineffective and evidence from a range of indicators continues to show that the system is indeed broken.

Wages growth remains at an all-time low with zero growth in real wages over the 12 months between June 2017 and June 2018 taking into account the CPI.

The relevant ABS data for this period for all industries shows hourly rates grew by just 2.1%, (footnote 1) while CPI was also 2.1 % (footnote 2) resulting in no real increase. The September ABS data tells a similar story with hourly rates of pay increasing 2.2% between September 2017 and September 2018 while CPI for the same period was 1.9% meaning real wage growth overall was just 0.3% (footnote 3).

At the same time, company profits increased a healthy 16% on the previous financial year, (footnote 4) with median executive pay increasing by 12.4%, (much of it made up of huge bonuses for cutting staff numbers).

This sits in stark contrast to a recent survey commissioned by the ACTU indicating that 80% of working people either did not get a pay rise that kept up with the cost of living, or hadn’t had an increase at all in the last 12 months.

Even more alarming, the Household Income and Labour Dynamics (HILDA) survey reports that, in real terms, working people have not had a pay rise in almost a decade.

On the back of this, the decision by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to cut penalty rates in Awards covering the retail and pharmacy sectors continues to take effect reducing 15% in 2018 and falling a further 15% in 2019 and again in 2020.

Similarly, in the hospitality sector penalty rate cuts continue to bite reducing by 10% in 2018 and the same again in 2019.

For the thousands of workers in hospitality and retail, who are already in low paid and insecure work, the cuts to penalty rates are a double blow.

The Reserve Bank’s answer to record low wages growth? Easy – workers should just ask their employer for a pay rise!

Well, yes we do. An annual pay increase is always part of the claims put forward by members in an enterprise agreement negotiation. And as ANMF members and other union members have shown, any chance of success requires members working together to build bargaining power in the negotiation process.

It’s not to say that there are not successful bargaining outcomes under the current system, certainly there are many examples of ANMF wins with a strong membership driving the bargaining process. However it’s true to say that where good outcomes are achieved it is despite the system. Bargaining is much harder in the current environment with excessive and unnecessary rules restricting our rights, our organising ability and reducing our bargaining power. Moreover, from a human rights perspective, the current rules are not consistent with long standing international labour standards set out in International Labor Organisation Conventions ratified by Australia (footnote 5).

The system is broken and we need to change the rules to provide all workers with the basic rights needed to ensure decent jobs and a fair day’s pay for a fair days work.

Watch out for upcoming campaign activities in your state/territory and check your ANMF Branch website. For further information on why we need to change the rules go to the ACTU website

  5. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948, No.8
Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949, No.98

Debbie Richards is the Federal Industrial Research Officer at the ANMF