More than 250,000 workers are expected to strike on April 10 as Australia’s unions hold anti-government protests across the country.
Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus announced the protests at a press conference today.
“We, as the working people of Australia, are prepared to stand up for and fight for a fair go,” Ms McManus said.
“We are suffering an incomes recession. Our wages are going backwards because of inaction by our government. Inaction about the minimum wage, inaction about penalty rates – in fact they support the cutting of penalty rates.
“There is so much governments can do to make jobs more secure, and that is what we are demanding.
“If we do not take action as a country now, we will end up Americanising our society. We will end up in a situation where working people have to work two, three, four jobs to support themselves and their families.”
Ms McManus said she expected “at least a quarter of a million people” to turn up for the protests.
The Australian reports the ACTU executive passed a resolution this morning calling on workers to “stand up for the fair go, for fair wage rises and better job security” by joining the rallies.
The union body blames the government for creating a crisis of “insecure work” and low wages.
The April 10 date means the protests would take place shortly after the federal budget is delivered, and around the start of the election campaign.
Labor leader Bill Shorten spoke about wages at some length in Sydney yesterday, saying the minimum wage needs to be higher and the enterprise bargaining system requires an overhaul because it “disadvantages” companies which do the right thing.
“You’re bargaining with your workers, but you’ve got new entrants into the industry who go along and just pay the award,” Mr Shorten said.
“You’ve done the right thing, you’ve done six or seven rounds of bargaining and the problem is you’re now at a competitive disadvantage. Because employers can just opt out of the bargaining system and say to their employees: ‘Cut your wages or we’ll take you back to the award.’”
In December, Labor’s national conference endorsed a limited version of industry-wide bargaining, which would allow workers in select industries to bargain for wages across companies.
But the party has stopped short of matching the ACTU’s demand for widespread industry bargaining.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says wages are already rising, and the government wants them to increase further.
“The truth is wages have had their biggest jump in three years,” Mr Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra as he spoke about the national accounts.
“They are beginning to pick up more quickly than they were in previous years and you’ve seen that in all states and all industries.”
In the December quarter, the wage price index grew by 2.3 per cent over the previous year.
The total compensation of employees measured in the national accounts — a figure which takes into account wages, salaries and other payments to workers — grew by 4.3 per cent over the same period.
The ACTU has pushed for a living wage pegged at 60 per cent of the median national wage, rather than a minimum set by the Fair Work Commission.
Mr Shorten has stopped short of promising that, instead pushing for a higher minimum wage.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says a large minimum wage increase would hurt small businesses in particular.
“Labor’s position seems entirely focused on pushing up wages, without any regard for the capacity of businesses, particularly small businesses, to afford to pay,” chief executive James Pearson said.
— with AAP