Delegates from several unions met in Sydney on July 28 and voted unanimously to call for a statewide day of action on October 18 in response to attacks on penalty rates, the ABCC, and the war on workers and their unions.
The meeting also voted to hold another combined unions delegates meeting in mid-September, to plan an ongoing campaign.
The motion was moved by Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) delegate Denis McNamara and seconded by Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey.
The NSW Trades Hall auditorium was filled with delegates and activists from the CFMEU, Electrical Trades Union (ETU), Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Fire Brigade Employees Union, Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Finance Sector Union (FSU), Health Services Union, National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), Australian Services Union (ASU), Professionals Australia (representing pharmacists) and Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation (representing doctors).
ACTU national secretary, Sally McManus addressed the meeting, as did union officials and a number of rank-and-file activists. Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Brendan O’Connor fronted up and received a grilling from a number of unionists over Labor’s failures and broken promises.
The meeting also celebrated the victorious campaign by communities and health sector unions in Wyong and Bowral, against the privatisation of their community hospitals and the ongoing campaign against government plans to privatise hospitals at Maitland and Shellharbour.
Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey emphasised the importance of the meeting and that it was important that the views of the rank-and-file and the community are listened to.
McManus spoke about rising inequality in Australia, its causes and the ACTU’s planned campaign around it. In response to the cuts to penalty rates, McManus said: “Our rights at work are broken if the Fair Work Commission can make that decision.”
She added: “What we have learnt from decades of neoliberalism is that it’s up to us to put limits on their greed and to make sure workers have rights. We need to be ready to mobilise nationally and we will.”
The meeting heard from the ASU’s Natalie Lang about the campaign to win family and domestic violence leave. About 800,000 women workers are facing family violence and unions are calling on the government to legislate for a minimum of 10 days paid family violence leave.
Brian Parker, NSW secretary of the CFMEU, talked about the new Building Code for the construction industry and the union’s campaign to defeat it. The Senate is due to debate a disallowance motion on the code on August 10. Parker explained that the code seeks to do away with the 36-hour week and the industry-wide RDO calendar, and to lift limits on casualisation in the construction industry.
Several striking workers from Kone Lifts attended the meeting. The workers are members of the AMWU and ETU. The meeting adopted a solidarity motion with the campaign by the Kone workers for wages and conditions equivalent to the company’s employees in Victoria and across the industry.
NSW secretary of the NTEU Michael Thompson informed delegates about casualisation in the higher education sector, where four out of five teaching staff at universities are casuals, 64% of staff are in insecure work and only 30% have fulltime employment.
With enterprise bargaining negotiations happening across the sector, the union has a number of claims to improve the situation for casuals. Thompson said members at Western Sydney and Sydney universities had recently voted to authorise industrial action in support of their bargaining claims and the union will hold a national day of campus action on August 8.
MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer praised the toughness of the CFMEU in the face of the witch hunt by the government and employers. He outlined the challenges maritime workers are facing, due to automation and the global inequality that exists in the industry between local crews and those working for as little as $1.50/day. “But we have to blame the system, not the victim,” McAleer explained. He also explained that basic rights like the right to strike “doesn’t come from legislation, but from our ticker”.
Paul Davies from Professionals Australia addressed the issue of penalty rates. He explained that pharmacists earn as little as $26 an hour but are facing a pay cut of up to $6000 a year due to the Fair Work Commission’s decision to lower penalty rates. He told the meeting that union members had been successful in forcing Chemist Warehouse to not pass on the penalty rate cut to current employees and that industry giant Amcal would be the focus of a day of community action around penalty rates on August 6.
Issues facing workers in the banking sector were taken up at the meeting, including the FSU’s Bad Apples campaign targeting the Conduct Background Check Protocol, a nefarious employee “black list”. An FSU delegate and Socialist Alliance member spoke about the $30 billion in combined profits made by the Big Four banks each year. The delegate offered a personal view (which got a rousing response) that if the banking sector were nationalised these profits could be used for health and education.
The delegate also moved and spoke in favour of the motion for action in October: “This cross delegates meeting is so important, it's one of our few opportunities to get together with other delegates from other unions, to organise and build not just for one day of action, but for many days of action.
“The workers I speak to each day want action and are ready to do what is needed.”