AUSTRALIAN UNIONS DEMAND A PLAN FOR JOBS! • Plus an end to TPP trade deal talks

The petition against the TPP being delivered to the Australian parliament in Canberra
The petition against the TPP being delivered to the Australian parliament in Canberra

THE federal government must deliver a plan for jobs to avoid Australia developing long-term structural unemployment, warns the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

Thursday’s unemployment rate of 6.1% represents the tenth consecutive month Australia’s unemployment rate has been at or above 6%.

The less than 0.1 percentage drop does nothing to avert the risk that thousands of Australians will become trapped in long-term unemployment.

Australian unions call on the government to reverse the $1 billion in cuts to skills and training it made in the previous budget.

The coalition government must also bring forward infrastructure investment in the coming budget to stimulate the economy and create new jobs.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said: ‘The Abbott government needs to bring forward infrastructure spending to help boost economic growth and get Australians back to work.

‘You can’t cut your way to economic growth and the unemployment figures show that.

‘The government’s austerity approach is undermining confidence in the economy – unemployment has now been at or above 6% for 10 months – it’s time to change direction and stimulate the economy – instead of cuts, cuts, cuts.

‘With unemployment still sitting above 6 per cent, it’s the worst possible time for the government to cut public sector jobs, threaten welfare payments and dent consumer confidence.’

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has also called for the federal government to stop negotiations on the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

A public forum at NSW Parliament House last Thursday discussed details from leaked documents confirming proposals that could result in higher medicine prices and special rights for foreign companies to sue government over changes in laws or policies, including health, environment and workplace laws.

Australian unions support trade deals with outcomes that are balanced, support jobs, protect the rights of working people and promote a healthy environment – this TPP does not do that.

Unions in all countries negotiating the TPP are calling for negotiations to be shut down unless there are genuine, transparent, public mandates that put people front and centre – not big corporations.

Key concerns with the TPP include:

• TPP leaks have revealed some countries are trying to reject protections of workers’ rights and the TPP deal does not cover United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on fundamental rights at work.

• Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions will allow corporations to sue the Australian Government for making laws or policies that are good for Australian people but may lower their company profits.

• Examples of ISDS provisions being used to undermine government policy include tobacco company Phillip Morris suing the Australian Government for introducing plain cigarette packaging and multi-national corporation Veolia (that operates in Australia) suing the Egyptian Government for increasing the minimum wage.

• Stronger patent rights for pharmaceutical companies on medicines will mean delays in availability of cheaper generic drugs and higher medicine prices.

This will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and put vital medicines out of reach in poor countries.

• The TPP will restrict our government’s ability to make national laws for public health, safety, the environment and general welfare.

ACTU President Ged Kearney warned: ‘The TPP makes corporate profits more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability and workers’ rights.

‘A fair trade deal needs to recognise and protect workers’ rights, environmental standards and access to quality public services – this is not happening with the TPP.

‘TPP talks are being held in secret without unions, business, church, environmental or community groups being involved – this is great for big multinational companies but terrible for ordinary people and the role of governments.

‘Unions in every country negotiating the TPP are calling for negotiations to be shut down unless there are transparent, public mandates that put community interests ahead of company profits.’

l Civilian defence staff have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action in protest at the Abbott Government’s attack on their conditions and pay.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) last weekend announced the outcome of a protected industrial action ballot of CPSU members in the Defence Department in which 93% of voters supported action.

Members are fighting to protect their jobs, rights and conditions from new agreements that seek to cut real wages and conditions in return for low annual pay offers of between 0% and 1% a year.

Community and Public Sector Union National Secretary Nadine Flood said: ‘Defence workers don’t take industrial action lightly but they have been pushed to this point by a belligerent government that has cut 11,000 APS (Australian Public Service) jobs – including thousands in Defence – and is now intent on attacking workplace rights and conditions.

‘Pay and conditions in Defence has been a thorn in the side for this government.

‘In the face of mounting pressure the government backed down on the worst aspects of ADF (Australian Defence Force) pay and conditions.

‘Its offer for uniformed personnel is far from generous but it’s a mile ahead of the attack on the rights and real wages on offer for civilian staff.

‘Defence staff will not tolerate a cut in conditions, the loss of two days leave, plus working an extra 3.5 days a year in return for a wage cut.’

Flood added: ‘ADF personnel and their civilian colleagues work side by side in workplaces across Australia and are united against cuts to working conditions.

‘The Defence Secretary himself has warned against creating a gap between the pay for civilian and uniformed personnel.

‘CPSU members are taking action to highlight the problems with the government’s unworkable bargaining policy and to call for significant improvements to the current offer in Defence.’

Industrial action will encompass a range of work bans, the reading of statements to the public and contractors as well as stoppages of up to 24 hours.

Action is expected to commence in May.

Defence is the 11th public sector agency taking or preparing industrial action.

Bargaining for the pay and conditions of around 160,000 public servants has been under way for a year but to date no agreement has been reached in any of the 117 agencies.