Brendan O’Connor may yet be the new Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations should Labor end up forming government once the final outcome of the Federal election is decided. In a frank and revealing interview in the latest edition of Workplace Review (Winter 2016, Vol 7 No 2), he provides an insight into the personal influences and motivations that have led him to this point, and elaborates on Labor’s policies on a range of industrial relations issues.
Taking action in the Fair Work Commission in support of penalty rates, cracking down on companies that fail to pay their employees properly, instituting a national licensing regime for labour hire companies, and enshrining paid domestic and family violence leave in the National Employment Standards, are some of the policies Mr O’Connor outlined.
While critical of the Trade Union Royal Commission and the Government’s proposed re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), as exemplifying an anti-union agenda aimed at attacking working conditions, pay and the democratic rights of workers and others, he is emphatic that Labor wants to stamp out “criminality” in unions and elsewhere.
He says Labor intends using the full force of the law to achieve that end, including doubling penalties for serious contraventions of the law, and he lauds the construction industry watchdog set up by the previous Labor Government, the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate (FWBI), in comparison to the ABCC.
Is there ambiguity in Labor’s basic position on policing the building and construction industry?
For O’Connor, the critical differences between Labor’s and the Government’s approaches would appear to lie in factors such as purpose, emphasis, reach.
“They’re not serious about cleaning up unions,” he said in reference to the Government. “They’re just serious about trying to destroy unions so they can attack workers’ rights, their pay and conditions.”
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