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June 1, 2012 – 2:48PM

Australia's lowest paid workers will now receive $606.40 each week.Australia’s lowest paid workers will now receive $606.40 each week. Photo: Stuart Quinn

The national minimum wage for Australia’s 1.4 million lowest paid workers should be raised by $17.10 a week, Fair Work Australia has said.

At its national annual wage review this morning the panel said this was a “moderate” rise of 2.9 per cent.

It will take the wages of the lowest paid workers from $589.30 to $606.40 each week.

And the panel said that the carbon tax compensation should not mean low paid workers should get less.

It is the first minimum wage decision handed down by Fair Work Australia since Justice Iain Ross was appointed to head the tribunal in March.

Justice Ross warned that the outlook for growth in the Australian economy was “uneven”.

But he said it appeared Australian workers were adapting well to a changing economy.

“The available evidence suggests that Australians are [adapting] quite well to the changes,” Justice Ross said.

The ACTU had asked Fair Work to push up minimum wages by $26 a week, while employer body the Australian Industry Group said it should be around $14. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry had said the rise should be restricted to $9.40 a week.

Some employer groups had also argued the wage rise should be reduced because of the compensation being offered as part of the government’s carbon tax package.

The full bench of Fair Work said it had not been convinced by this argument.

“We conclude that we should not provide any additional assistance to compensate for the anticipated price effects associated with the introduction of a price on carbon,” the panel said in a summary of the decision issued this morning.

“Compensation has already been provided through tax cuts and transfer payments and further compensation by minimum wage adjustments would amount to ‘double dipping’,” the statement said.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the modest pay increase was extremely disappointing.

”What this decision will do is entrench the growing inequality that we have in this country now between real average wage earnings and those that rely on the minimum rate,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

”We’re concerned that gap is going to continue to grow and could well lead to an underclass and a working poor in this country.”

However, Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman said the increase was a further blow to a retail sector already struggling with low consumer confidence, taxes and regulatory burdens.

Mr Black said the decision would lead to further job losses in retail.

”The reality is the sector as a whole has not posted any significant growth for almost two years, with overall year-on-year figures consistently below inflation levels.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard welcomed the decision decision to increase the minimum wage, saying it complements other government initiatives to help Australia’s lowest paid workers.

Ms Gillard said the government wants ”to see low paid workers doing better” and has already put in place other measures to help those doing it tough.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott also welcomed the wage rise, particularly in the context of the carbon tax, which will be introduced on July 1.

“I certainly don’t begrudge people a pay rise,” he told reporters in Melbourne. “Lets face it they’re about to be hit with the carbon tax.”

with Judith Ireland, AAP

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May 19, 2012Opinion

Shaun Carney opinion.
Digital image: Judy GreenDigital image: Judy Green

THE nation’s union leaders paid tribute to Bill Kelty at a dinner on Wednesday night. Paul Keating, Kelty’s political partner through the ’80s and early ’90s, was there to honour his friend. He characterised the former ACTU secretary, a truly enigmatic figure, as one of the nation’s greatest ever unionists.

Kelty was secretary from 1983 until 2000, a period that spanned the life of the Hawke and Keating governments and the first four years of the Howard era. As a public figure, Kelty was a foundation member of the less-is-more school. His media appearances and speeches were few and far between. As a consequence, when he spoke in public, it often had an impact.

Not much has changed. He showed this week that he still has the capacity to issue a powerful message. Essentially, on Wednesday night, he told the Gillard government, the Labor Party and the unions to wake up to themselves, to stand up and fight and to take responsibility for their failures.

Hitting home: Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty.Hitting home: Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty. Photo: Lee Besford

Kelty’s message carried heavy freight; few could doubt his Labor credentials. During the Hawke and Keating years, he gave two important speeches that bookended their time in office. In 1983, only weeks after the Hawke government was elected, his contribution to the national economic summit paved the way for business, the unions and all but one of the states to sign up for a common policy prescription to find a way out of a deep recession. Kelty had pledged that the unions would moderate and even stall their wage campaigns in the interest of reviving and transforming the economy. His appearance helped to set up the new Labor government for a period of considerable success.

The other significant speech came during the dying days of Labor’s 13 years in power, at a union rally at the Melbourne Town Hall in the 1996 election campaign. The Keating government was headed for defeat, and Labor and the unions knew it. Kelty addressed the prospect of a Howard government. He warned that if the Coalition wanted to wipe out industrial protections for workers in favour of individual contracts, a dispute the previous year at Weipa over private contracts would merely be ”the first sonata”. Looking across the stage at Keating, he said: ”If they want a fight, if they want a war, they’ll have the full symphony – all the pieces, all the clashes and all the music. I am not sure it will be the 1812 Overture, but I will tell you what, Paul, it will not be Mahler either.”

It took a while, but Kelty’s warning of a full-scale war eventually came to pass. The ACTU’s campaign against John Howard’s WorkChoices laws – exactly the type of legislation he had been talking about in 1996 – played a major role in ensuring the removal of the Coalition government in 2007.

What Kelty told the ACTU dinner this week was the sort of straight talk that has eluded the labour movement, and, in particular, the federal government, for far too long. When he was ACTU secretary, Kelty always saw Labor’s mission as being tougher to effect than the Coalition’s. For the ALP, being in office was inevitably hard graft, and it was to be expected that circumstances and enemies would conspire to frustrate it.

In his speech, Kelty harked back to the economic conditions facing the previous Labor government and noted how confidence in the ALP had been lost. ”Real pressures on living standards, high unemployment; but we never, ever lost a sense of hope and trust that governments and unions would see it out and there would be a better future. Today, we have better economic conditions, but that hope and that trust has retreated.”

He was utterly dismissive of the excuses now being trotted out by the Labor Party and many of its supporters for the federal government’s poor standing. ”I’ve got to be frank: it’s too easy to blame the media, too easier [sic] to blame the playthings of politics. And there’s no purpose blaming the opposition for doing what, after all, you would expect them to do, and that’s to beat you.

”In a sense, I think we make politics just simply too hard. The truth will normally do. This is a transition in the Australian economy that for many people will be very hard, but the truth is also this: that the very best people to manage that transition is a Labor Party, it is unions, it is managing in a Labor way.”

Lastly, Kelty deplored the defeatist mindset that has taken hold across the government and the unions. ”It is too easy to accept defeat, too easy to say the Labor Party will not win. [Keating] won when nobody said he would win. So whenever people say you’re put down or you’re going to get beaten or you’re going to get destroyed, the one thing you always should say is: ‘never without a fight’.”

This was a profound critique of the Gillard government’s political outlook, for several reasons. Only a day earlier, Julia Gillard, in her own address to the ACTU, had put the government’s unpopularity down to public anxiety in the wake of the global financial crisis, opposition scaremongering and the media. On the opposition, she said: ”I understand that Australians have been screamed at now by the opposition for more than a year. They’ve been told that they need to be very afraid, they’ve been screamed at relentlessly, and we all know a good fear campaign when we see one.”

On the media and its ”dramatic reporting” she said: ”… I do understand, as I’m sure you understand as well, the frustration that can come from the headlines in the daily newspapers where, when you look at those headlines, with all of their horror, the schlock and horror that modern media reporting runs to, that the achievements of this minority Parliament aren’t seen for what they are.”

Kelty repudiated Gillard’s assessment of her own political plight, although he stopped short of nominating the root cause of Labor’s malaise. But little effort is needed to work out where his analysis rests. If the Liberals, Nationals and media are not to blame, surely only the government itself is left.

The Prime Minister’s course is clear: more of the same. And then more. No change. She will keep going, she will not be deterred. It’s 15 months since she confirmed that the government had committed to the Greens’ preferred policy of a carbon tax.

Since then, Labor’s collapse in every available opinion poll has been calamitous. In the 15 Nielsen/Age polls in that time, the Coalition’s biggest lead after preferences was 22 per cent and its average lead has been 12.6 per cent. Its smallest lead was 6 per cent in February this year, when speculation about Kevin Rudd returning to the Labor leadership was at its height.

Once Rudd was dispatched by the caucus at the end of February, the Coalition’s lead returned immediately to around its normal level of 14 per cent. Just to make it clear, that’s a 57-43 result – potentially one of the greatest wipeouts in federal political history.

What is the caucus going to do? At the ACTU congress, the Prime Minister’s message to the unions was to ignore the government’s rampant unpopularity in the community and to focus instead on the process. ”We have a plan for the country. We are getting on with the job. I am determined that we deliver that plan because it will make a difference for all Australians.” She then recommended that Labor and the unions ”stiffen our spine and we get on with the work that working Australians want us to do”.

There is no doubt about the Prime Minister’s determination and her personal resolve. But there is a point when toughness and resilience become stubbornness, all too often a demeaning, self-defeating quality. Kelty called on the labour movement to fight. Gillard called on Labor people to stay clam, and blame the media and Tony Abbott’s scare campaign.

Who will the caucus listen to?

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Deborah Snow

May 19, 2012

Julia Gillard Photo MIchele MOssopTuesday 15th may 2012Julia Gillard speaks at the ACTU national conference in Sydney todaySeen here with ew ACTU secretary Dave Oliver (on her immediate right)Tale of humility … Julia Gillard with the newly-elected secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, speaks at the congress in Sydney. Photo: Michele Mossop

Key players are trying to claim the high ground on industrial relations, writes Deborah Snow.

The politician, the union leader and the business boss all had a story of humble origins to tell this week. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking each was trying to out-humble the other.

The BHP kingpin, Jac Nasser, told the Institute of Company Directors that he was no class warrior, just the son of a simple Lebanese man who’d packed up his family to come and live all together ”in a single bedroom” in a house in outer Melbourne.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, trotted out for the ACTU congress in Sydney the tale, yet again, of her modest upbringing in Adelaide, the child of migrants who taught her to ”always, always, always carry your union membership card”.

And the newly-elected secretary of the ACTU, Dave Oliver, describing himself as a ”humble lift mechanic”, confessed astonishment that someone who’d started his working life as a 15-year-old apprentice, skateboarding to his first job, should have risen to the top of the union movement.

”Frankly, I’m amazed to be here today,” he told delegates to the triennial ACTU congress in Sydney – though, in fact, there was no surprise at all in the carefully-orchestrated elevation of Oliver, whose formidable campaigning skills are precisely why he has been put in the job.

The real point to all this faux-humility was the key players trying to stake out moral high ground as the industrial relations debate skidded off into talk of class warfare this week.

The Employment Minister, Bill Shorten, declared that ”we mustn’t let ourselves get fitted up – that somehow we are the class warriors. It has never been un-Australian to back-in the interests of the Australian working people”.

The head of the Transport Workers Union, Tony Sheldon, told union delegates Alan Joyce’s grounding of Qantas last year was a fine example of class warfare and that Nasser’s speech on Wednesday was evidence of ”that war being declared again”.

Nasser, in turn, told his audience of company directors that it was ”personally disappointing to me that part of this debate has become one based on class divisions”.

But he didn’t hold back in spelling out the mining conglomerate’s belief that the ”pendulum” had swung too far the unions’ way with Labor’s Fair Work Act, brought in by Gillard to replace John Howard’s reviled Work Choices.

Management had the right to ”run the business without the constant threat of a [union] veto over operational decision making”, he said, and the government’s current review of the Fair Work Act would be ”an opportunity to move the pendulum back to a more appropriate balance”.

If that didn’t happen, the company had the luxury of choice in deciding the ”geography” of where it might invest – a comment later interpreted by Sheldon as the threat of a ”capital strike”. Repudiating Nasser’s warnings, coalminers in Queensland are now positioning to launch mass strikes against the company.

BHP is not alone in its complaints. Major employer groupings such as the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have lodged extensive submissions with the Fair Work Act review team, outlining dozens of areas where they say union powers are too great.

Top of AiGroup’s concerns is the scope it says unions now have to bring issues into the bargaining process that were never part of it before.

”Prior to the Fair Work Act, there was a tighter test of what you could put into agreements,” says the group’s national industrial relations director, Steve Smith. ”[Now] the unions want to be able to bargain over absolutely everything.”

He denies rising employer agitation against the Fair Work Act is ideologically driven and says his grouping just wants it ”sensibly” amended rather than thrown out.

However, Oliver says employers are ”sniffing the political wind” and responding with increasing militancy. ”We are up for a discussion on productivity – always have been, always will be,” he told the Herald. ”But we will give as good as we get.”

The union movement, he says, will not back away from its declared intention this week to campaign strongly against the growing phenomenon of what it calls ”insecure work” – that is, casual work, workers on contract and workers living day-to-day on calls from labour hire firms.

Former Labor deputy prime minister Brian Howe told the union congress there was a growing gulf between those in the ”core” workforce and those on its ”periphery”.

Releasing a report commissioned by the ACTU, he said he’d found ”countless casual workers in low-paying industries like security, contract cleaning, call centres and childcare”, who had unstable hours and ”pay so low that many of them have to hold down two or three jobs to make ends meet”.

Insecure work affected up to 40 per cent of the workforce, he claimed – a figure disputed by employer groups, who say Howe’s estimates include more than 1 million independent contractors with zero desire to become employees.

It’s a battle that will ramp up in coming months, as the ACTU pledges to extend the campaign into the community, backed by Oliver’s determination to set up what he calls a ”permanent campaigning capacity” inside the union body.

Indeed, he made a candid admission this week that the union movement had made a strategic error in pulling back after the success of its anti-Work Choices campaign in 2007.

People back then, he told the congress, ”knew what we stood for – but sadly, it didn’t last”.

”We didn’t keep faith with that campaign after the 2007 election. We thought because we’d defeated one enemy, that we had won all the battles we needed to,” he said.

It’s a mistake Oliver is determined the union movement won’t repeat. Shorten, meanwhile, will receive the report of the Fair Work Act review team at the end of this month. Advance reviews suggest it’s unlikely to give employer groups the overhaul they want. And with an eye on his future ambitions, Shorten won’t want to take apart a piece of legislation so closely associated with the Prime Minister.

The ACTU congress wrapped up on a jovial note on Thursday. Organisers brought the architects of Labor’s 1980s accord with the unions – Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Bill Kelty – under the same roof for the conference dinner. Hawke belted out the union anthem Solidarity Forever. Delegates sang a ragged Happy Birthday for the outgoing ACTU secretary, Jeff Lawrence, who turned 60 on the congress’s final day.

But it was fighting words Oliver left delegates with at the end: ”No matter what they throw at us, no matter what the challenge, we never have and never will put up that white flag. Now it’s time to get back to work.”

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May 17, 2012 – 11:09AM

Bill ShortenBill Shorten says the Labor government’s accomplishments should not be downplayed. Photo: Glenn Hunt

WORKPLACE Relations Minister and former union chief Bill Shorten has made a rousing speech to the ACTU Congress in Sydney, telling them unions were more relevant and important than ever.

But he has warned union chiefs at the conference that the Coalition is “energised and aggressive”, and “believe they are just a whisker away from running Australia”.

And he struck out at those he said were trying to “smear” the entire union movement over the Health Services Union affair.

Mr Shorten said unions should not listen to conservative commentators who were now regularly saying that the only way to make Australian workplaces more competitive was by cutting wages and conditions.

“Conservatives sell … this myth that our workers can’t compete … unless we slavishly imitate the [work practices] of Third World nations,” Mr Shorten said.

Mr Shorten also passionately sold the achievements of the Labor Government over the last five years, saying they had made accomplishments that should not be downplayed.

These included the National Broadband Network – “Why should our businesses and workers have to drive on 60km/h roads when the rest of the world has the equivalent of 100km/h roads?” – and the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

He said the establishment of “safe rates” for truck drivers had made roads safer and improved conditions in transport.

And the equal pay case that the government had backed had ensured “women do not receive inferior wages because of their gender” had been a crucial endeavour.

“The labour movement – when we choose to lead, not follow – then we have our finest accomplishments ahead of us,” he said.

He flagged the enormous battle Labor faced to again be politically competitive with the Coalition, who were in the ascendancy.

“We have an energised and aggressive Opposition that believe they are just a whisker away from running Australia.

And they only have two policies – tax, whatever that is – and industrial relations,” Mr Shorten said.

And he implored around 1000 delegates at the conference that they must not accept that the HSU was part of a wider problem within the union movement.

“That the activities of one or two branches in one or two unions is somehow consistent with the standards of all unions and all union represenatives” was wrong, he said.

It was crucial that unions remained at the forefront of change in Australia, Mr Shorten said, to fight for good jobs.

“Asia will keep rising and the development of three billion members of the middle class in Asia is an opportunity and not a threat,” he said.

And he warned that nowhere near had been done in corporate Australia to ensure that women were well enough represented on boards.

He said that, while 57 out of every 100 woman now worked, it was a disgrace that only one in 10 board directors on major public companies were women.

“If a labour movement can generate a Prime Minister and an ACTU president then I think the ASX can do better than 10 directors out of every 100 directors,” he said.

The HSU scandal could not be seen as part of a wider malaise within unions, he said.

ASIC had recently seen a jump in the number of people engaging in insider trading, Mr Shorten said.

“I do not accept that everyone working in the markets is a crook, even when [bad things] happen,” he said.

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Hopefully we are seeing the beginning of a new and mroe determined debate within the union movement and the ALP about dealing with the dodgy powerbrokers and factions who have twisted the inner life of the labour and labor movement.


May 15, 2012 – 4:09PM

Prime Minister mentions the Craig Thomson saga in a speech to the ACTU and on Labor’s ailing numbers says she’ll “never succumb to governing by opinion polls”.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has told ACTU delegates the Health Services Union scandal has tarnished the reputation of the union movement.

“I know that dismays you as it dismays me as well,” she told the ACTU national congress conference in Sydney today.

Julia Gillard ...  "under no illusions  about the depth of the political challenges".Julia Gillard … “under no illusions about the depth of the political challenges”. Photo: Brendan Esposito

“Whatever the ultimate finding in the courts and the tribunal, we know that in some parts of the union members have been let down very badly.”

Ms Gillard’s most strident condemnation of corruption in the HSU comes as suspended Labor MP Craig Thomson prepares to explain to parliament how $500,000 of union funds were spent on prostitutes, lavish meals and cash withdrawals when he ran the union between 2002 and 2007.

Ms Gillard said she was under no illusions about Labor’s poor performance in the opinion polls.

“While I’ll never succumb to government by opinion polls, I can read the opinion polls and I’m under no illusions about the depth of the political challenges that confront our government,” she said.

“I understand that. I get that.

“I understand that Australians have been screamed at now by the opposition for more than a year.”

Ms Gillard accused the opposition of running a fear campaign.

Ms Gillard said the Australian public was anxious about the carbon tax but there was noting to fear.

“I want to say to you … that there is nothing to fear when we look at each of these events … nothing to fear at all,” she said.

“Your members have been told that their cost of living is going to skyrocket and their jobs are going to be at risk from July 1 when carbon pricing comes in.

“And today I want to say … that there is nothing to fear when carbon pricing starts.”

Ms Gillard said she understood Australian households were feeling financial pressure.

“We do understand that pressure and we will be working with Australian families on the cost-of-living pressures,” she added.


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Clay Lucas
May 15, 2012

Incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver is expected to lead an aggressive campaign.Incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver is expected to lead an aggressive campaign. Photo: Peter Rae

EMPLOYER groups say a plan to be released by unions tomorrow to ensure Australia’s labour laws provide better protections for casual and temporary workers would damage the nation’s interests.

Almost 1000 union leaders from across Australia will converge this morning at the Sydney Convention Centre, for the first day of the ACTU’s three-day congress, the union movement’s triennial call to arms.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will address the gathering this afternoon, and Dave Oliver will be formally installed as ACTU secretary in the place of outgoing chief Jeff Lawrence.

With business groups pushing the Coalition to adopt a hard-line industrial relations policy, Mr Oliver is expected to lead a more aggressive campaign by the union movement.

And amid the continuing fallout from the Craig Thomson and Health Services Union saga, ACTU members are also expected to debate new governance standards for unions, to ensure zero tolerance for corruption is enforced.

The ACTU will also formally release its report on ”insecure” workers – people in casual work, working for labour hire firms, or on a contract – who now make up 40 per cent of the Australian workforce.

The report recommends that casual work be allowed only for ”irregular, intermittent or very short-term work”. And, under the union’s plan, the creation of jobs deemed temporary would be outlawed ”where there are reasonable grounds to expect that the work will be ongoing”.

Employer groups said most of these ideas would dangerously shift the balance of power from employers to employees.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson said business would resist most of the proposed ”solutions” ”because they are based on the creation of new rights that the economy would not be able to support”.

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And a nice new form of words will emerge. But will the practices of parliamentarians change? Now that the bipartisan approach to ignoring each other’s dodgy behaviour has ended, where will all of this end ? My guess after a few weeks and/or we move away from  minority government, the previous approach based on avoiding Mutually Assured Destruction will reassert itself. Too many people with too many stories of dodgy, dubious, disreputable behaviour…
The ACTU’s position has moved: Dave Oliver has signalled the need for a tough review of union governance rules.

PM welcomes political conduct debate

Published 2:40 PM, 13 May 2012 Last update 6:39 AM, 14 May 2012


Prime Minister Julia Gillard has supported a call to have a debate on clearer guidelines for politicians when it comes to their conduct.

Independent MP Tony Windsor has called for a review of the code of conduct for politicians, following damning civil allegations against former Labor MP Craig Thomson and Speaker Peter Slipper.

Ms Gillard said she was open to debating the issue in parliament.

“I’d certainly welcome discussions in the parliament on a code of conduct for MPs,” she said.

“I do want to see members of parliament always doing the right thing.

“There are various rules now for members of parliament but I’m obviously open to suggestions for a code of conduct and clearer set of rules.”

The prime minister said Mr Thomson, who is accused – in Fair Work Australia (FWA) findings – of misusing union funds on prostitutes and personal expenses, as well his election campaign, was entitled to a presumption of innocence.

“It’s not for me to come to conclusions here, or announce conclusions, it’s for the proper authorities and ultimately for the courts,” she told reporters in Queensland on Sunday.

“I understand many Australians would have seen Mr Thomson’s interview yesterday and they will have drawn their own conclusions but ultimately the only way this matter can be resolved is properly before the courts.”

Mr Windsor said the public wanted a higher standard from parliamentarians and politicians would face a test in the next few weeks as to how they would grapple with both civil and criminal offences of their contemporaries.

“Under current rules within the parliament, there’s not a lot that can be done in terms of those findings,” Mr Windsor told Sky News.

“If those findings become a criminal matter, if there’s fraud or other issues involved in terms of the union or even in my view some civil matters, there may well be need to change the rules in the parliament so that those issues can be dealt with in the parliament.

“But currently they can’t, you know – we can give someone a slap on the wrist but I don’t think the general public is too interested in a slap on the wrist.”

Mr Windsor has flagged a referendum to deal with the issue.

Meanwhile, incoming ACTU secretary Dave Oliver says that following the numerous investigations into Health Service Union, the union movement will approve an overhaul of union governance, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Mr Oliver confirmed that there will be a debate on governance changes at the ACTU Congress.

From: AFP
  • May 12, 2012 4:12PM

  • Unions want to ensure mining billionairespay a minimum tax
  • Similar to the “Buffett-tax” in America
  • Would require them to pay the same proportion tax as ordinary Australians
Gina Rinehart

The ACTU wants mining billionaires, such as Gina Rinehart, to pay a “mega-rich” tax. Source: The Australian

Australia’s trade unions said Saturday they would call on the government to introduce a millionaires’ tax similar to US President Barack Obama’s so-called “Buffett Rule”.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions said it wanted to ensure mining billionaires such as Clive Palmer, Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart paid a minimum tax on their incomes regardless of how they were derived.

“The income tax system is absurdly inequitable when it comes to taxing the mega-rich,” said ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons.

“Because most of their income comes from investment, billionaires… pay a much lower proportional rate than the average Australian family.”

Mr Lyons said the ACTU policy would be similar to top-end tax changes debated recently in the United States requiring those earning more than US$1 million per year to pay at least 30 percent in taxes.

The “Buffett Rule”, which failed in the US Senate last month, was proposed by Obama’s Democrats in a bid to improve tax code fairness as working-class Americans struggle with economic hardships.

It was named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has publicly spoken out against being taxed at a lower rate than his secretary due to tax loopholes imposed by former president George W. Bush.

The ACTU proposal would be aimed at millionaires whose main income was from capital gains and would require them to pay at least as much tax, proportional to income, as ordinary working Australians, Lyons said.

Unions would vote on the “Down Under version of the Buffett rule” at the ACTU’s national policy congress in the coming week, he added.

Australia’s centre-left Labor government passed tough new taxes on mining profits and corporate pollution this year, and the party has strong links to the union movement, with a number of former union chiefs now cabinet ministers.

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23 October, 2009 | Media Release

The ACTU has welcomed the Rudd Government’s draft National Green Skills Agreement announced today which will equip thousands of apprentices in emerging and existing industries with the skills to help tackle climate change.

Mandatory green skills will be included in all apprentice training from the end of 2010.

“The skills of our plumbers, construction workers, electricians and other specialist trades workers will be fundamental in ensuring that Australia is able to move quickly and flexibly in creating a sustainable, low carbon economy,” said ACTU President Sharan Burrow at today’s Green Skills Forum in Melbourne.

“It is estimated that we are going to need to re-train and upskill about 3 million workers in the next 20 years to meet the challenge.

“Unions are already working hard in this area.

“The Plumbers’ Union (CEPU) in Victoria has already set up a “Plumbing Industry Climate Change Action Centre” which is aims to up-skill the state’s 21,000 plumbers and set up similar centres nationally.

“Water management is one area where we are creating new jobs and expertise and an area in which Australia can lead the world.

“However, the creation of hundreds of thousands more jobs and apprenticeships in other clean energy and clean tech industries are on hold because Australia’s climate change laws are being blocked in the Parliament.

“We urgently need national policies in place to drive investment and a fast but fair transition to a low carbon economy.

“Australia is already being left behind, with the rest of the world moving quickly to take advantage of a $6 trillion global market in clean tech products, services, expertise and technology,” the ACTU President told the forum.

More information
The Hon Julia Gillard MP: Address to the Green Skills Forum

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

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Today’s decision by the soon-to-be-scrapped ‘Fair Pay Commission’ is another kick in the guts for working Australians from the Liberals’ WorkChoices, say unions.

More than 1.3 million Australians that rely on minimum award wages, including many low paid young workers, women and migrant workers will suffer.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the Fair Pay Commission had shown no respect for the contribution low paid workers are making to the economy during the downturn and had relied on discredited and flawed research.

“The Fair Pay Commission has saved its worst for last,” Mr Lawrence said.

“The decision means ordinary working Australians and their families are bearing the brunt of an economic downturn they did not cause.

“Many workers have already lost their jobs, had their hours cut and now more than a million families are facing a pay freeze despite rising living costs.

“Only a week after new IR laws came into operation, WorkChoices is back from the dead.

“Working families are again the victims of the unfair wage-setting system established by the previous Liberal Government.

“The real wages of low paid workers have gone backwards since the Commission was established, and today’s decision is another attack on their living standards.

“The costs of rent, food, medicines, education and utilities have all risen in the past year and families need a pay rise to keep up.”

Mr Lawrence said the decision was unwise in the current economic circumstances and rejected the argument that a pay freeze for the low paid is good for the economy.

“A pay freeze will sap consumer demand and undermine confidence. Any green shoots of economic recovery will be nipped in the bud by this unfair and unwise decision.

“It will be felt not only in the homes of Australia’s 1.3 million minimum wage workers, but in the shops and businesses in every main street of every Australian town and suburb.”

Mr Lawrence said the decision runs counter to the economic stimulus strategy, ignores the Federal Government’s submission in favour of maintaining real wages, and even ignores the views of some business groups who supported a modest wage rise.

“There is no credible evidence that modest rises in minimum wages have a negative effect on jobs. This is a furphy put about by the same free market fundamentalists that brought us deregulation and who contributed to the GFC.

“We look to Fair Work Australia’s new wage-setting body to provide a fairer and more rigorous approach.”