Coalition will swing power to employers

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Nurses Conference 2013ACTU president Ged Kearney says Australian workers and families need to be informed about the truth of what a Coalition government would mean for them.

Business groups have an agenda for Australia that poses enormous risks to workers’ conditions ­– and political parties must stand up to them, ACTU president Ged Kearney told the NSWNMA conference.

“We can see the plans employers have for Australia – cuts to important entitlements and conditions like penalty rates and more use of individual contracts that cut take-home pay. They will swing power back to employers and make it harder for workers to be represented at work,” she said.

“Political parties must stand up for the interests of ordinary Australians in the face of pressure from business to cut wages, reduce entitlements and erode job security. And that is why unions will be campaigning in force this federal election.”

Ged said that at this election unions would be talking to workers in their workplaces and in their communities about the choices they face at the ballot box:

  • Building a modern, globally-focused economy that offers real jobs growth – or leaving it to chance and the benevolence of big business.
  • Investment or cuts to public services.
  • Protecting or undermining work rights.
  • Dignity in retirement or reliance on charity.

“The Your Rights At Work campaign proved that with the support of the Australian community, the union movement is an unstoppable force. And that, of course, is why big business and the Tony Abbott-led Coalition are so determined to attack and weaken the union movement,” she said.

“They know that if unions are taken out of the equation there is nothing in the way to prevent them from implementing a radical agenda that would permanently take away the rights of Australian workers and slash their wages and conditions.”

Ged said the past five years had been a period of significant reform for working people, including initiatives such as:

  • The abolition of WorkChoices and establishment of the Fair Work Act;
  • The introduction of the paid parental leave scheme.
  • Stronger protection of workers’ entitlements.
  • The long-awaited increase to the Super Guarantee.
  • A national bullying code.
  • Tighter restraints on the heavily-rorted 457 visa system.
  • And better, family-friendly work arrangements including the recently announced support for extended before and after school care.

“These outcomes for working people have occurred at the same time as good economic management through the Global Financial Crisis saw Australia outperform the rest of the developed world and, most importantly, protected jobs.

“You would never see anything like this from Tony Abbott – in fact he has worked relentlessly against each and every one of these initiatives.”

Ged said the ACTU had gone through the Coalitions’ policy document with a fine toothcomb and identified areas of real concern for every Australian worker, the first of these being cuts to penalty rates and award conditions.

This reflects the business wish list submitted to last year’s review of the Modern Award system, which received two dozen different submissions arguing that penalty rates should be reduced or scrapped completely in the retail, hospitality and tourism industries.

“The Business Council’s report last week also calls for Australia’s allegedly high minimum wage to be reviewed by the Productivity Commission,” she said. “You can bet that other employer groups will dust off their old submissions to abolish penalty rates and cut minimum wages.

“That is why Tony Abbott should be up-front with the Australian people and release the terms of reference for his Productivity Commission inquiry before the election – so we know exactly what is at risk.”