Life is a lot less relaxed and comfortable for Australian workers after five years of a Coalition Government according to polling carried out for the ACTU.

According to the research released by the ACTU today most Australians feel that their lives have become harder over the last five years and people lay the blame at the feet of the Government. In particular they cite the Howard Government’s cutbacks in many areas – most prominently health and education – and it’s zeal to tilt the playing field in the workplace against workers and in favour of employers.

While recent State elections have highlighted the deepening unpopularity of the Coalition, the ACTU’s poll reveals many of the reasons why the electorate is turning against the Federal Government.

Now, compared to five years ago when Howard came to power:

  • over half of Australians (51%) are having more trouble balancing the demands of work and family
  • more than a quarter of Australians, including nearly half (42%) of full-time workers are working more unpaid overtime
  • just over one-third [34%] of Australians indicate that they have less job security
  • six in ten Australians feel they are under more financial pressure


Taken together the poll results build a scathing profile of the Government. Most people perceive the government as reducing many of its traditional roles that gave access to basic services such as health and education. The government is also seen as reducing its economic role in the generation of new jobs.

The survey responses make it very clear that the bulk of Australians believe there should be more safeguards in the system to protect the living standards and security of average people – propositions supported by unions in Australia. Above all, there is strong support for an industrial relations system centred around collective bargaining and an independent industrial court.


  • 85% agree that Australia needs an independent industrial court to act as an umpire and support the award safety net
  • 81% agree that employees are more protected when they join together to negotiate for wages and conditions
  • 75% agree workplace laws should incorporate more family friendly clauses


One of the surprising findings of the poll is the high number of National voters who agree with unions on key issues. Ninety-five per cent of National supporters agree that employees are more protected when they join together to negotiate wages and conditions and 84% agree that Australia needs an independent industrial court. Sixty-three per cent of National supporters believe John Howard is making life harder for ordinary Australians – a figure that brackets them closer to Labor voters than Liberal.

It is in this context that unions are setting out their blueprint for fairness in the workplace and in the broader community with the release of a policy statement – Our Future at Work.

Our Future at Work is the product of a debate among unions which started when more than 700 delegates from every industry sector and every region of Australia met last year in Wollongong for the triennial ACTU Congress. They brought with them ideas that were generated in workplaces and have been moulded into policies that will guide unions into the future.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow says the ACTU believes these policies are also relevant beyond the workplace.

‘Our Future at Work’ is an agenda for fairness in the workplace – for strength in bargaining, improvements in working hours, a Living Wage and the restoration of powers to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. It’s about better rights for women, young people and casual workers. Unions are committed to fair outcomes in these areas,’ she says.

‘But people are also telling us that they want a properly funded public health system, a public education system which delivers quality education and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. They want a fully funded independent national broadcaster, a fair and accessible banking system, access to high-quality aged care, and a compassionate welfare system.’

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet says ACTU research shows that the majority of people believe the pendulum has swung too far in favour of employers.

‘Community sentiment is rising against politicians who encourage employers to use aggressive industrial tactics against workers,’ he says.

‘Unions will make sure the voice of workers is heard in the months leading up to the Federal election. We do not accept the widening gap between rich and poor, between regions, and between social groups. Australia can do better.’