In a speech to the National Press Club ACTU Secretary Sally McManus has called for a return to ‘the promise of fairness for us all’ in Australia.
‘The fair go is based on two things: having a job you can count on, and fair pay,’ she said.
Ms McManus said for fairness to prevail the industrial relations laws need to change: too much power has been given over to employers and wages are flat-lining.
She also called for the restoration of penalty rates for ‘some of the lowest paid workers in Australia’.
Ms McManus said Australian workers were ruled by laws which had destroyed job security and left people struggling to pay the bills. Years of Coalition governments had ‘pushed us down a dangerous path – towards a different society – towards the heartache endured by the millions of working poor in the US ’.
She said in the US people were being served fast food by 70-year-olds, school teachers were having to take on second jobs and mattresses designed to fit inside cars are being sold to the working poor.
In Australia, in the year to December 2017, essential living costs rose much faster than the consumer price index – electricity rose 553 per cent faster, housing 79 per cent faster and health 111 per cent faster, than CPI.
Ms McManus said that in the past, wealth in Australia was more fairly shared because the union movement had insisted on rules that put fairness and equality first.
Union pressure had led to a living wage, equal pay for women, the 38 hour week, Medicare, universal superannuation and paid parental leave.
Since the global financial crisis (GFC), wealth and power have been concentrated in even fewer hands, and once- secure jobs had been converted into insecure work, driving down wages. Meanwhile company profits and CEO salaries are soaring.
Ms McManus said the ACTU was not seeking to abolish casual employment or the choice to work as a casual employee but wanted casual work to be properly defined and for casuals to be able to convert to permanent employment if they wanted to.
She said many Australians were concerned about insecure work – either because they were worried about their future employment or casualisation had affected someone in their household.
‘I think parents and grandparents worry about their children being in insecure employment,’ she said. ‘Our rules must change so working people have the tools that work so we can negotiate our fair share,’ she said.