After dire 2014, unions’ hopes rise for 2015
IT will come as no surprise that the destructive path of the Abbott Government has dominated thinking as union leaders reflect back on 2014.
Whether it was job losses, attacks on their rights and conditions, or cuts to public services, workers felt the brunt of the new government’s agenda throughout the year.
And it continued right up until the last Friday before Christmas, when the government launched its next stealth attack on workers by releasing the terms of reference for its Productivity Commission inquiry into industrial relations.
But after a tough first 18 months under the Coalition, to a person the 12 prominent union leaders surveyed by Working Life for our annual end of year report card are much more optimistic about the year ahead.
Some unions have reported strong membership growth in response to the Coalition Government, others have gained strength from successful industrial and workplace campaigns, and all believe the tide of public opinion has turned back in favour of the things that workers value: rights, good pay and conditions, job security and a strong social safety net, including accessible and universal healthcare and education.
As ACTU President Ged Kearney says in this end of year video, 2015 will be tough as well as unemployment rises and living standards are eroded.
“The only way we can change this is by standing together and fighting for a better deal,” she says.
Read on to see how 12 of the nation’s top union leaders saw 2014 and what they expect from 2015:
“In 2014 the Abbott Government has pressed ahead with its plan to radically change the role of government through cuts, privatisation and attacks on the ABC, CSIRO and more.
“To date 8000 jobs have been cut with the Tax Office and CSIRO hit hardest. Thousands more cuts are in the pipeline as the government pursues the privatisation of public services.
“At the same time, it has launched an aggressive attack on the rights, conditions and real wages of 165,000 Commonwealth workers in bargaining.
“Public servants are up for the fight, with the first agencies starting industrial action in votes of 95% support, to force the government to change its position. Next year we expect that fight to escalate unless the government rethinks its draconian approach.
“Workers have recognised the role we play: 9000 new members have joined our ranks, while 1100 delegates build a union led from the workplace. They know that standing together we can strengthen our voice and win this fight.”
“This year’s Victorian election stands out as the biggest victory for the union movement. The Victorian Liberal Party decided to run on an anti-union, and specifically anti-CFMEU, platform and were supported in their witch hunt by many media outlets.
“Their defeat showed that Victorian workers have no appetite for outrageous smear campaigns and Abbott’s anti-worker agenda. It also demonstrated how a united and disciplined campaign by unions talking directly to voters about our issues can have a large impact on electoral outcomes.
“Abbott has continued in his slash and burn approach to jobs, health, education and everything that matters to working people in Australia. At the same time there isn’t a job creating policy in sight only plans to bring in more 457 workers. And plans to take superannuation away from the hands of workers and give it to the big banks.
“And while he wastes money on the royal commission into trade unions hoping to smear the reputation of our movement through false allegations, the Australian people have shown that they reject his sideshow and want real solutions to the jobs crisis and for the future of their kids.
“The task ahead is to now show the same unity and sense of purpose as we had in Victoria and lay the groundwork for Abbott’s defeat. We need to show that the unions are the only thing that stands between a fair society and the destruction of our way of life and that Australians deserve a brighter future than the one that Abbott has in mind for them.”
“The 2014 Federal Budget was an unprecedented attack on our universities; a 20% cut to funding, subsidies for private providers, and the prospect of $100,000 degrees.
“Our campaign to defend higher education has had initial success in blocking the changes in Senate. We will continue to campaign against the reintroduced Bill and through to the next federal election for public funding of public universities.
“Around Australia, we have been able to secure average pay rises of around 3%, and won around 1000 new permanent positions for an increasingly casualised academic workforce, as well as around 600 jobs targeted to Indigenous academic and general staff. This has been achieved with minimal industrial action.”
“The Abbott Government has vandalised manufacturing, but we’re rebounding with strong workplace deals complimented by effective political pressure in Canberra and in the community.
“Our union led the way on saving food processor SPC, then gained strong EBAs at Cadbury and Sweets.
“In Canberra, we successfully lobbied Senators to stop the Abbott Government cutting the Automotive Transformation Scheme and also the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Scheme, which helps workers of companies that become insolvent.
“In 2015 we’ll tighten our hold on employers trying to jump on the Abbott-Hockey bandwagon of cuts to real wages and conditions which are dragging down the economy.
“In 2015, we will also keep pressuring conservative governments through our community campaigns on navy shipbuilding, local content for local jobs and TAFE training, which were so successful during the Victorian election.”
“As Australia’s largest health union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) can sum up 2014 in just a few words: lies, cuts and broken promises.
“After making a pre-election promise of ‘no cuts to health’, the Abbott Government has cynically done anything but, ripping more than a billion dollars from public health funding and continuing to attack Australia’s successful system of universal health care.
“Knowing that his hated $7 co-payment was never going to pass the Senate, Mr Abbott sneakily waited until Parliament had risen for the year before announcing that people could be charged $5 to see a bulk-billing GP. It’s basically using doctors as the government’s debt collectors.
“We’re concerned this $5 fee to see a doctor will also open the door for higher out of pocket charges in the future, creating a privatised healthcare system like in the US, where you only get care if you can pay for it.
“As nurses and midwives, our members know that this is a tax on basic health services, which will undermine Australia’s successful system of universal healthcare and ultimately signal the end of Medicare.
“In 2015, the Government is on notice: the ANMF will be strengthening our resolve to save Medicare, for the sake of all Australians.
“Ignore us at your peril!”
“2014 has, predictably, seen the Abbott Government attacking working people from a huge variety of angles.
“We’ve seen increases in the use of guest labour and 457 visas, attacks on penalty rates, proposals to raise the retirement age, political witch hunts against unions – unfortunately the list goes on and on.
“What was less predictable, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless, has been the force of the community’s resistance.
“I think 2015 will see workers force this government to not only drop its more aggressive attacks on their interests, but to actually start considering proactive moves to take the pressure off jobs and households.
“For example, with gas prices projected to skyrocket, the federal government desperately needs to start following the US example and introduce a gas reservation policy to save some of Australia’s abundant natural gas for Australian use. Our heavy industry and our households are crying out for it.”
WATCH: Ged Kearney’s end of year message
“The campaign by thousands of NAB workers to fix the broken pay model was a highlight of 2014 and in the new year the unfair performance pay bell curve will be gone, once and for all.
“The low point of the year is a recent one by the biggest Christmas Grinch in the finance sector. ANZ Bank is proposing to claw back important conditions from employees and make work much less secure for thousands of employees.
“As the year draws to a close there is no sign of an employee ballot on the bank’s proposal. Our hope for 2015 is the bank will come back to the table and show it is listening to its employees.
“Just as most workers are winding down for the year, looking forward to spending time with family and friends, the spectre of a Productivity Commission review of the Fair Work Act looms on the horizon with the potential to put pay, conditions and job security at risk.
“In 2015 we must unite to fight back against any attack on our rights at work.”
“2014 saw the Abbott Government launch Project Destroy against the institutions that uphold equality for everyone in Australia, not just a privileged few. The question is, will this conservative government destroy universal healthcare, quality education for all, decent and secure jobs now and in the future?
“This was the year an extreme government walked away from manufacturing in Australia, proposed a Budget to further entrench the privilege of the few and punish those most vulnerable in our community.
“But the resistance to this Budget, the grassroots organising that resulted in the massive #bustthebudget protests, should fill all who believe in a fair and decent Australia with hope. It is a great example of many thousands of people prepared to stand together around Australia for justice and equality for all.
“Another example of collective action changing politics for the better was the ‘We Are Union’ campaign run by the Victorian Trades Hall with every Victorian union. The result of which was the state election of a Labor Government after only one term in opposition. The challenge now is to build on these successful grassroots organising efforts and rebuild the membership of the Australian union movement.
“In 2015 we need to continue the conversation about equality, about the kind of society the vast majority – the 99% – want to live in and be a part of. We need to keep asking people to join and participate in their Union. We can fight for and win a fair Australia together.
“While the world of work keeps changing and the insecurity faced by ordinary workers grows, we have demonstrated this year that people are prepared to step up, show unity and struggle together for a better world. We need to redouble our efforts in 2015.”
“We expected 2014 to be challenging with an Abbott Government that flaunts its anti-union fervour, but they outdid themselves, particularly with the May Federal Budget uniting Australians in anger at its unfairness.
“On the industrial front, the ASU argued in 2013 that Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme would not be delivered as promised: that’s been borne out.
“Federal and state Liberal governments are actively pursuing their privatisation agendas and redundancy programs.
“Alan Joyce’s savage cuts to Qantas have had us fighting to defend our members’ rights and jobs, as well as our iconic Flying Kangaroo. On the other hand, multinational company Lend Lease took us on in the water sector over our right to represent our members and we schooled them on elementary industrial relations!
“Our 2015 prediction: more federal government disarray if they continue on their current path. Of course, we hope they come to their senses and start treating workers and their unions, and Australians in general, with respect – a prosperous and fair Australia requires it.”
“When it comes to education, this was a year of broken promises, lies and cuts from the Abbott Government.
“In early childhood education the government signalled their intention to cut funding and reduce a guaranteed 15 hours of ECE for each child to 10 hours. After sustained campaigning funding was extended – but only for one year.
“In our schools, the Abbott Government turned its back on equity in education by abandoning the fifth and sixth years of Gonski funding agreements. This means two-thirds of the promised increased funding will not be made available to schools.
“This will entrench disadvantage and undermine our goal of lifting overall student performance and closing achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.
“It also broke its promise to increase funding for students with disability from 2015, and in fact will cut $100 million from disability education next year by failing to extend programs.”
“2014 saw the Abbott Government loosen restrictions for foreign workers in the offshore oil and gas sector and increase the number of 457 visa holders.
“Australian jobs will be lost as a result of the Korea-Australian Free Trade Agreement, because companies will not have to advertise jobs locally first.
“We have also seen employers emboldened to remove penalty rates by the Abbott Government’s obvious antipathy toward them.
“All the while we have seen youth unemployment rise to 14.5 per cent – its highest level since 2001.
“The good news though, is that we are seeing more and more signs that the Abbott Government’s attacks on workers are completely out of step with community expectations.
“We have a jobs crisis unfolding and it is about time the Abbott Government stood up for Australian workers rather than their mates in big business.
“I have no doubt we will see more and more unions and workers taking a real stand in 2015.”
“It has been a challenging year for many, with the real wages of workers falling to their lowest level in 17 years and with the continued attack on the community’s economic freedom.
“The tragedy on the roads involving truck drivers has continued and yet retail giants like Coles continue to squeeze the labour supply chains. Meanwhile, savage cuts at Qantas have put into question the reputation of this great airline.
“But we are gearing up for a fight back. Many people have turned out to campaign and this gives me great hope for the future. People in Australia are not willing to see this country changed for the worse and their voices diminished. The government has failed in their attempt to tear down our national health system, saddle our children with huge university fees and block young people from unemployment benefits.
“In 2015, Transport Workers’ Union members will continue to battle for quality jobs and fair conditions. We owe this to the next generation.”
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.