Unions have welcomed action by the Labor Party national conference to move to better protect workers’ entitlements during an economic downturn in which thousands of jobs are being lost each week.

The adoption of an ALP policy today to develop a comprehensive scheme to protect all workers’ entitlements delivers on one of the major aims of the union movement for the national conference, said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

“Concrete policies to safeguard jobs and incomes in the economic downturn are our major priority,” Mr Lawrence said.

“Most urgent of all was to provide greater protection of workers’ entitlements when their employer becomes insolvent.”

Mr Lawrence said the policy adopted by the ALP conference would lead to stronger protection of all workers’ entitlements and introduce harsher penalties for directors of companies that go insolvent without making provision for entitlements. The policy also calls for appropriate ranking of employees among creditors of insolvent companies and the need to not impose an undue burden on taxpayers.

“The union movement will be urgently pursuing the implementation of this policy,” Mr Lawrence said.

 “In the current environment, with thousands of workers each week losing their jobs and out of work for more than eight months, there is growing anxiety among workers and unions and it’s essential their entitlements are fully protected.

“The existing arrangements allow too many employers to evade their responsibilities to adequately make provision for workers’ entitlements. Many workers are left out of pocket as more and more companies go belly up. It’s appalling that working people are paying the price of the global recession.”

Mr Lawrence said the Labor Party had resolved that the new nationally uniform occupational health and safety laws must not leave any worker worse off and had agreed that governments would consider union concerns with the proposed new laws as matter of urgency.

” Unions are determined to ensure we achieve the highest possible standards of workplace health and safety for Australian workers in the new uniform national laws.”

The conference has also acknowledged there are major outstanding issues for construction workers with the adoption of a union resolution that one set of laws should apply to all workers, regardless of the industry in which they are employed.

“The industrial relations chapter in the platform that was debated and passed today commits the Labor Party to continuing to overturn the legacy of WorkChoices and to restoring workers’ rights into Australian workplaces,” Mr Lawrence said.

“These policy initiatives and improvements are a good outcome for workers and unions. They follow the welcome announcement by the Rudd Government’s Industry Minister Kim Carr this week of major new guidelines for government spending that will maximise the creation of good jobs in line with fair work principles,” said Mr Lawrence.