Morrison wants workers to pay for COVID recovery—make the rich pay

When his supporters rioted in Washington, invading the Capitol building, it showed where Trump’s racism, lies and encouragement of white supremacists had led.

But Scott Morrison could not bring himself to condemn Trump for inciting the far right violence. All he could manage was that Trump’s words were “incredibly disappointing”, but it was not for him to “provide lectures to anybody”.

It’s no surprise that he’s defensive. Morrison imitated Trump in dismissing action on climate change, and championing jobs in coal and gas as well as racist attacks against Muslims and refugees.

Trump’s brand of racism and lies is still alive and well inside the Liberal and National parties, with MPs like Craig Kelly and George Christensen openly parroting his conspiracy theories about the US election and COVID-19.

And Morrison is still doubling down on his farcical “gas-fired recovery” from the pandemic, rushing through approvals for Santos’s gas project at Narrabri and announcing over $200 million to encourage fracking in the extensive gas fields of the Beetaloo Basin in the NT.

That would be a disaster. Beetaloo alone would produce enough carbon emissions to cancel out almost all of Australia’s reductions pledged by 2030 under the Paris Agreement.

A climate-focused recovery could provide a serious plan for jobs in renewable energy, public transport, buildings and land management. But Morrison has refused to fund what is needed.

Instead he is pushing ahead with cutbacks to income support, slashing $200 a fortnight from both JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments in January.

Yet the renewed COVID outbreak over December and the New Year shows that the pandemic is far from over. Internationally, there is no V-shaped recovery in sight. With COVID ravaging Europe, and many countries imposing lockdowns, the European economy is predicted to contract by as much as 7 per cent this year—the largest decline since the Second World War.

While Australia is much better placed in regard to COVID, the economic impact is still enormous. Interstate border closures along with the temporary lockdown in Sydney’s Northern Beaches hit tourism and retail workers again. Thousands of others were forced into quarantine.

Despite the plan to roll out COVID vaccines beginning in February, Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy has said that international travel restrictions will remain through most of this year. This will mean severe disruption in tourism as well as universities and education providers reliant on international students.

According to small business ombudsman Kate Carnell, there are still 30 per cent of businesses “in all sorts of trouble”.

Around 1.5 million workers are still on the JobKeeper payment—yet Morrison plans to scrap it completely at the end of March.

At that point, JobSeeker will also drop back to pre-COVID poverty levels of just $40 a day. So workers who lose their jobs when JobKeeper ends will be thrown onto as little as $660 a fortnight.

Workers shouldn’t pay

Instead of extending support to workers, Morrison wants to give bosses more “flexibility” through new industrial relations laws to allow them to cut workers’ pay and conditions. Companies claiming hardship would be able to introduce workplace agreements that undercut minimum Award conditions and force part-time workers to do extra shifts without overtime payments.

Already many companies are using COVID as an excuse to deny workers a pay rise or attack conditions.

After inflation, wages in the private sector rose just 0.5 per cent in the year to September. Deloitte Access Economics says it will take five years for wage rises to return just to 2 per cent a year.

After they were praised as heroes earlier in the pandemic for keeping supermarket shelves stocked, Coles has imposed a brutal three-month lockout on the workers at its Smeaton Grange distribution centre in Sydney.

But their determination has shown how to fight, after they continually rejected the company’s offer on redundancies despite Coles trying to starve them back to work.

The Liberals want workers to pay the costs of recovery through unemployment, wage cuts and laws that give more power to the bosses. But there is no reason workers should accept further sacrifice.

Company profits actually grew by 18.6 per cent in the year to 30 September, due to JobKeeper and Morrison’s business support payments to boost profits. The bosses can afford to pay.

Everyone needs to get behind the Coles workers struggle. A broader union fightback organised by the ACTU and our union leaders could to stop Morrison’s industrial relations changes and defend our wages and conditions.

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