Ged Kearney address to ACTU Congress 2012 on Secure Jobs. Better Future

Ged Kearney at ACTU Congress 2012
Delegates…

On behalf of Australian unions, I want to sincerely thank Brian Howe, Paul Munro, Sara Charlesworth and Jill Biddington for their work on this Inquiry and this report.

It is the job of unions to defend the rights of working people. That has been the story of our history.

The report delivered today has shone a light on the crisis of insecure work in Australia.

Tackling that crisis will be another page in our proud history of standing up for working people.

Employers have taken advantage of workplace changes to put people on contracts and employ workers as casuals. This is not about improving efficiency or productivity. It is about shifting risks and costs onto workers, to increase profits. Pure and simple.

But it’s not just about profit. Rest assured, this is a deliberate attack on unions’ ability to organise.

And it’s no surprise that this has occurred at the same time as a decline in union membership.

This is a campaign for our times.

It’s a campaign about an issue that permeates throughout the whole economy – but has the starkest impact on the people who can afford it least.

  •     Women whose caring needs force them in to insecure work because there is no real choice;
  •     Migrant workers who experience some of the worst forms of exploitation;
  •     Older men who’ve lost their permanent jobs and find themselves stuck in insecure work; and

  • Young people at the beginning of their working lives who are trying to break out of insecure work and start a career.

    The very people who need a strong union movement to speak up for them.

     I think I can confidently say that this inquiry has been a mammoth undertaking on a level never attempted by the union movement before.

    The inquiry received over 520 written submissions – 67 from academics, unions, and from community organisations, and the rest from workers, who told us about their lives and their experiences.

    They told of how the lack of a secure job feeds their anxieties about paying the bills, how it erodes their prospects for career development, and how it makes it so hard to plan for their futures.

    We set the Panel a punishing workload and travel schedule around the country, where again they heard from dozens of workers – courageous people determined to speak out even though in many cases they risked retribution from their employer.

    The slideshow playing behind me features some of those people – others are here today. Some of them are in the audience today, and I’d like to ask them to come to the stage now. We have workers from a range of industries – some in insecure work themselves, others in permanent jobs but determined to stem the tide of insecure work.

    Please come up to the stage:

  •     George, from the TWU , a Qantas delegate and our ACTU  delegate of the year;
  •     Chris and Freda, casual academics from the NTEU;
  •     From the Firefighters Union, Marina and Phil;
  •     Terri, a TAFE teacher and AEU delegate;
  •     Phil is a labour hire worker in Newcastle and proud MUA member;
  •     Xuan, an outworker and TCFUA member;
  •     Christine, Andrew and Roger from the FSU;
  •     And AWU glass industry delegates Ross and John.

  • These workers are delegates who’re fighting for job security and casual workers who appeared at the Insecure Work Inquiry.

    All delegates have received a copy of the final report, Lives on hold: unlocking the potential of Australia’s workforce.

    This is a landmark document that not only describes the nature of work in Australia today and the impact of insecure work on individuals and society, but lays out an agenda unions can pursue over the next decade and beyond.

    The Inquiry’s report makes it clear that Australia’s workplace system hasn’t kept up with the changing nature of the workforce. No IR system can be truly fair if it leaves 40% of workers without adequate protections and entitlements.

    Employers, of course, say there is no turning back. They argue that they need flexibility to meet the demands of a modern, globalised economy.

    But Australian workers are no fools. They know that the real agenda of employers with insecure work is to shift all of the risks and costs of employment onto the worker, so as to maximise their profits.

    There is no reason why we should accept that a modern economy must drive insecurity at work.

    And now it is over to the ACTU and unions to campaign for a society that values workers not as commodities, but as people who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

    Tackling insecure work will not be solved overnight. It’s a huge issue and it requires a big approach. We realised that when we launched the Secure Jobs. Better Future campaign last year.

    It is the job of a peak body to articulate the union movement’s agenda, build coalitions, and shape the public debate. We need to do this not just because it sets the terms on which unions can bargain and represent their members, but also to create the space for progressive governments to deliver lasting reforms that will make a real difference to the lives of working people.

    That’s why campaigning matters.

    I have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and engagement with this campaign throughout the union movement from organisers, delegates and rank and file members around the country, up to the national secretaries who sit on the ACTU’s Executive.

    Union people know that insecure work is the biggest workplace challenge of our times – and they are eager to roll up their sleeves and make this campaign a success.

    To do that, we need to campaign industrially, through our organising, and in the community.

    We need to leverage off our industrial campaigns. Job security and the trend towards insecure work is at the heart of disputes like Qantas and Baiada poultry in Victoria. Many unions are already campaigning against casualisation and insecure work in their industries. Our aim is to link these campaigns – and begin new ones – sharing knowledge, experience and resources to win secure jobs for our members.

    We need to campaign through our organising. We know that secure jobs are most likely in workplaces where unions have a strong presence and are well-organised. Our goal must be to organise and recruit in new workplaces so that, collectively, they can demand secure jobs.

    We need to campaign in the community. We have been knocked over by the massive interest and support for this campaign from the community sector. Insecure work is a social issue as much as an industrial issue. Community organisations see the impact of insecure jobs every day in the families they help. This issue is an opportunity to renew the links and coalitions that made Your Rights At Work so successful.

    And we need to run a political campaign. The solutions to insecure work will undoubtedly require legislative change to create an industrial relations system that protects all workers and provides a universal set of rights and entitlements.

    We already know this campaign is starting to bite because Tony Abbott last week tweeted the magic words: “secure jobs”.

    Ultimately, we want this campaign to be ubiquitous – a campaign that cannot be avoided and which permeates everything that unions do.

    And so we know that the fight for better rights and conditions for these and all workers will continue.But it is a fight we are excited about. Just like the Your Rights At Work campaign before it, it is a fight we must have. If we don’t begin to address this problem now, how bad will it be in 20 years?

    We want a society where everyone has the right to a job where they feel secure in their work, can grow their career, to support their family and own their own home if they wish. We must stop going in the wrong direction.

    This is an issue that has taken decades to entrench itself in Australia. We won’t change it overnight. It is complex, our opponents will pour resources into fighting us, and the solutions will not be easy.

    But neither was Your Rights at Work. I now call on Paul Howes to move the resolution.