Unions have used May Day to single out penalty rates and the structure of the tax system as key election issues.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney was in Western Australia for the May Day march in Fremantle on Sunday and told reporters penalty rates were a “defining issue”.
“Working people rely on penalty rates, they are not something that are an added bonus,” she said.
“They are important for people to put food on the table, to pay the rent, and not only that, it’s compensation for working those really unsociable hours when everybody’s out having fun.
“I think it’s going to be a huge issue. It resonates so strongly with all our members and I think all parties are going to need to sit up and take notice of that.”
While Labor backs Sunday penalty rates, leader Bill Shorten has stated he would accept a drop if it was recommended by the Fair Work Commission.
Unions WA secretary Meredith Hammat denied unions were “going soft” on Mr Shorten, with Ms Kearney adding it was good to see Labor trying to protect penalty rates, compared to the Liberals who endorsed big business.
But she said unions still needed more certainty that penalty rates would be absolutely protected.
Ms Kearney said the tax system was another issue for the election, with the current scheme being increasingly unfair, including tax evasion by big corporations and tax loopholes that advantaged the wealthy.
The May Day event in Fremantle was attended by about 4000 people and was one of several similar events held around the country over the weekend, including a gathering of about 8000 people in Sydney on Sunday.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey said the federal election represented a crossroads for Australian workers with issues such as corporate tax avoidance, workplace rights and the privatisation of Medicare among the top priorities of working people.
Brisbane will hold a similar event on Monday.