Unions to strike: ACTU plots ‘aerial war’ over insecure work
Australia’s peak union body will launch an “aerial war” against fractured workplaces devoid of security in a bid to recapture the sentiment of the Your Rights At Work campaign that helped propel Kevin Rudd to the Lodge.
In an exclusive extended interview with Crikey this week, Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney warned a barrage of TV ads and viral videos would tap into reservoirs of dissent among an anxious Australian populace hampered by the contingent nature of the modern workforce.
And the strong likelihood of an Abbott government won’t disrupt the broader strategy — whatever happens on September 14, a $2 levy charged to the country’s 2 million union members will be spent defending workers if the industrial relations landscape changes under the Coalition.
“We will certainly have TV commercials, there’s no doubt about that. The aerial war, the media war will be very much around those issues. It certainly won’t say, ‘vote for any party’, it will say ‘here are the issues for working people, here are the things that are important to the ACTU because they’re our members, you make your choice based on that,” Kearney told Crikey.
“The main area of focus is going to be the election, we can’t avoid it … but what we have said all along is that we want to run a long-term campaign about things we’re really concerned about, especially insecure work and insecure incomes. And the election campaign will be a subset of that.”
Kearney says the ACTU is currently running numerous focus groups to ready the best lines in the lead-up to the blitz. Although yet to engage a guru in the mould of Your Rights at Work supremo Richard Keddie (Asher’s uncle, who works closely with spinners EMC), the tender will be issued soon.
The power of Keddie’s “Tracy” ad — that famously cut through during the 2007 campaign — arguably came from her dodgy boss’ ability to dictate employment conditions over the phone. Since then, unions argue conditions have worsened with job insecurity now experienced by 40% of the Australian population.
Kearney says last year’s landmark independent Howe inquiry into insecure work will be a constant ACTU reference point, feeding into other initiatives to “protect the weekend”, balance work and family and fight public service cuts by Liberal state governments. A special campaign unit will be charged with rolling out the assault.
There is growing evidence this year’s poll could end up being fought on industrial relations issues. The business lobby has ratcheted up calls for reform of the Fair Work Act via the pages of The Australian Financial Review and union figures believe this week’s announcements from Bill Shorten on leave flexibility — an issue the ACTU has been campaigning relentlessly on for years — dovetails nicely with Tony Abbott’s lack of appeal among women given most of the sticking points surround the birth of a child.
Kearney says Australian society has changed fundamentally since the 1950s and that the industrial relations architecture needs to reflect modern realities.
“We’re not the Harvester family, which is what the act is written for … the one breadwinner out there with the wife, the two kids at home. We know that nearly 50% of the workforce is female, we know that incomes are coming from two sources in the family and that’s crucial for people to survive. You overlay on top of that the fact that people are in insecure work and when people have income insecurity they worry about how they’re going to afford their mortgages.”
“The workforce has changed so much and our legislation just hasn’t kept up.”
Kearney reserves special opprobrium for Julie Bishop’s response to the flexibility announcement: “I was astounded that Julie Bishop was just saying ‘no’. I mean, really. And there she was saying, you know, ‘workforces need to be flexible to support women but we’re not going to make them any more flexible … the only way you get flexibility is if you give up your job and go and get a casual job’.
“The Coalition is stuck in the dark ages on this stuff. The workforce has changed so much and our legislation just hasn’t kept up. It’s good that the Labor government has recognised that.”
At Old Parliament House next month, the ACTU will sit down with community groups at its National Community Summit. Kearney hopes it will forge a new “social compact” to kick organised labour forward.
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