Shadow employment minister Michaelia Cash has accused the Albanese Government of emboldening the union movement amid a crippling dispute between rail workers and the NSW government.
In the wake of the Jobs and Skills Summit in Canberra, the Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke wrote to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to advise it of the government’s plans to legislate against employers axing existing pay deals as a bargaining tool.
“The government is concerned by the practice of some employers threatening to terminate agreements as a bargaining tactic,” Mr Burke said in his letter to FWC President Iain Ross.
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But the minister has been accused of intervening in the NSW Government’s ongoing dispute with the rail workers.
Ms Cash said the government’s move to write to the Fair Work Commission over an issue currently being played out should “deeply concern all Australians”.
“This is without a doubt one of the most concerning things I have seen in the first 100 days of Mr Albanese’s government,” Ms Cash told Sky News Australia Political Editor Andrew Clennell.
“The role of a tribunal, the role of a court is to interpret the law as it stands, not as Mr Burke and Mr Albanese would like it to be.
“I think the fact that the relevant union has come out totally emboldened by this and in particular following the jobs summit, clearly yet again just shows Australians this summit was nothing more than a talkfest.”
The Perrottet Government has negotiated with the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) and Transport Workers Union for months over increased pay and conditions of a new fleet of trains.
But ongoing industrial action has forced the Premier to threaten scrapping a separate pay agreement and an offer worth up to $1 billion to repair the trains.
The NSW Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope said the federal minister’s “intervention” was a “disgrace”.
He added that it would send a clear message to the unions, and RTBU NSW Secretary Alex Claassens, that “Labor has your back”.
“The brazen intervention of Labor into the Fair Work Commission to support the rail unions and their political campaign of rolling strikes is a disgrace,” Mr Tudehope said.
“For Tony Burke to be asking the Fair Work Commission to implement his agenda while the summit is still sitting, let alone any consultation occurring on his planed legislation, shows the depth of arrogance and entitlement that the union movement and Labor bring to government.”
Federal Skills Minister Brendan O’Connor denied that Mr Burke’s letter was related to the rail dispute and said it was purely designed to flag the government’s intent.
“The government as a protocol was foreshadowing our intent and we know there may well be employers that may seek to terminate agreements before the legislation,” Mr O’Connor said on ABC Insiders on Sunday.
The RTBU refused the Premier’s 5pm Friday deadline to consider the enterprise agreement on the table and has flagged further strikes next week.
The clash between the government and the union will come to a head on Tuesday at a hearing at the Fair Work Commission.