Federation has a key role to play in ACTU’s Change the Rules campaign

Federation has an essential role to play in the Australian Council of Trade Union’s Change the Rules campaign, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus told the union’s 100th Annual Conference.

Ms McManus praised Federation for a century of activism and outlined the importance Delegates and members standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the ACTU to fight against neo-liberalism and stand up for the rights of workers.

“If there was a secret union factory that produces leaders and our greatest social justice warriors, it would be the NSW Teachers Federation,” said Ms McManus.

“It is a union of mentors and people who pass on union values for the next generation and inspire others through deeds and actions.”

“When neo-liberalism took hold in NSW when Nick Greiner got elected [in 1988], your union was on the frontline. You were not going to sit back and put up with letting working-class kids have a worse standard of education. The NSWTF … inspired a whole generation of people to fight back,” she said.

Since being elected as ACTU Secretary in 2017, Ms McManus has fought hard against neo-liberalism through the Change the Rules campaign.

“After 30 years of fighting neo-liberalism, the tide is turning,” said Ms McManus. “Not just here, but around the world. People are starting to say, ‘We were promised better services, higher standards of living.’ Privatisation was meant to lead to cheaper outcomes, but it has led to the opposite.

Ms McManus said the campaign to Change the Rules is about saying there is a better way and we need rules that ensure fairness. “Otherwise the only rules will be those made by the rich, which is happening at the moment,” She said. “In the Australian trade union movement, we have always fought for rules to ensure fairness, which is why we fought for Medicare, superannuation, the eight-hour day and equal pay for women. The NSWTF fair funding campaign fits perfectly with the Change the Rules campaign. All these things are us saying that as working people we want what is fair in our society.”

Ms McManus pointed out two conditions government need to create to ensure societal equality. “Firstly, make the very rich pay their fair share of tax,” she explained. “One third of big companies in Australia pay no tax despite making huge profits. Something is very wrong when people such as you and I are paying tax, yet the people who can really afford it are not. So we are the ones contributing to the schools, roads, hospitals and infrastructure they use.

“Secondly, make sure working people have strong rights at work to ensure secure jobs and fair pay rises. It is the role of governments to do that because law in workplaces was always about recognising an unequal power balance between employers and workers. However, we have seen growing power at the top and more predominance of multinationals that do not care about us, only the bottom line. This needs to change.

“We have a serious problem in this country with insecure work. The number of teachers on temporary contracts gives Australia the highest level of temporary work in the OECD. Fifty per cent of people do not have a full-time permanent job. Over time, our rules and rights have been weakened and it all started with John Howard, then Peter Reith, Eric Abetz and Christopher Pyne. The Malcolm Turnbull government likes us to believe that is just the way things are now, which is a lie. The idea of open-ended, temporary contracts is an outlier compared to the rest of the world; so, change the rules to make it fairer. Make secure jobs the norm again. This is a key part to our Change the Rules campaign.”

The Change the Rules campaign also outlines a number of other basic principles that are relevant to Federation members, including fighting for fair minimum wages for workers. “We were the first people in the world to earn minimum wage 111 years ago,” said McManus. “It is a very simple concept that a working person should be able to work full-time and not live in poverty. Currently, our minimum wage is $37,000 per year – a poverty wage that has been frozen in time – and it’s not enough to live in Sydney, or even in Dubbo.

“We also need a fair right to strike as our laws are out of step with the rest of the world. We also need enforcement because it is one thing to have rights, but another thing to actually enforce them. We need a stronger independent umpire and a government that is going to back working people over big business. Of course, that is not Malcolm Turnbull.”

However, despite the current state of government in Australia, Ms McManus sees enough overwhelming positive signs in her ACTU and Federation comrades to be optimistic. “We have record numbers of people wanting to join us,” she enthused. “I have random strangers coming up to me saying, ‘Keep going.’ We are the people who are going to make history and change the rules. I know Federation members are the backbone of so many communities, who will take this argument from workplaces to communities to enact permanent change to hand down to future generations.”