-the interests of working people had been drowned out by the greed of big business
–meaningful and fulfilling jobs sacrificed at the altar of flexibility and casualisation
-record low wage growth and inequality are hurting our economy and our society
CFMMEU takes radical list of demands to LABOR National Conference
A CFMMEU paper released the day before Labor’s national conference outlines a bold list of demands aimed at propping up the union movement, calling on the party to support tax incentives and procurement rules to help boost membership.
The proposed changes, which the powerful Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union is pushing to be adopted in Labor’s national platform, would overturn Australia’s established approach to workplace relations, domestic and international trade.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will be forced to weigh the union’s demands against the party’s broader objectives – and political reality – at its three-day national conference in Adelaide, beginning on Sunday.
The paper, written by former St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive John Falzon and distributed to conference delegates, calls for a suite of carrot-and-stick measures aimed at bolstering the level of unionisation in the nation’s workforce, currently sitting at 15 per cent.
“I’m calling for an incoming Labor government to use that state apparatus to encourage and enable the union movement to do what it’s designed to do … to support the union movement as a means of creating a more equal society,” he said.
Dr Falzon called for tax incentives to support trade unionism, by making preferential tax rates and concessions dependent upon having a unionised workforce or union agreement.
Legislation across all portfolios, including international trade, would be subjected to an inequality impact test under the proposed changes.
The paper also called for an absolute right to strike to be restored to workers, across employers and industries.
Mr Shorten has promised to consider extending industry bargaining across the economy if Labor wins government, but is yet to unveil a detailed policy.
*CFMMEU national secretary Michael O’Connor called on the Opposition Leader to commit to supporting a revitalisation of the unions.
“Labor needs to embrace the fact that governments have a moral responsibility to support the growth of democratic organisations that promote a robust democracy and whose purpose is to advance the interests of working people,” Mr O’Connor said.
“This is not simply a call to action for the Labor Party, it is a starting point for a national conversation about the proper role of organised labour in a democratic society.”
Dr Falzon recommended making all government assistance to industry conditional upon companies having union agreements; forcing employers who sponsor migrant worker to sign them onto union agreements; and subjecting all legislation to an inequality impact test.
Federal government procurement rules would be amended to preference companies that have unionised workforces under a proposal that partially echoes a resolution adopted at Labor’s Victorian state conference in May.
“This should be modelled, in the first instance, by the Commonwealth Public Service encouraging union membership, proactively making union membership information available to new and existing workers and making staff details available to the appropriate union,” Dr Falzon said.
The Victorian branch of the Labor Party’s 2018 platform includes a statement that government should use its purchasing power to “generate better jobs and conditions for all Victorians and ensure Labor governments are best practice employers”.
It committed to imposing “best practice employment standards” – including “compliance with applicable collective agreements” and “evidence of a local employment strategy” – but stopped short of agreeing to award contracts only to businesses with unionised workers.
Mr O’Connor said the interests of working people had been “drowned out by the greed of big business”, with “meaningful and fulfilling jobs … sacrificed at the altar of flexibility and casualisation”.
“Big business has been aided by conservative governments that use the power of the state to oppress and suppress attempts by working people to organise and restore balance and a fair go,” he said.
“Record low wage growth and inequality are hurting our economy and our society. Wages will only improve if we improve the voice and bargaining power of workers through strengthening trade unions and increasing trade union membership.”
Dana is a federal politics reporter, covering health and industrial relations. Previously, she was a reporter for The Australian.