Today Abigail defended the right for workers to unionise and strike, after the Coalition Government attempted to impose draconian penalties on unions.
Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (18:11): The Industrial Relations Amendment (Dispute Orders) Bill 2022 is a terrible bill. Its sole intent is to make already bad legislation worse. The bill seeks to increase the penalties that may be imposed by courts if dispute orders granted by the Industrial Relations Commission are breached. The third paragraph of the statement of public interest tabled alongside this legislation says all one needs to know to form an opinion on this legislation. It reads:
The New South Wales Government is the largest employer of employees in the State system. There has been no stakeholder engagement outside of government on this bill.
The Government did not need to consult with anybody else. It did not need to consult with the workers. It just needed to consult with the largest employer of employees in the State, being the Government itself. This cowardly bullying thug of a government thinks that it can be rule-maker, referee and player all at once. It is seeking to smash the spirits of working people in this State who, despite being ground down for years by the corrosive, destructive and, in many cases, dangerous policies of this Government, are springing up and standing shoulder to shoulder with one another in a struggle for a better deal. If one were to read the statement of public interest further, they would see the cold, brutalising heart of the capitalist bosses, whose ideological campaign motivates their political operatives in this Chamber. It reads:
As the bill is intended to increase the maximum penalties that can be imposed, the pros are that an increase to penalties will act as a greater deterrent, thus minimising the likelihood of damaging industrial action.
This Government is trying to intimidate and harass workers into submission. It is attempting to grind any opposition out of them beneath the boot of the State to manufacture consent and obedience. It is an internationally recognised right laid out by the International Labour Organization that to withdraw your labour—to strike, to collectively organise and to take disruptive industrial action—is an internationally recognised right. Australia and New South Wales are already in breach of the international standards, with hugely onerous conditions and restrictions on what counts as legitimate industrial action, and on when and how it can be taken. It reminds me very much of the draconian anti-protest laws that passed earlier this year. The Government is saying, "Of course you can exercise your rights, but only on the topics that we say you can, only at the time that we say you can and only in the manner that we tell you."
The bill seeks to impose further restrictions and greater penalties on industrial action that a union of workers democratically elects to take if this action is determined to be inappropriate by a commission, constrained by the legislation's rules and guidance of this conservative Government that is ideologically opposed to collective action. Further, there are greater penalties in the bill. These penalties should be abolished in their entirety. Let us stop and think about how dystopian this concept is. It is inhuman to impose such enormous legal hurdles, requirements and punishment for a failure to comply—for daring to not go to work for one day, for standing up for your humanity and the humanity of your fellow workers, and for staring down the brutality of management and demanding a better deal.
We heard earlier about how strike action was apparently deemed to create risk and danger. It is the shocking conditions that this Government expects workers, nurses, paramedics and teachers to work in every single day that creates risk and danger. Workers have their pay capped for the pleasure of having to be overworked and understaffed in these incredibly vital positions. Australia, and this State, was a better place when workers, through their unions, were empowered to agitate for the rights and interests of themselves, their colleagues and their communities. Gone are the days of the world-famous green bans. Such action would today be prohibited. When this bill gets voted down, as it will, it will feel like a shallow victory. We will have successfully repelled this latest onslaught that seeks to drive us further back from what is rightfully ours, but we have ceded a lot of ground.
The inspiring waves of strike action happening in this State in recent months will hopefully build capacity amongst working people to let people know how powerful we are when we work and struggle together. Hopefully, we can begin the process of taking back what we deserve—the right to dignity, respect, fair treatment, a safe work place, a vibrant community and a relationship of solidarity with those around us. I reflect back to 1980-something, when we had the hole in the ozone layer. I am not sure if anyone remembers that. We signed an international accord to ban CFCs. That action originated with the actions of unions in Australia. Some unions refused to install refrigerators that included the CFCs that were impacting on the ozone layer. It was an important social change that was brought about by unions. I often reflect on that because we have rampant capitalism that is ruining the planet. If we had stronger unions, if we had not eroded the collective action that unions bring about and encourage in our society, and if we had not trodden on and stampeded all over the rights of workers to stand up for what they believe in, we may have seen climate action a lot earlier on. We need a new set of employment rights that set out in clear and uncertain terms the rights of workers. We need a set of laws that unshackle our unions to deliver a pro-worker agenda. Workers' rights are human rights, and we cannot allow them to be suppressed. Workers must be given back their freedom to bargain collectively on their own terms, not constrained by repressive laws laid down by conservative government agendas of all persuasions.
The Hon. Chris Rath went on and on, saying, "What cap are you going to put on wages, Labor?" It amuses me that someone who is a self-professed free marketeer, who thinks that the market should be left to determine everything, still believes that the Government should intervene in the employment market to set an artificial cap on wages. We do not need an artificial cap on wages. We should be allowing workers to bargain. We must re‑empower workers to campaign for their communities, to withhold their labour, to take industrial action, to strike in a struggle for their rights—not just for their immediate pay and conditions, but also to act with a socially responsible purpose extending beyond wages and conditions to include social and environmental justice, the struggles for women's liberation, Indigenous rights, queer rights and to advocate for the interests of working‑class people.
Empowered unions could refuse to work on building sites that would drive working people out of their homes so that luxury penthouses can be built in their place. They could insist on a huge increase in social housing, basic minimal accessibility standards and energy efficiency standards. Chemical and energy production sites could be forced, through the will of workers, to clean up their polluting by-products and reduce emissions that are cooking our planet and poisoning the air and water of the surrounding communities that their workers, friends and families live in.
The rights of the community would finally have an empowered voice that can challenge the relentless pursuit of profit being campaigned from the boardrooms and executive suites around this country and overseas. The right to take industrial action cannot be allowed to be constrained by any forces other than the democratic will of the workers involved. The powers of the State must not intrude on the democratic decision of workers to decide when exactly they are satisfied with the terms of a deal. How can we hope to have a free, fair and just society that respects workers, that respects their central place in our society, when lawmakers are able to constrain the will of the people with anti-union, anti-worker laws that corrupt the courts and corrupt our institutions to protect the inequality of our economic system through the systematic exploitation of workers?
The Greens and I applaud the working people of this State who are rising in a tide to challenge this unfair system—who have declared this, as we have heard, the "Year of the Strike". I hope the workers of this State realise just how powerful they are and build density, strength and confidence to continue their campaigns beyond this year. The economic status quo is so entrenched and so stacked against us that it will take some time to unpick and begin the process of building a better, fairer and more equal world. For this and so many other reasons, The Greens oppose the bill. We will always stand up for the rights of workers to take collective action.
The debate resulted in a vote, after which the Bill did not pass due to a lack of support. The Bill gained the support of the conservative right-wing crossbench, but thanks to the firm and unwavering opposition of the Greens, along with Labor and the AJP, the Bill was negatived.