Sally McManus goes to Canberra to say 'Change the Rules'

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'Australian unions won pay rises and jobs with rights, and the rules that made sure wealth was shared': ACTU Secretary Sally McManus stood up and told the bosses why we need to Change the Rules


Last week ACTU Secretary Sally McManus stood up in the nation’s capital.

McManus stood up at the National Press Club and launched into what’s been hailed as the “most important speech by a union leader in a generation”. And judging by the full onslaught of the conservative press, McManus has struck a chord.

McManus stood before members of the media, ALP politicians and union members young and old to remind Australia about what the labour movement was about and what it’s fought for over the past 100 years.

More importantly, McManus stood in Canberra to let the workers of this nation – and the people who lead it – what unions are fighting for now.

“Australian unions won pay rises and jobs with rights, and the rules that made sure wealth was shared,” McManus said.

“This meant that each generation since World War Two had a higher standard of living than the one before it.

“But successive coalition governments have tried to dismantle this idea and the society we built.”

The ACTU Secretary pointed to the successive Coalition governments have warmly embraced “unmitigated, oppressive neo-liberalism” and pursued the “failed trickle-down economics” that has set us on a path away from the notion of a fair go that has sat at the heart of Australian life.

The Tories, McManus warned, were again leading us down the primrose path “towards the heartache endured by the millions of working poor in the United States”.

“In Australia, we do not want and we will not accept the Americanisation of our working lives.

“Successive Coalition governments have plundered the rights of workers,” McManus said, pointing out that overwhelmingly Australians wanted a “fair go at work”.

The need to stop the erosion of Australian working conditions has been echoed by the Electrical Trades Union’s National Secretary Allen Hicks.

“Australian workers are now faced with some of the most oppressive Industrial laws in the modern world,” he said after the Press Club speech.

“Our right to strike, our right to bargain and our capacity to get a fair deal have all been significantly eroded by anti-worker legislation.

“We need to change legislation to ensure that we are not the first generation of workers which deliver less rights and conditions to those that come after us.

“If we don’t act now and change the rules our children’s rights and conditions will be much worse than ours.”

The ACTU Secretary recalled the unions’ successful battle against the potential devastation of WorkChoices a little over a decade ago. But the movement could not rest upon its laurels.

In the past 10 years, the world – as well as labour and the way we think and interact with our jobs – has changed. Disruption has become the means. Uncertainty, irregularity and flexibility are the norm.

“Workplace laws written before Uber and before the Global Financial Crisis are not able to do their job of ensuring a fair go for working people today,” McManus said, referring to the structures and safeguards that underpin the Fair Work Commission.

The gig economy players are already working to dilute Australia’s minimum standards, with Deliveroo arguing in a submission to a Federal Government enquiry into labour law that the minimum wage is incompatible with its “fee per delivery” business model.

These disrupters want to pay workers less and call it innovation. But people’s pay has already flatlined, or that people are in insecure jobs and that inequality in Australia is at a 70-year high.

These are the things that need to change:

  • The rules that the national leader of Australia’s union movement include:
  • The freedom to organise and have industry-wide bargaining – which is still illegal in Australia.
  • An end to bosses’ power to have enact widespread of agreements – known the “nuclear option” – and the option for workers to meet and negotiate with the big boss.
  • An end to wage and superannuation theft – and the ability for workers to stop work when they are being exploited.
  • More secure work options for casuals and labour hire contractors.
  • An end to the exploitation of temporary worker provisions and securing Australian jobs and standards in trade agreements – that should be fair, not business free-for-alls.
  • The restoration of penalty rates, raising the minimum wage and the assurance that awards will only ever go up.
  • Equal pay for equal work and the elimination of the gender-pay gap.
  • Making the Fair Work Commission fairer by removing political appointees.

National Secretary Allen Hicks said he and the “ETU strongly supports ACTU leader Sally McManus”.

“Sally is strong and courageous and is not afraid to say it how it is.”

Mr Hicks added the ETU “will encourage all of member to be active participants in the Change the Rules campaign through town hall meetings, door knocking, letter boxing or whatever else is required to ensure we change the rules”.

“We have and will continue to offer financial support and the use of our resources Australia wide to assist.

“We have to fight and fight and fight. When we stand together, when we fight together, we win together. Let’s change the rules.”

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