Rallying workers say Prime Minister Scott Morrison is taking them on a “highway to hell” by denying Australians a pay rise.
The ACTU estimates 150,000 people, including Victorian Labor premier Daniel Andrews, rallied in Melbourne on Tuesday and thousands also joined the call in Sydney, Darwin, Wollongong, Cairns, Townsville and other regional centres demanding a “fair go”.
Fruitpicker Putri, who worked at Griffith in NSW and Bairnsdale in Victoria, told reporters she was tired of being underpaid and taken advantage of by farmers just because she was in Australia on a visa.
“We are fighting for our lives and a fair go,” Melbourne cleaner Sajita said before an AC/DC cover band performed for the crowd.
Blaring Aussie rock anthems is one way to get attention, as is shutting down city streets as a sea of high-vis-clad and vocal workers marched out their demands.
But AC/DC wasn’t the only tune being sung, they also sang the praises of Mr Andrews and the federal Labor Party.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said the disruption was worth it.
“Our standard of living is going backwards. That should not be happening,” Ms McManus told the Melbourne crowd.
“A small disruption for a couple of hours is worth it.
“There is an appalling figure that 28,000 working people are homeless in our country.
“That’s because the minimum wage in our country is just $37,000 – that is not enough to support yourself.”
As the rally prepared to get underway, CFMEU boss John Setka quoted historical figures in a tweet to justify the action, including Martin Luther King saying “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal”.
Federal Jobs and Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O’Dwyer accused him of comparing Hitler’s Nazi Germany to Australia and said the comparison was “vile”.
“John Setka has done it again. His vile slur against the Federal Govt (sic) likening it to the Hitler regime is beyond repugnant,” she tweeted.
She later slammed the rally and said unions were hurting rather than helping workers.
Mr Andrews said Victorians were working harder than ever but not being rewarded.
“They want a better deal, they’re entitled to that, so they can provide the best for their kids and they can have a better standard of living and greater opportunities than their parents have had,” he told reporters.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has dismissed the union claims.
“Scratch the surface and the ACTU’s campaign is really about putting power into the hands of big unions, disempowering employees, and removing their choices,” CEO James Pearson said.