The solidarity between PNG & Australian movements and the resolution on the Australian IR reforms. The congress expresses its solidarity to the ACTU & the Australian union movement on the reforms being proposed by the Howard Government. By Richard Marles, Assistant Secretary, ACTU. PNG TUC Congress 2005, Thursday 28 July 2005, Holiday Inn, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Dignitaries, Congress attendees, on behalf of the international guests to your National Conference I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks. Thank you for having us in your country. Thank you for having us at your Congress.

I would like to present a small gift to both John Paska and John Mahuk as a token of our appreciation for your having us here this week.

to stand here and see all of your faces in this room is a truly wonderful sight

To all the dignitaries in the room it is wonderful that you have attended this opening ceremony. But I will ask you to indulge me, for being a union forum I have some union things to say.

Brothers and sisters to stand here and see all of your faces in this room is a truly wonderful sight.

The one realisation which has characterised the observations of all the international guests here this week is that we feel we are witnessing the rebirth of the Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress. We feel that we are witnessing the rebirth of the Papua New Guinea Trade Union movement.

And to be here at such an historic Congress is very exciting and a great privilege indeed.

we are making it work

Speaking personally this is my third visit to PNG in the last 12 months. And each time I come here the bonds of friendship irresistibly grow. Which is a wonderful thing.

But what is really great about it is that I am not alone.

Of the eight Australians who have been here this week, and who were introduced to you yesterday, six are here on a repeat visit. And there are other Australians who have not been introduced to you and who are not here this week John Allan from the Transport Workers Union, Mark Burgess from the Police and Nick Blake frown the Nurses all of whom have been to PNG on a number of occasions since Sarah Fitzpatrick, Mike Ingpen and I visited here a year ago.

And this time you also have a number of guests from the region who were also introduced to you meaning that there have been representatives from six of your neighbours at the TUC Congress this week. And that is how it should be. Because PNG is a very significant player within the Pacific Region.

Since initiating the PNG Australia Union Partnerships all of us have seen relationships flourish and grow.

We have seen assistance be provided from both sides. We have seen the agendas for cooperation which were developed at the Airways Hotel back in February actually come to pass. You only need to look at the transport unions seminar which was held earlier this week with Wade Noonan from the Transport Workers Union in Australia and all the transport unions here in PNG to see the practical results of these partnership programs.

We are building power between our two movements.

From the miners to the police; the nurses, the maritime workers, the aviation workers, the timber workers, the public servants, the firefighters, the doctors, the prison officers, the bank workers, the energy workers, the communication workers, the relationship which has developed between the Australian Labor Party and PNG Labor Party, and of course the relationship between the ACTU and the PNGTUC all of us have seen these relationships mature.

We have seen training be provided. We have seen advice be given on disputes; legal assistance provided; information shared; and importantly capacity building initiatives being implemented in unions here.

Last February I said that as a union movement in a developed country providing assistance to a union movement in a developing country what we are all doing here is a model for the rest of the world. And as such we have to make it work if we are to see the goal of global worker solidarity achieved.

Well the great news, brothers and sisters, is that we are making it work. And this is only the beginning.

For there is still so much more to be done with the partnership programs. And it is important that we do not rest on our laurels.

We do need to pursue the application that has been made by the PNG TUC and the ACTU to the ILO for the training project. Because this will bring much needed resources to this country and it will bring a much needed training capacity to the PNG union movement.

And the idea was always that the one-on-one relationships between unions in Australia and unions in PNG endure, not over the course of months, but rather over the course of years.

So while we can quite honestly stand here today and say that these relationships are much stronger now than they were twelve months ago it is also very important that we are able to stand up here this time next year and say that they are stronger again. And that brothers and sisters is our challenge for the year ahead.

I also said back in February that I believed in a larger sense that in the last three decades Australia has not lived up to its obligations to this country. And while I think that is true in general I also think that it is specifically true in relation to the trade union movement too.

But we feel that these partnership programs are changing all that. We are here in force and we are building friendships between our two countries and friendship between our two movements just as it should be. And to see all this happening is very gratifying.

But most importantly of all we are building solidarity: solidarity between our two countries; solidarity between our two movements.

the biggest attack by a government on trade unions that has been seen in Australia for a hundred years

And right now brothers and sisters, those of us in Australia need all the solidarity we can get. Because unionists in Australia are under siege. We are experiencing the biggest attack by a government on trade unions that has been seen in Australia for a hundred years.

I am sure you will have heard about the reforms to the industrial system being proposed by the John Howard Government. There are many aspects to them: the ability for employers to sack employees arbitrarily, and the reduction in the real value of the minimum wage.

But the most significant proposal that John Howard is trying to achieve is to remove collective bargaining as the cornerstone of the industrial relations system and instead replace at its heart individual contracts between employees and employers.

Now I dont have to tell this audience that when a single worker tries to negotiate with their boss one-on-one they do so from a position of weakness. So over the last one hundred and fifty years workers have banded together through unions to negotiate as a group and maximise their bargaining power: to bargain collectively.

And this idea is at the heart of what is now an international human right: the right to collective barraging.

This right is at the core of every industrial relations system in almost every country in the world. This right is at the core of the ILO conventions to which Australia and Papua New Guinea is a signatory.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan did many things but they didnt try to challenge this right. John Howard is.

And in doing so not only is he running counter to international standards of human rights he also running counter to more than a century of Australian tradition where the right to collectively bargain has been respected.

What he is trying to do is put employers completely in control so that they have the power to make employees do more work for less money.

Through this John Howard hopes to sweat productivity out of the economy.

But brothers and sisters this is the low road. And it will not help our economy one bit. Because there is no way that we will ever be able to compete with our neighbours like Indonesia and India and China on the basis of low wages.

But what these reforms will do is drive inequality.

Thirty years ago Australia used to be the fairest country in the world. The gap between rich and poor in Australia was less than any other country in the world.

Yet now, as we stand here nine years into the John Howard Government, the gap between rich and poor is growing faster in Australia than in any other country in the OECD. And with these reforms the situation will only get worse.

And as our financial equality is swept away certain cultural values that Australians have held dear will also start to be eroded. Values such as fairness and egalitarianism. Even the Prime Minister in his own way has acknowledged these values when he described mateship as such an important Australian principle that it ought to form part of the preamble to our Constitution.

Well you cannot have these values if you undermine the financial equality that underpins them. And that is exactly what John Howard is doing.

So be rest assured these reforms will be bad for workers and unions. But they will not be good for the economy and at the end of the day I believe they will undermine who we are Australians who we are as a people.

But, brothers and sisters, to be sure there is a silver lining to this cloud because John Howard has overplayed his hand.

In the last two months the Australian trade union movement has run a very successful campaign against these reforms. And as a result we have seen people join the trade union movement in unprecedented numbers. We have also seen John Howard suffer the biggest blow to his popularity since becoming Prime Minister in 1996.

All of which is ironic, really, because I think the whole idea of these reforms was to destroy unions. And yet as it turns out his reforms and our campaign against them has actually given Australian unions a shot in the arm.

I think that through running this campaign Australian unions have rediscovered their power.

sitting in this room is the most powerful movement in the country

And brothers and sisters that is what I believe we have in common with you right now. Because I believe that as a union movement you are also rediscovering your power.

This Congress is truly thrilling to see.

To have every union sitting here under one roof has lead all the international guests here to conclude that you are rediscovering the power that comes from unity.

But it is so important that you do not simply enjoy this power by sitting here at this Congress over these three days. You need to back it up with action and commitment: particularly when it comes to properly resourcing your national union centre so that they can fight the fights you need them to fight.

But brothers and sisters if you can maintain this unity then you will have the power to change the way in which work is conducted in Papua New Guinea. You can change the way in which people lead their lives. And you can change your country irrevocably for the better.

Bothers and sisters if you can do this then sitting in this room is the most powerful movement in the country: the most powerful industrial movement but also the most powerful political movement too.

Brothers and sisters if you can stand with one voice then believe me your country will listen and it will act.

And so just as we in Australia have rediscovered our strength, let me tell you brothers and sisters that there is no better time to rediscover your strength, to rediscover your power, in your own country, than right now.

Thank you for having us.