AWU national secretary and MUA alliance partner Paul Howes told the Canberra Press Club today a disciplined union movement was ready to again fight the Coalition and accused "rogue agrarian capitalists" of getting "shady local fellows" to press-gang workers into cheap service.
In a wide-ranging speech which can be viewed on the AWU website Paul Howes also released details of a survey that showed employees supported the Government's handling of the Global Financial Crisis but remained concerned about their jobs and backed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over Opposition Leader Tony Abbott by 44% to 15%.
Howes also briefed journalists on the two day ACTU executive meeting which had the upcoming election on its agenda. He said the union movement - "burnt and scarred and made wise by the Howard years" - was "ready to act in this important election year" and had a responsibility to educate workers on what would happen if Abbott won.
On the foreign worker visa scheme the AWU leader said "Barnaby's [Joyce's] friends are refusing to use the guest worker programme, and getting shady local fellows to press-gang workers into cheap service, as the British navy did in the 18th century, a practice that should by now have stopped".
He said Australia should pray it never saw again "the ugly arrangements of the Howard years, so close to the years of blackbirding a century back, of guest workers kept filthily in chook houses, and paid wages as if they were slaves from the 19th century".
"We do not need to hear again the stories of those years, the rumours from those years, the stories my union officials heard first hand, of criminal harassment, embezzlement of salaries, and casual rape.
He also described as "truly remarkable" the fact that the Government had got its Fair Work legislation through parliament despite a Senate largely controlled by the Liberal Party and "nutbags" like Senator Steve Fielding.
The MUA and the AWU have a long standing Alliance in the offshore industry campaigning for safe jobs and better conditions
Read the full speech on the AWU website