Don’t use COVID-19 to cut wages and erode workers’ rights

COVID-19 has had a great impact on our lives and lifestyles, our workplaces and schools, our jobs and our national economy. 

We’ve seen entire industries all but collapse under the strain of COVID-19. We’ve seen jobs disappear, casual workers’ income vanish and unemployment rises towards levels not seen since the Great Depression.

In order to ensure all Australians can get through this crisis safely and soundly, we need to continue to work together. 

Since the first outbreak in March, cooperation and collaboration between our governments, unions, businesses and communities has been key to our success. 

Not only have we managed to contain the spread of the virus in most parts of the country, we have also created new support systems to help Australians during this crisis such as the JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.

We need to remember this spirit of cooperation as new challenges arise from this crisis.

Creating a better Australia

At the end of May, the Prime Minister announced unions and business groups would be working together to come up with ways to reform our industrial relations system to respond to this crisis.

We’re cautious about what this could mean for working people and as always our focus is on protecting your rights.

Some politicians and business commentators have leapt on this opportunity to call for wage freezes, stripped back Awards and greater “flexibility” for employers, but this one-eyed approach will only send Australia backwards.

The reality of the situation is that our economy prior to COVID-19 was not working for working people.

Wage growth had stagnated, jobs were becoming more insecure and unreliable and penalty rates were being slashed.

We must use this opportunity to improve our economy, address inequality, create secure jobs and safeguard our industries not to eradicate the rights of millions of Australians.

Secure Jobs for Australians

As a result of COVID-19, some have predicted that the unemployment and underemployment rates could reach record highs by late 2020. There must be a strategy in place to create more secure, permanent jobs and reduce the number of insecure jobs.

Currently, over 3 million Australians are stuck in casual work, rolling contracts, labour hire or the gig economy.

With no access to paid sick leave and no job security, these workers have been left out in the cold – not only during this crisis but for many years now.

We need to make it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent work and impose a limit on rolling fixed term contracts.

But if businesses continue to undermine job security, this will  not aid this rebuild, it will harm it.

Wage Growth

Australia could not have kept the lights on if it weren’t for supermarket workers, DC workers, health and pharmacy workers, truck drivers, aged-care workers, cleaners and many others – some of which are amongst the lowest paid and most financially vulnerable in Australia.

Real wage growth will be an important means of lifting living standards and getting our economy back on track.

It’s important during this period that discussions around wage increases for essential workers aren’t swept under the carpet.

During the Great Depression, cuts  to workers’ wages didn’t alleviate  the depression, it made it deeper and longer.

Without wage growth, working peoples’ ability to spend money in local businesses will be smited and our economy will not be able to get off the ground.

Now is not the time to send workers’ rights back to the dark ages. This is an opportunity to move them forward and set ourselves up for a better future.

But to do this, everybody – from unions, businesses and communities to governments and employer lobby groups – need to work together.

To ensure that we create a better Australia, we must maintain this spirit of cooperation that continues to lead us through the public health crisis. We must ensure our approaches to a post-COVID world sees a rising tide lift all boats.