News National One Nation’s opportunism damaging workers and the nation

One Nation’s opportunism damaging workers and the nation

wage rise award
One Nation is trying to weaken workplace protections for the lowest paid. Photo: Getty
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There is little doubt that there is uncertainty about the future of work in Australia, with much debate about where to next for our local industries and the livelihood of Australian workers.

Times have changed, industries are increasingly looking to technology and the gig economy and the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut penalty rates is the latest blow, increasing the fear that a stable job and sustainable pay packet are fast becoming relics of the past.

The end result, however, is that for a large proportion of our workforce, precarious employment is now a reality, across both traditional and new industries. Many people are increasingly being forced into labour hire, meaning that their employment is not guaranteed and they could end up working side by side with someone else doing the  same work, yet being paid much less. Wage theft is rampant, and even the biggest brands are culpable. For some workers penalty rates are meaningless because their employer flagrantly breaks the minimum wage.

Federally, both Labor and the Greens have proposed legislation that will stop take home pay being reduced due to penalty rate cuts. They have also proposed laws that will penalise phoenixing companies that avoid obligations, franchisors that turn a blind eye to franchisees ripping off workers, and exploiters of migrant labour. These are some of the real solutions urgently needed to the many problems facing workers in modern day Australia.

The Queensland Labor Government is also taking a serious look at improper labour hire arrangements for workers, including considering a much needed licensing scheme to help clean up dodgy labour hire.

The Federal Government has been confused and contradictory in its response to penalty rates, but it is clear it won’t stop the cuts. They have also belatedly tabled a legal response to the issue of worker exploitation, though it hasn’t gone as far as dealing with the issues of phoenixing and the bar could be lower for franchisor liability. They don’t deal at all with dodgy labour hire.

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The One Nation leader said the wages cut would give small business owners a helping hand. Photo: AAP

With this gap in federal leadership on precarious work arrangements, workers are instead being sold the fool’s gold of One Nation and their anti-establishment policies.

Such policies give an illusion of certainty, but when you drill down just a little bit, One Nation’s policies cannot really deliver the economic benefits they claim to. They simply don’t have the answers.

One Nation is about giving power to a certain group of people who feel powerless. We all know who that group is. One Nation claims to support Australian industry and Australian workers. Their biggest answer to the future of work is to stop migration to Australia. They do not want skilled labour to disappear – they eschew elitism, abhor globalisation and want domestic jobs for domestic workers. In a throwback to seemingly more tranquil times, they want skills taught ‘the good old way’.

Fundamentally in taking this approach, One Nation fails to grapple with any of the big issues that are relevant to the future of work. As George Megalogenis clearly explains in Australia’s Second Chance, migration has always been the key to Australian prosperity, economic growth, and hence jobs growth. Reducing migration, therefore, will not create jobs. It will kill jobs. Banning all Muslim migration as a stand-alone proposition is ridiculous with no basis at all.

One Nation is a straw man. If One Nation really cared about workers, they would not be so passionately trying to weaken workplace protections. They would stand up for the hundreds of thousands of workers who forgo family gatherings, football matches or time with their kids on a Sunday so they can bring that bit extra home in their pay packet.

Instead, One Nation says it won’t even try to fight the penalty rates cut, somehow arguing that cutting a sizeable chunk out of Australia’s disposable income will help grow the economy. Hanson has even admitted on morning television that she’d go further and get rid of all penalty rates and leave loading.

If One Nation was a friend of the workers, they would not support legislation like the ABCC legislation that rips the rug out from under unions. They would accept that corporate handouts to failing industry are in nobody’s best interests. We need to ask if their policies are truly forward-looking, or if they are simply trying to capture something sacred to many One Nation voters – the entrenched nostalgia of years gone by.

In the world of One Nation, nationalism is the Australian flag ascending the flagpole while we all stand around hand-on-chest and misty-eyed, waving our significant others off to prosperous careers with tin lunchboxes in hand. In reality though, that nationalism is spotting a tub of ice-cream in the freezer, only to be disappointed to realise it’s empty.

Too often One Nation promises change, but has no solutions to deliver. It continues to betray the very people it claims it will help. Workers, and our future workforces, deserve much better.

Giri Sivaraman is a Principal in Employment and Industrial Law at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers.

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