Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jacob Kovco: after the shot, a sickening silence

So now we privatise our war dead, do we? Even some poor bugger who died in circumstances they insist they're not exactly sure about, except that it was a "tragic accident". What other sort is there when someone ends up dead?

And was this why John Howard stayed silent about Jacob Kovco's death until three days after he died? Because the circumstances of Australia's first military death in Iraq look a bit smelly? A young soldier only a month in Baghdad dies with a bullet in the head in the same room as two army comrades, yet nobody "knows" what happened? Come off it.

Then the army repeats the unbelievable. It loses his body.

A friend emailed yesterday: "We talk about a values debate in Australia? F--- me dead! A billionaire media mogul like Kerry Packer, who celebrated his tax minimisation, gets a publicly funded state memorial service, and a Private Kovco, who offered his life for his country and paid the ultimate price, gets treated like a piece of meat." His bitterness only reflects national outrage. How can this be?

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Songs of Chris Kempster: National Folk Festival launch

One of the highlights at the National Folk Festival this year was the "Songs of Chris Kempster" double CD launch. For two years the Chris Kempster Project team had worked to raise funding, to find the thirty tracks we were to use, to get copyright clearance, to write and organise the design of the booklet and finally to produce as professional a CD as we could muster.
There were many near misses, including the possibility of no CDs to launch, but there were many more hits. We had great support from the folk community from day one, we had crucial support from institutions like the National Library and the ABC, with their invaluable archives. We had support from audiences at the fundraising concerts and from the NSW Folk Federation. We had support form Cornstalk and Trad&Now. We had support from folk festivals from unions and from New Theatre. Most importantly we had the budgetary support for the project from our thirty odd sponsors. From our lists of contacts and supporters we worked out that over 100 people "out there" were helping to push this project along.

The Chris Kempster Project team met maybe six or seven times over the two years and a huge amout of our work was done by email, well over 500 emails bouncing back and forth to sort things out, correct wording and historical facts, and finally agree on the content of the CD and its booklet. We ran a website [ ] to keep people informed of our activities and our fundraising. Such a 21st Century endeavour!

The launch itself was incredible, such a high level of entertainment, such a keen and generous audience, such rapport, such a meeting of minds and souls. Launched? That CD took off like a blooming rocket!

where to buy CD

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Asbestos is the World's Biggest Industrial Killer - Ban it Now!

This year, on International Workers Memorial Day, April 28, unions nationally and internationally are mobilizing to promote government action for a global ban on the production, import, export and use of all asbestos products, government support for a transition to safe and sustainable jobs, and justice for the global victims of the deadly fiber.

Asbestos is the world's biggest industrial killer, claiming at least 100,000 lives annually. IUF members in every sector are exposed to asbestos in a variety of situations - in agriculture, food processing, hotels, restaurants and catering enterprises, where asbestos and asbestos-containing materials were and are used as insulation and fire-retardants products, in wallboard, paint and other construction materials, pipe and furnace insulation materials, shingles, tiles, and machine installations.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

State laws key to IR test case

The actions of a South Australian company which retrenched two apprentices under new federal workplace laws could be illegal under state law.

In a landmark case heard by the Grievances and Disputes Mediation Committee at the Adelaide Town Hall yesterday, SA Unions said it thought it was illegal, even under federal legislation, to sack an apprentice.

Third-year apprentice electricians Robert Elkson, 19, and Greg Garrard, 20, were fired without notice by Kadina electrical and plumbing company Mildwaters Trade Centre on March 27 - the same day the Federal Government's new workplace laws came into effect.

Unions SA representative Janet Giles said a positive outcome in the case could send a firm warning to SA employers.

"It is very important to have protective legislation at a state level," she said.

"To sack someone at a trainee level is a double-whammy.

"It takes away their job and their training.

"We need to safeguard our trainee system."

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Your Rights at Work: soccer to 'em

This weekend the NSW ETU takes it a step further, with the launch of a sponsorship deal of the Nepean and Central Coast Soccer Associations.

This Saturday night at the newly named 'Your Rights at Work' stadium at St Mary's, the Central Coast Lightning and Penrith-Nepean United will lock horns in the State Super League - both teams wearing 'Your Rights at Work' logos on their jerseys.

The sponsorship deals go all the way down the junior grades and also covers women's sides - if you or your family play soccer in the Federal seats of Lindsay and Dobell - the Your Rights At Work brand will be in your face each and every week of the season.

Will it overthrow a government? Not on its own, but it's the sort of presence that can get inside your mind and ensure that when you do exercise your democratic rights you will not be easily swayed by the latest morsel the government throws in your way.

Those in government hoping the union campaign will run out of steam should be rightly concerned. We are kicking on.

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Costello Plans Super Swindle

Peter Costello is mulling a plan to snatch billions of dollars a year from working women.

A federal government taskforce wants millions of low-income earning women denied superannuation in a bid to cut “red tape” for business.

The Taskforce on Reducing Regulatory Burdens on Business has called for the income threshold for employer superannuation contributions to be lifted from $450 a month to $800 a month.

The taskforce, operating under the auspices of the Productivity Commission, issued recommendation 5.49, buried on page 126 of the "Rethinking Regulation" Report, in January.

The move would shut over a million Australian workers, including over 14% of women, out of retirement savings.

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Unions: success against global privatisation

Over the past five years, unions and their civil society allies in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia have successfully organized to win important victories over the private interests that depend on IFI loans to set the conditions for corporate control over water, electric power and other basic services. This paper focuses on six such victories, starting with an analysis about how trade unions in Uruguay took the lead in organizing that country’s historic referendum on water. The other case studies focus on:

● South Africa, where trade unions led the opposition to the privatization of the country’s largest freight rail line and negotiated with the government to keep the reorganized line in public hands.

● Croatia, where five labour federations set aside their differences to rally opposition to an IMF-World Bank proposal for labour reform designed to make it easier for employers to fire workers.

● Argentina, where the government, backed by its labour unions, cancelled the privatization of the postal service, which had been turned over to a private company at the behest of the World Bank and the IMF.

● Indonesia, where the nation’s constitutional court ruled against the IMF-backed privatization of a major utility after labour unions and civil society groups filed a lawsuit contesting the government’s right to privatize the utility.

● Tanzania, where the government cancelled a water privatization project, also demanded by the IMF and World Bank, with the strong support of the trade union at the water utility.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Eight Hour Day: ABC Radio 2 part program

When stonemasons walked off the job on the site of Melbourne University on 21 April 1856, they were among the first in the world to achieve the 8 hour working day.

Others before them – in Sydney and New Zealand – had paved the way, but it was in Melbourne, then a boom city fuelled by the Gold Rush, that the idea really took off and quickly spread across Australia, laying the foundations for what was to become one of the strongest trade union movements in the world.

Stonemason’s prize winning float

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

WorkChoices: the 'Cowra Clause'

What will now go down in industrial lore as the 'Cowra Clause' goes to the very heart of WorkChoices by placing an operational override on the provision of workplace rights.

Think about that logic - an employer must treat workers fairly unless there is a business case to act to the contrary. That business case need not even be dominant reason, just a factor in the decision-making process.

The question that any employer could rightly put is: when is business not a factor in a decision?

This question has been around since the inceptions of trade unions - accepting that workers rights are a business cost that the employer will not willingly pay. By their very nature, workers rights, are a restriction of free market forces.

That's why workers banded together to place pressure for rights to be respected first at the workplace, and then universally through legislation.

Within the short-term, market paradigm, the Cowra Clause is not a loophole to be fixed, but the very reason for WorkChoices.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Government panic: ends first IR case

Minister for Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, has suddenly ended the prosecution of 70 workers who had refused to live in shacks they claimed were ridden with feral cats and fleas, and sitting on collapsing stilts above overflow from an open sewer pit.

The workers were about to begin an eight-week stint maintaining a coal-washing plant at a mine in central-western Queensland when they walked off the job in March last year because of the camp conditions.

After two days they were ordered back to work by the Industrial Relations Commission. The dispute with the employer, Eagles Engineering, was settled when the camp was cleaned up.

The workers and their union, the Queensland branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, believed the matter was all over until they learnt in February that the Office of Workplace Services was prosecuting them.

The ACTU's secretary, Greg Combet, said the decision was evidence of panic.

"The moment we bring a situation like this to public light the Government panics and drops the prosecution," he said.

"I think the Prime Minister has told Mr Andrews to make sure industrial relations is kept out of the media and he is willing to do anything to make it happen."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Howard's IR Laws: pay cuts

Reports in today's newspapers show that a young worker in a Juice Bar has seen her pay for a seven hour shift cut by $40 a day because her employment has shifted to an individual contract (AWA).

In the case of 16 year old Amber Oswald, reported today in the Sydney Morning Herald, her employer shifted the Juice Bar workers onto individual contracts (AWAs) on the first day of the new laws, 27 March.

Under the new AWA, Amber's hourly pay rate dropped from $9.52 to $8.57 and her penalty rates had been abolished altogether.

This reduced her pay by $5.70 an hour on Sundays and by as much as $11.25 an hour on public holidays.

Amber now receives $40 less for working a seven-hour shift on Sundays.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Exclusive Brethren Clause

John Howard has blessed a particular sect as the latest union-busting tool for bosses.

The clause has become known as the "Exclusive Brethren Clause" after the aggressively anti-union and secretive Christian group, which has been linked to conservative political parties around the world.

Greens Leader Bob Brown said the clause was a reward to the Brethren for supporting the Coalition.

"It appears clear the Exclusive Brethren has won special favour in the industrial relations package to protect itself from scrutiny of workplace abuse," Brown said.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Employers declare: IR laws "bureaucracy gone mad"

The Howard Government is under intense pressure from employers to abandon rules under new workplace laws making it compulsory to keep time records for all staff, including managers and chief executives.

Under special regulations, employers face penalties running to thousands of dollars if they fail to keep records of daily starting and finishing times, nominal working hours and hours actually worked.

The regulations, added shortly before the laws began last week, give employers six months to comply. The executive director of NSW-based group Employers First, Garry Brack, described the regulations as "incomprehensible" and "bureaucracy gone mad".

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Neville Wran: on democracy and arrogance

Democracy is a work in progress. When we of the West talk about building and spreading democracy, even fighting wars for democracy, we ought to have the grace to realise our own shortcomings and hypocrisies.

We talk as if these values - democratically elected assemblies, equal representation, the sanctity of the ballot, the secular state, freedom of religion, including freedom from religion as a political test, the equal status of women, the right of organised labour, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the presumption of innocence … the list goes on - were all self-evident truths and inalienable rights which we uphold as universal, immutable and immortal … as if we guaranteed them in our own societies.

In all our arrogance, we talk about these values as if they were so much part of the natural order of things that we have a divine right to impose them on the rest of the world, even if it means war. Yet not one of these values has not been under challenge in our societies in our lifetime.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

IR laws: Howard blinks

John Howard yesterday put bosses on notice to act within the law as public outcry over a spate of sackings threatens to unravel support for the Government's new workplace rules.

ACTU chief Sharan Burrow said the Cowra case was an example of the "bastardry" of the new laws.

"Unless this company can be proved to actually employ more than 100 workers, and not have sacked those people for operational reasons, his laws can be used to do just what they did," she said.

The Prime Minister has been frustrated that negative effects of the new rules, such as sackings, have dominated the headlines.

Mr Howard said large employers would be "wrong" if they invented an operational reason to sack workers.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Apprentice sackings: workchoices at work

Two South Australian apprentice electricians are at the centre of a pivotal test case that has the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of young workers across Australia.

Unions SA says the men were unlawfully sacked on Monday – the day the Federal Government's new workplace laws, WorkChoice, took effect.

And the peak union body says it will pursue the matter through the court system until the matter is resolved.

The action centres on whether apprentices – SA has 34,500 apprentices and trainees – can be sacked without warning under the new laws.

Moonta apprentice electricians Greg Garrard, 20, and Rob Elkson, 19, say they were sacked "without warning" from Mildwaters Trade Centre, at Kadina, on Yorke Peninsula.

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Nanango librarian sacking: workchoices at work

The old bush song had it right: "It's on to Nanago that hardbitten township/where the out of work station hands sit in the dust"

The sacking of a librarian by a Queensland council while she was on sick leave has divided a small rural community.

Leigh Sheridan, 35, who ran Nanango Shire Council's library for 14 years, found out she was sacked by fax on Monday, within hours of new WorkChoices legislation coming into effect.

The changes exempt companies with fewer than 100 employees from unfair dismissal regulations.

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