Published: 04/10/2022
Category: The Bulletin
Published: 04/10/2022
Category: The Bulletin

“Why should the people who produced the whole wealth of the world have such a small share in the enjoyments of the world, or that of recreation which was necessary for their health? Why should their whole lives be made up of eating, sleeping, and work?” – James Dooley 

On this week’s episode of The Bulletin, Australian Council of Trade Unions President Michele O’Neil reflected on meeting a worker called Ruby. 

Ruby is incredible at what she does; so brilliant at her jobs that her co-workers were incredibly keen to sing her praises. Ruby – who is also a single parent – alternates between shifts in aged care, disability support and as a carer in a hospital, just to make ends meet. 

According to the latest ABS figures, a record that’d been previously broken in late 2021 has been smashed again: the number of Australians working multiple jobs. It’s increased to about 900,000 of us. 

How did we get here?

“We’ve got a system that really works for employers but not for workers,” Michele said.  

“So many bosses describe this is as ‘oh this is all about flexibility’… this is not the sort of flexibility workers are looking for.” 

There are more pitfalls to insecure work beyond simply not having enough money. It’s a threat to our mental health, it means workers and their families can barely plan ahead more than a week or two at a time. Workers can’t budget based on the predictability that they’ll receive the same money in each pay packet.  

For people in insecure work who want to take out a home loan, banks will often turn them away as they are seen as a risk due to the precarity of their financial situation.  

It also means things like missing out on their children’s milestones. 

And, of course, heaven forbid they should get sick. 

“It’s about power. The power is all one-way,” Michele said. 

Workers in insecure arrangements often feel like they’re powerless and have no autonomy. They often express feeling a sense of helplessness

It makes it difficult to build relationships with co-workers and collectively bargain.  

“You’re always looking for the next hour or roster to boost up your pay,” Michele said.  

The prevalence of precarious work is all the more shocking when we look at the multi-million dollar salaries of CEOs at the very companies that insist on casualisation and labour hire. They can afford to provide better pay and stability to workers but choose not to.  

So has the pendulum of power swung in the direction of big business enough? 

Apparently not. 

Union members ready and prepared to defend workers’ rights

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus’ address at the National Press Club last week served as a stark reminder that the sustained demonisation of unions from politicians who prioritise profit over people is no accident. 

Sally mentions the three vintage anti-union hits we can expect to hear from Peter Dutton, Michaelia Cash and the rest of the Liberal-National opposition. 

Track 1: Wage price spiral 

The idea that an increase to wages is what’s to blame for the current inflation crisis. A notion that has been debunked time and again. 

Track 2: Hypothetical strikes that target small “mum and dad” businesses

A tactic that positions unions as being the natural enemy of small business owners.  

Never in the history of Australia’s union movement has a strike of this nature occurred.  

In fact, union members are campaigning for updated workplace laws that would benefit small businesses and their employees.   

The standout hit: the Union Thug

In the first Question Time under the newly elected Albanese Government, opposition leader Peter Dutton and several other members of the Coalition used the opportunity to peddle the dangerous idea that union members and officials were “thugs”. Between them, the word “thug” can be found in the transcript around 5 times. 

No point in telling Dutton and his crew, that the average union member is a woman. A 36-year-old nurse to be precise – someone more demographically similar to the fabulous Ruby, than to the brutish “thug” of the conservative political imagination. It’s almost as if the idea of empowered working women frightens them. 

The curtain is falling on the CEOs in big business and the politicians who dote on them. The more they sense their influence waning, the more they’ll try to tear the union movement down using these tired, hackneyed cliches about who unionists are.  

But here’s the thing: there’s way more of us “union thugs” than there is of them. 

Do you feel like scaring some anti-worker politicians and CEOs? Nothing is scarier than unionised workers who are organised, happy, well paid and thriving. 

The limited edition t-shirt design from Brisbane artist Nordacious makes it clear which team you’re on.

When you order this tee, you’re not just securing a great piece of union merch. You’re also helping create jobs that are local, secure and union. That’s a win-win!

All proceeds from the sale will go towards our campaigns to support workers’ rights.

Union thugs Tshirt with women, First Nations, old and young union members smiling

Flexible for whom? The myth that casual work caters to workers’ lives 

Flexible for whom? The myth that casual work caters to workers’ lives