WORKFORCE: Queensland Teachers Union organiser Elissa Ferguson says the labour movement remained relevant today.
WORKFORCE: Queensland Teachers Union organiser Elissa Ferguson says the labour movement remained relevant today. Contributed

Why unions are needed in modern workforce: Organiser

A MODERN workforce needs a strong union movement as much as it did during the fight for paid leave and penalty rates and others during the 20th century.

From sick leave to redundancy pay, Australian unions take credit for most of the workers' rights thousands of people enjoy today.

There is still more work to do, Queensland Teachers' Union Metropolitan West Logan organiser Elissa Ferguson declared.

"Labour Day is really a cause for celebration for the union movement," she said.

"We are still making change and trying to create a positive environment for workers.

"It's about looking at the labour laws within Australia and putting more structure around labour laws so employees are better supported within the workplace and have better access to permanency."

Union membership has fallen from a high of 2.5 million in 1976 to 1.5 million in 2016.

In the same period, the union member share of all employees has fallen from 51 per cent to 14 per cent.

The teachers' union, which turns 130 years old this year, will march in today's Labour Day parade.

"Many of those years have been significant but there is a long way to go," he said.

Ms Ferguson said the union was now working through enterprise bargaining with a focus on gender equality.

"People may think gender equality is something that's done and dusted," she said.

"What we're still finding is there is still inequity in the workforce in terms of the progression of women through promotional positions."

Ms Ferguson said the teachers' union, of which 80 per cent of members were female, was also fighting for changes to superannuation.

She said women who took unpaid parental or carer leave missed out on valued superannuation contributions.

"What we are trying to seek is for governments to come on board and look at some solution; for employers to continue to pay into super funds whilst women are on that unpaid parental leave," she said.

"Another possibility is for a super top-up when people take time out of their career."

Ms Ferguson said women retire with about 47 per cent less superannuation than men.

"This comes back to the relevance of unions in the modern workforce," she said.

"The modern workforce throws up a lot of complex workplace issues that weren't seen in the past."

She said a higher superannuation portfolio meant people were less likely to take government pensions.

The seeds of Labour Day and workers' rights were first planted at the Eureka Stockade 165 years ago.

Ms Ferguson said the movement, borne for the true labour workers in the mining and industrial sector, continued to deliver in the digital age.

"Each individual union operates under a different history and a different demographic," she said.

For the first time since the 1974 election, this year's Queensland Labour Day falls during a federal election campaign.

Ms Ferguson said the teachers union would focus on its Fair Funding for schools campaign.

"We believe all schools should be properly resourced to meet the needs of every child," she said.

"The funding model currently in place is not in place to deliver that for the future."

School funding is split between the state and federal governments.

"What the original Gonski report stated was for schools to deliver quality education and for students to succeed, every school needed to reach the school resourcing standard," Ms Ferguson said.

At the last election, both parties committed to reaching the standard, but the LNP capped its public school funding at 20 per cent, which the union organiser said was not enough.

"With combined state and federal government funding, by 2023, 99 per cent of state schools won't reach the school resourcing standard," she said.

Ms Ferguson said the Fair Funding package would provide an additional $2.6 million over three years to Bremer State High School and provide a number of extra teachers.

This year's Labour Day march will start from Timothy Moloney Park today at 1.30pm before returning there.

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