Main Content

What does the anti-union bill mean for nurses, midwives and carers?

What does the anti-union bill mean for nurses, midwives and carers?

The Morrison Government’s anti-union bill, passed by the lower house last month, is now before a senate committee.

The committee is expected to report on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019 in mid-October.

A recent report on the bill by the UK-based International Centre for Trade Union Rights states the legislation conflates serious crimes and minor legal infractions, blurs joint and individual liabilities, and establishes ‘punitive sanctions that are both disproportionate and arbitrarily directed’. The report also says the bill will breach two key International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions.

The bill allows for disqualification of union officials and deregistration of unions for ‘designated offences’ which include relatively minor breaches of industrial law.

ANMF members, and officials, on numerous occasions in pursuing and defending nurse and midwife to patient ratios have been left with virtually no option but to breach industrial laws, in the interests of our patients and our professions.

We must never forget the efforts and determination of Victorian nurses and midwives during the 2001 ratio dispute, and the 2004, 2007 and 2011-2012 public sector enterprise bargaining campaigns.

The bill allows persons with ‘sufficient interest’ to apply for disqualification of union officials and for deregistration of the union. This person could be a surgeon who has had their elective list bumped during industrial action, a patient whose elective surgery was delayed, or an employer — the list could go on.

The bill’s explanatory memorandum maintains that the changes do not affect the rights of workers to continue to be represented because an ‘organisation that obeys the law and complies with its rules is not at risk of having its registration cancelled’. But as we know, we have on many occasions skirted around the law to achieve what is just and right for our patients. The alternative was to lose ratios and other important workforce retention initiatives.

The Morrison Government appears not to be so keen to keep banks and financial services in check. It has little desire to stop phoenix companies rising from the ashes of unpaid workers’ entitlements or ensuring construction companies foot the bill for dangerous cladding on high-rise residential buildings.

We should question what is motivating this bill.

The bill is neither reasonable nor proportionate.