The Australian Greens oppose the Fair Work Laws Amendment (Proper Use of Worker Benefits) Bill 2019 (the bill).
The bill is slightly changed version of a previous Coalition Government bill introduced in October 2017, and which lapsed after it failed to pass the Senate before the last Commonwealth election.
It is clear from statements made by the government and evidence to the inquiry that the motivation behind the bill is an ideological attack on unions, and not any real concern about the proper regulation of workers’ benefits.
The provisions in the bill go significantly beyond the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.
The provisions of the bill are also substantially beyond any equivalent regulation in the corporate sector and of managed funds.
Most importantly, as pointed out by the Electrical Trades Union of Australia, 'the bill is seeking to allow the government to interfere with workers benefits.'
Worker benefits funds have been established over many years to provide increased protection and security for workers’ entitlements, such as redundancy pay and sick leave.
Without such funds, many millions of dollars in entitlements would have been lost by workers who are members of such funds, yet the provisions in the bill will limit the ability of unions and workers to establish such funds.
As the Australian Council of Trade Unions points out in its submission to the inquiry, the bill:
…also encourages employers to create a multitude of ‘single employer funds’ and be responsible for managing workers’ entitlements in a way that stands completely outside the regulation and governance requirements imposed by the new system of fund registration contained in the bill.
The bill also goes beyond the regulation of workers benefit funds. It also seeks to place greater restriction and extend already onerous regulation on national unions. In particular, it confers entirely new responsibilities on the Registered Organisations Commission, a body set up to regulate trade unions and employer organisations, not worker benefit funds.
Workers and unions should be able to determine how and in what ways their funds are established, operated and disbursed.
It should not be the role of government to make such decisions or attempt to restrict workers from securing their entitlements.
The Senate should reject the bill.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi