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Unions ready to flex industrial muscle but strikes will be 'last resort'

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Unions have declared “time’s up” for job insecurity, flagging a unified effort to pressure employers through boycotts and social media campaigns.

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But major industrial action is considered a last resort in the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ new attack on casualisation and labour hire conversion.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus is confident the campaign will make inroads.

“In terms of turning up the heat, it’s about workers and unions making demands of employers for secure jobs,” she told AAP on Monday.

“Inevitably a whole lot of those will be agreed to because a whole lot of employers know that time’s up on this issue.”

Employer groups have bristled at unions’ tactical shift, with warnings strikes and picket lines would signal a return to outdated militant industrial tactics.

Business leaders argue reopening the economy and dealing with the pandemic recovery must be a priority for all players in industrial relations.

But McManus said industrial action would be “the very last option”.

“Workers are sick of – especially because of what they’ve been through – that level of insecurity,” she said.

“Unions will be acting in a united way where there’s employers that refuse to give workers job security when there’s permanent jobs there.”

In 2016, the ACTU threw its weight behind a boycott of Carlton & United Breweries over the Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught-producer’s decision to sack 55 workers.

They were reinstated after months of community pressure.

Streets Ice Cream has also been targeted as part of an industrial campaign.

McManus said the ACTU would back in workers to try to boost job security in target sectors.

“It might be in terms of social media campaigning, it might be about people exercising their consumer choices in terms of what products they might want to buy from whom – a whole range of tactics.”

Casual employees gained more rights to request conversion from casual to permanent roles under laws passed earlier in the year.

But it is unclear to what extent the provisions have led to more people taking up part-time and full-time jobs with employers able to reject requests.

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