In February 2017 the Fair Work Commission announced Sunday and public holiday rates would be reduced for workers in hospitality, retail, pharmacy and the fast food industry. All of a sudden workers were being faced with the prospect of having to work longer to maintain their current wages.
The Commission did not decide to make this change out of the blue. For a long time businesses have been complaining about the crippling effect of penalty rates on their trading capability for Sundays and holidays. Some businesses chose not to open at all.
Despite their justifications, workers around Australia are rallying against the sudden drop in their incomes. In March thousands rallied against the decision while the Victorian Government set up an inquiry into the decision and its flow on effects to the economy.
The question we now need to ask is what rights do workers have to protest?
Under international law, the right to strike is recognised as a fundamental human right. Shortly after World War II, the right to strike was considered:
“One of the principal means by which workers and their associations may legitimately promote and defend their economic and social interests” (United Nations).
Despite this position, Australia has one of the most restricted systems of industrial protest in the developed world. This is a point repeatedly told to Australia by the International Labour Organisation.
Industrial action is generally unlawful. Workers are only allowed to protest and be protected from fines, monetary damages or dismissal when their union applies to the industrial tribunal for a protected action order. This order will only be granted where the union can show that workers are trying to negotiate a fair deal with an employer.
No Political Strikes! You can forget about any politically motivated strike….that is off limits!
This is in direct contrast with the position of the International Labour Organisation which says that strikes for changes in economic policy, to decreases prices, unemployment problems or higher minimum wages should all be considered legitimate strike causes under international law.
No Sympathy Strikes! You cannot have an industry wide strike (known as pattern bargaining).
Strength in numbers is prohibited in Australia. This means no set of workers from an industry as a whole can go on strike without risking their jobs or fines.
No special treatment! Workers are prohibited from asking for special conditions as part of a bargain.
This means a worker cannot negotiate for their own job security, environmental concerns or requirements for corporate social responsibility.
There is no denying that our workers right to strike laws are not in step with international points of view. However, some argue that the lack of strikes have created economic productivity and a strong union to assist in the correct protection of workers. Others say that with wages plateauing, maybe it’s time to allow workers to rally for greater pay which may in turn stimulate the economy.
Whatever your position, there is no denying that workers will continue to do whatever is in their power to fight for their rights.
About the authors:
About the authors:
Haley Graydon is a University of Western Australia graduate with a strong focus on client orientated service. As a lawyer, Haley specialises in family law and dispute resolution.