Being a worker can feel isolating at times – like a never-ending uphill battle to secure the pay and conditions unique to our own industries and lives. But when you’re a union member, you’re never alone. Collective power is the foundation on which the union movement was built, reaching far beyond our homes, workplaces and even our shores.
The 5th International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Congress convened in Melbourne last week, serving as a reminder that workers everywhere share in collective struggle and progress. It was a meeting of the minds on a global scale – with nearly 1,000 unionists in attendance, representing more than 130 countries – taking part in five days of debate and discussion to shape the next four years of action by the global trade union movement.
Global support for Secure Jobs Better Pay Bill
While day-to-day working life may differ vastly between union members across the globe, the bottom line is universal. Workers everywhere share the same fundamental concerns: job security, just conditions, a fair wage and social protection. The Congress this year also placed emphasis on a push towards climate-friendly jobs: a global issue demanding a global solution.
The Congress comes during a tireless campaign from the union movement in Australia to pass the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill – aimed at reforming current workplace laws – and is due to hit the floor of the Senate in coming weeks. This push was met with overwhelming support from the global union movement that understands the urgency for better, fairer and protected bargaining conditions.
“Models of multi-employer bargaining are prevalent through Europe including in Belgium,
Germany, Finland, Sweden and Norway. These countries have shown how multi-employer collective bargaining builds strong and more equal economies”, says outgoing ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill will provide a boost to stagnant wage growth by supporting higher coverage for collective bargaining.
Annual full-time earnings for a worker with average full-time wages will increase by $1,473 after just one year. And now it is up to the senate to decide whether the bill becomes law.
Four proud delegates share their stories
At the congress, we were introduced to four Australian workers, all of them proud union delegates in their workplaces.
Grace migrated from the Ivory Coast in West Africa as a child and now lives in Adelaide, working in aged care and retail. As a union delegate in aged care, Grace has taken her role as an opportunity to help her co-workers (who are often recent migrants) with the tools she gained growing up in Australia.
“We have a lot of international students working in aged care, and sometimes they feel like they can’t speak up”, she explains. “So, I always like to remind them that they have a voice and that they can come to me first. I always tell them: you are valid, your opinion is valid and you need to feel secure in your workplace”.
Ferruh, a Melbourne-based firefighter has similarly found that his experience growing up in a migrant community has given him the chance to connect with the people he serves. He currently holds a role as a Multicultural Liaison Officer within Victorian fire services. “My job is to make sure that we’re reaching out to wider communities”, he says. “We’ve got a lot of different cultures in Melbourne and some of those communities are wary of people in uniform. I’m here to break down those barriers to form partnerships – it’s such a rewarding role”.
For Alice, a teacher from Sydney who migrated from Hong Kong as a child, community-minded mentors like Ferruh made all the difference. Alice tells us about how her high school science teacher inspired her to go down that same path.
Alice loves being a teacher, but it’s not always rosy. She joined the NSW Teachers Federation, eventually transitioning into becoming a delegate at her first school. “I felt extremely proud of my role when I led my fellow teachers to walk out in protest of staff shortages”, she says. “It’s so inspiring to stand shoulder to shoulder with your colleagues – to stand as a collective and to know that you’re not alone”.
These workers understand that the battle they’re fighting is a collective and continuing one. Andrew has worked in construction for over 35 years and describes himself as a “lifelong member of the CFMEU”, taking pride in his responsibilities as a delegate and what he has achieved over the years.
“Our proudest achievement to date was when we fought for the 36-hour working week back in the year 2000”, he says. “That was a big challenge for us, and now our workers still get to enjoy those conditions today”.
Union members stand up for workers beyond borders
Just as unionists organise across workplaces, we also organise across economic, moral and social lines. Our common goal of fair workplaces is bound up with the fight for stronger migrant worker rights here in Australia and overseas.
It is mutual aid across industries and across international borders that recognises, despite our differences, we share a common humanity and common dignity.
Being a union member means being part of a global force of workers fighting for our rights in whatever shape or form that may take.