The federal opposition spokesman for employment and workplace relations has jumped aboard the fight to give workers, including Illawarra steelworkers, a fair go.
Speaking at the Australian Jobs Embassy outside parliament house in Canberra this week, Brendan O’Connor said the federal government was “absolutely absent” in supporting workers caught up in the steel crisis.
Mr O’Connor – who represents the electorate of Gorton, west of Melbourne – told the gathering he stands with the steelworkers of the Illawarra and the “efforts they’re putting in”.
“We know that there are issues around commodity prices, we know there are issues, but where is the government providing support for the workforce in that situation?” he asked.
“Absolutely absent … so we need to make sure that your [the unionists] voice and indeed the people that you represent are heard loud and clear – we will not accept a government that will destroy employment conditions, undermine employment security and make it impossible for people to get a decent wage.”
The comments follow those made by Throsby MP Stephen Jones, who also addressed the embassy about the need for more to be done to secure the future of steel.
Last month, industry minister Christopher Pyne said the government was “very much aware” of the challenges facing the steel industry.
“We are doing everything we can to ensure Australian manufacturers are able to compete on a level-playing field,” Mr Pyne said, in an opinion piece penned for the Mercury.
Illawarra miners, steelworkers, manufacturing workers, teachers and those in the public sector are involved in the jobs embassy, set up last week by seafarers of the MV Portland.
In January, as many as 30 security guards boarded the Alcoa ship MV Portland and removed the five unionised seafarers on board and replaced them with foreign workers.
Mr O’Connor said the fight was about more than just the crew of MV Portland. “This is about the rights of workers in every part of this country,” he said.