ACTU urges ALP to halt 'social slide'

Analysis

ACTU urges ALP to halt 'social slide'

The days of the Labor-unions Accord may be well over, but ACTU secretary Greg Combet has told a conference of more than 500 union delegates that a Labor Government must be elected to secure the 'wellbeing of the country'.

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The days of the Labor-unions Accord may be well over, but ACTU secretary Greg Combet has told a conference of more than 500 union delegates that a Labor Government must be elected to secure the 'wellbeing of the country'. 

Combet, who replaced Bill Kelty when he retired earlier this year, rejected 'the security of the past' and the 'narrow terms of the Accord - that period is over'. Instead, he spelt out exactly what he expects if Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley becomes PM.

Collective bargaining was top of the list, with increased powers for the Industrial Relations Commission and protection against victimisation of union members.

And contemporary employment rights were also to be addressed, including:

  • an increased minimum wage (see previous story)
  • increased protection for casual workers, who now form 27% of the workforce
  • an improvement in working hours

Although all these issues are to be debated in greater detail later in the week, Combet did elaborate after his speech that the finance sector, transport industry and clerical and administrative services were areas where unpaid overtime should be addressed.

Combet told the conference the Howard Government needed to be replaced because it had failed the challenge of providing social equity. At the time of the greatest economic growth in modern history, the gap between rich and poor was vast, he said.

He also lambasted federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith, labelling him 'puerile' for introducing a different piece of industrial legislation into Parliament each day this week, as the Congress sat. This would not distract Congress from its policy-setting agenda for the three years ahead, he said.

But according to Combet, the Government isn't the only one failing the workers. He said anyone who felt complacent in the face of union membership falling off by 150,000 members in the past year 'had better wake up'.

He cited demarcation disputes and lack of attention to organising in the workplace as contributors to the slide in membership. The Congress will debate an anti-poaching resolution on Thursday afternoon.

Combet also pointed to changes in the global economy as another area where workers could organise (see previous story). 

Like ACTU President Sharan Burrow, he said tariffs were not the main issue. The main thing was having labour standards on the agenda in international trade negotiations.

Asked if he was expecting a rough time for Beazley when he addressed Congress tomorrow, Combet said that while trade liberalisation had delivered significant benefits in terms of growth, it had meant painful restructuring. He said this coming at the time of other economic and social change, meant workers had suffered.

 
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