Turmoil in the global economy has increased the urgency for a fair and balanced industrial relations system, with collective bargaining at its centre, to protect the jobs and earnings of working Australians, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said today.

Addressing the National Press Club in Canberra, Ms Burrow said working people would not be immune from the fall-out from the crisis on global financial markets.

Economic uncertainty added extra imperative to restore collective bargaining rights for all Australians under the Rudd Government’s planned new industrial relations system, she said.

“The current global financial turmoil is a reminder for working Australians of their own exposure to a potential downturn that could affect their livelihoods,” Ms Burrow told the NPC.

“It adds urgency to their desire for a balanced and fairer industrial relations system that delivers better job security and a fairer share of the nation’s wealth.

“Business and the economy will also benefit from new IR laws that put collective bargaining at the centre of workplace relations.”

Ms Burrow said the legacy of the Howard-Costello Government is a profound financial fragility among working families with household debt at an unsustainable and dangerous 156% of GDP.

She said a fair and comprehensive system of collective bargaining would protect incomes and jobs, grow workforce skills, drive productivity, enhance energy efficiency measures to tackle climate change, and deliver increased participation through measures that assist with the balance of work and care for parents and older workers.

But Ms Burrow warned there were still gaps in the Government’s industrial relations plan, and unions would press the Government to close them before the legislation was finalised.

“Collective bargaining, good faith collective bargaining with a strong independent umpire, will turn Work Choices on its head,” she said.

“But we must get the new system right.”

At the Press Club today, Ms Burrow said it was essential that the new national system adopted protections for independent contractors that exist under state jurisdictions, including the right to sue over unfair contracts.

“This is particularly important in a modern economy, where outsourcing and contracting practices have meant that many vulnerable workers are now formally classed as independent contractors, and so have lost all of the protections available to ‘employees’ under the law,” she said.

Ms Burrow called for urgent moves to increase regulation of the financial sector, including curbs on lending practices that push debt onto vulnerable consumers and greater protection for homebuyers at risk of default.