Published: 31/10/2022
Category: The Bulletin
Published: 31/10/2022
Category: The Bulletin

Last week, the budget offered Australians a little relief, especially for parents. This includes an injection of about $4 billion over 4 years into affordable early childhood education and care, and an expansion of Paid Parental Leave from 18 to 26 weeks. 

These two wins will help mums to enter or re-enter the workforce.  

Neither of these hard-fought wins would have been possible without the ceaseless campaigning of unions – most importantly rank and file union members and the fearless delegates that represent them. 

As Francis put it, unionists won these commitments, “as a consequence of the long, hard, relentless and articulate campaigning.” 

Speaking of relentless, articulate campaigning… 

This episode of the Bulletin, we spoke with the mighty Liz Dance, an ASU representative and manager of a local council’s leisure department. 

This was Liz’s eighth enterprise agreement negotiation and, as she puts it, the most difficult. 

“It took almost two and a half years to reach an agreement. It was protracted,” Liz said. The process was dragged out by uncooperative decision-makers, as well as the onset of the pandemic. 

After being unable to reach an agreement, Liz and her fellow ASU delegates had two mediation sessions with the Fair Work Commission. 

Unfortunately for Liz and the workers, the goodwill of the Fair Work commissioner was not on their side.  

“The commissioner looked at me and said ‘they’re only swim teachers’ then realised what he said, but it was too late… that was the attitude that happened throughout.”

Liz tells me, in a similar vein, a member of the organisation’s negotiating team said, that in the worst-case scenario for a lifeguard – a death – they would “get over it” because they are “young”. 

That’s not the kind of comment you want to come out of a commissioner’s mouth during mediation. 

Liz described taking time off afterwards, feeling exhausted and like she’d failed her constituents, which I unequivocally doubt was the case.  

The long, arduous negotiations had a massive impact on the workers who entered them in good faith.  

A decision was eventually made; one that heavily disadvantaged the young and predominately female workforce Liz cares so deeply about.  

“180 people affected by this, they have lost a significant portion of their income and there was nothing we could do about it,” she said. 

Liz is going to continue doing anything in her power to fight for the workers she represents. 

Due to the glaring blind spots in JobKeeper eligibility, the workers in Liz’s management were left bereft and completely without income during the first years of the pandemic.   

During this time, Liz tells us, workers moved into shared accommodation because they couldn’t afford their respective rents.  

One sole parent mother remortgaged her home; another said it was only through the decency of her ex-husband that she was able to make ends meet. 

Young people comprise a vast majority of the employees at Liz’s workplace, and for many it’s their first job. 

It is a stark and painful reminder that there are employers who fail to do the right thing by their workers over and above protecting the bottom dollar, even in a place like a local council. 

Without tireless union delegates like Liz, one can’t imagine how paltry the pay and grim the conditions at workplaces would be if left to the volition of unscrupulous bosses. 

Fortunately, legislation to raise wages and modernise the bargaining process is being tabled in Parliament as we speak. Though there are still hesitations about how effective it will be in including previously excluded swathes of the workforce. 

The union movement will continue to campaign for the most accessible, sensible bargaining system – a system that suits the modern workplace and benefits the most workers. It is increasingly obvious after years of wage stagnation that this is one of the strongest defences when it comes to fighting for better pay. 


Join us as we delve behind the headlines and see what really matters for young workers.

The Power of Campaigning: a Budget Special

The Power of Campaigning: a Budget Special