ga('send', 'pageview');
John Passant

Site menu:

February 2012



RSS Oz House



Subscribe to us

Get new blog posts delivered to your inbox.


Site search


My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Equal pay: the fight is not yet over

Adam Bottomley writes in Socialist Alternative that Social and Community Services (SACS) workers across Australia are celebrating a significant victory in their campaign for large scale pay increases. SACS workers are employed by not-for-profit organisations and do the same work as government-employed workers but are paid on average $15,000 less per year.

Fed up with this, SACS workers engaged in mass street protests, waves of workplace campaign meetings and serious union membership growth to demand equal pay. The Australian Services Union (ASU) which SACS workers belong to, ran a legal case in Fair Work Australia (FWA), the federal industrial relations court, as part of this campaign. On 1 February, FWA ordered that the minimum wages of SACS workers be made equal with their counterparts in government services.

This breakthrough saw celebrations in SACS workplaces across the country. After years of seeing workers forced to leave the sector for higher wages elsewhere and the workers who remained having to battle with rising prices for housing and basics like food and utilities, these pay rises will create a whole new work experience. One SACS worker was quoted saying:

It’s more than just money. It’s the recognition of the work we do, recognising that the people we work with matter. So many people working in this sector have to think twice about purchasing a house, having children, even buying a car. These are things you should be able to do with a full time job. I’ve definitely been thinking about buying a house but it hasn’t really seemed possible until now.

How the pay rises will apply is complex. Last year the Gillard government moved to merge over 40 industry awards covering SACS workers nationally into one new Modern Award. That Modern Award will come in to effect on 1 July. The pay rises will be incorporated into the minimum wage set in the Award, with the first part of the increase happening on 1 December. The increases are designed to occur in nine increments over eight years.

Roughly 75 percent of SACS workers are on the award so these workers will receive a pay rise in December, while workers who have won above-award pay rises in past years through Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBAs) will receive rises when the award overtakes the pay scales in their EBA.

The pay targets that the campaign fought for were what Queensland SACS workers won in a similar campaign in 2009. So technically, workers across the country can look at what government workers in Queensland are paid as the benchmark. Pay equity with these workers will mean increases of between 19 and 41 percent. However the biggest gap between non-government workers and government workers is in the upper levels of the Award, so more experienced workers and managers will receive the biggest increases.

Recognising that SACS workers have historically had a low level of enterprise bargaining and that the gap between government and SACS workers will continue to increase, SACS workers will receive an extra 4 percent loading on top of the initial pay rise. The FWA increases are intended to occur alongside the standard annual increases (usually between 2 and 3 percent) that SACS workers receive from the National Wage Review process, which is meant to be based on CPI and rising cost of living pressures. So a Grade 4 SACS worker on the new award in eight years time should have received a 28 percent pay rise plus the 4 percent loading plus whatever CPI increases are handed down meaning a potential rise of 50 percent – roughly $21,000.

These will be impressive improvements for SACS workers, but there are many things to be said about the process. Most importantly, SACS workers fought for and won this ourselves. If justice was automatic then the ridiculous underpaying of over 120,000 important workers would never have been established and the low pay of millions of other workers in Australia would be amended immediately.

What mattered most was that SACS workers joined their union in unprecedented numbers, debated out how to build a campaign to pressure state and federal governments to increase funding, and took action in their thousands. This is the clear lesson for other sectors of workers – if you want to win improvements to your job, you need to build a movement and kick up a fuss. The campaign drew support because it had been loud and public in the first place.

It also needs to be said that the nine years that FWA has planned to fix the problem is an insult when it acknowledges that the problem exists now. Studies have shown that the turnover rate in SACS is well above the national average. Surveys done by the ASU at the start of the campaign found that 48 percent of SACS workers thought they would be out of the sector in the next 5 years. Many workers, then, will not experience pay equity.

The length of time to wait is also entirely unnecessary and a huge FWA concession to the Victorian and NSW governments, who lied that they couldn’t afford it. When you look at the amounts of money involved, any state or federal government that wanted to address pay inequity could find the money instantly in their budget if they prioritised it.

Taking nine years to implement will also give governments plenty of time to weasel out of their commitments. The Victorian Baillieu government didn’t even wait until after the FWA announcement to break their election promise to fully fund the outcome. Nine years will also likely see governments try to cut down their costs by reducing workers’ annual award increases and employers will likely fight harder against wage rises in EBAs because workers “have already had a pay rise”.

The outcome also shows that ALP governments need to be fought like any other if workers want to win concessions. In 2010 the ALP submission to FWA had argued that pay rises for SACS workers was not as important as maintaining a budget surplus. Even worse (and playing on the huge concern that SACS workers feel for their clients), the ALP submission threatened that pay rises might mean cuts to related government services. This is all a question of priorities and it shows that unless they are fought, Labor prioritises profits and “economic efficiency” as much as the Liberal Party.

Even with the satisfaction of taking another step towards pay equity, union members in SACS are already planning where to next. There will likely be battles to make sure that the promised pay rises actually happen and are not sabotaged by our opponents or undone by bad EBA and annual award outcomes. The Award Modernisation process itself could see employers dodge paying real wage rises by classifying workers on lower grades than they should be. And we will need to force the most right wing state governments to cover their share of the costs to avoid job cuts or service closures.

All of these battles can be won if SACS workers continue the momentum they built so far. SACS union membership with the ASU in Victoria has grown a brilliant 50 percent since we started the campaign, indicating that campaigning is the way to rebuild the union movement. This growth needs to continue, and the signs are good with “recruitment blitzes” already happening. Teams of ASU organisers and delegates who toured Victorian SACS workplaces last October signed up nearly 10 new members per day.

Even if the FWA outcomes are fully brought in, they will only be a temporary fix if the pay gap between SACS workers and other sectors continues to grow. The way to fix this is for SACS to become a workforce that is organised enough to win EBAs across the sector rather than rely on the minimum award. SACS workers at the Tenants Union in Melbourne are showing how this can be done at the moment with a campaign of industrial action by the workforce against an employer hostile to a new EBA.

The equal pay campaign has been a huge step forward for a workforce with very little history of standing up for itself or taking action of any kind. Future battles will need to up the pressure and it’s hard to see governments continuing to increase funding for wages and decent services unless SACS workers are prepared to disrupt business as usual and take industrial action as community sector workers did in England last year.

The equal pay campaign looks like having a satisfying victory.  If we make sure it’s carried out it will be the biggest wage win for any workers in years. But the drive of governments and big business to cut spending on social services and prioritise profits over the quality of life for ordinary people hasn’t ended. We should savour this sense of what’s possible and we should take that sense of power into the current and future battles for justice.


Write a comment