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Overcome threats, halve insecure work numbers: McManus

While the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) waits alongside the country’s working classes with baited breath on the Morrison government’s resolution bill on industrial relations reforms, it has called upon the federal government to cut the rates of insecure workers in half within the next ten years.

Sally McManus, the ACTU’s national secretary, in an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, outlined in detail the reasons for these demands and goals, and how they can be achieved.

“Many employer groups and some in government have actually refused to acknowledge the facts of the widespread nature of work insecurity and the ways in which it disadvantages people,” McManus told the NPC’s lunchtime assembly in her speech.

“And there are others that even argue that more insecure work is good.

“As a country we cannot hide from it anymore.  This is an issue our generation can and must fix,” McManus added.

McManus was also an integral participant in the industrial relations reform negotiations – after forming what was seen as an unlikely alliance in March with federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, who doubles in the Morrison government’s cabinet as its industrial relations minister as well – and she admitted that the government’s solutions to the impasses that resulted in that five-month process earlier in the year are on the way.

“We are told that the government’s IR omnibus bill is imminent,” McManus said, while Porter admitted that the terms of that bill may be coming as early as next week.

Those talks, which McManus has said that the unions and the government entered in a spirit of good faith and thereby has described as “challenging”, do provide a bit of context about how the ACTU can reach their goals towards drastically reducing numbers of insecure workers.

“Two things have happened to unions during this pandemic.  Firstly, nearly every union has grown in membership, despite job losses, as workers looked to their union and the union movement for protection and support,” said McManus.

“Secondly, the union movement has had its national role returned to where it should always have been – as a widely accepted part of Australia’s civil society, and a trusted social partner for governments and businesses.

“This consultation and cooperation must not only belong to the pandemic – it must become business as usual again in Australia as it makes us better as a country,” added McManus.

In a sharp, marked contrast to the “Change The Rules” campaign which was run for two years leading up to the 2019 federal election, where it was predicated upon winning upper and lower house seats to affect the government’s balance of power as a more likely pathway towards influencing new industrial relations legislation, the mindset now exists to work with the government in power in good faith negotiations, regardless of whoever is in government.

“Governments and employers may not always like, or agree with what we have to say, but decision making is improved when our capacity, as well as workers experience and perspective are at the table,” said McManus.

“If we are good enough to be relied upon during a crisis, if we are trustworthy enough to have in the room facing a pandemic, if unions were needed to get us through the toughest of times – surely the voice of working people has a place at the table in an ongoing way,” she added.

McManus says that a spirit of “leave no one behind” – which she opened her NPC speech with, citing Australians’ commitment to collectivism as the nucleus behind a social contract – will serve as an essential element to achieve goals around insecure work.

According to the McKell Institute, the statistics around insecure work reflect one in four workers classified as casual workers and as many as four million workers being either casual, part-time, or under-employed, or even as many as 2.1 million workers holding more than one casual job at any time or even throughout the year in an effort to make ends meet.

The ACTU said earlier this year about the state of insecure work:

Employers use casual and other insecure work arrangements to cover entire work functions. For many employers, it’s now a business model.  Our work laws have made it more and more difficult to protect permanent work.  The result is an emerging class of workers without jobs they can count on.  They have no sick leave, no holidays, no job security, little bargaining power and severely reduced capacity to get home loans.  Casualisation and insecure work have led to Australia having more inequality now than at any time on record.

“We would rather be working with employers and government on the big issues that help to grow our economy and strengthen the safety net – lifting all Australians up by driving down unemployment levels, by saving and creating jobs, improving wages, making work from home a shared opportunity for employers and employees, increasing workforce participation through free childcare, supporting dignified retirement incomes for workers, and planning for good high skilled jobs in Australian manufacturing.

“A genuine national economic reconstruction plan,” said McManus, regarding the general terms of the scheme which the ACTU is likely to forge to counter the ongoing trends and qualities around insecure work.

However, for as helpful as it could potentially be, the white elephant in the room may also very well surround the government’s bill on industrial relations reform.

It may be a threat to the ACTU’s goals, but they likewise welcome it as a first step forward.

“We are concerned that the industrial relations omnibus legislation, will indeed seek to take rights off workers, that it will punish the very people who have already sacrificed so much,” said McManus.

“Any taking away of rights, any attempt to weaken workers protections is a weakening of our social contract and will be resisted by the union movement,” she added.



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  1. Karen Kyle

    Insecure and casual work is a life sentence.
    A researcher from the University of Melbourne looked into the problem some years ago.

    It was found that these workers are mired in poverty and suffer anxiety and other mental health problems.

    Even worse they make a decision not to marry and have families. They can’t support themselves let alone a family.

    This is an appalling situation. Not only are workers left behind in social and economic terms, they are cut out of normal main stream family existence and relationships. They are expendable and of no value, not even as factory fodder.

    Those who do marry and find themselves out of work are subject to strains and conditions which ought to have died a century ago.

    Small wonder the increase in family violence and political instability.

    How we deal with this state of affairs I just don’t know. But something has to be done. We can’t condenm people to a life of desperate penny pinching anxiety and feelings of worthlessness.

  2. DrakeN

    The object of creating less secure employment and inadequate remuneration for work is to regress to the principle of Master and servant.
    One cannot upset one’s Master for fear of abject poverty and/or retribution and punishment.
    The concept of wealth, power and priviledge for a few at the expense of those who actually produce the goods and services on which their very lives depend.

  3. Karen Kyle

    A standard Marxist response. And here was I thinking it had to do with technology, off shoring of manufacturing so the corporations could maximise profit.

    Soon there won’t be much manufacturing work anywhere. Robots and automation will take care of that.

  4. Michael Taylor

    “A standard Marxist response.”

    I don’t have a problem with DrakeN’s comment. He is entitled to his opinion and he is welcome to share it here.

  5. DrakeN

    You know something, Karen Kyle – you assume far too much.
    I am not by any measure a ‘Marxist’ nor any other “-ist”; in fact I am antagonistic to all forms of “-isms” including the presumption-ism with which you infect these pages.
    I have had the good fortune to have had decades of free time in which to study and to directly observe human behaviours with all their strengths and foibles.
    Likewise, my movement through several strata of civilised society together with direct experience of more primitive societies has equipped me with a distinctly non-aligned philosophy in which to indulge.
    Judging solely on your posts here, it would appear that you have been deprived of both of those advantages, leaving you with very narrow perspectives and strong but, in my opinion, erroneous biases.
    I will not debate you here since it would be akin to debating the evils of religion with the Archbishop of Sydney.

  6. DrakeN

    Thank you Michael Taylor for maintaining the openness of the articles and commentaries.
    It is why I contribute to this site.

    “I may disagree with what you say, Sir – but I will depend to the death your right to say it.” (or words to that effect.) – Voltaire.

    However, from my standpoint, some commenters and writers are simply not worth debating with.

  7. Matters Not

    Yes the trend is clear artificial intelligence (broadly defined) will displace more and more humans in the years ahead and its applications seem boundless. Not only in what might be traditionally called capitalist nations but in communist nations as well. As an aside, not sure there’s any communist nations (at least in the economic sense) still in existence. But I would be interested to hear from some who believe differently.

    At one level, the replacement of labour power with machines (particularly highly intelligent ones) is to be applauded. The difficulty resides in how to redistribute the wealth that’s subsequently created. Either it’s done peacefully or through force, legislated or otherwise.

  8. Matters Not


    movement through several strata of civilised society together with direct experience of more primitive societies

    Re the use of terms such as civilized and primitive reminds one of the bad anthropology of the 19th century, especially ideas of scientific racism. Talking about “primitive” society is largely unhelpful because it isn’t a well-defined term and is burdened by a history of bad anthropology, being used as a tool of European colonialism.

    In the 19th century, these (primitive) qualities were for the most part defined as anything that didn’t resemble European society. The origins of the term in anthropology come out of these systems of classification in which societies were ranked hierarchically. This definition serves the pre-existing notions of 19th century anthropologists that European societies (“civilized”) were superior to non European societies (“primitive”). Anything not shared with European societies was therefore automatically “primitive”.

    Michael Taylor might elaborate.

  9. Karen Kyle


    One thing puzzles me about AI.Imagine a big scientific question which is unanswerable. And scientists spend months and months programing super computer to find the solution. They hit the button and out spits the result. How will they understand what they have?

  10. Matters Not

    KK – a good question. These days, science advances collaboratively. It’s team effort, usually in a large laboratory. And as always it advances theory by theory. Contrary to popular opinion, theory is a priori fact.

    That people don’t understand the full implications of their discovery rarely (if ever) holds them back. Remember gunpowder and Alfred Nobel? Spent lots of time regretting what he discovered. The full implications are rarely appreciated. Here’s some notable examples.

    I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” — Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

    • “I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

    • “But what…is it good for?” — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

    • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.

    • “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” — Bill Gates, 1981.

    • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — Western Union internal memo, 1876.

    • “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, 1876.

    • “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.” — Lee DeForest, inventor

    Guess we never know what we don’t know.

  11. DrakeN

    @ Matters Not: ” Talking about “primitive” society is largely unhelpful because it isn’t a well-defined term and is burdened by a history of bad anthropology, being used as a tool of European colonialism.”

    Only if you are intellectually stuck in past centuries.

    As a generalised term it is used to describe societies which have not yet succumbed to the political, religious and commercial artifices which bedevil our “Western” societies.
    For example, lifestyles in Bhutan are materially rather primitive, as is its economy, but sociologically it is a far more civil community than much of what we refer to as “civilised”.

    Perhaps you need to get your head out of the books a little more often.

  12. Karen Kyle

    IMN….Thank you for your response. I remember reading somewhere that in the nineteenth century someon said that everything that could be invented had been invented. It seems to be a common mistake.

    And yes I am aware that science progresses on the backs of knowledge and discoverys often made years before on the other side of the planet. Amazing how often it came together in the past before communications were well developed.

    And in some instances failed to come together.
    During the time of the Ottoman Empire Islamic scholars worked out how to vacinate people against Smallpox. They built an incubator, and they worked out the circulation of the blood. They didn’t see any value in these discoveries, and as a consequence Islamic Science died.

    They built a big Observatory, and not the first in Islamic lands by a long shot. Observations were made, manuscripts written, and then because someone said it was unislamic it was razed to the ground.

    Islamists believe that God renews creation , all of it, every second of every day, which maybe means that it limits the understanding of cause and effect, especially in the abstract or the development of theory.
    And yet they could cope with advanced maths. Odd.
    During the Iraq war the Americans dropped leaflets as part of a propaganda campaign. To their surprise they discovered the Iraq soldiers could not see a connection between what was written on the front of the leaflet and what was written on the back. If this is an explanation of why Islamic science died, it explains why my nineteenth century person thought that everything that could be invented had been invented.

    If that is an explanation of why Islamic science died it must have been the the west kept manuscripts, diagrams etc for the use of futher generations of scholars. In fact we had quite a lot of work by the Islamic world which was translated into Greek and Latin and the Church was a valuable source of manuscripts as well. I suppose it comes down to curiosity in the end.

    Anyway I still can’t work out how we understand AI when our capacities are limited. Maybe we will use AI for most of the boring stuff….collecting and sorting data.
    Thanks again.

  13. Andrew J. Smith

    Insecure work based upon zero hour or rolling temporary contracts are fine for some (not key) sectors e.g. students in hospitality, but in the Oz (permanent) working age population there has been an increase in the Gini coefficient (highest vs lowest paid) which has economic repurcussions flowing on.

    As has occurred in comparable nations with high Gini coefficient e.g. Turkey, it then limits the spending and investment ability of middle and lower economic classes which impacts the economy, budgets, specific sectors and govt services.

    In Australia, concurrently the ACTU and/or unions are threatened by constant political media agit prop that both denigrates the same and/or peels off ageing/retired union members and/or Labor voters on sociocultural, economic and environmental issues; appealing to old Oz worker imagery that does not match modern industries or sectors, nor serve the interests of younger generations.

    Not only should unions become more attractive (and be ethical) for prospective members and their employment rights, but also cover emerging sectors, encourage education & training vs. just getting a low skilled job and avoid splits amongst unions and/or Labor that end up serving the interests or wishes of the LNP and/or IPA…..

  14. Karen Kyle

    Andrew Smith,

    You have never been a Union member. I can tell.

    In fact I don’t think you have worked in Industry. Your post suggests it.

  15. Roswell

    So Karen Kyle, the expert in everything, is now an expert on Andrew.

  16. Andrew J. Smith

    My response is what else don’t you know about me? 🙂

    Classic conservative comment, even without any facts to support, cannot avoid speaking over or down to people, i.e. simply denigrate anything they don’t understand or know…. thinking that by doing the same the establushment fairy dust will sprinkle down from upon high, even when supporters are viewed as willing dupes or useful idiots.

    Further, there are Liberal voters in unions (and some unions affiliated with the LNP), tho’ probably not many, yet conversely the LNP is happy to have socialist policies for big business (paid by taxpayers) while complaining about leftist ideologues, ably supported by unthinking LNP voters who serve authority of their secular LNP gods in politics who act as religious leaders.

    Why are so many conservatives nasty, whingeing and complaining? Unempowered, or simply wannabe ‘middle class’ and not empowered unless there is some cultural political label to shout at….. doing the bidding of their leaders; or simply following orders.

  17. leefe

    “The object of creating less secure employment and inadequate remuneration for work is to regress to the principle of Master and servant.”

    “And here was I thinking it had to do with technology, off shoring of manufacturing so the corporations could maximise profit.”

    There is no reason both factors cannot be in play.

  18. Karen Kyle

    Andrew J Smith,

    I spent twenty six years working for the Trade Union movement.

    Unions are manned and run by workers within the Industry e.g. the boss of the AMWU the metal workers union would be a Boiler Maker, Sheet Metal worker etc.
    All the Union Organisers would have the same kind of occupational backgrounds. The industry workers are elected by their peers to run the Union.

    In legal terms Unions occupy a specific niche as the custodians of all industrial awards and Enterprise Bargaining Agreements pertaining to their industry.

    Unions have no legal jurisdiction over workers in any other industry. They can’t just go out and organise new industries. To start with they would know nothing about these new industries and they do not have “coverage”

    Coverage is sometimes awarded to Unions with a broad mix of occupations within their membership e.g. The Liquor and Hospitality Union was awarded coverage of Sex Workers, the Shop Assistants Union got coverage of Hair Dressers. It didn’t work out well in either case. Hairdressers were too few with too many miles between members so tat it wasn’t financially viable to service them.
    I don’t know what happened re the Sex Workers….the Union trie hard, but it didn’t last long.

    Sex Workers would have been better off, organising themselves, electing representative from within their ranks and then applying for Registration which would give them the legal right to represent their members. What they would do about an Industrial Award is anybodies guess and an Enterprise Bargaing Agreement might or might not work in brothels but not for street workers. Some occupations are impossible to organise for a multitude of reasons.

    Unions are not PR organisations. They are about sheer hard slog and the nitty gritty of servicing multiple industrial awards and agreements. It is not unusual for the Liqor Trades Union e.g. which Amalgamated with the
    Missos whereupon they were known as the Missos and the Pissos to be looking after as many as forty different Industrial awards. A metal Union organiser can be renegotiating ten ot fifteen EBAs at once.
    Between times they sort out problems in their workplaces driving from one end of the State to the other putting out the spotfires, keeping the members at work. They don’t have time to become more attractive in order to recruit.

    As for education and training, they do train Ocupational Helth and Safety reps who have a specific legally mandated job to do and therefore require training. They also train Shop Stewards although this is difficult. Employers don’t like it.

    Unions can’t suddenly start education and training. They are not qualified to do it and they have no jurisdiction.

    Having said that often English on the job was sometimes taught in the past and other training programs for time to time always in parnership with employers and government.

    The bit about ethics really got me mad.
    Yes, corruption in Unions does arise from time to time, but by and large Unions are unusually clean organisations with a strong streak of idealism and purpose.

    The Liberal Party is sure the CFMEU is the most evil organisation on the planet. All the Libs need is the evidence. So they have had two Royal Commissions into the CFMEU costing tens of million of dollars. And they found…NOTHING.

    The CFMEU brings huge buildig projects in on time and on budget as well… the way.

  19. Karen Kyle

    Andrew Smith,
    Name me a union which is affiliated to the Liberl Party.

  20. Florence Howarth

    Workers have one thing to sell. Their labour & the skills that come with it. Why aren’t they entitled to a fair go from employers? Why do employers expect not to deal with the cost of labour, along with every other business expense? I think it is called market forces.

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