A senior union leader has expressed anger and dismay at a recent string of attacks on working people, unprecedented in his career.
Scott Connolly, assistant secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, told The New Daily that “at least” 12 blows have been inflicted on hard-working Australians in a matter of months, calling it an “indictment on the current way of doing things”.
“I don’t know if it’s unprecedented, but I’ve never seen it this bad, and I’ve been doing this for a while.”
Mr Connolly slammed politicians “frankly, on both sides” for abusing parliamentary entitlements funded by tax-paying workers. Health Minister Sussan Ley and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop are two of the most recently implicated in the growing scandal.
The union leader called out Centrelink’s automated debt recovery scheme for inflicting emotional distress on the nation’s most vulnerable. Despite hundreds of Australians claiming to have received incorrect debt claims, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge insists the system is working as intended.
Mr Connolly denounced the “rampant wage fraud” exposed at 7-Eleven and elsewhere. The latest scandal is that teenaged workers at Bakers Delight are ‘legally’ being paid $8 an hour because of outdated contracts.
He criticised the government’s age pension cuts for pitching hard-working retirees against each other. Changes to the qualifying assets test, imposed from January 1, have boosted payments for about 170,000 pensioners, but stripped some or all of the pension away from just over 320,000 (about 8 per cent of pensioners).
He pointed out that employers have also been accused of holding back superannuation entitlements. More than 2.4 million workers were underpaid at least $3.6 billion in super in 2013-14, Industry Super Australia estimated last year.
Mr Connolly blasted the government’s plan to cut company tax as nothing more than a “handout” to big business that would not help struggling workers. Conservatives argue that reducing corporate tax boosts employment, but critics say the proceeds will simply be pocketed as profits.
He warned of looming penalty rate cuts, in light of comments from business leaders calling for the change “while playing polo and yachting”. A decision from the Fair Work Commission on whether or not to reduce Sunday penalties is expected some time this year. If it does recommend cuts, this will “blow holes in low-paid workers’ weekly budgets”, he said.
Mr Connolly predicted with dismay that the trend of casualisation, which worsened in 2016, would continue this year, pushing more and more workers into “insecurity”. Australia’s statistics bureau reported on Wednesday that job vacancies rose by 2.3 per cent in the September-November quarter. But 83,800 of the 181,000 vacancies were in admin, retail and healthcare, where many positions are not full-time.
He called for an overhaul of the 457 visa scheme, saying it is contributing to the difficulty Australians face in finding work. Criticisms of the scheme have been renewed after The West Australian reported that one-third of workers on a US-owned oil rig off Port Hedland are US citizens on 457 visas.
Mr Connolly reprimanded the government’s lack of action on the growing youth unemployment “crisis”. More than 650,000 young Australians aged 15-24 are ‘underutilised’, according to recent data, which means they are either unemployed or underemployed — worse than during the 1990s recession.
He criticised the government’s creation of the ABCC, a new union watchdog, fearing its impact. But others say the government was so eager to rush through the law that it made it almost powerless.
The union leader also attacked the big banks for another year of “record profits”, despite a litany of scandals that have hurt working people.
Mr Connolly implored the Turnbull government, Labor and the nation to refocus on going after the big end of town, rather than trying to repair the budget by punishing the most vulnerable.
The New Daily contacted the Business Council of Australia for comment but it declined, saying its spokesperson was not available.