The trade union movement is extremely committed to the issues of migration and multiculturalism. The policies on these issues are of fundamental importance to the development and growth of Australian society. Martin Ferguson, ACTU President.
1. Thank you for inviting me to address you at this important conference. I will make it clear from the beginning that the trade union movement is extremely committed to the issues of migration and multiculturalism. The policies on these issues are of fundamental importance to the development and growth of Australian society. At the same time, it should be acknowledged that not all unions, not all officials, all the time, in all places have stood in solidarity with workers who have been born overseas.
2. But it also needs to be recognised that it has been the union movement which has fought, and struggled to maintain and retain a system which has established basic minimum standards of wages and working conditions for all working people. The award system with its protections and benefits has been a major factor in the successful settlement of new arrivals over the years, and has protected workers from exploitation and discrimination. The role and place of the award system in settlement and integration has not received the recognition it deserves, we believe however, that it has been a major factor in ensuring that workers have not been denied fair wages and working conditions.
3. Besides the trade union movement, it should be recognised that the community organisations which you represent, have also fought for the rights of workers
to learn English in the workplace in the bosses time, without loss of pay; Few other places in the world have such programs
to have childcare and carers who speak the language of the children and families; the union movement through its specialised staff has worked with childcare workers, families and communities to get a better deal from governments for childcare centres
4. In terms of broadcasting, trade unions have a clear policy that there should be continuing and increased government assistance to ethnic broadcasting; we have strongly supported the rights of members of ethnic communities to participate in programs and policy making, and we have encouraged unions at all levels to utilise the skills and experience of ethnic broadcasters in communicating with workers and their families.
5. At all levels of broadcasting and communications there are rapid changes taking place. Your conference will be exploring and analysing these changes, and will be developing strategies as to how as ethnic broadcasters, you can respond to these changes.
6. As unions we are also confronted with a rapidly changing society.
7. ALP President and MP Barry Jones has talked about the cycle of changes in economic history in terms of the
Agricultural revolution in neolithic times,
the Industrial revolution in the 1700’s
the Electric revolution in the late 1800’s in Europe and America, and
the Information revolution with which we are now all confronting.
8. We all know that the workplace is changing. Australia’s relationships with the rest of the world is changing. Sources of migrants are changing. Community participation in institutions like churches and trade unions is changing.
9. And union officials, like ethnic broadcasters, are struggling to come to terms with these changes.
10. Unions and ethnic broadcasters are confronted with such changes as:
The globalisation of the markets and the global movement of workers. Both of us are confronted with the challenge for example, of increased movements of people both in the short term and a long term basis. We, the unions, face the challenge of recruiting them as members; you need to be sure that they both contribute and listen to your programs.
A rapidly ageing population is another challenge; this is having an impact on the membership of trade unions: we’re losing our traditional committed workers and members; we’re now involved in new efforts to recruit younger workers. The ageing population has very real implications for you as broadcasters; how do you continue to provide a voice for your older members? And as well encourage younger listeners and broadcasters to participate in your service?
The environment is another issue – and will increase in significance. Contamination of water, urbanisation – are our cities getting better or worse; air pollution; how do we as unions work towards not only safer workplaces but healthier places for our kids to play and go to school. How important are environmental issues for your programs and your listeners?
Rapid Technological Change – not doubt this will be a major issue for you in this conference considering whether your programs going to be driven and controlled by what happens in Australia or overseas.
11. There are some specific issues which I believe are of mutual concern for both trade unions and members of your council.
12. The world of work is increasingly complex. Technology is increasingly bewildering. Tools, machines, chemicals, all paradoxically while making work easier and more comfortable, also have the potential for being more dangerous. For example, a recent report on workplace deaths found that language was one of the most crucial factors affecting safety. Studies have shown that while there is a declining trend in accidents involving Australian born workers there has been no change in the rates of those from non English speaking backgrounds. One study last year found that migrant workers born in Non English speaking countries were particularly at risk in the first five years. In mid-Ocotober, the ACTU is coordinating a national campaign to educate workers on the dangers of using hazardous substances at work and at home. Workers whose first language is not English are a key target group in this campaign.
13. To my knowledge, other than this campaign, there is nationally, no government or non-government strategy, no plans, no intention, no discussions currently taking place to respond to such a critical need. If workers don’t know which is a dangerous chemical or what is a potentially lethal tool or a potentially dangerous workplace practice then they are powerless to do anything about it.
14. In short information and knowledge are powerful tools in getting your rights. Workers need to know what is dangerous, they need to know their rights and they need to know how to ensure that they get a fair go.
15. You see one of the significant roles which I see ethnic broadcast playing is all about getting a better deal for people, communities and workers who because of language or racism, or cultural practice are shut out of the broader community. Of course ethnic broadcasting has a role in providing entertainment, music, news and information from overseas, and access to the arts and culture from the homeland and from ethnic communities in Australia. However I also believe that ethnic broadcasting is a fundamental tool in enabling workers and their families to obtain their rights.
16. Last year saw a good example of the way in which I believe there can be a true collaboration between ethnic broadcasting and the trade union movement. I am talking about the campaign to inform 300,000 clothing outworkers of their rights. No doubt you will be familiar with the conditions of outworkers – typically working 12 to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for about a third of the award wages and no access to even the minimum conditions enjoyed by factory workers. Intimidation, abuse and harassment is widespread.
17. The Clothing and Textile Unions, in consultation with a wide range of community organisations including migrant resource centres, ethnic welfare organisation, community legal centres, migrant womens organisations and the adult migrant education services, developed an information campaign with the ethnic media.
18. Over an 8 week period, advertisements appeared in the community language press; special community language supplements were published in 8 national ethnic newspapers; on the SBS network some 650 advertising spots were used in the 8 week period; multicultural public broadcasting stations ran more than 250 advertising spot over a 6 week period; and talkback programs were organised in all of the targeted languages including Cantonese, Turkish and Arabic.
19. Complementing this, the union, again with the support of ethnic communities and ethnic broadcasters, ran a phone in for the 8 week period. Ten bilingual workers representing 11 languages responded to nearly 400 calls a week over the period. The outcomes have been an icnreased general community awareness of this issue, an the formation of a strategy, involving government, union, business and community groups to combat it.
20. Two other issues which are on the trade union agenda have implications for members of your Council.
21. The first has to do with training.
22. I noted one of the papers given at the 1994 conference by George Zangalis who is not only an office bearer of your Council but also is an official of the Public Transport Union, urged broadcasters to take full advantage of the training opportunities provided by the national training scheme.
23. Since that time the Federal Government has developed a number of additional initiatives to both assist organisations in their work and the unemployed. One of the programs which I hope you as ethnic broadcasters will pick up is the Traineeship program being developed by the industry training company TEAME for the arts, media and entertainment industries.
24. A Traineeship has been specially developed for community radio, nationally a formal vocational qualification will be provided for graduates of the year-long training program, which includes both on-the-job and off-the-job training.
25. Generous subsidies are available for stations wanting to take on a trainee depending on the length of time a person has been unemployed. The traineeship system recognised the work that community radio has always played in training for the media industry as a whole. I understand that all stations have been circulated with information and I hope that station committees are seriously considering participating in it.
26. A second issue relates to participation of members of your communities in developments which are taking place in the workplace.
27. One of the most significant issues currently facing all members and particularly overseas born workers is involvement in enterprise agreements. A recent Department of Industrial Relations report analysing these agreements found that migrant workers were severely disadvantaged; nearly half of them, for example, reported that they didn’t have a fair go in having their say in the agreement negotiations. They didn’t have information in their own language and they didn’t have enough time to understand all the processes.
28. A multilingual, multicultural broadcasting service has to be all about justice and rights; it has to be about not only giving people a voice but also making sure all people, including your listeners are getting a fair go; that they are not the subject of racism and discrimination.
29. The changes which enterprise agreements are bringing provide a further opportunity for closer cooperation between unions and ethnic broadcasters.
30. In the context, then, of the changes taking place in broadcasting, as well as the workplace, the ACTU,
believes both unions and ethnic broadcasters should continue to develop stronger links,
supports the call by ethnic communities councils for a review of the Special Broadcasting Service and
calls upon the Government for increased resources being available for public broadcasting, particularly that part of public broadcasting for ethnic communities.
Martin Ferguson, ACTU President. Speech To The 15th National Ethnic Broadcasters Conference, Melbourne, 9 September 1995.