ACTU seeks more power, higher wages

The ACTU wants the Federal Government to grant the union more industrial powers, and claims business can withstand higher wages

By Brad Gardner | February 4, 2011

The peak trade union wants the Federal Government to grant it more industrial powers, and claims some businesses can withstand significant wage increases.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) wants collective bargaining powers expanded to allow unions to bargain on a multi-employer basis.

It wants the changes to allow unions to address measures such as precarious employment and environmental damage when negotiating with businesses and to guarantee dispute resolution for employees.

According to the union, almost 3.5 million workers are precariously employed because they are either casual workers, contractors or fixed-term workers.

Referring to the mining sector, the ACTU says businesses are capable of paying workers more. It claims mining sales have increased by 174 percent since 2001 while gross operating profits grew by 226 percent during the same time.

Wages, it claims, increased by 27 percent.

"Australian workers are not receiving their fair share of the wealth they are generating through their own productivity...These figures suggest that recent wage increases can easily be sustained. The same is true for other successful industries," the ACTU says.

"The ACTU recommends the Government support a minimum wage increase that, at the very least, meets the prevailing rate of inflation in living costs."

The union made the comments in its Budget submission, which also calls for the establishment of an independent body to investigate the quality of jobs and working life in Australia.

The ACTU wants the body to focus on precarious employment and be given the power to make recommendations to government and representations to Fair Work Australia.

In its submission, the union argues for the superannuation guarantee to be increased from nine to 12 percent. The Federal Government has already committed to lifting the rate by 3 percent between 2013 and 2020.

"The ACTU recommends that in the 2011 Budget the Government as a priority introduces legislation to increase the SG to 12% and announces its intention to increase the mandatory SG rate to 15 per cent," the submission reads.

The ACTU also uses its submission to dispute claims Australia is suffering from skills shortages.

Despite weathering the global financial crisis, the union says there is still spare capacity in the economy, with an underutilisation rate of 12.4 percent.

It wants businesses to train older workers, indigenous people, women, school leavers and the unemployed before resorting to 457 visas or poaching skilled labour from other sectors.

Under its plan, businesses will be forced to show every effort was made to secure local labour before using skilled migrants.

The ACTU wants the Government to require businesses using 457 visas to provide ongoing training and employment to Australians to reduce reliance on overseas labour.

Furthermore, it also urges the Government to ensure 457 visa workers are employed under the same wages and conditions as Australian workers.

"With temporary 457 visa forming an increasingly larger part of the total skilled migration intake, further changes are required to improve the integrity of this visa program," the ACTU says.

The union has supported the Federal Government’s proposed flood levy because it will only affect workers earning more than $50,001 and calls for action on climate change.

"A strong price on pollution is needed to provide a price signal to underpin the commercial viability of low pollution, renewable energy and energy efficient technologies," it says.

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