Monday, December 24, 2007

Unions good for economy

The Age December 23, 2007

The purpose of the Howard government's WorkChoices legislation was to destroy trade unions in the name of improving labour productivity and reducing unemployment.

WorkChoices was the biggest single factor in the demise of the Coalition government. It was electoral poison because most employees, including those who weren't members of unions and would never think about joining a union, recognised that the legislation could be used to undermine their terms and conditions of employment.

The right-wing putsch against the trade unions failed for much the same reasons as it failed in 1929, when the Bruce government lost the election on the issue of abolishing the Arbitration Court and Stanley Bruce, like John Howard, lost his seat.

It is an inconvenient truth that unionised work forces can contribute to labour productivity by driving up wages faster than non-unionised work forces and this provides a stimulus to innovation, as employers will be motivated to economise on the use of labour by capital substitution. Studies in the US have shown that unionised workers also promote productivity because strong unions foster a culture where workers are less inhibited about pointing out problems as they emerge on the shop floor because they feel the union will protect their employment security.

As US economist and author Robert Kuttner puts it, there are allocative efficiencies to be gained as labour markets become more like spot markets and pay scales are matched with marginal productivity. But there are major mechanisms such as stronger unions, fair trade, wage subsidies and social incomes and education and training that can combine equity with efficiency. The analogy is the old paradox that brakes allow the car to go faster, according to Kuttner.

Employees are less likely to point out management mistakes when they don't enjoy the protection of unions or unfair dismissal rules.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Haneef wins fight for visa

Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef has won his court battle to have his Australian work visa reinstated but the new Rudd Government may appeal it to the High Court.

The full bench of the Federal Court, sitting in Melbourne, today dismissed an appeal lodged by federal government lawyers against a judge's decision to reinstate Dr Haneef's visa.

The Federal Court decision, handed down by Chief Justice Michael Black in Melbourne, was another slap in the face for former immigration minister Kevin Andrews, who had cancelled the former Gold Coast doctor's visa on character grounds.

Dr Haneef's lawyer Peter Russo said his client had reservations about coming back to work as a doctor in Queensland.

His main aim was to clear his name, said Mr Russo.

"Firstly, to enable him to make that decision as to whether or not he will come back and secondly, for him to clear his name and get on with his life," he told ABC radio before today's decision was handed down.

"As time goes by I don't know whether that wish is as strong as it was when we started."

update ...

The secret information relied on by former immigration minister Kevin Andrews to cancel Mohamed Haneef's visa has been discarded by his Labor successor, Chris Evans, who found there was no basis to deny the Indian doctor entry to Australia.

Senator Evans said Dr Haneef was free to reclaim his work visa, adding cryptically that he had based his decision on the "latest federal police information".

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The NSW Government is planning to hand over the state's electricity to big business - taking power out of our hands.

The experience in other states and overseas shows us private ownership leads to:
  • higher prices
  • less reliable supply
  • key service jobs sent offshore
In NSW our electricity would be taken over by multinational companies who will be more interested in profits than making the best decisions for our energy future.

Don't hand over our electricity to big business.

The industry currently delivers billions of dollars in profits to the government to fund hospitals, schools and other public services and employs tens of thousands of workers across the state.

Steps must be taken now to secure NSW's energy future but privatising our power industry is not the way to go.

The State Government should instead upgrade its existing power stations to meet our short-term needs while taking urgent action to promote renewable energy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

AWAs: dismantling begins

The new Labor government will turn the resumption of Parliament into an immediate test of the Liberal Party's loyalty to Work Choices by making the abolition of the policy the first item of his legislative agenda.

Cabinet agreed yesterday to introduce transitional legislation in February that would outlaw new Australian Workplace Agreements and abolish the fairness test. "We believe this is an important step forward because so many working families have been adversely affected by the existing range of laws," said Kevin Rudd.

The Coalition, which will control the Senate until July 1, remains deeply split over whether to abandon all or any of the policy, which was a big factor in its election loss.

The former workplace relations minister, Joe Hockey, has declared Work Choices "dead", while his predecessor, Kevin Andrews, says the Coalition should stick by it. "Are we to say to these people [who voted Liberal] that what we believed was for the good of Australia is no longer the case," he wrote yesterday in a newspaper column.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard today urged employers not to draft new AWAs before the laws are changed, but conceded there was nothing the government could do to stop employers putting new workers on AWAs before the introduction of the new legislation.

"They are the Liberal party's laws, and the Liberal party's laws are in operation today,'' she told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

"I can't change the Liberal party's laws until parliament can be brought together and the bill dealt with by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.''

But Ms Gillard urged employers to act in good faith, and resist drafting new AWAs in compliance with the incoming legislation.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Mining: ready to tackle climate change

Australia's mining industry is well placed to take a leading role in tackling climate change, the mining union says.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has congratulated the government for its involvement in the recent climate change conference in Bali.

The union also welcomed the "strong support" Australian negotiators gave for developed countries to negotiate slashing greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40 per cent over the next decade.

"We do need deep cuts there's no doubt about that and now we can get on with the job of working out how to get there."


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Howard legacy: ABCC out of control

The bystander was a mild-mannered academic from the University of Melbourne. Passing a building site on the Yarra's south bank, he witnessed a confrontation between a union official and a building manager. No punches were thrown but the two men pushed each other and grabbed at each other's shirts.

But agents of the federal building industry watchdog soon tracked the witness down and hauled him in for several hours of secret questioning, under powers that rival those of Australia's national security services.

The man cannot be named and cannot discuss the details of his interrogation for fear of imprisonment. Building unions say the innocent citizen's experience proves the Australian Building and Construction Commission is out of control, wielding powers greater than the police and equal to those of anti-terrorism bodies such as ASIO.

A spokeswoman for the commission confirmed it was the first time a bystander, not connected with a building company or a union, has been subjected to these powers. The legislation gives the commission the authority to question people - with or without a lawyer present - and overrides the right to silence. Witnesses cannot reveal the contents of the interview, even to their spouses, and risk up to six months in jail if they breach the law.


see also
Constructing Fear

Friday, December 14, 2007

CFMEU: members oppose electricity sell off

Unions are opposed to plans to sell off electricity retailers and lease power generators to the private sector, saying the move puts hundreds of jobs in doubt.

Delegates representing 10,000 building workers from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) will vote today to support a campaign against privatisation.

Workers at three Hunter Valley power stations have also held stop-work meetings this week.

CFMEU secretary Andrew Ferguson says the issue is important for all members.

"Five-hundred members are threatened in our energy division," he said.

"They've raised the issue of the leadership of the energy division of the union and we act as one union, all our divisions.

"There's no secondary boycott at this point in time. We're simply expressing our support - we're opposing the plans of Treasurer Michael Costa."


USU: Stop the Sell Off

The Union Movement is strongly opposed to the Iemma Government's announcement to privatise the Electricity Industry.

The USU has, on every occasion that we have met with the Iemma Government, adamantly opposed any proposition that includes the sale of State Owned electricity assets. In every available forum the USU has made it quite clear that we do not condone the sale of retail, or the leasing of generators.

It is premature and offensive for the Iemma Government and your employer to announce transfer proposals for employees, when a debate on the Governments position is yet to occur. It appears the Government is attempting to gag debate in relation to their intention to sell off your jobs.

There will be a combined Unions Delegates meeting at Unions NSW Sydney on 19th December 2007; at the conclusion of the meeting the Unions will launch a public campaign and website in opposition to the Government's proposal.

All members should encourage non-members to join. With your support and the support of all other Union members from across the industry, we are confident that we can achieve the best possible outcome for the Energy Industry.

Let's keep Energy in the public hands.

The USU calls on all Trade Unionists (from all trade unions) and employees of all State-Owned electricity companies to fight for your jobs, because this is only the beginning of the sell-off.

Should you require further information, please call the USU Contact Centre on 1300 136 604.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

AMWU opposes Iemma's privatisation

AMWU NSW Secretary Paul Bastian said that the community had consistently opposed privatisation of public assets and infrastructure services.

“It’s difficult to understand why the Premier is pushing ahead with this when there is evidence to show that privatisation is an expensive failure for everyone except the private businesses that buy them.”

An emergency Caucus meeting of NSW Labor parliamentarians on Monday approved the Premier’s plan. Since that time all pretence at ‘negotiations’ with the affected unions have broken down in the face of the Treasurer Michael Costa’s provocative media statements and his refusal to give commitments on job security or conditions of employment for workers in the power industry.

Mr Bastian said the New South Wales Government tried and failed to privatise the power industry in 1997.

“It was a spectacular failure, but since that time, privatisation has always been on the radar.

“Morris Iemma’s State Labor Government didn’t seek a mandate to privatise power or any other NSW public asset. Privatisation was a point of major difference between the ALP and the Coalition during the State election campaign.

“Yet since winning a fourth term at the State election in March, it has been clear that the treasurer has made moves to do whatever necessary to privatise a range of state owned infrastructure and services.”

“While the Government claims it to be a sign of ‘economic responsibility’, we see it for what it is: an attempt to hide public debt which effectively results in the transfer of public wealth to private profit.”


Hunter Valley says no!

Newcastle Trades Hall secretary Gary Kennedy says he expects local unions to spearhead the campaign against power utilities privatisation because the Hunter region will be the hardest hit in terms of potential job losses.

Mr Kennedy says the strategy will focus on enlisting community support to try to overturn the decision, but industrial action by power industry workers is a strong possibility.

"I would not rule it out at all, "he said. "This debate was had and done in 1997, and here we are again with no opportunity to have that raised as an election issue."

"It has been dumped on us cold, straight after the election. People feel betrayed and exceptionally angry."

He says unions could run a campaign similar to the one run against the federal WorkChoices laws.

"We've got a lot of experience with the right-to-work campaign with regards to WorkChoices," he said.

"We have these groups that have been set up and organised. They're very angry, they feel betrayed."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Iemma private electricity blunder

Labor Premier Morris Iemma's support for privatisation of NSW's power stations is undoubtedly a backward move. This move is especially backward in the light of the needs to regulate power production on a State and National level to deal with the effects climate change. Even the US, the foremost advocate of privatisation, is having to reconsider that policy to deal with the mess that it has left them with. Maybe Iemma is just unaware of the new realities.

The New York Times last week reported that more than a decade after the drive began to convert electricity from a regulated industry into a competitive one, many states are rolling back their initiatives or returning money to individuals and businesses.

"The main reason behind the effort to return to a more regulated market is price" the paper said.

"Recent Energy Department data shows that the cost of power in states that embraced competition has risen faster than in states that had retained traditional rate regulation."

Of the 25 states, and the District of Columbia, that had adopted competition, only one, California, is even talking about expanding market pricing. In Ohio, politicians, utilities, their customers and consumer groups are negotiating how to end competitive electricity pricing, while Virginia has repealed its law.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Unions say thankyou

Across Australia working people voted against the IR laws. Australian unions would like to thank the millions of working people who voted to get back their rights at work.
"All Australians should honour the courage and fortitude of the many workers who stood up against the Coalition’s unfair WorkChoices IR laws and withstood the disgraceful attacks on them by the Howard Government," said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bernie Banton: State Funeral

Mr Banton passed away early this morning. The details for Bernie Banton’s funeral are as follows:

Wednesday, 5 December, 10.30 a.m.
ACER Arena,
Olympic Boulevarde,
Sydney Olympic Park

We will meet at the front of ACER Arena main entrance at 9.30 a.m.

There will be a union guard of honour after the service for Bernie. Once the service is completed there will be a designated area for union members and supporters to meet outside the arena. We will then be directed where to form up for the guard of honour.

In lieu of flowers the family has asked that donations be made to The Asbestos Diseases Research Fund, C/- Marketing Unit, Concord Hospital, Concord NSW 2139, or by direct deposit at any Westpac Bank BSB032 – 001, Account: 115359.

Anyone wishing to send cards to the family can do so by forwarding to: Mrs Karen Banton, C/- Unions NSW, Level 3, Trades Hall, 4 Goulburn Street, Sydney 2000.

Kelly's Bush activist: Betty James, 1918-2007

Betty James.Kelly's Bush, on the border of Hunters Hill and Woolwich and on the banks of the Parramatta River, was the first green ban in the world. Betty James, who has died at 89, was the inspiration behind the defence of the bushland against the developers and the NSW government. She became president of the Battlers for Kelly's Bush, a group of middle-age women who joined with trade unions led by left-wingers and communists to win a famous victory.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Julie Bishop: no asbestos apology

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop has defended her efforts to deny compensation to workers at the Wittenoom mine in her role as a corporate lawyer in the 1980s.

In Australia's greatest single industrial disaster, an estimated 1000 people living and working near the West Australian mine have died from asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Ms Bishop, the federal Opposition's industrial relations spokeswoman, confirmed her role as an instructing solicitor for mine owner CSR in cases involving three asbestos victims who worked at the mine.

But she rejected a plea from the Asbestos Diseases Society to apologise for her actions. Ms Bishop said on Friday she commiserated with those affected, who included CSR executives, whom she had represented.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

WA: election analysis

The Age has analysed Australian Electoral Commission figures recording booth-by-booth results in north-western Australia, which show that even highly paid miners on AWAs swung strongly against the government in Saturday's election.

And in most mining towns, a majority voted for Labor in two-party preferred terms.

The figures show the 796 voters in mining town Newman swung almost 9% towards Labor, Port Hedland's 986 voters swung 10%, Dampier's 667 swung 4% and Karratha's 1358 swung more than 5% against the Liberal candidate, Barry Haase.

These iron ore mining towns are big beneficiaries of the minerals boom, and by far the majority of workers are employed on salaries of $100,000-plus under Australian Workplace Agreements.

Yet all these towns voted Labor, with an average two-party preferred vote of about 54%, higher than the national average.

In working class South Hedland's two polling places, the swing was much bigger, and 64% of the 1525 voters at the South Hedland Baler booth voted Labor.

Kalgoorlie also swung towards Labor, but the gold mining town overall remains a powerful Liberal stronghold, with up to 62% favouring the Liberals in one booth.

The figures show Mr Haase lost in the iron ore mining towns in the north of the state, but he survived a seat-wide swing of 4.72% towards Labor, with strong support from the rural south of his electorate.

The Howard government had argued that the 90,000 voters on AWAs in marginal seats would be a problem for Labor because they loved their individual employment agreements.

But West Australian ALP state secretary Bill Johnson said this was a myth.

Internal Labor research had shown households with one or more people employed on AWAs were more likely to vote Labor, he said.

"Miners are clearly happy to get a very high income … but it doesn't mean they have been won over by the psychology of the 19th-century master and servant relationship".


Ecology: cooperate or die!

The demise of the neo-con Liberals ushers in a new urgency.

Steve Biddulph in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests this scenario:

'What will be the new polarity in future elections? It's the ecology, stupid. The Greens will emerge as the new opposition, though this will take probably two election cycles. By the 2010 election, 20 per cent will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children's tomorrow. The Liberal Party will be lucky to attract 30 per cent, which is the habitual, rusted-on portion of the community that thinks greed is good.

By 2014, we will have a struggle between a new left and right - Labor and Green - and the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.

Climate change will bring horrific costs this century unless a global effort is rallied in a way that has never been done before to regulate our gluttonous use of the air and water. Perhaps a billion lives are at risk, let alone 2 to 3 billion refugees, as agriculture and water supplies collapse across southern Asia and elsewhere, and producer countries, like Australia, find they can barely feed themselves.

The big lie of Liberal supremacy was economic management. In fact, they knew how to generate income, but not how to spend it. We could have been building what Europe built in this past decade - superb hospitals, bullet trains, schools and training centres, low cost public transport of luxurious quality, magnificent public housing. We pissed it all away on tax giveaways and consumer goods. On bloated homes that we will not be able to cool or heat, or sell, and cars we won't be able to afford to drive. A party based on self interest may evaporate along with our rivers and lakes, and have no role to play in a world where we co-operate or die.'