Jess Walsh, United Voice Victorian Secretary's speech to our annual Delegate & Leader Convention, held today at the MCG.
It was great to be with you all out on the streets today supporting cleaning members.
And it’s because our cleaning leaders decided to stand up and take to the streets back in 2006, that today members work under our Clean Start agreement, and they have respect, job security and a living wage.
That Clean Start agreement, like so many of the wins we’ve shared across our whole union in this state, in all our sectors, has changed lives.
And that’s what I want to talk about today – how, when United Voice members decide to stand up in our workplaces and industries, we change lives.
And I also want to talk about how our union can have an even bigger voice than it does today. A stronger voice. One voice.
A United Voice about what brings us together, across our different sectors, and what we all want for the future.
In workshops, we’re going to talk about that basic question – what brings us together, and what are we willing to fight for as a union together.
That first Clean Start campaign was a big fight. And a big win. It moved most cleaners’ pay rates from $17 an hour on the award to over $24 an hour now, and gave them job security.
It’s thanks to leaders and member standing up, fighting and winning five years ago, that one of our leaders, Kamal Jimi, was able to arrange a loan to build his own house.
After more than a decade as a cleaner, much of it working two jobs and a 58 hour week, Kamal has finally finished building his house, and is planning to bring his wife from overseas to live there. He says Clean Start made it possible.
It’s stories like Kamal Jimi’s that remind us that when United Voice members decide to stand up, we change lives.
Our members at Crown Casino have just won a new union agreement. It was a big win – four per cent pay rises for the next three years, more of a say at work, and a better career path that will give some of our members an immediate pay rise of up to 18 per cent. Wow.
Our leaders built a powerful force for change. They joined up hundreds of new members to the union. They turned people out to mass meetings. They kept talking about the issues and they put their stories front and centre at the bargaining table.
True, the members did not win everything they aimed for in their claim – but they won a great deal more than they already had.
And all that campaigning is worth it because when United Voice members stand up, we change lives. Let me tell you one story of how.
One of our members, a table games dealer at Crown Casino for the past seven years, the father of three young children, has worked two jobs for most of that time to support his family.
He worked at Crown from 4am until noon, and an hour later started his second job, working until five pm. Then he went home, helped his wife get the kids ready for bed, and soon after they were asleep, he was too, preparing for that 4am start.
Our new union agreement and career structure gives him a 13 per cent pay rise this year.
The day after the new agreement was settled, he quit that second job. Now he has a real family life.
When United Voice members decide to stand up, we change lives.
We’ve all been moved by the determination of our ambulance members in their campaign for rates of pay that match their extraordinary responsibilities and their great skills.
They have been amazing in carrying their message to the public on the windows of their ambulances, and in the media.
They’ve put the State Government under enormous pressure, and they’ve won the hearts and minds of the public.
We’ve already seen hundreds of our ambulance members change their own lives by standing up in their union for the first time. In this campaign, we’ve seen more and more young members, new graduates, speaking out, and staying strong in a long and bruising fight.
And we know that our ambulance members will keep standing up too, and that we’ll stand with them.
We’ll also stand with our leaders in the childcare sector. Over the past few years, leaders have built the union, made the case that we are not babysitters, we’re professionals, and they agitated for change.
They won $300 million towards professional wages for early childhood educators earlier this year.
But also this year, a new government – the Abbott government – decided to freeze that fund and hold off on pay rises of up to $100 a week for some members.
You know that story.
But what you might not know is that we are not turning back. We are the voice of the sector. We’ve won the argument.
One hundred and forty educators turned out to the Trades Hall to plan the next steps just a few weeks ago, and one after the other took the microphone said ‘We’re not going backwards; we’ve already started to be part of change, and once that’s begun, we can only go forward”.
Through this campaign I have seen this group of leaders grow in strength and in pride.
When United Voice members stand up, we change lives.
We have a big year ahead of us. Our campaigns in Clean Start, early childhood and ambulance continue. Our security members are also gearing up to protect our union standard in Victoria. We are the highest paid in the country, because our members decided to stand up and change their lives in some of the toughest campaigns we’ve been part of.
And it’s a big year for our members who work in production – in bread, beverages, laundries and paint. Those
members will stand together in our union, to defend and extend conditions won by generations of United Voice members who decided to stand up and change their lives too.
I said before that I believe that our union should have an even bigger voice than it does today. A United Voice about what it is that brings us together. A United Voice about what we all want for the future.
That’s what our big national Real Voices survey and project is all about.
The Real Voices survey – of 26,000 members across the country – showed that we can do more to change the lives of our members, and in fact all Australians.
We asked members: what are the big issues that concern you? Do you think the future will be better? And should we do something about it?
We found out cost of living is a huge issue. Healthcare. Job security. Our older members are concerned about when they can afford to retire.
And our younger members are worried they’ll never be able to buy their own home.
But more than ¾ of our members said they wanted to do something about it.
We deserve better, and we know from our success in our own sectors, that when we decide to stand up, we change lives.
So imagine if we all stood up together to win that better future we all want.
To do that, we need to speak with one voice, and we need to say what it is that unites us, and what we’re willing to fight for.
Some of our leaders came together to do just that in this short film.
I can’t think of a single union whose members reach so widely and deeply into our community.
We are everywhere. We make this state run.
We know our work is important.
We know we’re strong in our sectors.
We know what matters to our members
And we know that when we stand up, we change lives.
We need to create our common vision for that better life.
To do that, our national union is building a Real Voices Charter, with all of our 6 state branches and 2 territories having a say.
That Charter is our claim for a better future.
We want to use it to tell the world who we are; and to hold governments to account for the decisions that they make about our lives.
Shortly we are going to break for workshops so you can have direct input to our charter.
And we will come back together from the workshops to share our ideas.
You are the leaders of this union. You know how to stand up. You know how to win.
You know when we speak with one, strong, united voice about our common future, we will change lives.
Let’s start to build that one strong voice right now.