ACTU chief Sally McManus to put heat on Bill Shorten

The Australian, March 15, 2017

Incoming ACTU secretary Sally McManus will lead a national union campaign to pressure Bill Shorten to commit to sweeping pro-worker changes to workplace laws in the lead up to the next federal election.

Ms McManus, who [made] history when she [was] elected the peak union body’s first female secretary, said unions would seek to ease legal restrictions on strikes and reduce the bargaining power of employers as part of “serious changes” to the Fair Work Act.

She said unions would also push for limits on the use of cas­uals and labour hire, as well as increased powers for the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate disputes.

Declaring her intention to build a people’s movement to ­restore fairness to Australian ­society, Ms McManus told The Australian: “Your paper ran a story that we were building a ­secret army a couple of years ago. This is not going to be a secret army and this is going to be 10 times bigger.”

The ACTU campaign will be strongly opposed by the Coalition and employers. The business community, which has been pushing for elements of the laws to be changed to benefit companies, will lobby Mr Shorten to resist the union ­demands. Ms McManus said unions would seek to ­illustrate the flaws in the workplace system to the public before putting “demands” to the political parties in the lead up to the federal election to change the laws and give employees stronger rights at work.

Ms McManus, who succeeds Dave Oliver, said the Coalition had a track record of taking workers’ rights backwards and unions would not tolerate any further ­attempt to swing the workplace laws in favour of employers.

She acknowledged the union movement’s best chance of securing change was for the Coalition to be defeated and the Labor Party elected.

She said Australian workers had one of the most limited legal rights to strike in the developed world, while employers could ­easily lock out workers.

“The amount of hurdles that workers have to go through in order to exercise what is meant to be a basic right is ridiculous,’’ she said.

Citing the three-year bargaining dispute in the federal public sector, Ms McManus, 45, said the Fair Work Commission should also be given back increased powers to arbitrate disputes. As well as the union movement’s immediate priority to reverse the commission’s proposed cuts to Sunday and public holiday penalty rates, she said unions were determined to take action to lift the minimum wage as “the fact that it’s just lost touch with the ­average wage ­destroys every job”.

She said unions would push political parties to support legal changes that removed the ability of the commission to cancel enterprise agreements and move employees back on to their award. “Serious changes are needed to the Fair Work Act,’’ she said.

“We are going to put forward our arguments and we are going to campaign as hard as we can on them. We think that our arguments are right. We think the public is on side with us already and they’re the ones who know exactly what has happened to them and to their jobs over a short period of time. Families and individuals are suffering because of it, especially on the issue of secure work. We see every month employment figures come out and more and more full-time jobs are disappearing and more and more part-time and casual jobs replacing them.

“I think it’s a bit like the metaphor of the frog and the boiling water. It’s been happening for 20 years … and I think it’s sort of at the point where people are pretty much at breaking point. That’s why we think there needs to be radical change.’’

Many of the changes have been pushed by unions without success but Ms McManus said she was ­determined to succeed. “I am going to bring a total focus to it,’’ she said. “I am going to focus on every bit of our power at every level ­focused on achieving this.”

She said there had been a huge shift in power in Australia over the last decade, as reflected in the shift in wealth and the ability of multinationals to avoid tax laws. She said laws needed to be changed to fix the power imbalance.