Labor senator Jess Walsh has called for the federal government to make a secure jobs pledge to stop American-style inequality in Australia.
The Victorian senator, elected at the May federal poll, credited time studying stable manufacturing jobs being replaced with insecure work in service industries with her political awakening.
"It took leaving Australia for me to understand how much we need to fight for what we have here," she told parliament in her first speech on Wednesday.
The ex-union boss said a secure jobs pledge would force government to assess every decision against a critical set of criteria.
"Does it create decent, stable jobs with respect? Or does it put more Australians on the path to insecurity?" she said.
Working with unions rather than against them is the first step in Senator Walsh's jobs pledge, along with a focus on work which brings respect.
"It means mobilising the resources of government to actively plan for decent, stable jobs in everything we do," she said.
She said the pledge would mean kick-starting stable manufacturing work in new sustainable industries.
"As a nation, we've all but abandoned those blue-collar jobs."
Senator Walsh said government should be prepared to say no to privatisation if selling off services resulted in cutting wages and job security.
She said women in government-funded child care, aged care and disability were underpaid for essential work.
"If we delivered on our pledge, in this sector alone, we would open the gates to middle-class security and opportunity for hundreds of thousands of Australian women," Senator Walsh said.
She also raised a secure jobs pledge for indigenous people doing the same work for half the pay as part of the controversial Community Development Program.
"We need to apply a whole of government secure jobs pledge to everything we do and be accountable to the Australian people on that pledge."
The former United Voice Victorian secretary also backed the organisation's merger with the National Union of Workers to "shake things up".
"The new United Workers Union will be a critical force in rebuilding respect, security and opportunity in Australia," she said.
Senator Walsh said wage theft had become the norm in hospitality and farming, while women were still paid less than men for work of equal value.
Australian Associated Press