Senate Inquiry into the Corporate Avoidance of the Fair Work Act

CUB Senate Inquiry – update

The Senate Inquiry into the Corporate Avoidance of the Fair Work Act is kicking off with more than 200 submissions received from individuals and organisations.

The inquiry will be hearing further evidence in public hearings throughout 2017, but the evidence already before the inquiry is overwhelmingly damning.

CUB55 video submission 

The ETU made a video submission on behalf of the CUB55. It was the first submission in video ever received by the Senate.

After visiting Parliament House in Canberra with a delegation of the CUB55, we were struck by the absence of any normal-looking, ordinary working people. It was wall to wall suits of MPs, staffers and corporate lobbyists. Nobody we saw looked like they could survive outdoors for eight hours, let alone 12.

We decided to do a video submission to remind the senators that it is real people, with real lives and stories, who are being hurt by their laws.

Key points of our submission

We made a written submission to concentrate the inquiry’s attention on two major flaws in the Fair Work Act that need fixing immediately:

  • the use of labour hire and contractors by businesses to evade existing and future obligations to employees
  • businesses undermining collective bargaining rights and conditions – with unrepresentative agreements forced onto employees.

Excerpts from submissions to the inquiry

The reason for labour hire is purely and simply to permit industry to avoid industrial relations laws and consequently to shift risks to workers so businesses can take the benefit of labour without the burden of complying with laws.
Australian Council of Trade Unions

The Fair Work Act does not prevent an employer from using its much greater resources and access to persuade employees, particularly non-union members, to move onto a lesser agreement.
Queensland Nurses Union

The FW Act should be amended to expressly recognise a host company (of labour hire workers) will, in certain circumstances, be deemed to be the true employer for the purposes of unfair dismissal.
Job Watch : Employment Rights Legal Centre

We know from our practice experience that non-payment of short-term employees is a business model for some small businesses.
Legal Aid NSW

Failing to effectively address illegal conduct against workers carries negative impacts on business and communities where employers using exploited labour are undercutting honest competitors and placing downward pressure on wages.
The Salvation Army

The Commonwealth Government should introduce a licensing scheme for labour hire businesses in selected industry sectors where there is evidence of significant levels of human trafficking, forced labour and/or egregious exploitation. Such sectors should include agriculture, food processing, construction and hospitality.
Western Community Legal Centre

The current system is broken. If I robbed a bank the police are hardly going to negotiate with me on how much of the money I stole must be returned if I was caught.
Unions Ballarat

A new provision should be inserted into the FW Act providing that if the number of employees covered by an agreement significantly exceeds the number of employees which the agreement was anticipated to cover, this should trigger the commencement of the agreement-making process.
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers

The response of the European Union to the issue of pay and conditions of labour hire workers has been to issue a Directive on Temporary Employment Agencies which restricts the use of temporary employment to temporary engagements and provides that temporary agency workers receive the same pay and conditions as permanent employees.
Queensland Government

I have been in heavy industry construction for 8 years. I have had the opportunity to work on some of the best agreements in Australia. But now all I see is our entitlements stripped at an alarming rate until we get a job offer with no contract at all. All I gave was bank details and was told my roster. Flat rates. No nightshift allowance. No smoko breaks.

Fair pay and conditions. We have had a good run, we are willing to negotiate and take a reasonable deal. We have families and commitments just like these bosses and managers and we work hard to deserve to be treated right. I don’t need a fat pay packet like the boss, just a fair one.
Graham Wood

I was made redundant at the age of 51 after 30 years. My life and my wife's life have been a nightmare since my redundancy. I have done all sorts of casual work, so has she. But we have never been able to get other permanent jobs.

I will never forgive successive Australian politicians for making life for my wife and me so uncertain and so hard for so many years. We have often been down to rock bottom because of lack of sufficient casual work.

Also the ruses of the cheating employers are heartbreaking and ongoing.

At any rate I am disgusted with the standard of political debate and politicians in general.
Bill and Ava Hubble

My husband works in the transport industry where the employment conditions are horrible. After our daughter was born he was working 14 hours overnight 6 days a week, but he was only being paid for 10 hours per night. It got to the point his own daughter didn't recognise who he was, and almost cost us our marriage.

He is currently working at a new job in the transport industry where he has been employed as a casual for almost 2 years despite working in excess of 30 hours every week. Again he has no breaks and is expected to work 7 or 8 hours a day.

As several of the drivers have complained and requested they be employed at least part time so they have some security and leave entitlements, they are now replacing all the casual drivers with independent contractors.

This morning my husband was told that once the new contractor was trained he would no longer have a position.

I think it is absolutely disgusting where Australia has gotten to.
Bianca Chisholm

Gavin Marshall: Solidarity Senator

Senator Gavin Marshall was instrumental to achieving the Senate Inquiry into the Corporate Evasion of the Fair Work Act.

Gavin Marshall was an ETU official from 1991 and Assistant Secretary of the ETU Victorian Branch – positions he was honoured to hold – until 2002 when he was elected to the Australian Senate, representing Victoria.

Gavin completed his electrical apprenticeship and went on to work for the Victorian Railways. It was this life experience that cemented his belief in the necessity for active trade unionism and to ensure a fair deal for workers.

It was Gavin's own values, lived experience working as an electrician, and inspiration from Gough Whitlam that drew him to the Labor Party. He remains committed to the fundamental, original principles of the ALP: fairness, equity and social justice for all.

Gavin has never wavered from his fundamental belief that Australian unions and unionists are the moral bedrock of this country.

Many thanks to Gavin for the central role he has played in ensuring that this Inquiry happens – and forcing the government to eyeball the people who are really affected by their cruel and unjust laws.

This article is from the Autumn 2017 issue of the ETU's members magazine. You can read the digital edition here.