9 March 2020

My first job was working at a dry cleaners in Chadstone Shopping Centre.

I can tell you that it was hot, hard and seemingly never-ending work. But I was young and enthusiastic.

And when I held my first pay, I felt a real sense of pride. In that moment it became clear to me that I could earn my own money and make my own way in life.

It was at the dry cleaners that I learned skills I still use to this day: how to get a stain out of a jacket and the best way to press a shirt.

But more importantly, I learned that there was dignity in work, no matter what the task. I learned that all work has dignity.

Every kind of work is important in some way and deserves respect; and anyone who works for a living deserves respect from our community.

However, there are some members of our community who don’t always recognise the value and dignity of workers in certain industries. They look down on those workers; they believe that those people are worth less than others and even treat some as social pariahs.

Workers in industries such as resources, agriculture and forestry are not always offered the respect and acknowledgment that I believe they are owed.

Those workers deserve respect, not only for the basic fact that there is dignity in all work but because of the contribution they make to our nation’s prosperity, to our way of life and, in some instances, to our very existence.

We must never forget that.

There has been plenty said recently about farmers, especially those who look after livestock.

Those farmers supply the protein we need and enjoy in Australia and they export it around the world. I have no doubt that the nature of food consumption will change in the future, but we must stop attacking farmers for supplying the food we eat.

Without a strong farming industry, our food security would be at risk. Food prices would be completely out of the reach of ordinary Australians. Meat could, once again, become a luxury item that only the privileged can afford.

Some of us would go hungry regularly.

Debate about the coal industry and its place in Australia’s future has been prominent recently too.

Whatever your views are about coal mining, there are families who rely on the industry for their future and coal miners, too, deserve our respect.

Let’s not forget about timber workers who have also been subject to the kind of disrespect I’m talking about, despite the fact that sustainable logging and timber processing hold up the economies of entire towns in rural and regional Victoria.

Again, whatever your views might be on logging, timber workers deserve the same respect as the rest of us.

There’s no doubt there will be some tough times ahead for some of Australia’s industries. As a nation, we have to deal with challenges such as climate change, the seemingly exponential rise of the gig economy, the decline of manufacturing and the growth of the services and professional industries.

But, as we discuss those challenges and search for a way forward, we need to be a little more considerate in the way we speak about those industries and remember that we are talking about people’s families and their futures.

We must be thoughtful and respectful, and keep the livelihoods of workers uppermost in policy making processes. After all, every Australian has a right to earn a living.

We should all reject the elitism that takes comfort in the decline of those industries, an elitism that usually comes at the expense of workers.

This is the Lucky Country, a place that millions of us have moved to.

Migrants come here looking for the opportunity to make a better life, the chance to find a good job and make a future.

We work to eke out a living and to support the people we love. We work because it brings a sense of pride and fulfilment, because it gives our days and weeks meaning and offers us opportunity. We work because it is often the best way for each of us to make a contribution to the community around us.

All workers have an important role in Australia’s success and we should be supporting them and helping them to succeed.

There is nothing to be gained from attacking workers for making a living, for creating wealth and bringing stability to the future of our nation.

So on Labour Day, I want to say that all workers in all industries, wherever they work and however they contribute to our community, have my respect and my thanks.

This opinion piece was originally published by the Herald Sun.