Why we need to keep fighting for workers' rights this Labour Day

9 March 2018
Labour Day serves as a reminder of the struggles that working people face on a daily basis and that these gains can all too easily be taken away.

The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

— Rose Schneiderman

Labour Day honours the proud history of hard-fought victories won by and for working people in this country. The list of achievements is long: from the eight hour day, to the weekend, to enforceable safety standards in the workplace. Labour Day serves as a reminder of the struggles that working people face on a daily basis and that these gains can all too easily be taken away.

In recent years, stable employment has been declining, replaced by casual or gig-based work (like Uber). This has contributed to the erosion of worker’s rights. Young people and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are particularly likely to be exploited in their employment. To tackle the on-going problem of workplace exploitation, Australia has substantive protections available to workers—but workers need support to enforce these protections.

At Justice Connect we help vulnerable workers by connecting them with free legal help. The Justice Connect Self Representation Service (SRS) provides legal assistance to self-represented people asserting their workplace rights in the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court.

Tessa*, for example, worked as a waiter in a busy Melbourne restaurant earning $12 an hour. Tessa suspected her conditions at work were not fair but she did not know how to do anything about it.  She went looking for help, and found the SRS.

The SRS supported Tessa to prepare her own court application, including a concise summary of her claim and strong evidence of the underpayment. We also helped Tessa obtain an expedited hearing, so that she could have her day in court before her visa expired. Tessa’s request for an early hearing was granted, and the Judge ordered that her old boss pay her $20,000 in unpaid wages within 21 days.

Without the assistance of the SRS, Tessa would have struggled to make her boss accountable for the systematic wage theft they were carrying out. Justice Connect is committed to helping people connect with free legal help, ensuring they have the information and resources they need to navigate court processes and assert their rights.

 

*Names have been changed