Addressing a cohort of business leaders in Canberra on Thursday, Attorney-General Christian Porter named the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) as a model union for demonstrating the “gold standard” of “cooperative” workplace relations.
“You speak with the major employers, they have a very good relationship with the SDA. It is constructive, it’s sensible,” Mr Porter said in a story published by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Porter, who recently announced a review of Australia’s industrial relations laws, made the comments following a speech this week where he unveiled a discussion paper and the corresponding calls for submissions on criminalising wage theft.
When Mr Porter was asked if the model industrial relations system he envisioned was one where “unions never take industrial action and workers are left worse off”, Mr Porter emphatically rebuffed saying: “Of course not…the whole point about the SDA is that it’s a union that seems, generally speaking, to work very well with the large employers in that sector,” he said.
“When you compare relationships between employers and employees in that retail, hospitality, fast food space to what’s going on, on construction sites, it’s chalk and cheese,” he said.
Evidently, the remarks have left the opposition industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke questioning whether Mr Porter’s genuine intentions for the promise of reforming Australia’s industrial relations.
“[Mr Porter] needs to decide whether he wants to grandstand or whether he wants Australians to be paid properly,” he said. Adding, that if the government “really wanted to help combat wage theft” it would drop the Ensuring Integrity Bill – a bill proposed to give government the power to deregister unions that break the law and ban officials for misconduct.
Another challenger of Mr Porter’s remarks came from secretary of the Retail and Fast Food Workers’ Union, Josh Cullinan who said it was “remarkable” that the minister would describe the SDA in glowing remarks when “the largest wage theft that’s been perpetrated in Australia is the wage theft that’s been committed by the SDA,” he said. Adding, the union was partaking with employers in “stealing penalty rates, casual loadings and other conditions,” from retail and fast food workers.
“Even today, workers continue to suffer the exploitation under rotten SDA deals,” Mr Cullinan said.
In response, a spokeswoman for the SDA said, “[The SDA] continues to reject the assertion that agreements it has negotiated have ever left workers worse off” and that it had a “proud history of delivering the best possible outcomes for workers”.