OVER the next two weeks, thousands of Australian trade union members will be marching across the country, campaigning for wage increases and job security.
Union representatives met on Tuesday at the Melbourne Town Hall, before workers begin Change the Rules rallies across Australia from Newcastle, Canberra, Ipswich to Maryborough, across to Fremantle, Darwin to Melbourne until 18th May.
The marches will be the biggest campaign since the Your Rights at Work effort in 2007. Many of the rallies coincide with May Day festivities marking International Workers Day. The Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) will also march to ExxonMobil headquarters to protest against 230 maintenance job cuts – workers fired after refusing to accept wide pay cuts and unfavourable changes to working conditions.
‘We need to change the rules so multinational companies like Exxon can’t avoid paying tax in Australia while hurting people and their families just to boost their own profit,’ AMWU branch secretary Steve Dargavel said.
The rules in question refer to Australia’s laws surrounding legal industrial action, which unions and workers have criticised for being restrictive. ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said people all over Australia want to change the rules, have more secure jobs, and see fair pay rises.
‘They know big business has too much power,’ she said.
‘Anyone who wants to live in a better, fairer country, who wants more secure jobs and fairer pay rises, should attend these events and join the movement for change.’ The ACTU leader said that it’s time to change the rules, as unions have done in the past. ‘We fought unjust laws. We built our unions and built campaigns.’
McManus said: ‘The right to withdraw labour is a fundamental, internationally recognised human right. The ILO (International Labour Organisation) has repeatedly stated that the current Australian laws, which make it almost impossible for any workers to take impactful industrial action, are in breach of international standards. Withdrawing labour is one of the very few means available to workers to address the inherent power imbalance in employment relationships.
‘However, in Australia, the right to take industrial action can only be exercised in very limited circumstances. Even though the RTBU (Rail, Tram & Bus Union) followed all of the complex legal process required to gain access to this limited right, they were ultimately denied that right by the operation of our current laws. We need to change the rules so that workers have the power to fight for the pay rises and improvements in conditions which they need.’
She continued: ‘Many of the rights which we might take for granted today were won through hard-fought and technically illegal industrial action or other forms of protest action. Improvements in working conditions and workplace health and safety standards together with community causes, such as green bans to preserve historically significant sites, have all been the subject of forms of action that may have infringed legal restrictions at the time, but which have ultimately proved of benefit, not just to workers, but to the community more generally.
‘The purpose of our Change the Rules campaign is to highlight the injustices in our current industrial system and win overwhelming public support for fundamental change. Our campaign, like everything the union movement does, is led by our members. The launch of our campaign from 17th April will include marches and demonstrations in both big cities and small towns, led by locals who know that the rules are broken and want to be part of the campaign to change them. We want to show the people who deny that there are any issues in Australian workplaces that the overwhelming majority of people disagree and want to see action taken to change the rules.’
• The ALDI supermarket chain has been accused of pressuring truck drivers to speed, skip breaks and meet unreasonable delivery schedules. The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is making the allegations as part of a campaign to bring back the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal to regulate pay conditions in the truck transport industry.
Truck drivers protested in all major capitals on Wednesday to coincide with a new survey showing 93% of drivers want to see changes to make transport safer and less pressured. The survey shows almost 93% of drivers also say pressure on them is continuing or increasing, with drivers listing the financial squeeze from major supermarkets and manufacturers, bad roads, unsafe truck stops and unrealistic deadlines major sources of pressure.
Over 1,000 drivers responded to the survey which was conducted following police blitzes on trucks after a spate of crashes. The survey comes two years after the Federal Government shut down a road safety watchdog which was investigating safety in trucking and holding major companies to account for low cost contracts which means their goods cannot be delivered safely.
TWU Acting National Secretary Michael Kaine said: ‘Two years ago the Federal Government scrapped scrutiny and accountability on the major manufacturers and retailers like Aldi over poor rates in their supply chains. This financial pressure means that trucks are not being maintained and drivers are being pushed to speed, drive long hours and skip mandatory rest breaks.
‘This is devastating families across Australia because of truck crashes and it means drivers are copping all the blame for problems in the industry. The only response from the Federal Government to the spike in deaths has been to increase the number of speed cameras to catch drivers and to have police fine them over breaches. This will not solve the problems in the industry and it will not cut the number of crashes. Unless wealthy clients are held to account for low cost contracts the problem in this industry will only worsen.’
The number of people killed in truck crashes is increasing. In NSW there has been a 92% increase in deaths from articulated truck crashes, according to data from Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. The job for drivers is also getting more dangerous. Safe Work Australia data for 2017 showed almost 40% of all workplace deaths involved a transport worker. Since the road safety watchdog was shut down, 361 people have died in truck crashes.
A report commissioned by the Federal Government showed Orders by the road safety watchdog were cutting truck crashes by 28%. Hundreds of drivers have held several protests over safety in the industry during the past year, highlighting in particular the role played by wealthy retailer Aldi which refuses to take responsibility for safety problems in its supply chain.
Aldi last August began a Federal Court case attacking the right of drivers to speak out and protest about safety in its supply chain. Aldi drivers have spoken out about breaches of fatigue rules and harassment when they raise safety issues.
One driver was consistently told ‘everyone else is doing it, you are the only one with a problem’. Aldi also engages some contractors in its supply chain whose practices pose serious safety risks. This includes inexperienced trainers training new drivers at one SA transport operator, below-award flat rates with no superannuation at a Queensland operator and vehicles not being maintained properly at another Queensland operator.