Page 511 - Week 02 - Wednesday, 21 February 2018

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advice: we will not pander to crooks. No honest businessperson should be opposed to their competition being subject to rules that insist on fair play.

Of course, most Canberra businesses do the right thing by their employees and their customers. The majority of local businesses are honest in their dealings with staff, making sure they comply with all workplace laws and meet all applicable standards. It is not fair to every one of those honest businesses doing the right thing for shonky companies to have an advantage when tendering for publicly funded services, by undercutting the costs good businesses incur. Competition based on efficiency and smarter practices should be encouraged. Competition based on theft should be vigorously policed and punished.

Our powers in this place are limited in that respect, but we should still do everything we can to deliver justice wherever and whenever we can. As Sally McManus, the secretary of the ACTU, told the AIRAANZ conference yesterday, the current arrangement of laws means that when a boss rips off a worker, recovering wages requires lengthy and expensive court processes. The Fair Work Ombudsman and other agencies are so obsessed with busting unions that they turn a blind eye to the bad bosses. Employers in Australia today can take a calculated risk by systemically underpaying staff, safe in the knowledge that they will never be penalised and enforcement will take too long and be too expensive for working people to pursue.

As the Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory we should prioritise preventing the theft of the taxpayers’ funds we administer. Part of this procurement code should include an entrenchment of the role of unions in every workplace. Whilst those crooks who rip off workers and their representatives may believe that unions are an outside interference in the workplace, I know that they are a coming together of workers to provide a voice to employees, employees who face a power imbalance in the workplace and can be too intimidated by that imbalance to provide the frank feedback that managers need to hear.

I was gratified to hear in Miss Burch’s first speech this week her commitment to freedom of association. The freedom to join in and benefit from a trade union is a right entrenched in international law and was once encouraged and celebrated by Robert Menzies. I am glad to hear that there are still some in the Liberal Party who believe in freedom of association rather than attempting to impose freedom from association, as her friends across the lake seem so keen to do.

Trade unions are often the last line of defence of working people, be that in educating them on their rights to a safe workplace and fair pay or empowering them to take the actions necessary to secure the pay rises to get ahead. From the perspective of a government attempting to enforce fair play in the workforce, they are also a terrific source of intelligence. When something is going wrong in a workplace, union officials often get insights that managers cannot perceive or never admit to. In large enterprises, senior management may be unaware of the failings of their subordinates or the consequences of some of their decisions.

By including advice from trade unions in the procurement process, and by making sure union officials have access to workplaces, we benefit from their insight into

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