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What the AWU raids tell us about the Turnbull government

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 The politically motivated raids of a workers' union this week, put on for camera crews tipped off in time to catch the farce, are symptomatic of a bigger problem facing working people in Australia today. The Turnbull government has one set of harsh rules for working people and their unions and another, far more flexible set, for the big end of town.

The Registered Organisations Commission, which outrageously ordered the Federal Police raids on the AWU on the basis of an anonymous phone call, was set up six months ago by Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, whose own staff member has admitted to tipping off media to the raids. It's a well-resourced body with extensive powers to trawl through the internal operations of the unions of working people whenever it wants.

Unions are now the most highly regulated organisations in the country. And we are regulated by a politicised organisation, working closely with a union-hating government that constantly leaks to the media.

Imagine if such a body existed for the banks, for big business or for political parties. It's unthinkable under this government, which is shamefully shielding the banks from a royal commission and handing out tax cuts to big businesses that already find creative ways to pay hardly any tax.

On the other hand, the government has passed laws that make basic union activities to help working people illegal. The Registered Organisations Commission and the ABCC have been given extraordinary and undemocratic powers to attack working people and their unions, which we've seen on display this week.

Neither body extends to big businesses, which are refusing to pay tax, stealing workers wages, even allowing money laundering for terrorism and drug dealing. While big business gets special treatment and unions of workers face an onslaught of politically motivated attacks, inequality is at a 70-year high.


Wage growth has flatlined: 40 per cent of workers are in insecure work. Almost 700,000 people have lost their penalty rates.

A third of big businesses aren't paying tax. And more businesses have been caught stealing workers wages than ever before. The Turnbull government is actively undermining the ability of working people in their unions to rally against this inequality.

The government has more anti-worker laws before the Parliament, which will give the Registered Organisations Commission more power. One will make it illegal for unions to manage insurance funds for redundant workers. The other will give big business or the minister the power to deregister unions and block union mergers.

These bills are anti-democratic and designed to drive down wages and put more workers in casual work. They will make the work of unions harder.

The Turnbull government also has laws before the Parliament to attack workers' savings through their superannuation, making it easier for the big banks to get their hands on workers' superannuation.

The government needs to end its sick fascination with unions and start working on lifting wages and ending casualisation of work. If you attack unions, you drive down wages and conditions. And Australians are getting sick of this.

A whole generation does not know what it is like to have a paid sick day or a paid holiday. It was less than 25 years ago that a young person had a fair chance of getting a good, steady job at some point. This is now a fantasy, alongside owning your own home.

It's time to change the rules. We need to swing the pendulum back in favour of ordinary working people.

Working people need better and stronger rights at work to ensure jobs are secure and wages rise. And to make this happen, unions need to be allowed to get on with their job instead of having to deal with relentless, political attacks.

Sally McManus is the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.