Being prepared to oust Abbott at the next election was a clear priority for the approximately 1000 unionists gathered in Melbourne for the 2015 ACTU Congress.
As such, the current ACTU executive made up of Secretary Dave Oliver, President Ged Kearney and Assistant Secretaries Michael Borowick and Scott Connolly were all re-elected unopposed.
See National Secretary Paddy Crumlin’s statement here.
The day was marked by the launch of the Build a Better Future: Fight for our Living Standards campaign, which is based around six key policy demands.
Upon launching the campaign, President Kearney, said the ACTU had identified ‘six non-negotiables’: Worker’s rights, universal healthcare, the highest quality education, ownership of public services, a secure retirement and a fair go for all.
“At rallies around the nation, and in the opinion polls, Australians have already made known their displeasure at the direction the nation is heading under the Coalition Government,” she said.
“It is our role as the union movement to step up and lead this country in a different direction.”
Meanwhile, Secretary Oliver identified the need for the union movement to refocus itself as a campaigning movement, rather than a transactional one.
“The union movement is at its strongest when we stand together and campaign on issues that affect working Australians,” he said.
“Whether it’s the business lobby trying to cut penalty rates or the Abbott Government trying to take away rights at work – unions will not stand by while the living standards of millions of Australians are under attack.
“There is a passion across the union movement to ensure that the rights we have fought so hard for are protected.”
The MUA has a strong delegation at the event, made up of Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman, Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray, Sydney Branch Secretary Paul McAleer, Tasmanian Branch Secretary Jason Campbell, WA Branch Secretary Christy Cain, NT Branch Secretary Thomas Mayor, Queensland Branch Secretary Mick Carr, Victorian Branch Secretary Kevin Bracken, Women’s Liaison Officer Mich-Elle Myers, ATSI Chair Paddy Neliman, Queensland Organiser and ACTU Youth Representative Jason Miners, Policy Officer Rod Pickette, Veterans Chair Fred Krausert and MUA Safety and Training Officer Matt Goodwin.
Australian of the Year Rosie Batty made a special appearance and endorsed the ACTU’s push for domestic violence clauses and leave and complementing this was Doleman’s inspiring speech on White Ribbon.
“Domestic Violence isn’t a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue,” he said.
“We are the perpetrators and as such, we are the ones who have to lead.”
Secretary Oliver then lead the men in the room in taking the White Ribbon pledge.
Doleman also took a lead in presenting the MUA’s motion on Coastal Shipping, which was passed unanimously and seconded by the AMOU’s Jan Thompson.
“People would be outraged if the Government proposed to import truck drivers from developing countries and let them be paid $2 an hour for endless shifts with basically no rights, working in a truck with substandard safety with all tax being paid to another country,” he said.
“Well that’s what the Government is trying to do to shipping and the buck won’t stop there. Just this week the Government announced its intention to unravel Cabotage in the airline industry.”
The MUA’s delegation split up throughout the day to partake in the concurrent workshops.
In the Dignified Retirement and Worker’s Capital workshop Veteran Krausert and Policy Officer Rod Pickette lead the way in discussing the ACTU’s policies on superannuation and the pension.
Pickette identified flaws in the current direction of the union movement in regards to better maximising investment in ethical projects with good labour standards.
“We’re talking about a massive amount of capital when we we’re talking about super funds, we’re talking about the same amount of capital that the big banks control,” he said.
“But do we know where this capital is being invested?
“It is possible to maximise that capital in an ethical and responsible manner.”
Meanwhile in the Safety workshop Safety Officer Goodwin was called to speak.
“Unions examined Abbott Government legislation to weaken safety protections for workers, which they describe as 'red tape',” he said.
“Companies who want to strip back safety protections for workers have found a willing friend in the Abbott Government.
“Too many workers in Australia are hurt and too many families have suffered tragedy. Last year, 185 Australians were killed doing their job - an average of more than three a week. Thousands more suffer from preventable diseases.
“At Congress, Australian unions endorsed a comprehensive OH&S policy, renewed their commitment to fight the Abbott Government attacks, and campaign for better safety in our workplaces.
“It is proven that union workplaces are safer workplaces. Known as the 'union safety effect', this phenomenon has been shown all around the world. Unions have a proud history of protecting workplace safety, from banning asbestos to training health and safety representatives.”
At the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workshop both Neliman and Mayor were in attendance.
As a Torres Strait Islander and branch official Mayor spoke about the need for unions to better map their ATSI members.
He also spoke about the MUA’s controversial history with Aboriginal Manning Company AMML.
“We need to ensure that we are recognised as the organisation that truly fights for the rights of indigenous people above any other organisation in Australia because the union movement is unique in its independence from the influence of government and business,” he said.
Mayor also tabled a motion that culminated from the work that MUA ATSI Officer Tery O’Shane O'Shane had done regarding land Tenure. The motion was accepted by the workshop unanimously but is yet to make it to the Congress floor.
Queensland’s Mick Carr represented the MUA at the Tax and Social Wage discussion which centred around the growing inequality in Australia which saw 55 of Australia’s richest not pay any tax last year.
“There were questions about to what extent that taxpayers were expected to fund a bail-out similar to the one exhibited in countries like the USA.”
Over at the Global Solidarity workshop Sydney’s McAleer was a key in denouncing Australia’s current refugee policy.
“We were successful in supporting and strengthening resolutions that ensured the union movement fights for the protection of refugees seeking asylum, increasing our humanitarian intake, complying with international law and dismantling offshore detention facilities, which brutalise the dignity of human beings lawfully seeking asylum.
“The resolutions send an important message to governments, and the refugee movements supporting asylum seekers that this is a union and working class issue.”
In the same workshop Bracken was able to air his griveances on the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, currently being negotiated by the Government behind closed doors.
“These Trade Agreements circumvent the democratic process as the text cannot be disclosed until they have been signed off by the Trade Minister,” he said.
“Worryingly, TPP contains Investor State Dispute Settlement clauses which allow corporations to sue our government.”
Bracken was successful in tabling a motion, which called for the release of the details of the TPP for the scrutiny of Parliament and the wider community.
In addition to podium appearances from Doleman, Bracken and Pickette, the MUA’s own Christy Cain gave a rousing analysis of the faults in OH&S following Michael Borowick’s Safety report.
He spoke about the delayed entry to the Stena Clyde, an oil platform on which two workers were killed.
During the lunch break the MUA lead a rally outside of BP's headquarters, conveniently located just minutes away from the Congress venue.