In this speech to ALP Conference Craig Emerson, Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations, outlines how a Latham Labor Government will promote productive, harmonious and family-friendly workplaces where the benefits are fairly shared.
We’ve come a long way.
More than 100 years ago the organised labour movement sought representation in the parliaments of Australia.
Frustrated and defeated by laws that favoured the privileged, the trade union movement formed the Australian Labor Party to win government and pass laws to give a fair go to the working men and women of Australia.
Over that 100 years, Labor governments and the union movement have achieved great advances – in partnership – for working people and their children.
But all our achievements have been under concerted attack for the last eight years.
We strive together for a prosperous, fair, tolerant and compassionate Australia.
But John Howard has made Australia less fair, less tolerant and less compassionate.
He has used the prosperity won out of the hard reforming work of the Hawke and Keating Governments to entrench privilege – just as Tory governments entrenched privilege in Australia more than 100 years ago.
Never has an election been more crucial in determining the very character of Australia than the upcoming Federal election.
At stake is that great Australian value of a fair go for all.
And nowhere has the unfairness of the Howard Government been more heavily inflicted than upon vulnerable Australians and the trade unions that seek to represent them.
Company executives have enjoyed scandalous salary increases under the Howard Government – often receiving bigger payouts for failing than succeeding.
But the real after-tax incomes of the bottom 20 per cent of income earners have risen by just $3 a week under Howard.
Against all odds – in a legislative and political environment that is totally hostile to trade unionism – 1.8 million Australians are proud members of our trade union movement.
What other organisation in Australia can boast 1.8 million members?
Our great challenge is to mobilise these 1.8 million proud union members and their families in support of the election of a Latham Labor government.
We have the determination, we have the talent and we have the leadership to win.
Labor was born of the trade union movement.
Labor has shaped this country with the trade union movement.
And Labor is proud of its bonds with the trade union movement.
John Howard has entered vulnerable Australians in a race to the bottom, competing on wage costs against the countries of East Asia.
It is a race we should never have entered.
It is a race we should never want to win.
In this race to the bottom, John Howard has undermined the basic right of Australians to bargain collectively.
He has introduced individual contracts in the form of AWAs.
He has a bill in parliament – the most vicious since 1996 – that would effectively remove the right of Australian workers to take industrial action.
He has another a bill that would make it harder for the Industrial Relations Commission to grant wage rises to the low paid.
He has stacked the Commission in his own image and likeness.
He has greatly weakened the capacity of the Industrial Relations Commission to settle disputes.
He has removed any obligation on the parties to bargain in good faith – encouraging lock-outs of 17 weeks or more.
He has a double dissolution bill to remove protection against unfair dismissal for all employees of businesses with less than 20 staff.
He has a bill once rejected by the Senate but reintroduced as another double dissolution trigger to take over the state unfair dismissal systems and replace them with a weak federal system.
He has a further dozen bills in the parliament – a dirty dozen bills – all designed to weaken and finally remove the capacity of working Australians to bargain collectively and to be represented by trade unions.
John Howard does this in the name of choice and flexibility.
But choice and flexibility Liberal-style is choice for employers, and downward flexibility for vulnerable Australians.
It is the Liberal way.
And John Howard’s favoured vehicle for taking vulnerable workers down the low road to low skills and low wages is casual employment – stripping away their wages and working conditions in this race to the bottom.
Labor rejects this low road to low skills and low wages.
Let’s travel the high road to high skills and high wages.
Let’s take the high road to honour those who formed the Australian Labor Party in search of a fair go for the working families of Australia.
It is our obligation to present generations.
It is our commitment to the future.
The revised platform before us today takes the high road.
In implementing this platform Labor will restore the right of all working Australians to bargain collectively.
Labor will abolish AWAs.
Labor will abolish the Office of the Employment Advocate.
And in an important amendment to the existing platform, Labor will not allow any federal statutory individual contracts.
Labor will support the role of trade unions in ensuring fair and effective bargaining.
And Labor will support the right of trade unions to recruit and represent their members.
Labor will re-empower the Industrial Relations Commission to settle disputes when the parties cannot reach agreement.
Labor will require the parties to bargain in good faith – putting an end to lockouts lasting up to 25 weeks as a device for starving workers into submission.
We will ensure that bargaining is underpinned by a system of awards providing fair and secure wages and conditions of employment.
Labor will improve job security by preventing the misuse of casual employment as a way of stripping away pay and working conditions.
Labor will support casuals employed on a regular basis who wish to convert to permanent employment.
Labor will extend the protection of 100 per cent of employee entitlements beyond the employees of John Howard’s brother to every working man and woman in Australia.
Labor will support family-friendly workplaces to help achieve a decent balance between work and family life.
Labor will provide 14 weeks paid maternity leave.
And Labor will empower mothers returning to work to request a return to work on a part-time basis – with the employer being unable to refuse such a request unreasonably.
By taking working Australians along the high road to high skills and high wages, Labor will advance our shared vision of a prosperous, fair, tolerant and compassionate Australia.
In the words of Ben Chifley more than 50 years ago when he saw the light on the hill, and in honour of the men and women who formed the great Australian Labor Party, these things are worth fighting for!
Craig Emerson’s Media Release On Labor’s Industrial Relations Platform
Family-friendly working hours will be promoted to achieve a better balance between work and family life. Labor will accelerate the cultural change towards modern, family-friendly workplaces.
The mis-use of casual employment to undermine wages, working conditions and job security will be curbed by a Latham Labor Government.
In the areas of work and family life and casual employment, employees will be given greater flexibility and greater choice. When John Howard talks of choice he means choice for employers. Labor’s notion of choice extends to employees.
Labor will restore the right of Australians to bargain collectively with their unions and will abolish Australian Workplace Agreements. No other federal statutory individual agreements will be allowed.
The Australian Industrial Relations Commission will be re-empowered to settle disputes where parties cannot reach agreement, and to require the parties to bargain in good faith.
Family-friendly workplaces and greater job security will encourage business investment in the skills of the Australian workforce – the key to ongoing productivity growth in the 21st Century.
Labor’s commitment to family-friendly workplaces will facilitate greater participation in the workforce by those of working age. This is essential in countering the ageing of Australia’s population.
Craig Emerson, Member for Rankin, Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations. ALP National Conference, Sydney, 31 January 2004.