The federal government should cut the number of people coming to Australia on temporary work visas rather than exploiting fears about permanent migrants, Sally McManus has said.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary said on Sunday that Australia is “shipping in exploitation” with one million workers on temporary visas, dwarfing the size of the 190,000 cap on permanent migrants which is the subject of intense debate in the Coalition.
Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton were at odds this week about whether the home affairs minister privately canvassed reducing the permanent migration intake by 20,000. The Turnbull government kept the 190,000 cap but Australia is on track for an intake of between 160,000 and 170,000 people in 2017-18.
McManus told ABC’s Insiders that Peter Dutton had brought up the issue of migration numbers following comments in February when he first publicly canvassed a cut.
“I think of it this way: whenever they are in trouble, they want to break the glass and get the emergency hammer out and [say] ‘let’s start talking about immigration’,” she said.
“And I really feel as though what they do is try and blame immigrants for things that are actually … wrong with the economy … it’s not the fault of immigrants that jobs are being casualised or we can’t get pay increases.”
Asked about overcrowding, McManus distinguished between the permanent migration intake and temporary work visas, which she said were tiny in number 20 years ago but now number about one million.
“We are shipping in exploitation and it is taking away jobs for local people, so if we wanted to do something about this issue, Peter Dutton could do something about that now and we should move away from this temporary idea of having guest workers and instead move to ensure we maintain a proper permanent migration system.”
On Sunday the former prime minister Tony Abbott, who is also publicly campaigning on the migration level, denied he is in cahoots with Dutton to bring down Malcolm Turnbull.
“I admire [Dutton] as a bloke and I respect him as a politician so I guess we would naturally be inclined to think along similar lines,” Abbott told 2GB radio.
Asked if the pair were coordinating their campaign on immigration, Abbott replied “no that’s not how it works in this business”.
“Peter is an honourable man and the last thing that he would do is sit down with a colleague and plot stuff.”
Earlier McManus also spruiked the union movement’s demands as part of its Change the Rules campaign, including calls to boost wages growth by improving bargaining laws by allowing workers to strike for industry-wide agreements.
Employers reacted furiously to those demands this week, warning it is a recipe for them to “make unreasonable claims and cripple whole industries”.
McManus said profits were up 21% last year but wages only went up 2% so something was “seriously wrong” with the industrial relations system.
The ACTU secretary said in industries such as childcare, where as few as five people might work in one workplace, it was inappropriate to limit bargaining to individual enterprises.
McManus also called for the Fair Work Commission to regain “the power to make decisions” – suggesting the ACTU favours some form of arbitration for major disputes. Labor has supported FWC regaining power to arbitrate intractable disputes.
Asked about employers’ warnings of a return to 1970s levels of strikes, McManus said even if workers do not go on strike, merely having the option would make bargaining fairer.
“At the moment we do have an option called low-paid bargaining, but you’ve got to give up the right to ever take any industrial action of any type, so because of that employers can think ‘Well, we can just keep saying no so we know we will get the outcome we want’,” she said. “That system hasn’t worked.”
McManus suggested 1970s levels of strike action were unlikely because union density was 50% at the time but only 15% now.
Industrial action is at historic lows in Australia and wages have stagnated. Figures released in August show in the past year wages grew by a record low of 1.9%. Australia has recorded 20 consecutive quarters of falling wage growth for private sector workers.
Labor has shown some willingness to shift towards industry-level bargaining, particularly for low-paid workers and to achieve gender pay equity.
(News Source: the Guardian)