Michele O’Neil, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), wasted neither time nor words of vitriol at responding to the details of the 2020-21 federal budget on Tuesday evening.
O’Neil said that – upon federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s reading of the budget plan – the Morrison government “has set itself up to fail” its test. And that test is bound to be judged as a success or failure based upon the protection of current jobs and the creation of new jobs in a rapid fashion.
And at the outset, O’Neil says that the government is failing its own statistical tests on this new budget, especially if workers across Australia do not stand to benefit from it.
“The question for the federal government is, ‘Will working Australians wake up tomorrow morning safer and more secure?’” O’Neil asked, in a rhetorical fashion.
“Unfortunately, the government has set itself to fail this test with its own numbers saying unemployment will rise to eight percent and stay at a devastating 6.5 percent until 2022, even while the economy is projected to grow.
“The government’s decision to spend is welcome but will be meaningless if money does not end up in the pockets of workers. It is working people with the confidence to spend who will restart the economy,” O’Neil added.
And after multiple attempts to offer its National Economic Reconstruction Plan (NERP) to the government to adopt as a jobs-based blueprint to kickstart the economy out of a pandemic-era recession, only a few areas were barely accepted and touched upon by Frydenberg – regarding only fringe areas surrounding infrastructure and tourism – and lacking the detail laid out in the ACTU’s NERP program.
“The programs and projects delivered must create secure jobs across the economy, and for the people hit hardest by the pandemic, to give them confidence to drive us out of recession,” O’Neil said in a general manner regarding the application of the government’s overall plan.
“There is a real missed opportunity to pick up ideas like free childcare to give women the best chance to get back to work and supporting our TAFE system which were highlighted in our National Economic Reconstruction Plan,” she added.
As per wage subsidies, O’Neil and the ACTU stress that any sort of aid for workers, the unemployed and the under-employed – whether it means further extensions for JobKeeper and JobSeeker, for example – must take a route-one approach to all people, including those in regional areas as well as in the metropolitan regions, men and women alike, and younger and older workers equally.
Quickness and fairness have to reign within the bounds of this budget’s application, if ultimately approved by the federal Parliament, say O’Neil and the ACTU.
“We do welcome a wage subsidy scheme and training and apprenticeships for young workers but the money must flow to workers, and we need safeguards to prevent businesses using government investment to increase executive pay, bonuses, or payoffs to shareholders,” said O’Neil.
O’Neil also acknowledged that small businesses needed to benefit from the proposed budget, as a means towards championing their workers, but also felt that the variety of tax cuts offered to small business would not accomplished those aims.
“We are also concerned about the tax cuts and believe that investment in services and public programs are a better long- term investment than individual tax cuts,” she said.
“A tax cut does nothing for you if you don’t have a job,” added O’Neil..
O’Neil also said that the ACTU’s lobbying and advocacy efforts are bound to hit another higher gear in order to ensure that workers’ needs are put first.
“We will continue to fight to ensure that taxpayers’ money spent in this budget accelerates the recovery and delivers more secure jobs for working people who have sacrificed so much to get the country through this crisis,” said O’Neil.
O’Neil and the ACTU are also keeping one collective eye affixed upon the outcomes from the industrial relations reform negotiations from the previous several months, those which Attorney-General Christian Porter recently said that the government is currently “synthesising views into workable products” to put before Parliament in the way of legislation.
Those talks pitting the federal government and business lobby groups against the union movement may focus on any accords that will be made which could impact workers’ cultures in the future.
But at the end of it all, O’Neil insists that workers’ rights and conditions must remain sacrosanct.
“An important measure of this budget is yet to come in the government’s approach to worker’s rights and conditions,” said O’Neil.
“The economic recovery will hinge on whether some in the business lobby get their way and we see industrial relations changes that cut workers’ pay and erode rights and conditions,” added O’Neil.
Also by William Olson:
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