The second annual National Young Workers Conference was held in Melbourne on September 12 and 13. The conference was titled ‘Maintain the Rage’ on the basis that, even though there has been a change of government, there is still a fight on our hands to remove the Work Choices legislation introduced by Howard.
A second major focus for the conference was the alarming decline of union membership amongst young people. Only 10 per cent of workers under the age of 25 were in unions in 2006. It was against this backdrop that the conference delegates discussed the issues facing young workers in their work places and how to tackle them. A wide range of sessions took place across the two days and all participants were encouraged to take part in exercises and to make contributions.
Discussions about strategies to recruit young workers to unions were of a high priority. The general consensus on these issues was that unions need to engage in campaigns around important issues that effect young workers. Youth wages was outlined as a top priority.
The first day saw a slow start to the conference with an explanation of Industry Superannuation funds and tips on personal finance. The second session was an explanation of the ACTU’s new ‘one stop shop’ for joining a union called ‘Unions Australia’. The speakers during this session identified bullying as one of the key issues facing young workers in the work place.
The pace quickened during the next sessions of the conference with Kassey Dickie from the Australian Services Union (ASU) heading a panel discussion on young women in unions. A second panel discussion was also held on organising student workers. Speakers included Liz Thompson from Fairwear, Anthony Main from UNITE and Godfrey Moase from the National Union of Workers (NUW). It was during this session that the conference began to build clarity on how to campaign in a manner that attracts young people.
Liz Thompson gave careful analysis of the issues surrounding international students and explained why it was essential for the union movement to campaign around their issues. Anthony Main spoke next about the UNITE campaign against the dodgy employment practices of 7-Eleven. Godfrey Moase finished up the discussion by outlining his experiences during his recent trip to New Zealand where he worked with Unite in Auckland on a transnational campaign to unionise students working in call centres.
Saturday saw many more sessions on issues including queer rights, community unionism, unions and the environment and the role of unions in campaigns against war. Anthony Main of UNITE continued the discussion from the previous day in a session on youth wages and casualisation.
Conference delegates were very positive about the need to link a fighting campaign against youth wages with efforts to recruit young people to unions. As a result a proposal from the conference floor calling on the ACTU to support a national campaign against youth wages was passed unanimously.
The call for a broad campaign against youth wages is a very positive and important step forward. If it gains support and is run in a dynamic way it could play a key role in re-establishing a culture of trade unionism amongst young people in Australia.
By Kirk Leonard