Union rallies shut down central Melbourne demanding industrial law changes

Updated April 10, 2019 14:43:39

Traffic has been brought to a standstill in Melbourne’s CBD by tens of thousands of protesters, led by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who are rallying for better conditions and higher wages for workers.

Key points:

  • The march shut down streets between Carlton and State Parliament
  • Unions called for changes to industrial relation laws
  • More than a dozen other protests were planned around the country

This morning’s rally was organised by the union movement as part of its ‘Change the Rules’ campaign.

The Melbourne march was the largest of 14 planned around the country, including in regional Queensland and New South Wales, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Hobart.

It started in the inner northern suburb of Carlton, with crowds of union members gathering outside the Trades Hall building before making their way towards Parliament.

Flooding city streets with high-vis, protestors chanted “every background, every age, we demand a living wage” and “when our workers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back”.

It was a carnival-like atmosphere at times as the singer of a brass band sang “oh when we all kick ScoMo out”.

The chanting, flag-waving crowd loudly voiced its anger over low wages growth and increasing casualisation of the workforce.

Union leaders who organised the march were promoting the idea of trickle-up economics — the notion that giving the lowest paid more will boost the whole economy.

They said a Labor government would provide a pay boost through Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s proposal for a living wage.

Rally coincides with public sector pay dispute

The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Michele O’Neil, was among those to address the crowd.

“Working people have had enough with the fact our wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. For nearly six years now, workers’ wages have been stagnant or going backwards,” she said.

“Meanwhile the cost of fuel, the cost of electricity and gas — all the ordinary things in life you have to pay for are going up,” Ms O’Neil said.

Similar union rallies last year attracted thousands of workers.

Mr Andrews’s attendance at the rally comes ahead of major industrial negotiations with the state’s public sector unions, after Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas recently angered the unions with a 2 per cent pay rise offer.

The housing market slump has ripped hundreds of millions of dollars out of the state budget and unions have told the ABC the 2-per-cent offer was “not good enough” because it did not meet cost-of-living increases.

But Mr Andrews said he was proud to be there with people campaigning for “a fair go”.

“Some will be critical of me being here … they’re entitled to have their view,” Mr Andrews said.

“I was here before the election and I’m proudly here afterwards.

“People are angry, they’re out on the streets, they’re out in force … they are campaigning for something very simple — a fair go.”

More pre-election protests planned

Among the crowd were tradesmen, midwives and teachers holding banners and flags that read “change the rules” and “fair funding now”.

Protester Helen Stanley said she joined the rally to call for better school funding, from students in early childhood through to TAFE.

“There’s a whole lot of issues and it really all centres around fairness for working people,” Ms Stanley said.

“Education is the centre-pin for improving our society and that’s really why I’m here.”

Matt Leach took his son Thomas to the rally.

“We’re sick and tired of people being underpaid, underappreciated and we’re sick of this government,” Mr Leach said.

“We’re not just here for ourselves, we’re here for people who can’t fight for themselves.”

The march along Russell, La Trobe, Swanston and Bourke streets took about 45 minutes before the protesters quickly dispersed.

Unions say more protest action is planned in the lead-up to the next federal election.

The rally is the second this week to cause major disruption in Melbourne’s city.

Two days ago, vegan protesters blocked 11 Melbourne tram lines when they protested on a major intersection outside Flinders Street Station.

Topics: unions, government-and-politics, work, community-and-society, melbourne-3000, vic, brisbane-4000, qld, hobart-7000, tas, perth-6000, wa, adelaide-5000, sa, sydney-2000, nsw

First posted April 10, 2019 12:15:38

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