More than workers’ rights, we’re fighting for our future

There is a clear choice on many policy fronts between the federal government and the Labor movement, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet told ACTU Congress. And unions are playing an important part in defining this choice.

Greg Combet said the latest attack on workers’ rights represented by the government’s new IR laws is undoubtedly one of the most vicious in our history.

‘That is why the decision we unanimously took two years ago to stand up and fight for rights at work was so historically important,’ he said.

‘It is not just a fight to restore the balance in the industrial relations system. We are fighting for the future of our democracy, we are fighting for the future of our kids.’

Combet said the union movement had much to be proud of in defending workplace rights and conditions.

‘We have successfully stood up with people in the workplace and defeated numerous attacks on workers’ rights. Our campaign alone has forced employers to be cautious in applying their new powers under the laws. Thousands of people, against all the odds and in the face of crippling potential fines, have taken action to support colleagues who have been victimised.’

But he warned there was plenty of work left to do in the lead up to the next election. ‘It’s so important we see this through,’ he said.

Combet was scathing of the Howard government’s justification for its IR laws and its economic record.

‘John Howard would have you believe that IR is the central economic policy issue. It is not. There are far more pressing economic issues. In fact, when it comes to the long-term economic challenges, the government has been lazy and irresponsible.

‘Productivity in the Australian economy has collapsed – it is less than half what it was five or six years ago. Capacity constraints on the economy are restricting economic growth.

‘Constraints like the skills crisis, the failure to provide leadership on infrastructure investment, the failure to provide for improved retirement savings to meet the needs of an aging population, the failure to deal with climate change, the acceptance of defeat in saving manufacturing jobs.

‘None of these problems will be fixed by labour cost cutting under the industrial relations laws.’

Greg Combet’s full congress speech can be read online at

Stronger rights at work and a decent safety net says ACTU policy

Unions have responded to the Howard government’s ideological obsession with destroying workers’ rights with a policy direction that aims to strengthen workers’ democratic rights.

The principles underpinning the ACTU policy are:

  • A decent safety net for workers, comprising some legislated minimum standards and the award system; and
  • Collective bargaining over and above the safety net, and the abolition of individual contracts;
  • An independent tribunal to guarantee fairness, maintain the safety net, and oversee bargaining;
  • The right for workers to join a union and to be represented by a union.

The ACTU policy is online at: