Launch of Secure Jobs. Better Future campaign by ACTU President Ged Kearney
Sydney, 28 September 2011

Today we have heard about the spread of insecure work into every corner of the Australian workforce.

We have heard from leading academics who have explained some of the factors behind this growth of insecure work.

We have heard from representatives from the community sector, who have told us of the impact insecure jobs are having on households and communities.

And, most importantly, we have heard from workers themselves about how the lack of a secure job feeds their anxieties about paying the bills, how it erodes their prospects for career development, and how it makes it so hard to plan for their futures.

Thank you to those workers. It is not easy to stand up and tell your story. It takes courage to defend your rights.

Today, we are launching a campaign to help the 40% of the workforce who have insecure jobs.

We are doing this because they want us to. They have told us that a secure job would make so much difference to their lives.

Scratch the surface, and any worker in a permanent job will tell you that they would shudder at the thought of being made casual, or put onto a fixed term contract, or finding themselves working for a labour hire company.

They understand what the combination of a lack of job security, no paid leave entitlements, and a fluctuating income would mean to their lives.

Those in permanent work who have experienced insecure work do not want to go back to it.

Friends, it is the job of unions to defend the rights of working people. That has been the story of our history. The campaign we are launching today will be another page in that proud history.

Insecure work is not solely an Australian problem. All over the world, workers are fighting to stop the erosion of their rights and to stem the tide of insecure work.

But unlike much of the developed world, Australia’s economy is strong and has performed strongly for most of the past few decades, and there is no justification for the high rate of casualisation and other forms of insecure work here.

Employers have taken advantage of workplace changes to put people on contracts and employ workers as casuals. This is not about improving efficiency or productivity. It is about shifting risks and costs onto workers, to increase profits. Pure and simple.

So today, we have people having to register for an ABN to drop leaflets in a letterbox.

Teachers who go from term to term on a fixed contract, never knowing whether they will have a job next year.

We have storemen waiting on a text message the night before to know if they will earn any money the next day.

We have labour hire workers in manufacturing working alongside permanent employees, but on less income and with none of the conditions the union has negotiated for the permanent workforce.

We have cleaners who are “independent” – quote unquote – contractors, and building workers who have been set up in sham contracting arrangements. We have clothing outworkers paid a piece rate and supplying their own equipment. Truck drivers working 70 hour weeks.

And we have women in administration who have worked regular 40-hour weeks for years on end, but remain casuals despite their wishes to be otherwise, so that every time they are sick or want to take holiday, they are penalised financially.

Business says casual work gives people a choice. And that may be true for some people. But for many, many more Australians, casual work is not a choice – it is all they can get. That’s not good enough.

We have spoken to workers around the country, and their stories are immensely poignant. Particularly young people who have never known anything but casual work, and middle-aged men who have long lost the security of a permanent job.

“That’s just the way it is,” they say. They don’t like it, but it’s like the weather. What can you do about it?

But they’re wrong. We can do something about it.

We can say there is a better way. There is an alternative.

This is a campaign for our times. If we don’t begin to address this problem now, how bad will it be in 20 years time?

We don’t want a society where short-term, insecure work is the norm. Where almost one-in-five teachers are now on short-term contracts with no job security, to pick just one example.

We want a society where everyone has the right to a job where they feel secure in their work, can grow their career, to support their family and own their own home if they wish. We must stop going in the wrong direction.

We will need to bust some myths. That the only people in casual jobs are students or working mums. That it’s confined to retail and hospitality. Both untrue.

As this campaign progresses, you are going to hear business say many things. Business will oppose us every step of the way, because insecure work suits them, not the workers they employ.

You are going to hear them say insecure work is a stepping stone to a career. That workers choose these types of jobs. That employers need the flexibility. That it’s just the way it is.

But that’s not what workers tell us. They tell us that insecure work too often becomes a trap, a revolving door of short-term jobs, with no opportunity to build a career.

They tell us that they have no choice and when they ask to convert to a permanent job, they are knocked back time and again.

They tell us that they shouldn’t have to trade off all rights or entitlements for flexibility.

And they ask us: can you do something to help us?

These workers are too often voiceless. Alone, they are powerless to change their circumstances. And that’s the way employers want it.

But by campaigning together, we can make a difference.

The campaign we are launching today, Secure Jobs. Better Future will be a multi-layered campaign.

It will involve unions in every sector of the Australian economy and the workforce.

Many unions are already campaigning for secure jobs. The TWU with its Safe Rates campaign. The NTEU for casual academic staff. The AEU for teachers on fixed-term contracts. United Voice with Clean Start. The NUW for labour hire workers. The list goes on.

We will unify these campaigns so we are all working towards a common goal of giving all Australians the opportunity to have a job they can rely on.

This is an issue that has taken decades to entrench itself in Australia. We won’t change it overnight. It is complex, our opponents will pour resources into fighting us, and the solutions will not be easy.

But neither was Your Rights at Work.

An important element of this campaign will be explaining how insecure work has a corrosive effect on families and on communities. It creates stress and tension – both financial and emotional – in households.

It prevents people from playing a fulfilling role in their community.

Like Your Rights at Work, Secure Jobs. Better Future is a campaign that will not be confined to the workplace, but will spread into communities around Australia to stand up together to say insecure workers deserve better.

Today, we are releasing this report: Insecure work, anxious lives, which documents the growing crisis of insecure work in Australia. This report not only outlines in great detail the increase of insecure work, but contains some truly sad stories of workers trapped in insecure jobs. I urge you to read this report, and to retain it as a resource when talking about these issues with your workmates and friends.

We are launching the video you have just seen.

We are launching a website at, where people will be able to get the facts and other resources, read the stories of insecure workers, and most importantly, register their support.

And as the campaign develops, we will be asking much of our supporters – but we know we can rely on them, as we did with Your Rights at Work.

This campaign will have many elements. It will involve bargaining in the workplace for better wages and conditions, and for more secure jobs. Many unions already do this, and have been successful over the years in negotiating clauses that restrict the use of contractors or convert casuals to permanency after a period of time.

It will involve better enforcement of existing rights, and preventing the abuse of non-standard employment.

There is a place for governments to take a leading role through positive procurement policies. We can learn from other countries.

And as the campaign develops – and the conversation we are starting today takes off – we will examine options for better minimum standards of employment through awards and legislation. The test for our political parties will be whether they are prepared to act in the interests of workers or of big business.

We are not coming to you today with a silver bullet, or a one-size-fits-all solution. We want to hear ideas and suggestions from around Australia, and in coming weeks we will unveil some innovative ways we will be building this discussion.

Today is significant because Australian unions are putting this crisis of insecure work on the national agenda. We are saying there is a better way.

Because secure jobs for a better future – that’s worth fighting for.

Thank you to our guest speakers today for enlightening us about this issue of insecure work and its impact on community. A special thanks once again to those courageous workers who have spoken.

And thank you to our hosts, Unions NSW.

There is a light lunch being served outside in the atrium.

And don’t forget to sign up for the campaign!