Responding to the penalty rates decision

1. From Don Sutherland (‘retired’ AMWU): Please debate.
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“Like many others I am very angry on several counts with the Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut Sunday penalty rates for Australia’s lowest paid workers. Read decision https://www.fwc.gov.au/awards-and-agreements/modern-award-reviews/am2014305-penalty-rates-case
How else to react? here is my current thinking …

This very wrong decision on several counts is making a lot of people angry and so it should.

If you know someone who is not angry they need a discussion about how this decision lays a foundation to be spread to other Awards, perhaps the Awards they work under, and will put downward pressure on penalty rates in bargaining for enterprise agreements.

How should the workers’ movement respond? In my view, not just with anger, but with a widely and deeply discussed and developed strategy to win.

I am against a “strategy” based on immediate anger that sets us up for a satisfying day out and another “glorious defeat”.

This Full Bench decision of the Fair Work Commission comes out of an Award review that is required by the Fair Work Act. In this particular review all Awards are under the microscope. The focus in these these particular Awards for workers in hospitality, pharmacy, fast foods has been on their penalty rates, especially the penalty rate paid for working on Sunday.

Employers in the industry and beyond have over several years invested big money and resources to convince the FWC to agree to cut penalty rates for Sunday work. Originally, they wanted cuts to all penalty rates but decided for a strategic reason to focus on Sundays. Do not doubt that their “victory”last week to get Sunday rates cut is a foundation for a renewed assault at some time in the future on other penalty rates also.
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While the employers were investing big in their own way to achieve their victory, the workers’ effort – mainly through their unions – was valiant and well-intentioned but puny in comparison. It was entirely defensive, and based on accepting the rules of the Commission and the Fair Work Act.

The employer strategy successfully used prominent Labor pollies, some of them willingly and ex pollies (most notably perhaps Martin Ferguson, formerly a President of the ACTU).

The employer strategy relied very much on the historic memory loss in today’s working class about what an Award actually is. Nothing significant has been done by unions to counter this with worker education.

Remember, the employers originated and escalated this war on living standards, not the Commission. The outcome is a reflection of the current balance of power between Australia’s 21st century ruling class relative to that of the working class.

That is the situation that our strategy must change.

Can we build a strategy loaded with mindful militancy that can reverse this decision and also the whole current momentum against working people facilitated in the bosses’ favour by the Fair Work Act, e.g. lockouts, agreement cancellations, Building Industry code?

Of course we can. Here are some ideas.

The first big strategic decision for all union leaders no matter what level of the union movement you are active in: should we leave the reversing or whatever of the decision to heroic leaders, those at the “top” of the union movement and especially those in the ALP and the Greens in the parliament?

Or, should we return en masse to a conviction that the workers in these industries, and their brothers and sisters in others, can grow together as a social force to reverse the decision themselves through their own industrial and political action?

Put another way: do we see workers of the twenty first century as capable of learning fighting their struggles or as objects whose conditions are decided for them by elites, well meaning or otherwise?

The union movement at all levels must, absolutely MUST, embrace the second approach.
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That still means lots of education work and lots of communication that is educational (not cheap slogans and memes) leading to days of action on carefully selected dates.

The Commission is now waiting for submissions from the parties about the timing and process for phasing in the new reduced rates. After that the Commission will set dates for the start of the new rates, probably later this year. So, for example, this year these days of action might be 2-3 days before or on the day of the “submissions” hearing and then again 3 days before the start date. Embedded in these days there must be a workplace, public, social and political demand that each individual employer NOT implement the decision, but infused also with basic education and learning about “what is an Award”, “who are the employers”, “what is their strategy”, and “what is the Commission”.

To the extent that it is necessary, a secondary level of campaigning in these 2 periods might help reinforce worker pressure on MP’s to come out at a local level to urge local employers not to implement the decision.

The second big strategic decision is a notional time frame that this campaign will take 2 to 5 years to win. That is good from our point of view in the workers’ movement.

We need time for education work and union growth organising to build the power to win. We do not have it right now, just the same as the employers did not have enough power to win their objective in 2007. They have understood strategy much better than us and have been ruthless enough against working people and their unions to stick to it.

We have to be every bit as cold and calculating as they have been and more.

Therefore, These days of action MUST be educational and acknowledge that the defeat of this decision might take 2 to 4 years.

Our strategy will probably have to escalate over that 2-4 year period in the spread and depth of awareness among the workers immediately affected and those who will experience the flow on effects of it.

A strategy of this type must culminate with the consequence of economic pain for the employers who wanted this decision and who decide to implement it.

Within it there is the opportunity for the union movement to actively regrow from within the 21 st century working class, basing that on education-driven organising of both union members and potential members.
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The next award review will be in 4 years or so, Possibly less. That is the moment for the first really big “culmination” of our strategy in which employers can face the prospect of real economic consequences for their actions.

Genuine working class power can be built to demand not just the restoration of current rates but a significant increase in the minimum award rate, and automatic casual conversion after 3 months for those who want it.
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These issues are relevant to all other Awards as well. Common, multi industry actions to take on common big employment problems.

This will be a campaign for all workers because the huge gap between award rates and union negotiated agreement rates is contrary to the fundamental rationale for unionism.

The focus of the whole movement must turn steadily (although not absolutely) to AWARDS not enterprise agreements.

Finally, this “ordinarily people” rooted strategy will require that the Fair Work Act be defied, and probably broken, and ultimately genuinely re-written for workers’ benefit.”

https://donsutherland.wordpress.com/2017/02/25/why-and-how-the-fair-work-commissions-cuts-to-sunday-penalty-rates-can-be-defeated/

That’s not a reason not to do it but it is a reason for a lot of educational work in preparation.
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Update i March: CFMEU taking action to fight back against the war on workers next thursday march 9th: see details in every state. In melbourne at VTHC 10.30am.
https://www.facebook.com/cfmeuvic/videos/815243825309262/?pnref=story

Radio 3CR report: http://www.3cr.org.au/sticktogether/episode-201703010830/penalty-rates-cut

2. ACTU Ged Kearney on the day of the decision: “Prime Minister must act to protect workers from drastic penalty rate and public holiday pay cuts.
Ged ACTU Congress 2015
The Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to radically cut Sunday and public holiday pay will give almost one million Australian workers a huge pay cut.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) calls on the Turnbull Government and all political parties to immediately act to protect working people from any cuts to their take home pay, as the cuts are due to come into effect on 1 July, 2017.

Hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers will have their Sunday penalty rates cut between 25% and 50%. Public holiday pay was also slashed by up to 25%.

This is a loss of up to $6,000 per year for some workers. No worker will be better off as a result of this decision.

This is a cut Australian workers cannot afford and do not deserve. The decision also comes a day after record low wage growth was reported for the second consecutive quarter. Australians deserve a pay rise, not a pay cut.
https://www.facebook.com/AustralianUnions/photos/pcb.1415258418572777/1415257835239502/?type=3
This decision is a game changer for industrial relations in Australia. The independent umpire makes decisions based on the rules they are given. These rules are contained in our laws. We need the rules to change so penalty rates cannot be cut and our parliament must act now to protect working people.

The ACTU will never accept cuts to penalty rates that result in cuts to take home pay and this is exactly what this decision has done.
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Unless he acts now, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be forever remembered as the prime minister who oversaw the cutting of the take home pay of almost one million of Australia’s lowest paid workers.

Retail, fast food, pharmacy and hospitality workers work extraordinary hours and deserve to be compensated for working on weekends and late nights when the vast majority of the Australian workforce does not.
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Families across Australia rely on penalty rates to put food on the table every week and to keep households afloat in difficult times.
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This decision now leaves the door open for pay cuts for all Australians who rely on penalty rates and public holiday pay to support themselves and their families, including nurses and all other frontline emergency service workers.

first join a union

first join a union

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/this-is-who-penalty-rate-cuts-will-hurt-the-most-20170223-guk8de.html
3.Employers’ pyrrhic penalty rates win reflects self-defeating economics
by Jim Stanford
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/employers-pyrrhic-penalty-rates-win-reflects-selfdefeating-economics-20170224-guktj2.html?utm_content=buffer56b09&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The equity implications of the commission’s decision are odious.
Store clerks and baristas are already among the least-paid, least-secure members of Australia’s workforce. The retail and hospitality workforce is disproportionately female, young and immigrant. Most work part time, and casual and labour-hire positions are common. In short, the burden of this decision will be borne by those who can least afford it….
Touch One Touch All
Young workers hit by Fatima Measham
http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=50702#.WLi-d7Fh00o

4. Penalty rate cuts to hasten “mass casualisation” of Australian workforce: report
Adam Gartrell

‘The McKell Institute says the Fair Work Commission’s “alarming” decision to cut penalty rates for a range of retail, hospitality and fast food workers will further discourage employees from pursuing secure part-time or full-time work, pushing them instead into less secure but higher-paying casual jobs.’
http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/employers-pyrrhic-penalty-rates-win-reflects-selfdefeating-economics-20170224-guktj2.html?utm_content=buffer56b09&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Right to strike

Right to strike


‘There was no emergency in Australia’s retail and hospitality sector; no crisis that needed immediate attention. It’s not that stores and restaurants couldn’t do business on Sundays under the existing rules; any casual observer can attest to the brisk trade that now takes place right through the weekend. It’s just that those businesses would be considerably more profitable if wages were lower.

So penalty rates became the target of a sustained pressure campaign by business, backed by conservative political leaders. The commission heard those complaints and acceded to them.

Whatever the precise wording of the commission’s legislative mandate, it was never envisioned as a mechanism for rolling back employment standards; it was supposed to protect them. This decision will therefore spark a political debate not only over the merits of this specific decision, but over the commission’s overall mandate and function.’…
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The report warns the changes may also impact future EBA negotiations because it “signals an economy-wide devaluation of Sunday penalty rates” and may serve to undermine future collective bargaining.

Labor hopes to neuter the cut by introducing legislation that would prevent the Fair Work Commission’s decision from taking effect.
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Opposition leader Bill Shorten has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seeking his support for the bill.

“You say that you will not intervene because you respect the independence of the Fair Work Commission but it is absurd to suggest that it is not the role of the Parliament to rectify decisions of statutory bodies which undermine the Parliament’s intent in setting them up,” Mr Shorten said.

“It was clearly the Parliament’s intent that the award review process would not ever result in a cut to worker’s pay.”

strike as a last resort weapon

strike as a last resort weapon


The Coalition has previously overturned decisions of independent tribunals, Mr Shorten said, pointing to its intervention in Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and the Country Firefighters Association.”

5.Penalty rate cut: unions have golden opportunity to flex their muscles
It’s not compulsory for employers to fall in line – this could be ‘the greatest workplace organising opportunity in 20 years’

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/feb/25/penalty-rate-cut-unions-have-golden-opportunity-to-flex-their-muscles?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=214899&subid=11929904&CMP=ema_632
6. The penalty rates cut rewards exploiters at the expense of the exploited
Van Badham

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/24/the-penalty-rates-cut-rewards-exploiters-at-the-expense-of-the-exploited

7. Sundays aren’t so special – according to the Fair Work Commission
Greg Jericho

Has our view of Sunday really changed enough to warrant a 25% cut in penalty rates for retail workers?https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2017/feb/26/sundays-arent-so-special-according-to-the-fair-work-commission?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+AUS+v1+-+AUS+morning+mail+callout&utm_term=215005&subid=11929904&CMP=ema_632

8. “In November last year, a group of unionists, volunteers and supporters fed up at the SDA’s inaction formed the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union, or RAFFWU.
http://www.raffwu.org.au

Since then, RAFFWU has taken a far more active and vigilant stance against employers who underpay, mistreat and exploit their workers. They’ve visited hundreds of workers in supermarkets and fast-food chains around the country, launched the Taking Back Our Penalty Rates campaign, and started renegotiating employment terms for around 400 Bakers Delight workers in Victoria.

RAFFWU President Josh Cullinan reckons if fast-food workers and shelf-stackers under agreements negotiated by the SDA had been receiving award weekend penalty rates like everyone else, it would have been much harder for the Fair Work Commission to cut them like it did today.
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“Those workers at the major retail and fast-food outlets have already had these penalty rates cut,” Cullinan says. “That’s half a million workers out of the fight. We don’t think the Commission could have cut rates today if those 500,000 workers were in the fight.”
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Cullinan strongly believes the SDA has little interest in trying to protect Sunday rates from going. “If people want their penalty rates back, they shouldn’t be turning to the organisation that cut them in the first place. It’s akin to putting the vampire in charge of the blood bank. There’s only one organisation that’s fighting for these rates, and that’s us.”

RAFFWU has no intention of being silent in the fight to keep Sunday penalty rates; the organisation has already had its largest sign-up day since it first launched. Memberships start from as little as $2.30 a week for under-18s and $3.70 a week for casual workers. Money’s often tight when you’re working retail or hospo, but that amount each week is well worth it for getting a union like RAFFWU in your corner.
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If you’re not a retail or fast-food worker but still want to chip in, you can become a RAFFWU solidarity supporter 16864124_1412360328862586_6530863331000423974_nfor as little as you like. It’s a great option if you have family or friends in the industry who you’re sick of seeing getting taken for granted, or if you’re furious about the penalty rate cuts but aren’t sure what you can do to help.

Right to strike

Right to strike


Whether or not Sunday penalty rates get the chop will hinge on peoples’ response over the next few months. If you’re looking for a tangible and effective way to contribute to that fight, giving RAFFWU a leg-up is a great place to start.

http://www.thevocal.com.au/want-defend-sunday-penalty-rates-heres/

Earlier post on RAFFWU http://chriswhiteonline.org/2016/12/raffwu/
Campaigns are the lifeblood of a strong democratic union. Our campaigns deliver real outcomes when members get involved and spread the word. Here we list some of our current major campaigns. Of course, if you’d like to see a campaign at your workplace then join up and get in touch!

Our priority in 2017 is to Take Back Our Penalty Rates.

Many hundreds of thousands of workers are being paid less than the minimum wages they would earn under the Fast Food Award and the General Retail Award. While some employers have done this on their own, the vast majority of retail and fast food workers have had these minimum rights taken away because the SDA negotiated away your rights. If you want to take back your penalty rates, join us today. Together we can Take Back Our Penalty Rates.

strike as a last resort

strike as a last resort


Franchise workers targeted by new union

https://www.mst.com.au/food-industry-franchise-workers-targeted-by-new-union/

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