One of Australia’s largest and most influential unions is calling for both a jobs guarantee to keep people in work and a universal income of $740 a week to be paid to most other people.
The push by the 156,000-member United Workers Union highlighted the escalating demands by the labour movement in response to the pandemic crisis and the significant rise in unemployment in recent weeks.
Tim Kennedy is pushing for a jobs guarantee and universal incomeCredit:Arsineh Houspian
UWU national secretary Tim Kennedy, in a position paper, said there was an urgent need for the federal government to intervene “and play an active role in guaranteeing and providing social and economic security during this time”.
Mr Kennedy is pushing for a “jobs guarantee” that would mean no workers could be dismissed or retrenched during the pandemic crisis, with the government guaranteeing the wages of affected workers.
“Every single worker should have a right to return to their jobs at the end of this crisis. Every single job must be guaranteed,” he wrote, saying it should apply to gig workers, casual employees and those in labour hire and the self-employed.
“Market logics of profit maximisation and unequal distribution must be discarded."
Mr Kennedy said there should also be an “income guarantee” paid at the full-time minimum wage of $740 a week to everyone else not covered by the jobs guarantee and those not financially affected by the pandemic. It would be paid until at least the end of 2020.
“The payment is unconditional, meaning the recipient is not required to work or demonstrate willingness to work, nor is the payment means-tested.”
The call is significant as it would involve what is, in effect, a form of a universal basic income (UBI), a concept that much of the Australian labour movement has been hostile to.
Minister for Industrial relations Christian Porter.Credit:AAP
Mr Kennedy said, while the UWU welcomed the government’s doubling of unemployment assistance to about $550 a week, the minimum wage of $740 a week is a "more appropriate wage floor.”
This week ACTU secretary Sally McManus warned two million people could be out of work in the coming weeks and wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for UK-style wage subsidies of up to $5200 a month for each worker.
Nearly 15,000 people have signed an ACTU-led petition calling for the wage subsidy.
The government has rejected the push and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said Treasury was strongly opposed to wage subsidies.
“The lessons that Treasury and the governments learned during the GFC is that if you step outside the normal realms of delivery mechanisms, you run into all sorts of problems.”
The UWU was formed out of a merger last year and covers workers in hotels, casinos, warehouses, farms, hospitality and health. Many of their members are migrants and the union has called for a visa amnesty and for Medicare access to be extended to visa holders and undocumented workers.
Mr Kennedy said the union also wanted the tax-free threshold lifted from $18,200 to $25,000 to help low income earners and a moratorium on rent and mortgage repayments.
Other proposals include bringing “public goods” back into public ownership, including energy, health, telecommunications, transport and early childhood education.
“Public ownership should not return to the old top-down institutions of yesterday but come with a role for workers and customers in the democratic management of such institutions.”
One third of all board positions in firms bailed out by the government should go to non-managerial staff, Mr Kennedy said.
As part of its sweeping series of demands, it wants to direct stimulus spending to new renewable energy generation and building capacity to be able to export hydrogen on a large scale.
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