Working Life

The fightback for jobs we can count on starts now


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By Tim Kennedy

Victorian Secretary of the NUW

Monday, 14 October 2013

RECENTLY, the National Union of Workers recorded an interview with Lisa Heap from the Australian Institute of Employment Rights about the chapter she has written on insecure work for the new book Pushing Our Luck.

One of the most shocking findings of Lisa’s work was that 40% of homeless people in Australia are working.

Many of our working homeless are at the pointy end of Australia’s insecure work crisis. They are working without guaranteed hours or income, without any paid leave or security of ongoing employment.

For those of us who believe our society should be based on fairness, equality and the health of our communities, this is a damning statistic that should act as a call to action.

In a wealthy country, such as Australia, it can’t be considered fair that a person can have a job and still not be able to secure proper housing.

Four-in-10 in insecure work

Insecure work affects 40% of working people today in Australia, a trend that is growing.

This increase in insecure work at the expense of permanent jobs is threatening workplace safety, mental health, the ability for workers to collectively bargain, or earn enough to participate fully in society.

Faced with this disturbing reality we are now to be subject to a Liberal-National Party government policy to instigate a Productivity Commission review of workplace laws.

This organisation has form in marginalising people in the interests of vested interests and capital.  Indeed, with a new Government barely sworn in, big business is shouting for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to undermine the current Fair Work laws.

WATCH: Insecure work explained

We must confront this challenge by redoubling efforts to organise. If we don’t, we can expect wages for working people to be cut, penalty rates to be axed, third party employment models to become even more prevalent, and all while company tax rates are lowered, the mining tax scrapped and further employment deregulation is introduced in an attempt to drive worker against worker.

For more than two years now, the NUW has focused on one union campaign across our sites and in our communities.

Jobs You Can Count On is a campaign based on uniting all workers: permanent, labour hire, contract or casual.

No longer did we want to be the National Union of Full-time Workers. Our aim is to truly become the National Union of Workers.

This has affected the way we hold meetings on site, the approach we take collectively when fellow casual members are targeted, the way we bargain for new agreements and what we bargain for.

Taking the campaign into the community

This year, 15 community activists across Australia helped NUW members hold community meetings to discuss insecure work, community street stalls were setup, almost 2000 people completed our community survey, and 17 federal candidates in the 2013 election (some of whom are now in Parliament) signed onto the Jobs You Can Count On Pollies Pledge.

But we have much more to do. There are so many individual stories of hardship in this campaign.

One comes from a casual NUW member who was working in regional Victoria. He was liked at work and considered a hard worker. But then he injured his back on the job and was sacked after lodging a Work Cover application.

When the union followed up with his employer, they said due to an argument with an agency manager over the phone, he had to be let go. He was left with very few legal avenues to fight for his job and injury support because he was hired casually through a labour hire agency. Unable to work or afford his rent he moved in with a friend, frightened of ending up homeless.

When people are treated like this, thrown on the scrapheap without any support, we have to ask ourselves what kind of society are we living in? And, if we agree that we want better than this, how do we fight back?

The NUW believes we start in our workplaces by workers organising together. And then we take the campaign into our homes, our communities and the public at large.

This is why we are holding the FluroFightback again for Anti-Poverty Week.

NUW members, community organisations and unionists from around Victoria will be at the steps of Southern Cross Station on Friday morning to raise awareness of the links between insecure work and poverty and what we can do to break the cycle of poverty and insecure work. Come join us.

Every worker counts

Take the pledge to stand together for jobs you can count on.


Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. Viola Wilkins
    Thursday, 17 October, 2013 at 1:54 pm · Reply

    Some youths using rap to remember community and union solidarity Green bans BLF NSW

  2. Ross
    Friday, 18 October, 2013 at 11:03 am · Reply

    There are too many cowboy industries out there that pay very low wages, without security or any other entitlements. Hospitality, even parts of retail, are institutionalized and entrenched poverty traps. A decent government would enquire into the nature of these industries and their employment practices. The current crop, from either side of politics, are more interested in shoring up the obscene wealth of their ‘mates,’ no doubt in the hope of a well paid lurk when they are finally heaved out by the weary electorate.

  3. roberta
    Friday, 18 October, 2013 at 1:24 pm · Reply

    its hard being a contract school cleaner, when have been rolled over for the last 3 years, and the contract money has not changed in 5 years, also cleaning apart of a school which another company pays you and you have to wait 2 years before you are paid and then only get 1 year back pay, and the school has been paid for you to clean the rooms. also no extra money for cleaning their new building.

  4. Ross Venner
    Sunday, 20 October, 2013 at 9:27 pm · Reply

    I am a manager. My role, simply put, is to minimise cost for my function. My mantra, “A manager who fails to manage their career, manages – Nothing!”


    Managers, (themselves among the most insecure in this world of insecurity) make the decisions on who to recruit and on what terms. To persuade people like me to move away from casualization we need to have a reason, one that our superiors will find persuasive. I gave X permanence because…

    Three elements apply:

    (1) – A measure of the employment contribution of the employing entity – I suggest “weighted employee weeks” where the weighting is based on desirable employment outcomes – in this case permanency over casualization.

    (2) – A “fulcrum” to distinguish favourable actions – Year on year movement of the aggregate score of the entity.

    (3) – A reward mechanism – Trading surpluses with those achieving deficits – a means of placing economic advantage in the hands of entities and thus managers who do “the right think.”

    If you want to overcome casualization, you have to reach the heads and pockets of the managers. ordinary people like me. The above is a suggestion which has the significant advantage of being revenue neutral.

    Refer – Australian Journal of Social Issues – November 2002 – Venner

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