Thursday, July 21, 2005

Life Without Unions – The New Reality?

Australian unions belong at the very heart of the work, life and aspirations of Australian people. Fabian Society. Speech by Greg Combet, ACTU Secretary.

I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that I dismiss the question that we are to address as absurd. In fact I think that unions will be increasingly relevant and important to people.

In summary these are the reasons why:

  • The right to organise in a union and to collectively bargain lie at the heart of advancement for working people
  • These rights are democratic rights, and unions are essential institutions in democratic societies
  • Unions stand and fight for important values as well as democratic rights
  • Unions have helped shape the Australian political, economic and social environment, and will continue to do so
  • Unions have high levels of support within the community
  • Unions are modernising to meet the demands of rapidly changing workplaces
  • The industrial relations changes the Howard Government is making will mean that unions will be even more important and relevant.
read more

IR laws: international email campaign

Act NOW!

Australia: Fundamental workplace rights under threat

From July 1 2005 the Australian Government will take control of both Houses of the Australian Parliament. This will give the Prime Minister, John Howard and his Conservative Government the power to pass whatever laws they like. The Government has announced it will use these new powers to rewrite Australia's workplace laws which will take away many of the basic rights of Australian workers.

read more

IR laws put penalty rates at risk

The take-home pay of the thousands of Australian employees working early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends and shift work will not be guaranteed under the Federal Government's proposed industrial relations changes ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said today.

"Many working Australians and their families rely on the shift penalties they receive for working early mornings, evenings, nights, weekends or shift work to maintain their living standards and earn the extra money they need to pay the mortgage, the bills and education costs for their kids.

"But under the Federal Government's proposed industrial relations changes there is no guarantee these workers will continue to be entitled to any penalty payments at all. If penalty rates go, thousands of employees will suffer significant reductions in their take home pay at a time when many working families are already struggling just to keep their heads above water.

"Putting pressure on people's penalty rates will hurt workers in a whole range of industries - retail, hospitality, manufacturing, finance, cleaning, security, transport, storage and health just to name a few. In NSW for example, shift penalties comprise around 22% of the take-home pay for nurses and nursing assistants that work in nursing homes and aged care facilities. If nurses working in private hospitals and privately run aged care facilities were to lose their penalty rates their take home pay could drop by as much as $125 to $225 a week."

read more

Monday, July 18, 2005

Staff working on IR laws face curbs

Public servants working on John Howard's sweeping overhaul of workplace laws are to have their own rights to take grievances to the Industrial Relations Commission curbed under a proposed wage agreement.

Negotiations between the Community and Public Sector Union and the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations have stalled over the department's demand that staff cannot take disputes to the IRC unless management agrees.

CPSU organiser Lisa Newman said the ultimatum made a mockery of the Government's pledge that workers would continue to have access to the IRC to resolve disputes.

"The department is still trying to deny its own staff that access," she said.

read more

From the government and here to help

From the government and here to help
a poem by John Tomlinson
We lied to you about
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
We weren’t entirely honest about
the GST.
We distorted the truth about
the children overboard.
We dissembled about
native title covering suburban back yards.
We’ve been disingenuous about
Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon.
But you can still trust us on
industrial relations.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Banks: IR policy advocates to be shamed

The Finance Sector Union is planning to "name and shame" major banks that wholeheartedly endorse the Business Council of Australia's advocacy of the Howard government's proposed industrial relations changes.

In a bid to force the nation's 21 biggest financial companies to "stop hiding behind the BCA banner", the FSU has written to them asking for their position on five specific aspects of workplace reform.

"If they want to take a less aggressive approach we'll work with them to protect employees' terms and conditions and we'll make sure their employees know of their stance," FSU national secretary Paul Schroder said.

"On the other hand, if they want to be held individually accountable for the aggressive things the BCA is saying on their behalf, we'll publicly name and shame them.

"We think there's the potential that some employers may refuse to line up behind the government and the BCA's hard-line approach.

"Our membership has never been so interested in a piece of legislation and we want to be able to tell employees what individual employers are intending to do."

read more

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Howard's IR ad blitz to begin this weekend

Radio ads selling the benefits of planned industrial relations reforms will begin running this weekend as the federal government ramps up its $20 million campaign.

Prime Minister John Howard has also appointed former Liberal Party federal director Andrew Robb to head up a taskforce to help Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews explain the planned changes to the public.

Mr Howard was forced to cut short his holidays last week to fight an $8 million union campaign against the changes after two opinion polls showed government support plummeting.

read more

Thursday, July 14, 2005

AWAs: name has "bad public image"

AWAs (Australian Workplace Agreements) have such a bad public image the Federal Government is considering changing their name.

The move is the most telling sign to date that the Government is nervous about public opposition to the Government's industrial relations reforms amid widespread fear they will reduce wages and conditions.
A name change was being considered last year and is now back on the agenda in the face of polls that show up to two thirds of people oppose workplace changes.

Despite Government claims they have benefited workers, they have a bad reputation among unions and many workers, who see them as a vehicle to strip pay and conditions.

This week the Bureau of Statistics revealed workers on individual contracts are paid less on average than those on collective agreements.

The Government now plans to abolish the "no disadvantage test" for AWAs, meaning workers could have their pay cut by signing the contracts.

With the potential for even worse stigma, it is understood the use of the term AWA is "under close scrutiny".

Unions have welcomed the news as a sign the Government is rattled.

"What are they going to change the name to? The Declaration of Independence? The You Beaut Pay Deal?" one senior union figure said.

read more

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

lies and reform

This is the most unashamedly anti-union government we've had. It won't outlaw them, just do its damnedest to frustrate them.

Whereas until quite recently it was almost universally accepted that workers had a right to bargain collectively, this Government is doing all it can to discourage collective bargaining and foster individual bargaining.

Often, combatants resort to hurling abuse because their case is weak or hard to defend. The Government's basic problem is it can't bring itself to admit that the crystal-clear objective of its changes is to shift the balance of bargaining power in favour of employers.

Far from admitting that truth, it is seeking to conceal it from an unsophisticated electorate. Hence the many misleading statements in the taxpayer-financed advertisements.

Messrs Howard and Andrews are in no position to accuse their opponents of telling lies.

read more

Individual contracts come off second best

The majority of workers on individual contracts being pushed by the Federal Government in its workplace reforms are worse off than those on collective agreements, a Bureau of Statistics report has shown.

Those dependent on awards earned an average $16.70 an hour. The report found women were more likely to fall into this category and that the gap between men's and women's earnings had widened in the past decade.

The bureau's social trends report, released yesterday, showed non-managerial adult employees on collective agreements earned an average $24.10 an hour, compared with $23.30 for those on individual contracts.

read more

Competition for wages

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Not when but why

Unions win landmark 36-hour week

Unions at Alcoa’s giant Pinjarra aluminium smelter have achieved a landmark agreement over the introduction of a 36-hour week which they say they expect will flow-on to other multi-million dollar civil construction projects throughout the state.

About 300 workers represented by the CFMEU, AMWU, ETU and AWU have voted to accept a company offer on the introduction of a 36 hour week after almost a week of protected industrial action.

The deal is a huge breakthrough which is likely to be taken up by workers on other major projects like the Kemerton Power Station, Dampier Port Expansion, Worsley Aluminium Project Expansion and BHP’s Ravensthorp development.

read more

Individual Contracts: How they work in Canberra

Monday, July 11, 2005

New Anglican leader won't "butt out" of IR debate

Brisbane Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, elected as the Anglican primate at the weekend, yesterday said Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews was wrong to insist that religious leaders withdraw from the debate.

"I don't agree with the minister when he says we should butt out," Dr Aspinall said yesterday.

[listen mp3]

"The key principle the church would want to defend is proper protection for the weakest and most vulnerable in our community."

"The purpose of unfair dismissal laws is to prevent unfair dismissals. If a change there means we're going to allow unfair dismissals - that is, expose vulnerable people to unfairness - that is a real concern, not only to the churches but the whole community."

read more

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Church fears on Govt’s industrial reform plans

Australia’s Catholic bishops have joined other community leaders in voicing their concerns about proposed reforms of industrial relations laws, saying they fear workers will be disadvantaged.

The Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, is worried the reforms will effectively push minimum wages down.

The Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Kevin Manning, has called on Christian politicians in the Senate to vote according to their conscience.

The bishops’ comments come on a tide of community concern which has seen Prime Minister John Howard Howard suffer a setback in a recent poll.

read more

Advertising Is Truth

Poll: Two thirds oppose Howard's IR plans

Most workers think John Howard's new industrial laws may leave them worse off.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed in a Galaxy Research poll, conducted on Friday and Saturday for The Sunday Mail, said they believed the changes might lead to lower pay and poorer working conditions.

The poll found widespread scepticism about the benefits the changes are supposed to bring. Only one-third believe the changes will lead to more jobs.

Even among John Howard's own supporters, only 44 per cent agree that the legislation will create new jobs, compared with 36 per cent that do not expect more jobs to result.

read more

Brendan Nelson warns Nats

Education Minister Brendan Nelson has warned worried Nationals that the Government's voluntary student unionism bill is "totemic" to Liberals, bluntly telling them they should support it for the good of the Coalition.

Reaffirming that the Government would not modify the bill, Dr Nelson said that to try to talk Liberals out of this would be "like trying to talk the Nationals out of drought relief".

His comments came as Queensland National senator Barnaby Joyce took a swipe at Liberal MP Alby Schultz, who had said the Nationals rode on the coat-tails of Prime Minister John Howard's strong leadership and were no longer the voice of rural and regional Australia.

The voluntary student unionism bill, now before Parliament, bans students being forced to join university unions and prevents universities levying compulsory service fees, which go to facilities and activities, including sporting, cultural and political activities.

read more

'Fair go' at risk, former PMs warn

John Howard's proposed industrial laws would hit battlers and destroy the Australian ideal of a "fair go", former prime ministers Paul Keating and Bob Hawke said yesterday.

Bob Hawke said the changes would slash minimum wages and working conditions.

"The whole concept of the Australian fair go was that you had a decent system, which meant that as part of growth the lower socio-economic classes got their share," he said.

Paul Keating accused Mr Howard of dropping a past guise as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" to reveal himself as "a wolf in wolf's clothing". "He now intends that his blue-collar battler friends should have it in the neck."

read more

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Churches warned: keep out of IR debate

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews has urged church leaders to butt out of debate on the Government's industrial relations changes until they know the facts.

"I don't mind church leaders or church spokesmen having views on issues but I think they ought to be informed when they have views on issues," said Mr Andrews.

"If people want to talk about economic matters, they'd better have some economic basis for what they're talking about."

read more

Friday, July 08, 2005

Howard: Eight simple questions

1. Will it be possible for an employee to be worse off under the industrial relations changes?

2. Will minimum wages at least keep up with inflation, and not fall in real value?

3. Will it be possible for employers to require job applicants to sign an individual contract (AWA) in order to get the job?

4. Will it be possible for employers to refuse to collectively bargain with their employees who choose to do so, and insist instead that employees sign an individual contract (AWA)?

5. Will it be possible for employers to provide benefits to their employees who sign an individual contract (AWA), but deny these benefits to employees who choose to collectively bargain, even though the work performed by all employees is the same?

6. Is it the case that individual contracts (AWAs) need only contain the following five minimum standards - Minimum wages, Sick leave, Annual leave, Parental leave and Hours of work?

7. Is it the case that AWAs will not need to contain the following standards, nor compensate for them - Overtime penalty rates of pay, Weekend penalty rates of pay, Public holiday penalty rates of pay, Shift work penalty rates of pay, Allowances, Casual loading, Annual leave loading, Redundancy pay and Work rosters?

8. Will the Government guarantee that no employee will lose take home pay if they are required to sign an AWA?”

London: Four bombs in 50 minutes

At least 38 people were killed yesterday and more than 700 injured as terrorists struck at the heart of London, causing the biggest loss of life in a terrorist attack on mainland Britain.

Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, was in Singapore celebrating London's successful Olympic bid but last night returned to London. In a statement he said: "This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old."

"It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever."

He added: "That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other."

eyewitness accounts Global unions condemn bombings

26 Years Loyal Service: Sacked For Refusing AWA

Campbelltown carpenter Phil worked for Masterton Homes for more than 26 years.

This year the company decided to place him on an individual contract Phil refused to lose many of his award rights, including overtime and penalty rates, and requested that a representative from his union, the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, come to the next meeting with the company.

The next day Masterton Homes made Phil redundant, leaving him without a job to support his wife and three teenage children....

read more

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Govt gets your tax cut back before you do!

There goes your tax cut! Unless your're rich of course. You'll still come out ahead then. The peasants can pay. Go feudal system!

Westpac says a spike in oil prices to $US65 a barrel would lead to a bowser petrol price of $1.30 a litre PETROL prices could reach $1.30 a litre by the end of the year with Australian households set to feel the squeeze regardless of oil prices, a leading bank has forecast.

Westpac economist Jonathan Cavenagh said rising oil prices "Would be equivalent to an extra $14 per week in household spending."

read more

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Howard: how to lose friends

Greg Combet: Employee Rights and the Economy

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet in a speech to the National Press Club today (6 July 2005)...

On the 26th of May John Howard announced the Government’s plans to rewrite Australia’s industrial relations laws, arguing that this was “one of the great pieces of unfinished business in the structural transformation of the Australian economy”.

The Prime Minister would have us believe that industrial relations is the most pressing economic issue facing the nation. He argues that the changes will create more jobs, lift productivity and boost wages. This is an exceptionally feeble argument, lacking substance and credibility. It is mere assertion, little more than media spin.

The Prime Minister gave a more honest assessment of the industrial relations plans when he said to the Coalition party room that they are “an article of faith for the Coalition parties

read more

Kevin Andrews: orchestrating disputation

Australia's construction industry is too important to the national economy to be used a political plaything of the Howard government, CFMEU construction assistant secretary Dave Noonan said today.

According to a report in the Australian Financial Review, Kevin Andrews was acting against the advice of his Department in pressuring construction companies not to settle bargaining agreements with their workers.

"It appears Mr Andrews is more interested in orchestrating disputation in the construction industry than having employers and their workers reach agreement," Mr Noonan said.

"The construction industry is pivotal to our economy - the last thing we need is a politician playing politics with the industry.

"Like so much else in his portfolio, Mr Andrews is putting his ideological obsessions - and those of his Prime Minister - ahead of the national interest.

"These agreements have got the tick from workers, they have got the tick from the Master Builders Association, they have the tick from Mr Andrew's own department - the only person who is playing a spoiling role is Mr Andrews.

"He should listen to the workers, the employers and his own department and stop trying to create mischief in this important and productive industry."

read more

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Poll: John Howard support plunges 10%

An ACNielsen poll out on Tuesday has Labor leading the coalition 41 per cent to 40 per cent in the primary vote, and 54 to 46 on a two-party preferred basis.

The poll, published by Fairfax newspapers, also shows support for Prime Minister John Howard plunged 10 percentage points to 49 per cent, although he is still ahead of Labor leader Kim Beazley, whose support eased four points to 42 per cent.

"Polls are going to come and go but it's clear that the industrial relations agenda of the Howard government is giving the community a huge amount of real concern, and that is reflected in today's polls," Peter Garrett said.

"I think it also says something pretty profound about the way in which Australia's way of life will be altered if these reforms pass through the Senate and the fact that people are anxious about the government and Mr Howard having total control.

"Legislation which has such a strong ideology foundation that doesn't have strong economic or social reason will be looked at by most of the Australian community with a lot of concern, and I think that is what we are seeing with these figures."

New IR law: Annual Leave could be cut to 2 weeks

Employers may be able to cut the annual holiday entitlements of Australian workers from four to just two weeks a year under the Federal Government’s new industrial relations laws.
Join the Your Rights at Work campaign Join the Your Rights at Work campaign

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said today that the Government was still considering whether it would allow employers to use individual contracts to reduce workers' annual leave entitlements from four to two weeks.

Bosses could insist individual contracts provide only 2 weeks break from work Under the Government's plans an employer would be able to insist that all new employees sign an individual contract, which provides just two weeks annual leave.

"What the Government is proposing is the beginning of the end of the family holiday for working Australians," ACTU President Sharan Burrow said.

read more

Monday, July 04, 2005

Unions reach out to 300,000 AFL fans

Around 300,000 spectators attending AFL football matches across Australia this weekend will be given information about how Federal Government workplace reforms will mean less time for family life and less time for sport on weekends

Launching a union 'footy' information campaign with former AFL player Che Cockatoo Collins ahead of the Port Adelaide - Collingwood clash at the Docklands stadium in Melbourne tonight (Friday), ACTU President Sharan Burrow said:

"Hundreds of union members including hospital staff, cleaners, nurses, fire-fighters ambulance officers, teachers, childcare and hospitality workers will be handing out information brochures in the shape of footballs at every AFL match this weekend.

Union members will use the AFL's 'family round' matches this weekend to highlight how badly families would be affected by the changes proposed by the Federal Government.

read more

Gunns' legal document "baffling"

Julian Burnside, QC, is one of a number lawyers representing 20 environmentalists being sued for millions by Tasmanian logging giant Gunns. The lawyers have asked Victorian Supreme Court judge to reject the 360-page statement of claim.

Mr Burnside said the amended statement of claim, which replaced the original one of 216 pages, was "so defective it should not be received by the court" and "leaves the reader baffled. It is almost beyond comprehension".

Kevin Andrews' threat to bosses: no government work!

Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews warned employers that they could be ineligible for government work if they negotiate with unions.

The Victorian branch of the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union) recently reached agreement with the Master Builders Association of Victoria on a new 13 percent pay increase. The Minister is angry that the new Enterprise Agreement retains 26 rostered days off a year and a 36-hour working week, the industry standard.

Andrews criticised the MBA, saying it had "failed to provide leadership on this issue."

read more

Saturday, July 02, 2005

10,000 South Coast workers down tools

MORE than 10,000 South Coast workers downed tools yesterday to participate in an historic protest against proposed industrial relations changes.

After the Wollongong rally, thousands of workers marched through Crown St Mall in a bid to draw public attention to their campaign.

South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) secretary Arthur Rorris described the event as the "biggest public rally in living memory".

He urged those attending to raise awareness among their own communities.

"Whether it's through councils, sporting groups or churches, we need to get the message out there of how these changes will affect workers and their families," he said.

"This campaign has to be a marathon, not a sprint, and we need this Government to know we are determined to fight this every step of the way."

read more

George Pell cautions John Howard over IR

Last year Cardinal George Pell entered the education debate in the last federal election, saying Labor's planned redistribution of funds between non-government schools was "potentially divisive" and "regrettable". In another intervention in the election, George Pell along with Anglican leader Peter Jensen met "privately" with Tony Abbott prior to the election to discuss the Howard government attitude to abortion.

Today George Pell told Australian Financial Review:

"We've had a long period of prosperity in Australia and I think that means that the necessity for radical change needs to be established."

He said his major concern was that minimum wages would be pushed lower in real terms.

"The disparity between rich and poor is of some concern but it is different if the minimum wage is still rising," he said.

This comes after a number of church leaders have described the new laws as anti union and anti poor. Pell's statement follows a recent article by Neil Ormerod, Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney who wrote:

"It is difficult to see how Kevin Andrews, Minister for Workplace Relations, reconciles his workplace reforms with his Catholic faith. And where will that other prominent Catholic minister in the Howard government, Tony Abbott, stand in relation to these proposed reforms. And finally, it will also be interesting to see how a certain Catholic prelate, who has often sided with the Howard government, will respond to a policy so at variance with Catholic social teaching."

read more

The Workers, United

Nurse Anne O'Connor and crane driver, Brett Gay, never imagined themselves as headline acts packing Sydney's venerable Town Hall to overflowing.

But they were smash hits as video presentations of their stories kicked off NSW's campaign against the federal government's workplace assault on Friday, July 1.

O'Connor and Gay were two of eight rank and filers who told simply of their families, their workmates, their conditions, their fears and their determination to fight the Prime Minister for as long as it takes.

When each vignette concluded, Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, introduced the worker to the crowd. And it went nuts.

read more

Friday, July 01, 2005

Blue Mountains: 1000 in IR protest meetings

Organisers were overwhelmed as an estimated 1000 workers from the Blue mountains met in a number of locations to take part in the Unions NSW state wide protest, broadcast live from a huge rally at Sydney Town Hall.

At the Hotel Geerin in Katoomba there were 200 while at the Katoomba RSL 300 crammed into two neighbouring rooms. 400 workers also rallied at Springwood's Royal Hotel and more than 100 in Blaxland.

At some 200 locations throughout NSW an estimated 100,000 workers passed the same resolution: to keep up the struggle against the Howard government planned changes to Industrial Relations laws in Australia.

Now will you sign your AWA?