Thousands of unionists have rallied across the country as the ACTU steps up its national fight for a pay rise.
The ACTU estimates more than 170,000 people, including Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, joined the Change the Rules rally in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Thousands more answered the call in Sydney, Darwin, Wollongong, Cairns, Townsville and at other regional centres, demanding to be given a “fair go”.
Protesters in Melbourne accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of taking workers on a “highway to hell”.
“We are fighting for our lives and a fair go,” cleaner Rajita said outside Trades Hall in Carlton before an AC/DC cover band performed for the crowd.
Russell Costello, 48, who has worked in the construction industry for more than 30 years, said he was unable to keep up with education costs for his two autistic children because “wages are not keeping up with inflation”.
“Our wages keep getting dropped yet the politicians’ wages keep rising, CEOs’ wages keep rising. This is a joke,” he said.
Train driver Rebecca Blanks, 48, said Australia’s industrial laws were “terribly broken”.
“Industrial laws … are just intractable,” she said. “It leaves us open to slave labour. They’re stealing our wages. We’re working our guts out like slaves.”
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the disruption was worth it.
“Our standard of living is going backwards. That should not be happening,” she said.
“A small disruption for a couple of hours is worth it.
“There is an appalling figure that 28,000 working people are homeless in our country.
“That’s because the minimum wage in our country is just $37,000 – that is not enough to support yourself.”
— CFMEU (@CFMEU_CG) October 23, 2018
But the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry dismissed the union claims.
“Scratch the surface and the ACTU’s campaign is really about putting power into the hands of big unions, disempowering employees, and removing their choices,” CEO James Pearson said.
Mr Andrews said those protesting were ordinary families who wanted a better deal.
“They want a better deal – they’re entitled to that – so they can provide the best for their kids and they can have a better standard of living, greater opportunities than their parents have had,” the Premier said.
“There is a real imbalance between corporate profits and some of the pay rises, particularly in the private sector,” he added.
Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations Kelly O’Dwyer warned in a Fairfax media column on Monday that the rally was a glimpse of the “bleak industrial relations landscape future in Australia were there to be a change of government next year.
“They want there to be no rules, no regulator and no check on their power,” she wrote, adding that the ACTU wants a return to the “dark days of mass union militancy”.
– with reporting by Christiane Barro and AAP