The new minimum employment standards that came into effect on Monday will be good for maritime workers - all Australian workers - and are a major step forward from WorkChoices.
"These standards set out minimum entitlements for all workers that can't be taken away under any circumstances, including hours of work, leave, notice of termination and redundancy pay. They draw a compelling line in the sand for workers", said the MUA's national secretary Paddy Crumlin.
Welcoming the changes, he said the 10 National Employment Standards deliver on a core part of the Your Rights at Work union and community campaign against WorkChoices.
Also, a raft of modern industry awards which also began on Monday will provide additional enforceable minimum employment terms and conditions for hundreds of thousands of other workers, including minimum wages, penalty rates, and superannuation.
But ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the newly-won rights and protections were already under threat from the Federal Opposition led by Tony Abbott, who has signalled he wants to bring back a new version of WorkChoices.
"We've come a long way in the past two years since the successful union and community campaign against the former Liberal Government's WorkChoices laws," Ms Burrow said.
"Those laws removed protection from unfair dismissal gave many young and vulnerable workers little or no job security.
"The new rights and protections are in addition to enhanced unfair dismissal protection, rights to collective bargaining and a good faith bargaining regime for all workers that began in July 2009."
A key innovation in the improved safety net is a new right to request flexible working arrangements.
Employers will for the first time have a legal obligation to seriously consider a request for flexible work arrangements - such as different start and finish times, or working from home - and only refuse it on reasonable business grounds.
"This is a crucial breakthrough for working parents juggling family responsibilities, but would also benefit employers by increasing staff retention, reducing absenteeism, and achieving greater productivity through increased job satisfaction.
"Flexibility in rostering is particularly important for maritime workers", said Crumlin.
Unions will be working with the Federal Government to ensure workers are informed of their improved rights and employers are aware of their new obligations.
The Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard has also released the Government's new Fair Work Principles which will see that ensure that procurement decisions by Government agencies promote fair, cooperative and productive workplaces.
The Principles will support the creation of quality jobs and decent work by ensuring that Commonwealth procurement decisions are consistent with the Fair Work Act.
In the past, contracting (in occupations like cleaning) has sometimes been used as a vehicle to undermine the entitlements of employees. The Principals make it clear that the Rudd Government does not support the use of contracting for this purpose.