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Speech to Union delegates meeting CFMEU, AMWU, NUW and MUA: Sydney:\n18 May 2006.

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Union Delegates Meeting CFMEU, AMWU, NUW and MUA Sydney 18 May 2006

Thanks very much for inviting me today.

It’s great to be here at a meeting of union delegates - because you’re right at the frontline in our fight against the Howard Government.

Fighting for the people who’ve built this country - working Australians.

And even as we meet here today the fight continues across the nation.

Our friends in the Liquor and Hospitality Union are staging a national day of action to day; waging their Clean Start campaign to improve the pay and conditions for cleaners.

This is a fight we’re all in every day until the election.

And it’s a fight we must win.

Because now, more than ever before, working Australians need their unions and the Labor Party.

They’re depending on you and depending on us to get rid of this out of touch, arrogant Government and tear up John Howard’s divisive, extreme industrial relations laws.

You know better than most what these laws are doing to working Australians and their families.

You know only too well that they’re systematically destroying the rights and conditions that generations of Australian workers have fought for.

And you understand the heavy toll it’s taking on Australian families.

The threat of losing your job for no reason at all; the threat of losing the penalty rates that keep the family budget afloat; the threat of your wages being cut in Howard’s dog eat dog working world.

As if the constant challenge of paying the bills, the mortgage and filling the car isn’t enough, John Howard wants to Americanise our workplaces.

Forget a fair go for all. In John Howard’s Australia, it’s everyone for themselves.

That’s why I’ve promised the Australian people that the first thing I’ll do when we win the next election is rip up these laws.

These laws are divisive extreme and un-Australian.

I’ll tear them up and build a new system based on Australian values.

A system to restore basic rights and decent protections for working people.

A system based on six non-negotiable principles:

ƒ Protection from unfair dismissal ƒ Safety net of minimum awards and conditions ƒ An independent umpire ƒ Collective bargaining ƒ The right to reject individual contracts ƒ And the right to be represented by a union

It’s a system that will give employers and employees the flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions to encourage healthy business activity and secure well paid jobs.

A system based on a genuine respect for the rights of working people.

Friends, every day we’re seeing the cruel impact of John Howard’s prejudices at work.

On the NSW Central Coast where 100 victims of Workchoices - garbage collectors employed by local councils - stand to lose up to $340 a week after their jobs were put out to tender.

The Cowra Abattoir workers, sacked one day and offered their jobs back the next - with slashed pay packets and reduced conditions.

At Ballarat where 39 local workers were sacked while their company continues to rely on employing Chinese workers.


Now I know there has been much debate on importing skilled migrants.

And I want to say at the outset that I’ve always believed in and supported a strong migration program.

The truth is that Australians born overseas have been crucial in building this nation.

But under John Howard the migration program is being abused.

He’s given us a lethal mix of:

ƒ The abuse of the skilled migration program; ƒ The shameful neglect of education and training leading to a skills crisis; and ƒ Extreme industrial relations changes.

In combination, over the last ten years, it’s created an environment where 270,000 skilled foreigners have been imported and 300,000 Australian kids have been turned away from TAFE.

That’s 300,000 Australians denied the opportunity to make a skilled contribution to their own nation’s economic prosperity.

And now John Howard is allowing foreign apprentices to come to Australia and take apprenticeship places here. He’s even giving businesses incentives to take them on.

These foreign apprentices are headed to regional areas where youth unemployment is already too high and wages too low. And to get their visas, foreign apprentices must accept whatever wages and conditions are on offer. And young Aussies have to compete with them.

Over time, this will ruin the job prospects of young Australians.

That’s why I’ve pledged that a Federal Labor Government will abolish foreign apprenticeship visas.

No government I lead will import foreign apprentices from overseas while Aussie kids are turned away from training. It’s just plain wrong.

My government will train Australians first.

When Australians want to learn a trade, they won’t have to compete with foreign apprentices.

Foreign workers announcement

I want to talk now about the situation where foreign workers are being brought in as a substitute for training Australian workers.

Where foreign workers are being brought in to give employers extra bargaining power to cut the pay of Australian workers.

Of course, what’s happening is no accident.

It’s a direct result of John Howard’s extreme IR laws. Foreign workers can now be hired on workplace agreements that offer below-award conditions. The Government wants to pretend it’s surprised this is happening. But this is exactly

what its IR changes were intended to do.

That’s why I’m announcing that under my government, employers who make Australian workers redundant will not be able to sponsor foreign workers to do the same job for a 12 month period.

This will put a stop to unscrupulous employers making local workers redundant and then bringing in cheap foreign workers to do the same job.

As I said earlier, I support immigration. But immigration is no substitute for providing work and training for Australians.

And now there’s a growing fear that employers can use foreign work crews to bargain down wages and conditions of longstanding Australian workers.

Understandably people fear their living standards are at risk.

I’m concerned that this fear will turn to anger and will be directed at the migrant workers who’ve come to Australia in good faith to build a better future for their families.

The anger should be directed at John Howard who’s manipulating the migration program.

So how will Labor’s plan work?

It only takes a simple modification of the employer-sponsored visa application form, to protect Australian workers from being made redundant and replaced by foreign workers.

Employers applying to sponsor foreign workers will be asked to answer a few simple questions about their record of forced redundancies in the previous 12 months.

They’ll also have to prove that the foreign workers’ skills are substantially different from those of the workers who were made redundant.

It’s a plan that will ensure that sponsorship of foreign workers is not at the expense of the jobs and conditions of Australian workers.

John Howard wants to take us down the low-skills, low wage path; I want to take us down a high-skills, high wage road to build future prosperity.

Investing in Australian skills

All of us here today know that the Howard Government has taken Australia in the wrong direction with its extreme IR laws.

Instead of giving genuine flexibility for enterprise agreements, underpinned by a strong safety net, and investing in the skills and productivity of Australian workers, we are now faced with a race to the bottom.

Australia’s economic future depends on a highly trained and educated workforce. We cannot win a race with China and India down the low wage road.

We must invest in the skills and education of Australian workers.

That’s why my priority as Prime Minister of this nation will be to train Australians first and train them now.

That’s why My Government will get rid of TAFE fees for the traditional trades. The 60,000 apprentices in traditional trades who start training each year, won’t pay TAFE fees.

Labor’s priority is clear: train Australians first and train Australians now.

A Federal Labor Government will also set up what I call Skills Accounts to help Australian families save for training and skills. And we will make an initial deposit of $800 per year, for up to four years, in an apprentice’s Skills Account to get rid of up-front TAFE fees.

And to help solve Australia’s massive shortage of childcare workers, I will extend my Skills Account plan to get rid of TAFE fees for the thousands of Australian trainee child carers who start courses each year.

A Federal Labor Government will get rid of TAFE fees for eligible childcare courses by making an initial deposit of $1200 per year, for up to two years, in a trainee’s Skills Account.

We’ll also give every Australian student the opportunity to study at specialised trades schools.

We will give younger students the chance to try their hand at a trade with the Trade Taster Program. For older students there’ll be more school-based apprenticeships.

I’ll invest in real apprenticeship schemes not the Government’s fake apprenticeships that use our kids as cheap labour and give them no skills.

And I’ll deliver a $2,000 Trade Completion bonus to encourage kids to finish their courses and produce an extra 10,000 tradespeople. The plumbers, the builders, the childcare professionals that we need now.


Friends, John Howard’s industrial relations changes are a savage attack on the values of Australian society and the security of working families.

He wants to change the character of our workplaces.

He wants to undermine basic aspects of the Australian way of life.

It won’t happen overnight, it will be a slow burn.

But, slowly, insidiously - agreement by agreement, workplace by workplace - the long-standing rights and entitlements of Australian workers will be consumed.

In the short term, people with stronger bargaining power and skills that are in demand won’t be directly affected.

But things will change when the economy hits a rough patch. Because for most working Australians, the industrial relations laws are their safety net.

In the past they’ve been able to depend on the buffer of redundancy pay when faced with retrenchment; the protection of the ‘no disadvantage test’ when threatened with wage cuts.

But not any more.

And it’s no secret that the Howard Government has more in store for working Australians. Howard henchman Nick Minchin gave that away when he told his mates that after the next election, the Government must go further still.

Friends, I know that as we fight these laws there are powerful interests stacked against us. Powerful interests that support the Howard Government.

But what we have and what we must build on is the trust and faith of working Australians to protect their interests.

I can promise you that when we get to polling day next year, working Australians will know the choice they have to make.

The choice between John Howard’s divisive, everyone for themselves workplaces or my new industrial relations system that guarantees decent living standards and security for working families.

Every day until the next election I’ll be taking my campaign to the Australian people. Day in day out I’ll fight these changes.

Because I won’t let our kids and grandkids grow up in an Australia that doesn’t reward every working man and woman for their part in building our country.

But it’s not a battle I can win on my own. I need your support,

The support, enthusiasm and hard work of union delegates like you.

Because you’re the people who are connected to your communities and committed to your fellow workers.

We need you to carry Labor’s message.

So that when Australians cast their vote next year they’ll be convinced that only Labor can stand up for them and only Labor can make Australia the kind of place they want it to be.

Thank you.