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Your rights: your future

Sharan Burrow

Last November we said we must not be the first generation of Australians to leave our kids with fewer rights at work than we inherited. We said that we would fight these laws. Today I thank you all for working so hard over the last 12 months to keep that promise.

When the federal government introduced these new industrial relations laws it changed our country in a fundamental way. A country where all Australians are entitled to a fair go, the strong commitment that we have to stand up for each other, the proud tradition of making sure that the most vulnerable are protected - instead, we have a government which has handed the power to employers to intimidate workers and deny them their rights.

Look around you. We have not been intimidated. Your campaign - in the workplace - in the community - in the media - and here today, your work and energy has protected hundreds and thousands of people's jobs and conditions against these terrible industrial relations laws.

Our determination has strengthened. We will not allow the rights, the wages and the working conditions that have been won over the last 100 years to be swept away. Together we must build a movement for change.

"This government has turned its back on working people and we owe them no loyalty." The Howard government wants Australians, to 'sit down and shut up', and take what the employer offers.

Like unfair dismissal. You can be sacked without rhyme or reason, your boss doesn't even have to speak to you in person, and you have no right to defend yourself. Like AWA individual contracts. We are now a nation where employers can say, 'take it or leave it.' It is a fact that every AWA made under these laws has removed award conditions. Overtime, penalty rates, public holidays - all systematically stripped away. If you start a new job or get a promotion, you can be asked to sign an AWA individual contract. If you don't sign, you don't get the job.

We remember when Australia was a place where we valued democratic rights. But now, every single worker can be fined $6000 just for asking for protection against unfair dismissal. Unions can be fined $33,000 for asking for union-provided OHS training.

These are disgraceful laws. They have no place in a democratic society. They are unbalanced, extreme and a threat to Australian values. For every day these IR laws remain, workers need to speak out. And speak out they have.

With me on this stage are courageous workers who have personally been affected by these laws. When John Howard took away their voice at work, they stood up, they told all of Australia what happened to them. The government rubbished these workers, lied about them, attacked them in the national press. But we stand by them and we will keep telling their stories. Your stories.

We will not be silenced by a government that cares so little for its people. This government has turned its back on working people and we owe them no loyalty. But we will stick by everyone who stands up for their rights at work. We will stick by these people - we will keep telling their story - your stories. And we will win, because this is the truth.


Sharan Burrow is the President of the ACTU. This is the text of her address to the national day of protest against the Australian government's industrial relations laws on Thursday 30 November 2006. The address was presented at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, from where it was transmitted live to protest meetings throughout Australia.


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