Most of my posts here have focused on local issues, particularly those involving the Victorian government and predominantly around EBA campaigns – by ANF, AEU, fire fighters (CFA and MFB) among others – and the attack on TAFE. These are important, significant issues, and it is my fierce hope that the nurses, teachers, midwives, fire fighters, forestry staff, SES employees, TAFE staff and students and all those associated with these people will remember these fights when they come to vote, 110 weeks from today.

No industry exists in a vacuum, though – and the larger context within which we work is shifting . The employment paradigm I started with, back in 1989, was fairly standard – I applied for a job, was interviewed by my potential employer, and given a contract that stipulated my work hours. As it happens, that was for a finite period, only because it was tied to my education – I trained as a nurse through the hospital system, where my housing, work and professional education were supplied by the same entity. And when I registered, I applied for a position with my training hospital, where I still work. I could (and can) be fired for breaching the terms of my contract, but otherwise theoretically at least, have a job as long as I want it and can do it.

That situation’s increasingly rare, not just in Victoria but across the globe. In 1984 85% of Australian workers had permanent positions – that figure is now 60%, and dropping. Whether it’s termed casual, contract, cash in hand, temping or labour hire, what the other 40% of workers have is insecure work – they don’t know if they have work tomorrow, they can’t apply for mortgages or car loans, or  sometimes even meet rental agreements.

The NUW says casuals are now so widespread among some industries that the days of sidling up to the meatworks at 5am waiting for the boss to pick out day labourers seem sepia tinged. Andrew Crook – “Billy Bragg Sings for the Supper of ‘Insecure’ Workers” Crikey (pay walled)

This is an issue across sectors and industries. Nearly 20% of all Victorian teachers are on fixed-term contracts, a figure that rises to just under half when looking at teachers in their first five years, and a shocking 58% of all new teachers. How can you set up a long-term project when you don’t know if your contract will be renewed?

Insecure work increases the incidences of workplace accidents and injuries. It affects more than the individual, and more than the family unit – it affects our society as a whole. It  means short-term financial gain for employers, at the cost of long-term consequences for all of us. And that’s why this event kicked off Anti-Poverty Week.

As part of the fight against insecure work, the National Union of Workers today help an event as part of their “Jobs you can count on” campaign – a fluoro fightback! Employees, donned in fluoro jackets, gathered at Southern Cross Station this morning:

The first NUW members and staff begin to mass at Southern Cross

The first NUW members and staff begin to mass at Southern Cross, at 7:45
A couple of minutes later, and the momentum"s slowly building

A couple of minutes later, and the momentum’s slowly building

It's only been six minutes, and a real crowd is gathering

It’s only been six minutes, and a real crowd is gathering

A couple of minutes later and the nurses have arrives (orange jackets on the steps)

A couple of minutes later and the nurses have arrived (orange jackets on the steps)

A sight to gladden the heart of any unionist :)

A sight to gladden the heart of any unionist 🙂

One minute later, and I have to go join my orange-clad colleagues

One minute later, and I have to go join my orange-clad colleagues

The crowd was addressed first by Ged Kearney, who spoke about the scale of the problem. Think increasing casualisation doesn’t affect you? What about the labour forces of the world your children will enter? Insecure work means poverty – the best way to alleviate poverty is through secure, good quality jobs.

Next up was insecure work specialist Brian Howe – better coverage than I could provide is here; I heartily recommend you read his ACTU address from May, reporting on the Independent Investigation into Insecure Work in Australia. It makes for terrifying reading.

The speakers (from L-R): Mark Zirnsak, social justice spokesman for the Untiing Church; ACTU President Ged Kearney; NUW Victorian State Secretary TIm Kennedy; and former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe

The speakers (from L-R): Dr Mark Zirnsak, Director of the Uniting Church Justice & International Mission; ACTU President Ged Kearney; NUW Victorian State Secretary Tim Kennedy; and former Deputy Prime Minister Professor Brian Howe AO

Dr Zirnsak spoke on behalf of the church, and Christianity, saying that insecure work in contrary to Christian ideology – “Christians should call on the wealthy to be generous, to put in place systems that address inequality in society.”

And Tim Kennedy spoke about the campaign, the importance of the fight, and thanked NUW workers and members of other unions for turning out – to hear Tim  talking about NUW and insecure work, check out this animated YouTube clip.

Finally, special guest – British singer and activist Billy Bragg.

Billy Bragg singing "There is Power in a Union"

Billy Bragg singing the Woody Guthrie classic “I Ain’t Got No Home” – insecure work means poverty and increased homelessness

Check out The Age page for video of Billy Bragg singing “There is Power in a Union” or this YouTube clip to see and hear both songs and Billy’s speech.

The event concluded with Chaser co-creator Charles Firth running a game of insecure-work musical chairs:

When you can be unemployed for no reason, when you have no job security, life is like a game of musical chairs - ever fewer chairs every day

When you can be unemployed for no reason, when you have no job security, life is like a game of musical chairs – with ever fewer chairs every day

Spell-bound by Billy Bragg, I didn't get to take a crowd shot until after he left, but the crowd? Quite something

Spell-bound by Billy Bragg, I didn’t get to take a crowd shot until after he left, but the crowd? Quite something

And then, by 9AM, it was over – for now. We left for work, those of us with jobs – I’m sure I was not alone knowing that this was but one salvo in a war that will be bitter and long, and that we cannot afford to lose. As Billy said, ideological austerity measures and job cuts mean less consumer confidence, less spending, more economic instability, and a worse outcome for all.

What is happening is ordinary working people are not spending any money, therefore the economy is flat-lining. The economy is driven by consumers, and consumers can not consume unless they have decent wages, which they’ve earned from a proper days’ work. – Billy Bragg, Southern Cross Station, Melbourne, Oct 19 2012

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