Wednesday, March 29, 2017

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and "unjust laws"

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New ACTU secretary Sally McManus has defended her support for unionists to break "unjust laws", arguing the ability to strike is a "human right" and that Australia is out of step with international labour conventions.

McManus has used her first major speech on the national stage to defy criticism and attempts to "demonise unions".
  • "I will not keep my head down. I will demand more for working people and I am not afraid to take on the big challenges to build a better future," she told the National Press Club in Canberra today.
  • "We are here to fix the imbalance that has eroded people’s rights and wrongly empowered corporations, big business and the already wealthy."
McManus said the Turnbull Government and some media outlets had a meltdown when she told the ABC's 7.30 Report a fortnight ago that it should not be so hard to strike.
  • "I believe in the rule of law, but laws must be fair and just and right. When laws are unjust, no, I don't think there's a problem with breaking them.
  • "Some people responded in just the way you might think (they) would respond. Play the woman, not the ball. Instead of arguing about the right to strike, their approach was to attack me as a person.
  • "The right to strike is a human right. It's our government that is out of step, not the Australian trade union movement.
  • "The United Nations has declared strike action to be a right. The International Labour Organisation declares Australia to be at odds with international conventions."
  • McManus gave more detail during a question and answer session at the end of the speech, when asked what laws were "unjust" apart from Australia's strike laws.
  • "When union officials are prevented from going onto a worksite because they need to give 24 hours' notice and they know that someone's life is at risk, I think that is an unjust law," she replied.
  • "And where unions are fined for breaking that law, I think it's wrong and I think it needs to change."
She said her comments were made about industrial laws and depended on the circumstances in each case. Such action was not taken lightly because individuals could be fined $10,200 and possibly lose their job for unprotected or "'so-called illegal industrial action" while penalties were far higher for unions.

McManus defended the militant CFMEU, saying they worked in tough and dangerous industries where employers cut corners.
  • "That industry deserves a strong union and the CFMEU is a strong union. They always put safety first, and in doing so, they get fined for it. They turn up at work sites and they deal [with] what's in front of them.
  • "If my brothers were on a building site, I would like it to be a CFMEU building site."
Investigate and punish all corruption

McManus said the union movement would work with a future ALP government, but sidestepped a question on whether she favoured an Accord-like agreement between the two arms of the labour movement.

The speech comes as the federal parliament will soon debate government legislation to outlaw corrupting payments by employers to union officials and unions, a recommendation of the Heydon Royal Commission.

She said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull talked about corrupting benefits but ignored payments to politicians, payments between corporations, payments designed to influence lawmakers, tenders and contracts.
  • "The union movement will happily support laws with strong powers to investigate and punish corruption - so long as they apply to everyone. Such laws should apply equally to all the members of the Liberal Party, their backers in corporate Australia and the big banks.
  • "We have been demanding the Turnbull Government establish a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption that applies to every section of society. This is something that Bill Shorten has been working towards and we support him."
On the personal front, McManus recalled being angered by the sacking of her high school teacher in 1988 as part of broader job cuts by the NSW government in 1988 and attending a protest and strike rally by teachers.

She first joined the SDA while working as a pizza delivery driver and attended a course for young trade unionists in 1994 with other "fresh-faced young people" such as Bill Shorten.
But she received her "best training" from former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard while working as an ASU leader trying to overturn the Work Choices laws.

McManus said Australia's minimum wage had stagnated and some Australian companies had a business model of underpaying workers, or forcing them to pretend to be contractors.
  • "How dare the Federal Government denounce me and do nothing to support Australians who are the victims of the rampant law-breaking by some employers.
  • "We have a problem of power imbalance in our country - some people have far too much of it and ordinary Australian, working Australians, don’t have enough of it."

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