Address to the International Trade Union Confederation

21 Nov 2022
Prime Minister
Check against delivery

I’m so pleased to be back home in Australia and delighted to be with all of you this morning, here in the great city of Melbourne.

Not far from this room, just across the road from the mighty Victorian Trades Hall, stands a humble monument honouring the 8 hours movement.

In 1856, stonemasons working on the new Melbourne University downed tools and marched alongside fellow construction workers to the steps of Victorian Parliament to demand an 8 hour working day.

A struggle that would see them become one of the first workforces in the world to win this right.

Melbourne is a fitting place to bring together unions and workers’ representatives from all over the world.

But the truth is, in modern Australia, there are monuments to trade unions everywhere you look.

They stand as an essential part of people’s everyday lives:

  • A strong minimum wage
  • Equal pay for women
  • Sick leave and annual leave and parental leave
  • Compensation for workplace injuries – and protection against injury with stronger health and safety laws
  • Universal retirement savings, through superannuation
  • Universal health care
  • Penalty rates for weekend work
  • Indeed, the weekend itself

All of these rights and protections, all of these improvements in people’s lives and living standards are ongoing tribute to the power and the value of union advocacy.

And these reforms also speak for the success of unions in negotiating with governments, working in existing structures and systems to drive change.

Working constructively with reforming governments to build a better future.

I am proud to lead an Australian Labor Government that respects and celebrates the extraordinary contribution the trade union movement has made to the strength of our modern economy and the health of our social democracy.

Since we were elected, six months ago, we’ve already worked alongside the union movement:

  • To secure a real increase in the minimum wage for the heroes of the pandemic
  • And to back a 15% pay rise for our undervalued and underpaid aged care workforce.

I also recognise that one of the great strengths of the union movement is that it’s always looked outwards.

Australian unions have looked beyond these shores for inspiration, for wisdom, for examples, for guidance on the next steps.

And looked out across the world to help people in other nations in need of strength and solidarity. 

At their best, unions have always been prepared to stand up for the principle that union values should be universal values.

That fairness and equality and dignity and safety should be the right of workers everywhere.

That’s the global solidarity, the common respect, the shared humanity that binds us all.

It’s why unions around the world have stood up for democracy – and continue to do so.

It’s why you have helped lead the campaign to improve conditions and rights in Qatar.

And it’s the principle that underpins the ongoing importance of the work you do to raise the ambitions of the International Labour Organisation. 

I want to congratulate you on the work you did to enshrine Occupational Health and Safety as the ILO’s fifth fundamental principle.

I’m very pleased the Australian Government could contribute to those negotiations and that Michele O’Neil was one of the workers’ representatives…

…standing up for the rights of every worker, everywhere, to come home safe at the end of the day.

I also applaud the leadership role of the ITUC in driving ILO Convention 190, a zero-tolerance approach to violence and harassment.

And I want to particularly acknowledge the efforts of the ACTU and their advocacy for this Convention to be adopted here in Australia.

I’m proud to say our government has made action on equality at work and protection from harassment a national priority, from day one.

We are implementing new protections against sexual harassment, including a positive duty for employers to protect their staff.

And last month, parliament  passed our laws to make 10 days’ Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave part of the National Employment Standards.

Because no woman should ever have to choose between her job and her safety.

And today, I am pleased to announce that the Labor Government I lead will table in the Parliament of Australia, ILO Convention 190: preventing harassment and violence in the workplace. 

This is the first formal step towards Australia ratifying this important Convention.

A statement from our nation affirming the right of every person to a work culture based on ‘mutual respect and dignity’.

And the right to a work environment, free from the threat of violence or harassment.

Because whenever we talk about safety in the workplace, that must include the right of every worker to be safe from sexual harassment.  

Our government views this as a commitment to equality, to safety – and to economic reform.

Because we know the full and equal participation of women in the economy is our nation’s greatest untapped resource.

Australia is signatory to 58 ILO Conventions.

Last month, as Prime Minister, I had the honour of ratifying the most recent one, ILO Convention 138: preventing the use of child labour.

For Australia, being a signatory is always an act of substance, not symbolism.

Because the Fair Work Act - the legislative foundation of our industrial relations framework - takes as one of its aims, giving effect to Australia’s international labour obligations.

So when you embark on those advocacy campaigns, you should know that your efforts make a real and lasting difference to improving working conditions for all Australians.


This Congress gives us an opportunity to celebrate a tradition of fairness and social justice and representing the best interests of the working people who power our nations’ economic success. 

And in doing so, we recognise that these rights, these protections and these opportunities are never down to good luck, or happy accident or a spontaneous act of generosity.

Every centimetre of progress, every degree of every improvement, has been earned and fought for, through generations of solidarity and sacrifice.

And while we will always remember those historic victories, the best and most fitting way to honour the contribution of those who have gone before us, is to continue their work.

Not just defending ground already gained - but carrying the task of progress forward.

Because there is always more to do.

In a rapidly-globalising economy, in a world of work transformed by trade and technology, there are new opportunities for growth and prosperity and flexibility. 

But there are also new challenges to the rights and dignity and security of working people.

And tackling those is the task we’re taking up in the Australian parliament right now.

In the past month, our government has introduced:

  • New protections against sexual harassment.
  • New measures to improve job security.
  • New initiatives to revitalise bargaining, enhance productivity and get wages moving again.
  • And a new focus on closing the gender pay gap

Now, of course, there are those who oppose these changes.

Those who want to stand in the way of this progress.

Those who have an ingrained ideological objection to workers being paid fairly for their contribution…

…who somehow believe that the only way to grow the economy is to limit opportunity and diminish security.

We know there are always those who say that any improvement in workers’ pay, any improvement in the status quo, will see the sky fall in.

They say it every time, and they are wrong every time.

And we will push ahead like we do, every time.

We know fairness has to be fought for, we know progress has to be earned.

Most of all we know it’s worth it – we know the difference that it makes to people’s lives is worth it.


The final thing I wanted to say today is that this 5th World Congress is significant not just because of the important issues that you will discuss and debate…

…but because it is the last Congress with Sharan Burrow as the leader of this organisation.

Sharan Burrow is a great Australian, she is a trailblazer and a lifelong champion for working people. 

Sharan has also been my friend for more than three decades.

Sharan, Australians are deeply grateful and enormously proud of the contribution you have made to the international trade union movement and to the lives of workers everywhere.

Congratulations on all you have achieved.

Thank you very much, have a great Congress.