THE Australian trade unions have welcomed the victory of the Labour Party in the general election, but doubts are growing over whether the new Prime Minister Rudd intends to repeal all the anti-union measures brought in by Howard, that proved to be Howard’s undoing.
The 150,000 strong Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) welcomed the election of the Rudd Labour government with optimism for the future for health care, nurses and nursing.
Ged Kearney, ANF Acting Federal Secretary said: ‘The Labour victory is a defining moment for Australia, a moment when voters decided on new leadership and rejected the harsh WorkChoices legislation overwhelmingly.
‘Australians not only rejected AWAs but saw through the Liberal Party’s piecemeal approach to health policy, best demonstrated by the Mersey Hospital debacle.
‘The ANF looks forward to working with the new government to implement the pre-election policies on health reform, primary health care and revitalising the health workforce.
‘But other outstanding areas require immediate attention.
‘For example, a significant wages gap exists between nurses working in aged care and other sectors that make it impossible for aged care providers to attract and retain qualified staff and to ensure quality care.
‘Indigenous and rural and remote health also require fundamental and thoughtful change.
‘There are 250,000 nurses in Australia and our members will hold the ALP to account.
‘We expect Mr Rudd to fulfil his promises to address major systemic problems through health reform, increased public hospital funding and better aged care solutions,’ Ms Kearney said.
‘The election of the ALP is a positive first step toward better health outcomes for all Australians and fairer working conditions for our members.’
The Transport Workers’ Union congratulated Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd, and the Australian Labour Party, on their win at the polls.
National & NSW Secretary Tony Sheldon said: ‘This is a win for working families across Australia.
‘Australians have spoken: they want to restore their fair rates and fair conditions at work.
‘Working Australian families have been suffering under the harshest industrial relations system our country has ever seen in recent years: this election has proven that unionism is well and truly alive.
‘The TWU would like to see WorkChoices binned as soon as possible, and will work with Kevin Rudd & Julia Gillard to make sure the transition is smooth.
‘We will continue to engage clients and employers in the transport industry on how to deliver fair, safe and sustainable rates of pay and conditions, as well as fair competition.
‘We will be calling on the Rudd Labour government to support our initiatives to make the transport industry safer, and to bring back fairness to the Australian workplace,’ said Sheldon.
However John Robertson, the secretary of Unions NSW and the man who masterminded the grassroots campaign against Work Choices found himself yesterday in ‘grudging agreement’ with the outgoing Treasurer Peter Costello over his prediction that a Rudd Labour government will rewrite history and try to evade a repeal of the Hoard anti-union laws.
‘I don’t like saying this, but Costello was right when he said the new government will start to rewrite history,’ said Robertson.
‘He’s already started it. Rudd and friends are at it saying it was health or education or climate change. Sure, it was a bit of all those, but the really big issue was Howard’s Work Choices.’
Rudd did refer in his acceptance speech to the ‘great Australian trade union movement.’ It was a belated acknowledgement of the movement’s decisive role in electing Labour.
Robertson said: ‘This is hardly surprising because Rudd could barely bring himself to utter the word trade union during the campaign.’
Robertson then added his estimation of the difference between Rudd and Howard as far as the Australian trade unions are concerned.
‘The difference between this guy and the last mob is that this guy doesn’t want to kill us.’
The biggest swings to Labour came in seats where Robertson’s ‘Your Rights At Work’ campaign was strongest.
His campaign even turned Howard’s seat of Bennelong into a marginal.
All across Australia, workers turned Howard’s vicious anti union campaign back into his face wearing badges declaring ‘Union thug’.
ACTU exit polls showed 78 per cent of voters rated Work Choices as one of the top three issues, while 45 per cent said it was their highest priority.
In focus groups run for the ACTU the findings were that when quizzed about the government’s attitude to unions, the answers were crystal clear, that the Federal Government hates unions and wants to destroy them.’
The Australian trade unions are going to have to make a big push to emulate what the British trade unions did after they brought down the Heath Tory government in in 1974 and elected the Wilson government.
Wilson was forced by a huge mass movement to repeal every one of the hated Tory anti-union laws.
Rudd must be forced to do the same.