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Portable entitlements scheme on union agenda

20 February 2013 By ACTU

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver has declared unions are in for the long haul to campaign for better job security in Australia, beginning with a national portable entitlements scheme.

Delivering a major address to the National Press Club in Canberra on 6 February, Oliver said job and income security would be over-riding themes for unions in the 2013 election year, but the campaign would not stop on 14 September.

He also called on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott not to shut the door on people if he is successful in this year's election, warning that almost 300,000 union members in marginal seats would be mobilised in coming months to hold all political parties to account.

"We believe that the policies that have made Australian jobs the best jobs in the world need to be defended," Oliver said.

"Australians see the standards we had built up collapsing, and they fear not only for their own jobs, but for the jobs they worry might not be there for their children.

"So the union movement's agenda will be focussed on job and income security, and the things that have always been a part of the Australian fair go at work."

Oliver said reversing the trend towards insecure work would take many years – as did the historic creation of a universal superannuation guarantee – but unions had identified some priorities that they would be pursuing this election year.

One of these will be a national scheme for portable leave entitlements that can be transferred from one job to the other.

"We live in a world where many people have two or three employers one week, and the next week just one," Oliver said.

"In this world, entitlements that we all agree should be the right of everyone with an Australian job – things like annual leave and sick leave – don't translate very well.

"If you're doing nine hours at one childcare employer and 18 hours at another, and you get sick, at the moment, you probably have no right to sick pay from either boss.

"Now, some industries have solved this problem. In many parts of the construction industry, those entitlements travel with you, across employers from job to job, accruing regardless of who's paying you.

"We go into this election saying that all Australians should have this. As Australians, we work hard, and we deserve our holidays. When we get sick our bills don't stop – we need to know that we'll still be able to make rent or cover the mortgage. They are things that every working Australian should have.

"And the way to achieve that is through a national scheme to make those entitlements available to everyone, by making them portable."

Unions have already been campaigning for several months on the other priority: protecting the weekend and penalty rates, which have been under attack both in Parliament and from employers in the Fair Work Commission.
Oliver said the next step would be seeking to have weekend penalty rates enshrined in legislation so they can never be taken away.

Looking ahead to the election, Oliver said Tony Abbott had shown time and again that he was no friend of working people.

He said an Abbott Government would be unwise to "come after unions" but if they did, the ACTU and its affiliates were ready for the battle.

The ACTU is adapting the Your Rights At Work model of broad-based community campaigning into a permanent campaigning infrastructure that would exist not just for the election, but for years beyond it.

"This election period is simply the first step for unions to begin building our capacity to campaign together across all industries for common issues," Oliver said.

"During the next eight months, union members will mobilise and get the message to all workers in our workplaces about the things that we want government to do to improve our jobs and our lives outside of work."

Oliver said Tony Abbott would be very unwise to ignore the interests of working people, and called on the Coalition to make a commitment not to attack pay and conditions.

"Will you make a commitment to Australians, to Australian jobs and to working with the Australian unions that defend them?" Oliver said.

Contact Details
Name: David Smith, ASU National Secretary
Telephone: 03 9342 1400