Unions mount campaign against 'ruthless' Scott Morrison and his government
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Unions mount campaign against 'ruthless' Scott Morrison and his government

Unions have declared war on Scott Morrison's government, as they rally the troops for an electoral showdown on penalty rates, insecure work and stagnant wages.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said Mr Morrison's election had sparked an influx of volunteers ahead of this weekend's National Door Knock, with activists preparing to push the message in key electorates that the new Prime Minister and his cabinet are "out of touch".

It comes as newly sworn-in Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O'Dwyer prepares to meet with business leaders - and at least one of her predecessors - as she comes to grips with one of the most fraught portfolios in the new cabinet.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus has declared war on Scott Morrison's government.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus has declared war on Scott Morrison's government.

Photo: AAP

Ms McManus, who has been criss-crossing the country in recent weeks to launch the ACTU's Change the Rules campaign at trade halls and workers' clubs, said the number of people showing up to events was growing steadily.

She described Mr Morrison as a "ruthless" operator willing to shift the blame onto people who did not deserve it, pointing to his record as immigration minister.

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"We see him as the architect of trickle-down economics," Ms McManus said, vowing to "double down" in the effort to ensure that the Coalition is voted out of government at the next election.

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"He doesn't listen to working people," she said.

While the Liberals are struggling to raise enough cash to fund their election campaign, Ms McManus says the ACTU is "ready to go". Earlier this year, the ACTU launched what it described at the time as its biggest advertising campaign in more than a decade, believed to be worth millions of dollars.

The ACTU is demanding radical changes to the industrial relations system, including removing a ban on pattern bargaining - which would allow workers to unionise across industries - along with laws to stamp out casualisation and restore penalty rates.

ACTU national president Michele O'Neil called on Ms O'Dwyer - who has retained her portfolio as Minister for Women - to reverse her position on domestic violence leave and support 10 days' paid leave.

And she dismissed Ms O'Dwyer's pledge to secure a "productive and flexible workforce", saying flexibility "only benefits employers".

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has promised to act to reverse cuts to Sunday penalty rates and introduce 10 days' paid domestic violence leave for workers within 100 days of a Labor government being elected, but has not said how far the party would go to appease the unions' more controversial demands.

Former Liberal employment minister Eric Abetz said the unions were "in the unenviable position of demanding changes to a law for which they campaigned, and that is the Fair Work Act".

He said attempts by the government to amend the act had been met with outrage by unionists, who had gone from treating the legislation as a "holy writ" to advocating "to junk the whole lot".

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"I am pleased the importance of workplace relations has been recognised and that it's been put back into cabinet where it belongs," Senator Abetz said.

That move has been widely read as a signal that the Morrison government intends to sharpen its focus on industrial relations, amid calls from business groups to further restrict union activity.

Former prime minister John Howard recently called for a more proactive approach, while urging the government to resist calls to further regulate the labour market.

"There will be a time when we will have to resist the attempts of many in the community to impose still further regulation and strangle the activities of our entrepreneurs," he told a closed industry event in Melbourne earlier this month, according to reports.

Ms O'Dwyer was present at the dinner, hosted by the Australian Mines and Metals Association, as was Senator Abetz.

Mr Morrison described his decision to elevate the industrial relations portfolio as "an important signal of how important we think it is to future productivity".

He said industrial relations was "a key part of ensuring the economy is strong and our relationships are right in our workplaces".

Dana is a federal politics reporter, covering health and industrial relations. Previously, she was a reporter for The Australian.