Campaigning ideas and future focus of the movement were at the forefront of discussions at union forum held at the Maritime Union of Australia rooms in Devonport.
The Penalty Rates Forum, hosted by Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Dave Oliver and Unions Tasmania Secretary Steve Walsh attracted other unionists from the North West region to take part.
Oliver divulged his medium-term plans for mobilising trade union activists going forward, pointing to the successes of campaigns in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales whereby huge swings against the incumbent Liberal Party
He also spoke about the recent survey the ACTU had undertaken - Our Living Standards, Our Voice - which recorded more than 40,000 responses from workers and members of the wider community.
The survey showed that Australian workers are worried about their diminishing rights at work, attacks on penalty rates, the utilisation of cheap foreign labour and cuts to the minimum wage. See here for the full survey results.
“Employers backed up by Liberal governments around the country are running a campaign to cut penalty rates and slash the wages of millions of Australians," Oliver said.
“The fact is that the Fair Work Commission found there is no evidence to show that cutting penalty rates leads to employers hiring more staff – it doesn’t – the money just goes in their pockets and workers are left with lower wages struggling to pay the bills
“Cutting penalty rates and lowering people’s wages would amount to a reverse economic stimulus – it will take money out of the economy and have a terrible impact on the very businesses that are complaining.
The reason for holding such an event in Devonport, according to Steve Walsh, was part of a more regional approach of the State’s trade union council.
"If we want to activate people around Tasmania, we have to get to those people not necessarily based in Hobart, particularly those we’ll be calling on in the marginal seats” Walsh said.
“North West Tasmania has been identified as an area for our focus in the upcoming Federal election as we know it’s an area struggling with high unemployment and an area dependent on the award wage and penalty rates. Somewhere where we should be able to sell our message of protecting workers.”
MUA Tasmania Branch Secretary Jason Campbell said maritime workers were worried about the direction the Abbott Government was taking Australia in terms of all industrial relations laws.
“Our workers are being displaced by cheap foreign labour in a way we’ve never encountered,” Campbell said.
“If it’s not 457 workers, it's workers without visas being used in the offshore despite a recent Federal Court Decision ruling that this was unlawful.
“And it’s not just the MUA. I drive to work every day and see cheap migrant labour being utilised in the horticultural industry at the same time young people in the North West can’t get work.”