2021 Throwback: Here’s what unions did in the year that was

Published: 13/01/2022
Category: Analysis
Published: 13/01/2022
Category: Analysis

Here’s a look back on the year that was, with a view toward the future we can create.

We know it. You know it. The past year was full of mostly nasty surprises that kept Australian unions and Australian workers on their toes. But in 2021, we worked hard, and we had a few crucial wins. We helped curb wage theft, fought for pay rises, secured JobKeeper and pandemic entitlements, and stopped anti-worker and anti-union legislation passing through Parliament.
So as we move forward into 2022 – where we’ll push hard to get anti-worker MPs out of Government – let’s take a quick look at the 2021 wins we’re proud of and what this year holds.

A quick recap of our biggest wins in 2021.

Curbing wage theft

In 2020–21, the Fair Work Ombudsman recovered $148 million stolen from 69,735 workers. Wage theft is still a problem for Australian workers, but with the help of unions and members, we’re putting it in the spotlight and holding dodgy bosses to account. New wage theft laws are being introduced and enforced in Victoria and Queensland. They’re a welcome step, but these legislative initiatives still lack the teeth to put an end to wage theft for good. That’s why we’ll continue to campaign to restore full access to all workplaces for unions, so we can gain complete oversight of pay and conditions and continue working to improve them.

Standing up for pay rises 

After a hard-fought campaign by Australian unions, over two million workers are set to get a 2.5% pay rise. This win comes off the back of the 2021 Annual Wage Review decision – the yearly review of the national minimum wage conducted by the Fair Work Commission. Wage growth has been stagnant for years, leaving workers struggling to keep up with the cost of living and with very little money to spend back into the economy. However, big business groups unashamedly lobbied the Commission to limit the raise to 1.1% or scrap it altogether. We stood up to them on this, but they’ll be back again. And we’ll be ready.

Getting JobKeeper over the line

In March 2020, as Australian borders closed and states began imposing restrictions, one of the sharpest economic downturns since the Great Depression was predicted. Workers were stood down. Centrelink queues grew. Mass job losses loomed. After a determined campaign from the union movement, the Morrison Government reluctantly took up the idea of a wage subsidy. JobKeeper was born. And 3.6 million people – almost a third of the Australian workforce – were on the scheme at the height of the pandemic. Although serving the Government’s interests may have seemed counterintuitive, JobKeeper undoubtedly saved workers’ livelihoods, kept small to medium businesses afloat and steadied the economy in the early days of the pandemic.

Securing pandemic entitlements

When the JobKeeper program ended in March, many workers found themselves with limited support during ongoing outbreaks and lockdowns. And many more workers in insecure jobs had no access to paid leave to self-isolate, quarantine, or provide care. Unions fought hard to ensure the state and federal governments introduced a range of pandemic-specific leave entitlements for workers, including a $1,500 payment when self-isolating or caring as well as vaccine and testing-related leave.

Advocating for workers in Parliament

It comes as no surprise to many, but we’ve also had to take on a few battles in Parliament this year. Thankfully, we were very much up to the task. Unions helped defeat the Ensuring Integrity Bill – for the second time – as well as the Industrial Relations Omnibus Bill. On top of making it harder to prevent wage theft, both these bills would have taken away rights from casual workers – one of the most vulnerable groups of workers. It was a team effort, and we thank all the union members who supported us in these campaigns.

In 2022, we can come together to create real change for all.

We’ll admit that 2021 was a challenge – but worker power and solidarity has helped us overcome it. And we’re confident that 2022 will be a year where we can dig in and create real change for Australian workers. There’s a lot to be done, and with a federal election in May, we’ll be focused on getting anti-worker, anti-union MPs out of parliament.
To do that, we’re training and supporting an incredible team of activists. We want to change minds. We want worker issues front and centre. So we’re going out and having honest, impactful conversations with voters in marginal seats.
We’re focusing on three key issues:

  1. You can’t trust Scott Morrison. His lies have betrayed workers time and time again. It’s time for him and his Government to go. 
  2. Big business has no place in government. They spend big to influence governments so they can sack permanent workers and replace them with insecure jobs on lower pay.
  3. Australian workers deserve better. They shouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck; they should have secure jobs and safe workplaces.

Get involved, join your union.

We’ve got a long road ahead. But we’re here to walk it together.
The Morrison Government may have plenty of cash from big business, but they don’t have what we have – people power. Time and time again, collective action has defeated big business and anti-worker governments. So with your help, this election can be big win for Australian workers.
Join your union. Get involved. Let’s make Australia a better place for workers and a more prosperous place for all.

Join your union

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2021 Throwback: Here’s what unions did in the year that was

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2021 Throwback: Here’s what unions did in the year that was