Workers must fight back: 10 demands to make sure no worker is left behind

The economic crisis created by COVID-19 means millions of workers have already lost their jobs or pay, and face the prospect of an even more unstable future.

Government programs like JobKeeper and JobSeeker cannot be accessed by all workers and new laws mean hard fought gains in pay and conditions could be lost. Two million of the most vulnerable workers, such as casuals, visa holders and those without permanent residency, have been left on the scrap heap.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison gives billions in free handouts to business.

The Socialist Alliance believes it is the role of all levels of government to maintain the highest protections for everyone in this country against the dangers of COVID-19. This requires prioritising the health and livelihoods of workers over big business profits.

As a starting point, it means not sacrificing lives by relaxing restrictions too soon. There are numerous examples of countries that, in the rush to restart the economy, have squandered progress made in suppressing the virus only to be hit even harder by a second wave of infections. This cannot be allowed to happen in Australia.

That is why we are calling on unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to campaign around the following 10-point plan to ensure that any lifting of restrictions protects lives and livelihoods and not just a return to business as usual:

  1. Rapid expansion of public testing, contact tracing and safe quarantining. A program of mass testing and contact tracing must already be in place before any restrictions on returning to work are lifted. Treatment programs and appropriate quarantine measures should be concentrated where clusters are detected.

  2. Ensure safe workplaces. Workers and trade unions must have the final say over workplace health and safety and not be forced to return to unsafe workplaces. All states and territories have occupational health and safety (OHS) laws which mean work can cease if workplaces are unsafe. Necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) including hand sanitiser needs to be provided to all workers.

  3. Increase corporate and high income tax rates to fund crisis response measures. Big businesses and companies like the supermarket giants that have profited out of this crisis must be made to pay a higher proportion of their super profits in taxes. A wealth tax on the top 1% should be introduced.

  4. All jobs, pay and conditions must be guaranteed. JobKeeper must cover all workers — full-time, part-time, casual, sole trader, self-employed, visa workers and any worker that is stood down — during the crisis and only be used as a means to subsidise their wage, not cut it. Additional paid sick leave or carers leave must be guaranteed for all workers who need to self-isolate or care for others.

  5. Provide a secure income guarantee for all. The JobSeeker rate should be raised to that of JobKeeper and expanded to cover all unemployed workers regardless of legal status. All exclusions, waiting periods, cashless debit cards and mutual obligation activities need to be scrapped.

  6. Companies must be heavily penalised if found rorting the system. Ban sackings, with harsh penalties against employers who seek to exploit the crisis to remove workers from the payroll. Employers found to be rorting JobKeeper or boosting profits at the expense of workers’ leave entitlements should be punished. Ban price-gouging by unscrupulous entrepreneurs.

  7. Stop wage cuts and maintain Awards and Enterprise Agreements at pre-crisis levels for all workers and workplaces. Overturn the reduced consultation time to change enterprise agreements. Re-establish the right for workers to take strike action in defence of their conditions and have all pre-crisis civil rights returned.

  8. Cancel loan repayments, rent and utility bills, with no accumulation, for those financially affected by the crisis. No evictions or utility disconnections.

  9. No unconditional bailouts. Nationalise essential industries, starting with the airlines while maintaining existing working conditions. Establish a public agency to monitor. Create jobs by improving public health, housing and transport with a shift to renewable energy. Defend and extend the public sector and oppose all cutbacks.

  10. Touch one touch all. Unions must fight to include everyone in these protections whether they are Australian citizens or not. We must fight to ensure free healthcare and welfare is extended to all in need and that the rights of women, especially those facing family violence, and Indigenous people are protected.

[Click here for a more detailed action plan to confront the COVID-19 pandemic from the Socialist Alliance.]