MORE THAN 170,000 workers marched through Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday, while tens of thousands of others marched through Sydney, Wollongong, Gladstone, Cairns, Mackay, Darwin, Rockhampton, and Townsville and other towns and cities, fighting for a living wage.
Four out of five workers are not getting pay rises that keep up with the cost of living, said the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), which called the action. It is reckoned that more than 28,000 people are homeless while working full-time.
Meanwhile 40% of working people are in insecure work – casual work, contracting, getting too few hours, or in the gig economy.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Sally McManus said on Tuesday: ‘Working people in Australia are demanding that the rules are changed.
‘This political protest is aimed at making Scott Morrison (prime minister) and Federal politicians listen. ‘Our wages are going backwards, families are struggling, too many people are stuck in insecure work.
‘We need to bring back balance to the system so working people get fair pay rises.
‘It is not right that profits are up, CEO bonuses are up, but our pay is not.’ Streets in Melbourne were closed to traffic as tens of thousands of Victorians joined the march.
The Melbourne march began at Trades Hall in Carlton and moved through the city centre and down Swanston Street before finishing at Flinders Street Station.
Streets were closed to traffic, and tram services down Swanston Street were detoured while the rally took place.
‘I think it (Australia’s industrial relations system) is broken,’ Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Victorian assistant secretary Sean Reardon said. ‘And if it wasn’t broke, we wouldn’t be having these marches today. The pendulum has swung far too far in the way of the employers. You’ve got stagnant wage growth in most industries.’
Sally McManus, the secretary of ACTU, said: ‘The minimum wage in our country is just over $37,000 a year. That is not enough to support yourself, let alone supporting your partner and kids. It’s not enough in our country towns. It’s not enough in our big cities.’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews joined union leaders at the front of the rally and said: ‘There is a real imbalance between corporate profits and some of the pay rises, particularly in the private sector.’ The ACTU estimated that over 170,000 people rallied in Melbourne and thousands more marched in other regional centres.
It was reported this week that Australia’s highest paid chief executive earned almost 435 times the average full-time worker’s wage. Among Australia’s top earning CEOs are Domino’s Pizza’s Don Meij, who takes in $36.84m, Westfield’s Peter and Steven Lowy, who make $25.9m and Macquarie Group’s Nicholas Moore, who earns $25.19m a year.
Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari told the crowd: ‘While productivity and profits have gone up, the vast majority of workers have not received a real pay rise for many years.
‘More than 700 large companies have paid no tax at all, 40% of workers are now hired as contract labour, missing out on many of the entitlements that come with permanent work. ‘Twenty-one workers have been killed on the job so far this year.’
Speakers pointed out that the union movement is 1.5-million-members strong, giving it the power to throw out the federal Coalition government and prevent state Coalition opposition leader Matthew Guy from winning the upcoming Victorian elections.
Protesters in Melbourne accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of taking workers on a ‘highway to hell’. ‘We are fighting for our lives and a fair go,’ cleaner Rajita said outside Trades Hall in Carlton before an AC/DC cover band performed for the crowd.
Russell Costello, 48, who has worked in the construction industry for more than 30 years, said he is unable to keep up with education costs for his two autistic children because ‘wages are not keeping up with inflation’. ‘Our wages keep getting dropped yet the politicians’ wages keep rising, CEOs’ wages keep rising. This is a joke,’ he said.
Train driver Rebecca Blanks, 48, said Australia’s industrial laws are ‘terribly broken’.
She said: ‘Industrial laws … are just intractable. It leaves us open to slave labour. They’re stealing our wages. We’re working our guts out like slaves.’
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said: ‘Our standard of living is going backwards. That should not be happening. ‘A small disruption for a couple of hours is worth it. There is an appalling figure that 28,000 working people are homeless in our country. ‘That’s because the minimum wage in our country is just $37,000 – that is not enough to support yourself.’
Meanwhile, in Tasmania, angry public sector workers, who are among the worst paid in the country, say more strikes are coming in the fight for better pay. Teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public sector staff walked off the job across the island state on Wednesday.
They were among thousands rallying on the lawns of Hobart’s parliament house, calling on the state Liberal government to better their offer of a two per cent per year wage increase. Australian Education Union state manager Roz Madsen said teachers are overworked, underpaid and leaving the job.
‘We’re sick of being disrespected,’ she told the rally. ‘This is not the end of it – there are more work bans coming next week.’ The industrial action forced the education department to close 65 schools early.
Amid cries of ‘scrap the cap’ were calls to turf out Premier Will Hodgman and his government. ‘You haven’t yet experienced how tough we are and how much fight there is in us’, Tim Jacobson, Health and Community Services Union state secretary, said.
Taroona High School teacher David Genford said teachers are working long hours.
‘A two per cent wage increase keeps us the lowest paid in the country,’ he said. The two per cent public sector wage cap has been in place since 2011 and the government isn’t budging, while unions say it doesn’t keep up with the cost of living.
The mass stop-work follows recent industrial action by nurses over bed block at the state’s major hospitals. ‘When you arrive at work you can feel the tension at the ward,’ Royal Hobart Hospital nurse Camilla Harvey told the protest. ‘The government needs to recognise our hard work and our emotional toll by paying us fairly.’ The strikes followed Australia-wide protests on Tuesday by workers calling for improved pay.
• According to media reports, fifty-five refugee children are stuck on Nauru in sub-standard conditions after Australian authorities refused to transfer them to the Australian mainland.
Some of these children require medical or other treatment which is not available on the island. These children and their families were transported to Nauru and confined in camps by the Commonwealth government as a method of discouraging asylum seekers from seeking to reach the Australian mainland.
However, despite the families subsequently being ‘freed’ from these camps, they are unable to leave Nauru. Public pressure is increasing for the Australian government to bring the children and their families to Australia so they can receive, amongst other things, a proper education.
It is vital that the Morrison government get the refugee children and their families off Nauru as quickly as possible, insisted the Australian education workers’ union on Wednesday. These children are innocent victims who deserve the chance at an education and a safe future.
Young children are incredibly vulnerable and need to be in a stable, structured learning environment. Teachers in particular know how critically important it is for young children to have the opportunity to attend school.
Education is vital to ensure that children develop the foundational skills that they need to be successful learners and to ensure that they can contribute positively to society. It reflects poorly on the Morrison government that it cannot look past politics when it comes to these refugee children, who have already suffered immensely. It can bring them to safety in Australia immediately, yet has failed to do so.
The Morrison government must stop playing politics with these children’s lives and get them off Nauru and to Australia as soon as possible, the education workers’ union demanded.