The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, has endorsed the unions’ campaign to strengthen their collective bargaining power in industrial relations laws at the minor party’s national conference on Saturday.
The decision to endorse the “Change the Rules” campaign of the Australian Council of Trade Unions seeks to prevent the Greens being left behind by grassroots campaigning that will benefit left-progressive parties and the Labor party in particular.
The Change the Rules campaign has shifted this year from a phase of diagnosing problems such as wage stagnation to making specific demands such as granting equal rights to workers with insecure jobs and expanding bargaining from the workplace to the industry level.
The Greens’ motion – which was endorsed on Saturday – notes the ACTU is seeking to restore balance to workplace laws, supports the campaign and encourages its members and supporters to join.
However, it stops short of endorsing every plank of the platform, meaning the Greens are in a similar boat to Labor, which will have a more comprehensive debate about industrial relations reform at its July conference and make further policy announcements before the election.
Di Natale used his speech to the conference in Brisbane to argue that successive changes to industrial laws have reduced workers’ and unions’ bargaining power and contributed to stagnating wages.
“People’s wages are flatlining, in fact, they’ve gone into cardiac arrest,” he said.
“If this was a patient, we would be snapping into action, but instead the Coalition is only treating the symptoms through its planned small income tax cuts.”
Di Natale accused the Liberal and Labor parties of engaging in a “tax cut auction” and said big business would doubly benefit from the 2018 budget through $80bn in company tax cuts and “the planned personal income tax cuts lets them off the hook to give people a pay rise”.
“If we want to make sure everyone can enjoy the basics of a good life, wealthy corporations need to do their fair share,” he said.
“That’s why the Greens will support an increase to the minimum wage, cap CEO salaries and, most importantly, give the power back to workers to bargain collectively.”
The Greens co-deputy leader and industrial relations spokesman, Adam Bandt, said “three decades of Labor and Liberal neoliberalism have made life worse for working people and it is time to rewrite our labour laws”.
“The Greens are ready to back the Change the Rules campaign and to support the necessary changes to legislation,” he said.
On Friday, the workplace relations minister, Craig Laundy, told Sky News the union movement and Labor party had written the Fair Work Act after winning the 2007 election.
Labor and the ACTU argue that the interpretation of the law has disadvantaged workers, as the Fair Work Commission has cut penalty rates in the retail and hospitality industries, approved termination of enterprise agreements, and refused applications for equal pay orders and conditions such as domestic violence leave.
Labor has received most of the ACTU’s platform positively but has so far promised only to consider industry-level bargaining in certain circumstances, such as for low-paid workers.
While the Greens have consistently positioned themselves to Labor’s left on industrial relations matters, including promising to fight for work-life balance and opposing penalty rate cuts, the party does not receive as much institutional support from trade unions.
The Greens have been past beneficiaries of union donations from the National Tertiary Education Union, Electrical Trades Union and Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.
But relations with the movement were soured in 2016 by the Greens’ refusal to delay support for the Coalition’s Senate voting reform, a decision that construction unions believe led to a double dissolution and the restoration of what they perceive as an anti-union regulator, the Australian Building and Construction Commission.