New initiatives to improve people’s ability to balance work and family commitments, Medicare and the 2004 federal election will be at the top of the agenda when the ACTU Executive meets in Melbourne today.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:

“Unions will today discuss progress in the ACTU’s Work and Family Test Case which is to be heard in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission later this year.

“Unions are seeking improved rights for workers with family responsibilities including new rights for parents to make the switch to part time work in light of research showing that 60% of mothers working full time work would instead prefer part time work.”

“Other key elements of the ACTU’s Work and Family Test Case, include:

  • Extending unpaid parental leave from 12 to 24 months.
  • Flexible working hours and holiday times to accommodate school and
  • Up to five days paid carers leave for parents as well as the growing number
    of people caring for older or frail relatives.”
  • “The Australian workplace has undergone enormous change in the past 20 years. The white picket fence some politicians like to believe so neatly separates work and family no longer exists. The proportion of Australian families where both parents work has increased from 44% in 1981 to 62% in 2000.”

    “Our workplace arrangements need to be updated to reflect these new realities.”

    “The extra financial pressure being placed on many families as a result of declining bulk billing rates and the Howard Government’s changes to Medicare mean affordable access to health care is also becoming a pressing issue for unions.”

    “The future of Medicare is on the line. At this ACTU Executive unions will consider ways to take the campaign to save Medicare into workplaces in the led up to the federal election.”

    “Improving rights for Australia’s 2.2 million casual workers will also be on the union agenda following last week’s decision by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to deny long term casual workers access to basic redundancy entitlements.

    “There is growing unease over the fact that long-term casual workers are missing out on the basic entitlements people expect from a job. Casuals have no access to sick leave, holiday leave, or a paid day off to care for a sick child.”

    “Research shows that over half of all casuals (59%) — around 1.3 million people – have been with their employer for over a year. Around 450,000 casuals have been with their employer more than five years – these people are permanent employees in all but name.”

    “Today’s ACTU Executive meeting is the first of three planned for 2004.”