UnionsACT champions a just transition at this Sunday’s Peoples’ Climate March

Canberra’s unions will join the Peoples’ Climate March on Sunday to highlight the importance of a just transition to a low carbon economy.

UnionsACT has worked alongside environmental and community groups to organise the march to coincide with the international Paris climate talks. The march is expected to be one of the largest and most diverse gathering of the Canberra community in recent history.

Working people are on the frontlines of climate change, either experiencing the impacts directly, or working in infrastructure, health and emergency services assisting frontline communities.

Transitioning to a low carbon, sustainable economy requires investment in skills, job creation and technology, and it is essential that support is provided directly to impacted workers and their communities.

Additionally, for transitions to be just, the people impacted by economic and social changes must be involved in the decisions impacting them.

UnionsACT is proud to support the Peoples’ Climate March, and encourages working people and their families to attend the march on Sunday.

Quotes attributable to Alex White, Secretary of UnionsACT:

“Working people are at the front-line of the impacts of climate change, whether it is health workers, public servants or emergency service workers.

“Moving to a low carbon economy will impact almost every industry and sector, and workers’ voices must be heard in decisions that affect them.

“There is no doubt that climate change is real and we are feeling the impacts now.

“Unions are supporting the People’s Climate March because we know that we must address climate change through a just transition that respects workers and their communities.”


ACT political leaders must categorically rule out supporting any increase to the GST


Political leaders in the ACT must categorically rule out supporting any increase to the GST, said UnionsACT today.

Proposals by the Federal Government and the business lobby to increase the GST to 15% would disproportionately impact everyday people and benefit the wealthy. The business lobby is advocating that an increase to the GST should fund cuts to corporate tax rates and personal income tax rates.

Increasing the GST would unfairly impact middle and low income workers and families. Recent modelling by NATSEM shows that low and middle-income households will pay twice as much as the highest-income households.

Australia is a low taxing nation and a low spending country. Tax revenue collected in Australia is below the OECD average, and Australian government spending is the second lowest in the OECD, as a share of GDP.

UnionsACT is strongly opposed to any increase to the GST, and has resolved today to campaign against a GST increase.

While the Federal Government advocates for increasing the GST, it has just passed secrecy measures that exempts 700 private corporations with annual income of more than $100 million from public disclosure of the amount of tax they pay.

Similarly, the Federal Government has taken no action to close company tax loopholes that allow the 200 largest companies in Australia to pay an average of 10% company tax. Local small and medium companies without access to corporate accountants, pay the full 30% company tax rate.

The following statements can be attributed to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“We are calling on all political leaders in the ACT must categorically rule out any support for an increase to the GST.

“Genuine tax reform must enhance the capacity of governments to fund public services, infrastructure and decent social protections.

“The Government should close loopholes that allow corporations and multi-millionaires to aggressively minimise their tax, before raising the GST.

“Locally, unions will be campaigning actively to ensure that the tax debate focuses on fairness and equity.”



Fair Work Ombudsman spot checks must focus on preventing wage-theft

The Fair Work inspections of up to 50 randomly selected businesses in Woden, Weston Creek and Queanbeyan must focus on wage-theft said UnionsACT today.

The inspections will check that employers are paying the correct minimum hourly rates, penalty rates, allowances and loadings and providing appropriate meal breaks.

As many as four in ten businesses in Canberra currently do not pay the correct minimum hourly rates or pay superannuation to their workers, which amounts to wage-theft.

Most recently in Canberra, wage-theft was found at the Crust Gourmet Pizza chain, Penny University cafe and across the national 7-Eleven franchise.

Underpayments have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars in many instances, with one Canberra restaurant underpaying staff by a total of $50,996, and a Canberra franchise underpaying a single staff member by over $10,000.

Employers and businesses have a legal and moral obligation to ensure their staff receive the correct minimum standards, securities and wages.

The minimum wage in Australia is $656.90 per week (for a 38 hour week), or $17.29 per hour. Casual employees are entitled to a 25% loading on top of the base rate, and most modern awards include weekend and evening penalty rates as well.

The following statements can be attributed to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“Employers in Canberra have an obligation to pay their staff correctly.

“Underpayments and non-payment of entitlements like casual loading, penalty rates is theft, plain and simple.

“Most wage-theft occurs against young people and migrant workers.

“Not only are these unscrupulous employers preying on their staff, but they are unfairly competing with the sixty percent of businesses that do the right thing.

“If you are being paid less than the minimum wage, not getting a casual loading or not receiving your superannuation, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman or your union immediately.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman media release is available here.


Progressive Canberra Summit to discuss future direction of the ACT

UnionsACT and Fair Go for Canberra are co-hosting the inaugural Progressive Canberra Summit, held at the National Gallery of Australia on 14 November 2015.

This important event brings together the ACT’s leading civil society organisations, community groups, unions and individuals to discuss a long-term vision for our city.

The Summit will look at a range of issues, including inequality, health and education, the economy, law reform, multiculturalism and women’s advancement.

Ideas generated by the discussion and debate will be collected throughout the Summit and combined to form a “People’s Charter”, that will be presented to the ACT Government and Opposition in 2016.

The following statements can be attributed to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“The ACT is a small jurisdiction that plays a significant national leadership role across a range of policy areas, including economics, climate change and tackling domestic violence.

“The Progressive Canberra Summit is an opportunity to harness the enormous energy from civil society and the non-government sector, and to drive an ambitious vision for the future.

“Our hope is that by engaging the community and grassroots, the ACT will maintain its national position of leadership on key issues like tackling inequality, transitioning to a low-carbon economy and eliminating violence against women.

Confirmed speakers include: Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Greens leader Shane Rattenbury, ACT Senator Katy Gallagher, St Vincent de Paul CEO Dr John Falzon, University of Canberra Deputy Vice Chancellor Prof. Nick Klomp, YWCA Canberra CEO Francis Crimmins, ACTCOSS Director Susan Helyar.

More information and the list of speakers is available here: http://progressivecanberrasummit.org.au/

UnionsACT Submission to 2016 ACT Budget Consultation

Each year, UnionsACT makes a submission to the ACT Government’s budget consultation process. It highlights the priority areas for territory funding for the following year on behalf of the trade union movement and working people.

In particular, it focuses on both industrial, economic, social and community service areas that unions believe should be addressed by the government.

This year UnionsACT’s submission focuses on addressing disadvantage and social inequity, and improving social inclusion. Policy suggestions are both long-term and short-term to deliver real outcomes for people experiencing disadvantage.

Recommendations fall into five categories:

    • Addressing precarious work and the use of labour hire
    • Improving job security
    • Increasing family friendly work
    • Expanding social equity
    • Strengthening work health and safety & workers compensation

Additionally, although addressing health care affordability was not included in the recommendations for this year’s budget, UnionsACT foreshadows that this is, and will remain, a major priority in 2016 and beyond.

Brought together, the UnionsACT recommendations provide a sound basis for substantially addressing inclusion and equality in the ACT.

Download UnionsACT budget submission here.

Eight in Ten Canberrans Support Penalty Rates

The overwhelming majority of Canberrans, across all age groups and political affiliation, support penalty rates, according to a new poll conducted by ReachTel for UnionsACT.

The poll of 1,183 people across the ACT was conducted on the 12th of October, and found that 79.7% of Canberrans support penalty rates. Opposition was just 12.7% and 7.6% were undecided.

Do you think people who are required to work outside of normal hours – like night shifts, weekends or public holidays – should receive a higher hourly rate of pay?

Yes: 79.7%

No: 12.7%

Undecided: 7.6%

This enormous support comes despite years of lobbying and misleading public advocacy by the business lobby and the Liberal Party.

Polling consistently shows that around 80% of Australians consistently support penalty rates. This poll confirms that in the ACT, eight in ten people support penalty rates.

UnionsACT launched a pro-penalty rates blitz on the 11th of October to coincide with Anti-Poverty Week. A protest in support of penalty rates is planned today at 12pm at the Queanbeyan office of Liberal MP Dr Peter Hendy.

Key facts:

  • Total wages share in food and accommodation was 78 per cent in 2013-14, down from a peak of 87 per cent in 1997-98. In retail, the wages share has fallen from a peak of 79 per cent in 1997-98 to just 73 per cent in 2013-14.
  • The level 4 rate of pay in the General Retail, Restaurants and Hospitality Awards is $746.20. Full Time Adult Average Weekly Total Earnings as at 14 November was $1,539.40 (ABS 6302).
  • A Fair Work Commission decision on the Restaurant Industry Award in May 2014 found that it did not consider Sunday penalty rates to “have economy-wide effects” as the industry has grown strongly since the Award commenced.
  • A waiter working for a local restaurant would see their incomes slashed by 30% from $41,000 down to $29,000 if penalty rates were slashed.
  • In 1997, 69.7% of us had jobs from Monday to Friday. In 2012 that figure was 68.9%.
  • Surveys in 2013 and 2014 by the ACCI and Small Business Council have repeatedly shown that penalty rates and wages rate 10th out of 10 top issues of concern, with rental costs and access to finance topping the list.

The following statements can be attributed to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“Australians have been subjected to a false and misleading campaign by the business lobby and the Liberal party about penalty rates.

“Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, business lobbyists like Kate Carnell continue to repeat falsehoods about penalty rates to try to make the case for cuts to wages.

“The truth is that penalty rates are an important part of Australian society, and eight in ten Canberrans support penalty rates.

“When business lobbyists call for cuts to penalty rates, they are asking people who are paid the least in our community to give up the most.

“Cutting penalty rates have nothing to do creating jobs or increasing productivity – it is simply about cutting the take-home pay of everyday working people.”

Canberra Nurse Fronts Campaign to Protect Penalty Rates

UnionsACT will launch a major campaign to defend penalty rates, with veteran nurse Teidi Chad fronting a series of television ads.

The campaign coincides with Anti-Poverty Week, running from 11-17 October, and brings together unions and community groups to call on the Federal Liberal Government to protect penalty rates.

Ms Chad, a nurse for forty-five years and single mother of three, will appear in crowd-funded television on ads. Her message is that earning penalty rates helped her afford to raise her family.

In the campaign advertisement, which will launch across thousands of emails and social media platforms tomorrow and be broadcast on commercial television, Ms Chad states, “Penalty rates are needed to help you put food on the table, clothing on your backs and just to lead a normal life.”

The campaign will include a week-long blitz and public forum in Queanbeyan, focusing on the importance of penalty rates for everyday workers and their families.

The union movement across Canberra will fight any move to cut penalty rates, the minimum wage and rights at work.

The following quotes can be attributed to Alex White, Secretary of UnionsACT:

“The Turnbull Government’s attempt to reduce penalty rates will have a real impact on everyday people. One in three workers in Canberra and Queanbeyan rely on penalty rates.

“There is no evidence to show that cutting penalty rates increases employment or productivity – instead it will Americanise our workplaces and push workers into poverty.

“The same people calling for cuts to penalty rates and wages are the elite business lobbyists and conservative politicians who do not rely on penalty rates.

 “Instead of trying to cut wages and reduce conditions in a race to the bottom, the Federal Government should aim to make Australia a high-wage, high productivity nation.”

UnionsACT is the independent peak body for unions in the Canberra region, representing over 33,000 working people.

Watch the ad below

Taxi industry deregulation does not excuse Uber from ripping off drivers

The arrival to Canberra of app-based booking services like Uber does not excuse companies like Uber, or taxi companies, from their responsibility to workers and to the community, said UnionsACT today.

Globally, Uber not only refuses to collectively bargain with drivers, but maintains the legal fiction that drivers are not Uber-employees. This has the potential to undermine the living conditions of all Australian workers.

Far from being “innovative”, companies like Uber are using a new technology to revive outdated and adverse employment relationships from the 19th century.

Similar adverse employment arrangements exist in the taxi and hire-car industry, and the Taxi Innovation Review was an opportunity to address the serious and systematic exploitation of drivers in the established industry, not just Uber drivers.

Unions have long argued that the taxi industry should be reformed. In most cities, including Canberra, the taxi industry operates effectively as a cartel, sucking up profits at the expense of drivers and customers.

During the Review, UnionsACT called for all sides – unions, Uber, the taxi industry and the ACT Government – to sit down to set sensible standards and policies.

The following statements are attributable to Alex White, secretary of UnionsACT:

“Unions will be closely scrutinising the announcement by the ACT Government on the taxi industry deregulation.

“Our chief concern is that the rights of drivers of both Uber and traditional taxi services are not further eroded.

“Today’s announcement does not excuse Uber from ripping off drivers and attempting to Americanise workers’ rights.

“Uber and taxi drivers experience significant risk of exploitation, with many earning less than the minimum wage. The experience elsewhere in Australia and around the world is that despite the hype, Uber drivers experience low pay and long hours.

“The decision by the ACT Government to ensure that drivers are covered by workers’ compensation laws is a positive step, and we look forward to examining the detail.

“We have asked for a detailed briefing from the Government, and we want to work with all stakeholders to ensure that exploitation and underpayment of drivers is stamped out.”