Your Rights at Work
“Your Rights at Work – Worth Fighting For” (YR@W), the campaign to restore workers’ rights and achieve fairer industrial relations laws, was one of the most successful union and community campaigns in Australian election history.
When the 2004 election delivered a friendly Senate to the Howard government, it was open season for those who wanted to attack the rights of workers.
In February 2005, the Business Council of Australia, representing CEOs from the 100 biggest companies, set out its industrial relations plan, calling for “greater flexibility and choice for employees and employers in making workplace agreements; simplifying workplace relations regulation; and removing barriers to job creation”.
The Howard government’s response was the Orwellian-sounding “WorkChoices”, with its focus on undermining minimum wages and conditions, coercing workers into individual contracts and removing job security.
The union movement responded with a coordinated campaign, “Your Rights at Work – Worth Fighting For”. The QTU was involved from the earliest stages, conducting stalls at markets and using the 2005 State Conference to stage a “Shorn of Your Rights” hair-shaving event outside the Liberal Party headquarters in South Brisbane, which attracted national media coverage.
In July 2006, the ACTU appointed Your Rights at Work campaign coordinators in more than 20 seats across the country. The QTU continued getting the message out to members, participating in the ACTU National Day of Action with meetings taking place across the state, and informing members through a range of Union forums.
The AEU contribution was the secondment of myself, then QTU Moreton Organiser, to the ACTU to coordinate the Your Rights at Work Campaign in the seat of Bonner. Meanwhile, QTU members continued to be involved in Your Rights at Work campaign in the other ACTU target seats in Queensland. As part of the campaign, the QTU launched Greg the Combet Van, a YR@W badged 1996 Toyota hatchback, which was a feature at many YR@W activities.
This was a real community campaign based around engagement with people through direct presentation of information and one-on-one conversations with members of our Union and the wider community.
QTU members forged close and ongoing relationships with members of other unions and the community as they rallied to oppose laws which would impact negatively not only on them and the children they taught, but on the communities from which those students came.
QTU members maintained their high level of involvement, from setting up YR@W stalls at markets at 5am to turning out in their hundreds on 24 November 2007 to hand out YR@W how-to-vote cards.
QTU members campaigning in and with the community were integral to getting rid of WorkChoices at the 2007 election. In Bonner alone there was a 5 per cent swing to the ALP as voters turned away from the parties that supported WorkChoices.
Deputy General Secretary (2013-2015)
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 119 number 2, 125th Anniversary Special Edition, p26-27