MUA at ALP National Conference

The MUA participated robustly at last weekend's ALP National Conference in Sydney. See clip of National Secretary Paddy Crumlin speaking below.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin spoke on the key issues of foreign labour, workers' capital/infrastructure funding and Qantas.

Mr Crumlin and SA Branch Secretary Jamie Newlyn were delegates at the conference and voted with the left on all issues.

Pivotal to the MUA's concerns, ALP conference endorsed a change to the party's platform to ensure that overseas workers were paid at "genuine market rates and conditions equal to those received by equivalent Australian workers".

Mr Crumlin said changes made to the Migration Zone by the Howard Government to control the processing of refugees had led to the current scenario whereby Allseas - a Chevron contractor on the $43 billion Gorgon Project - was manipulating the system.

"They are bringing in foreign workers on tourist visas, putting them on ships in Dampier and sending them out to work outside the Migration Zone," Mr Crumlin told the Conference.

"They're not required to pay tax, or GST, or be competently trained. They're not required to comply with the Fair Work Act, or any other Act.

"They are virtually walking a foreign workforce into an Australian high productivity, high security area ... because of the anomaly of the Migration Act.

"Now if this is allowed to continue, the Migration Act will probably end off Fort Denison, or Kangaroo Island, or Rottnest Island and anyone working outside that will be a foreign guest worker.

"It's a disgrace and need to be amended. The Migration Act needs to be extended everywhere there is Australian territory."

Conference also passed a motion that Labor governments are to come under new obligations to use more private investment to fund infrastructure, while also retaining some public ownership.

Private investment should only be used when it represents good value for money.

"The capital required to meet our infrastructure needs will be met from a mix of public and private sources," amendments to the motion said.

"Labor will work with the super industry, particularly industry funds, to harness the retirement savings of Australia's workforce to build our infrastructure and provide stable investment returns for their members."

Mr Crumlin said the focus needed to shift away from the use of investment banks and others who brought us the global financial crisis.

"I'm very happy to be a trade union person involved in workers' capital," Mr Crumlin told conference.

"There's a productivity debate going on. Sometimes the MUA gets highlighted in the debate and I often respond that the real productivity issues now aren't workers' productivity.

"We're at a point of continuous improvement - [the real issue] is capital productivity and if we can harness [changes to superannuation and workers' capital] directly linked to infrastructure building, it will enjoy the full support of all retired Australians.

"They are looking for stability in their retirement. They are looking for stable outcomes of investment. They are looking to invest in their communities, they are looking to invest in their families and new jobs. This is the real Australia."

Elsewhere, local companies could also gain a bigger share of the resources boom under changes that aim to support manufacturing by encouraging the use of Australian Industry Participation Plans.

These Plans would help local business rather than insisting on more direct government intervention. 

The conference also backed a motion attacking Qantas' decision to take some jobs offshore and temporarily suspend its operations in October.

Voting on the motion moved by Transport Workers Union boss Tony Sheldon, the conference noted "with dismay Qantas management's disastrous and unjustified decision to shut down all aviation services without notice on October 29, 2011 and its ongoing objective of cutting Australian jobs in all fields of operation".

"Qantas management's decision to outsource or offshore existing work, thereby lowering pay, service standards is fundamentally inconsistent with maintaining a strong Australian national carrier," the motion read.

"This year the carrier recorded another record profit of $530 million and awarded its CEO Alan Joyce a 71 per cent pay increase despite a 71 per cent fall in its share value."

Mr Sheldon told the conference Qantas had held workers in contempt.

"His case is not ideological, it's just about making more money ... making sure he puts it into his pocket," Mr Sheldon said.

"This is a company that decided to declare war on the Australian government,

Australian industry, its workforce and the Australian community when they shut that airline down.

"This is the company that is leading employer militancy in this country."

Mr Crumlin said it was "the greatest act of self-harm by any corporation in history".

Later in the conference, a motion was passed to open the way for all workplace agreements to be required to include last resort arbitration clauses, which would broaden the role of Fair Work Australia in settling disputes.

This would require changes to the Fair Work Act, which will shortly undergo a review.

In a separate announcement, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the establishment of a new government agency to help launch of the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Visiting the Sydney Aquarium with a group of people with disabilities and their carers on Saturday, Ms Gillard said the NDIS would end the "cruel lottery" that had been the lot of people with disabilities - who received services based on where they lived and how they came to be disabled.

The Federal Government will set up a new agency under Families Minister Jenny Macklin to do the preliminary work on the design of the NDIS.

The Government said in a statement it will provide $10 million for projects that examine how to deliver individual, personalised care, ending the crisis-driven approach that is still sometimes applied.

"The Agency will also oversee new projects that identify practical ways to prepare the disability sector and workforce, and people with disability, to move to a new way of delivering disability services."

Mr Crumlin reiterated earlier statements that for too long, some our most vulnerable citizens have had to endure substandard support as they navigate the maze of state and commonwealth services.

"This is a historic reform, in the same league as Medicare and compulsory superannuation," Mr Crumlin said.

"This new system will ensure a decent system of care and support for people with disabilities, allowing them to live with dignity and respect."