The TUC and ACTU leaderships met this afternoon to exchange information and experiences about what we call vulnerable employment and they call insecure work. The ACTU’s Howe Inquiry has just finished taking evidence in 23 different places around Australia, in much the same way as the TUC’s Commission on Vulnerable Employment did in the UK.
The issues workers face in both countries are remarkably similar: sham self-employment, long-term ‘temporary’ jobs, and problems enforcing the laws that already do exist. And union campaigns have emphasised alliances, with churches, academics and local communities. In both cases, unions are keen to go beyond providing advice, and organising workers to defend their own rights. We’re both battling the assumption that globalisation has made ‘flexibility’ and insecurity inevitable.
But there are differences too: there are far more casual workers in Australia, and the TUC has done more work with ethnic minority communities. The ACTU enquiry received far more individual testimonies (around 500) and benefited from the much more localised media such a large but sparsely populated country has produced. And the TUC campaign, which underpinned the development of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and the EU Temporary Agency Workers Directive is far more directed at the corporates who have created the vulnerable workforce of the 21st century.
The ACTU “Secure jobs, better future” campaign is particularly focused on young people who want career paths and financial security, older males worried about their own job security and the future facing their children, and working mothers who have to take casual work to balance work and family.
These are issues across the developed world, and union movements globally will all need to develop their versions of the ACTU and TUC campaigns.
Follow Brendan Barber, Paul Kenny and Owen Tudor, #TUCdownunder @TUCGlobal.