Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sharan Burrow: Re-skilling, not redundancy

It has been a big year for good and bad reasons. We made progress towards burying Work Choices, but we also had to cope with the direct and indirect impacts of the global financial crisis.

There is no doubt 2009 will be one of the most challenging periods we have experienced for many years. We face the double crunch of an economic downturn and climate change. Both pose significant threats to job security during the next 12 months.

The issues of employment and income security for working Australians and their families are, and always will be, a central concern of unions. In 2009, it will be our top priority.

Measures to safeguard jobs, stimulate the economy and protect the vulnerable must also be the No1 focus for employers and governments over the next couple of years.

The federal Government has taken commendable action, including the economic security package that put cash in the wallets of families and pensioners before Christmas, the investment in nation-building infrastructure, a support package for the local car industry, and the regional and local community infrastructure program. But more will be needed. These measures must be directed squarely at preventing and minimising job losses, assisting workers where job losses do occur, and improving the circumstances of the 480,000 unemployed Australians.

But the responsibility for job security does not end with the Government. Job losses are not inevitable, and smart employers will hold on to their employees during the tough times so they are well-placed to ramp up again when the recovery begins.

The new business mantra for 2009 must be retain, re-skill and redeploy, not redundancy. The model here should be that adopted by the automotive sector, with some companies reducing production hours and making use of training days and leave entitlements as an alternative to cutting jobs. With additional funding and places under the Productivity Places Program, employers can make use of these days of agreed temporary stand-downs to retrain their workers with new skills.

This is the type of counter-cyclical thinking and investment that will retool the Australian workforce with the skills to drive growth and competitiveness as the economy picks up.

Difficult as the immediate problems confronting the economy are, the Government is right not to lose sight of the long-term picture with further targeted investment in infrastructure that will create sustainable, skilled jobs.

Carefully targeting further stimulus measures would ensure that Australia emerges from the economic downturn with a stronger and more resilient economy, while cutting emissions and developing competitive green industries and jobs.

There is one final and glaring element to providing job security for Australians in 2009 and beyond. That is a quick and smooth passage of the Fair Work Bill, which will establish the primacy of collective bargaining and a robust safety net with a fairer system of setting minimum wages.

The best buffer Australia has against a downturn in full employment is decent wages achieved by collective bargaining. This will maintain adequate household spending power to help cushion the economy.

The year ahead will be challenging, but unions are determined to ensure security for jobs and incomes is the top priority. If the Coalition parties pass the Fair Work Bill unchanged, we will be welcoming a fairer IR system and a fairer Australia.

Sharan Burrow President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bradley Review: CPSU slams student voucher experiment

December 17, 2008

The largest general staff union in Australian universities, the CPSU, today urged the Federal government to reject recommendations by the Bradley Review of Higher Education for the introduction of a student voucher experiment.

“We welcome the Bradley Review recommendation for billions of dollars of additional public government funding and the establishment of a National Tertiary Education Regulatory Body. But a student voucher system will undermine those welcome initiatives" the National Secretary of the CPSU, David Carey, said today.

"No country has now or ever used a student voucher system. This is a proposal for a market experiment.

"The real problems with higher education are not the portability of student learning entitlements, or the transferability of the funding of those places for students.”

He said, "The most pressing need is to reverse 10 years of underfunding and real decreases in public funding under the Howard government and the succession of Federal education ministers like Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop.

"Uncertainty of funding over the last 10 years and the decrease in funding has led to the increasing casualisation of teaching and non-teaching staff. As universities did not know how long they would be funded for courses and projects, staff were engaged on a short term or casual basis.”

"You can’t keep quality education under staff conditions like this. Australian universities are suffering and so is the standard of education for students.

"The higher education system should be seen as a national resource in the interest of Australia, not a series of competing, market-driven, semi- private organisations.

"The government should reject submissions by self-interested elite organisations who are touting a market driven approach.

"The Higher Education System should be run publicly with quality, standards, administration, planning, and plans for funding the system, being centralised and integrated with other education providers, and the vocational education and training system.

"A national approach to the restoration of a fully funded higher education system through a National Planning and Funding Commission should be re-established.

"Fiddling with discredited student funding schemes, like vouchers is a ridiculous and irresponsible frolic. The system needs a quantum leap in government funding to recover from the billions of dollars of underfunding under the Howard government."

Shoe-hurling Iraqi becomes a folk hero

Anti-Bush protesters in Baghdad on Monday, a day after Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a press conference.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Declaration of Human Rights: 60 years on

6Oth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Sharan Burrow ACTU President

When the Australian union movement chose Your Rights at Work as the slogan of the campaign to get rid of WorkChoices, it wasn’t plucked out of thin air.

Make no mistake: WorkChoices was an attack on a basic human right.

Today, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it’s worth reminding ourselves of what we take for granted here in Australia, and how easily it can be ripped away.

The first trade unions emerged in the developed world during the Industrial Revolution, and for many decades unionists fought to have their rights protected by law. Further rapid development in the 20th century led to millions more workers around the world mobilising into unions, where they faced official persecution and harassment from governments who were often closely-aligned with powerful business interests. Democratic trade unions were also an anathema to totalitarian regimes.

This was the background to the inclusion in 1948 of Article 23 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment.

It goes on to say that everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
The Declaration enshrines the foundation of a living wage, supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

And finally, it declares that everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests.

In one way or another, all of these rights were threatened by WorkChoices which, at its core, opposed any kind of collective action.

Even prior to WorkChoices, Australian law fell short of the internationally accepted standards for freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively. The Howard Government arrogantly ignored repeated requests from the International Labour Organisation to review and amend the Workplace Relations Act.

Under the Howard Government we saw workers’ rights gradually whittled away, beginning in 1996 with the introduction of Australian Workplace Agreements, continuing through the waterfront dispute, the Building Industry Royal Commission, and a series of other legislative changes, culminating in the WorkChoices laws of 2006.

WorkChoices breached the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the following ways:
  • Australian Workplace Agreements were used to undermine unions and collective bargaining
  • Workers on individual contracts were often worse off than before
  • Freedom of association in the construction industry was restricted
  • Employers had a free rein to refuse to negotiate with unions
The net effect of all this was that wages and conditions for many workers went backwards. For the year to the end of September, productivity fell and wages share of the economy hit a 44-year low while profits reached their highest level ever recorded.

At its core, the union and community “Your Rights at Work” campaign was about the restoration of these fundamental human rights. The Fair Work Bill, passed last week by the House of Representatives, delivers on that campaign and begins turning the tide back in favour of workers’ rights.

New AWAs are now banned, and the Fair Work Bill will make collective bargaining the foundation of our industrial relations system. It will provide a safety net of 10 national employment standards, augmented by an additional 10 in awards. Rights for workers of membership to and representation by unions will be strengthened, and employers will no longer be able to refuse to negotiate in good faith with unions where employees choose to be so represented.

But there are some remaining challenges. While the Australian Building and Construction Commission remains, building workers’ have fewer rights than the rest of society. Apart from punitive ability to drag workers in for interrogation, the Act that oversees the ABCC places undue restrictions on collective bargaining and industrial action. It is an affront to Article 23.

The declaration is a living breathing document. The UN still monitors human rights and union rights, as part of its broader agenda to promote democracy, peace and stability. As we saw in Zimbabwe last week, when the nation’s union leaders were arrested, labour rights cannot be taken for granted. Those political conservatives who are wedded to the ideology behind WorkChoices should remember that in their blind hatred of collective action they are attacking a basic human right.

Workers’ rights are human rights and will continue to be a barometer of a healthy democracy.

This is why last year’s election result and its resounding rejection of WorkChoices was a victory not just for working Australians, but for human rights.

With the passage of the Fair Work Bill we will reclaim ground but as with many other rights-based campaigns, including those for the rights of indigenous Australians and for refugees, eternal vigilance is necessary

Friday, December 12, 2008

Senator Doug Cameron: New IR Laws

Doug Cameron - Senator for New South WalesAt yesterday's start of Senate committee hearings on the Federal Government's industrial relations legislation, Senator Doug Cameron criticised the bill's ban on "pattern bargaining", where unions seek similar enterprise agreements across an industry.

He questioned how these restrictions could be reconciled with the bill's objectives of encouraging collective bargaining and with Australia's obligations under International Labor Organisation conventions on the right to strike.

"Is there any other country in the world where such restrictions on pattern bargaining apply?" Senator Cameron asked.

Senator Cameron said, "you can't help but have similar claims being made at the enterprise level because workers … are facing … similar economic circumstances".

"How do you then determine whether it is pattern bargaining or legitimate enterprise bargaining?"

Senator Cameron also questioned the fairness of excluding employees with less than six months' service at large employers and with less than 12 months at small employers from making unfair dismissal claims.

The committee will report to the Senate in late February.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rio Tinto: Jobs slashed - Shares surge

Rio Tinto's shares surged more than 10 per cent at the start of trade in response to its plans to slash 14,000 jobs, cut spending and costs and sell assets due to the global economic crisis.

At 10.09am (AEDT), the stock was trading $3.95 or 10.56 per cent higher at $41.35.

The move to end 5500 of its 97,000 employee roles and 8500 of its 15,000 contractor jobs comes after analysts slammed the company for its massive debt - $US38 billion at October 31.

Rio Tinto chief executive Tom Albanese says the staff cuts will save the company $US1.2 billion a year.

"Given the difficult and uncertain economic conditions, and the unprecedented rate of deterioration of our markets, our imperative is to maximize cash generation and pay down debt," Mr Albanese said.

"By taking these tough decisions now we will be well positioned when the recovery comes."

Rio Tinto will also consolidate its offices around the world, cut costs and expenditure and put new assets up for sale.

The company's plan to reduce overall operating expenditure, including the job cuts, should save it at least $2.5 billion for the year in 2010.

Record high for profits

Record high for profit share, 44-year low for wages share

The profit share of the economy increased to a record high of 28% in the September quarter, the highest level since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) started keeping records in 1959.

Historically, the profit share reached a low of 15.4% in the September quarter of 1974. It surpassed 20% in the September quarter of 1983, under the Hawke Government and reached 25% in the December quarter of 2002, during the Howard Government's term.

In contrast, the wages share of the economy fell to 52.3% (down from 52.8% the previous quarter), the lowest level since December 1964.

Interestingly, the wages share of the Australian economy peaked at 62.8% in the December quarter of 1974 under the Whitlam Government.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

ABCC: You be the Judge

Rod Madgwick, Retired Senior Judge

"Unfortunately, not all Australian workers are equal before the law.

Construction workers are subject to industrial laws such as we have never before seen in this country.

They can be fined up to $22,000 for stopping work and jailed for up to six months for refusing to answer questions about a workplace meeting.

One law for construction workers and another law for everybody else."

Email your local MP - abolish the ABCC now!

Five reasons why the ABCC and its laws should be immediately abolished:

1. The ABCC is discriminatory:
The laws enforced by the ABCC do not apply to any other industry. Construction workers deserve the same rights as all other workers.

2. The powers of the ABCC are unjustifiable:
The ABCC has draconian powers to compel construction workers to speak about what happened at a union meeting, and can fine individual workers up to $20,000 for standing up for their rights at work. Even the police don’t have the same powers as the ABCC.

3. These laws are made for big companies:
Big construction companies are the only ones to benefit from having the laws in place. The ABCC has never prosecuted an employer for ripping off workers since it’s inception.

4. The economic case for the ABCC has been shattered by Honourable Justice Wilcox:
The employers case for the retention of the ABCC and its’ repressive powers rested on the argument that it made the construction industry more efficient. This has been proven to be false and the argument dismissed by Justice Wilcox in his interim report on the ABCC.

5. Australia is in Breach of ILO Conventions:
The ABCC and its laws put Australia in breach of ILO conventions in relation to employees rights to organise and collectively bargain. Australia has ignored all requests from the ILO to comply with their internationally binding ruling.

LHMU: Babies before Banks

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Join ABCC Rallies: 2 December

Time: 10:00 am
Assembly Point: ABCC Headquarters, 553 St Kilda Road.

Time: 11:45 am
Assembly Point: Sydney Town Hall Square March Route: Town Hall Square to ABCC, 255 Pitt Street

Time: 9:30 am
Assembly Point: Queens Park - Brisbane City March Route: through the CBD to Kevin Rudd's Office.

Time: 11:45 am
Rally Assembly Point: Civic Park, Corner Auckland and King Streets

Time: 9:00 am
Rally Assembly Point: Amphitheatre, Crown Street Mall, Wollongong.

Time: 12 noon
Rally Assembly Point: Unions NT at Raintree Park, The Mall, Darwin City.

Adelaide Dec 3
Time: 12:00 noon
Rally Assembly Point: Victoria Square.

Time: 10:00 am
Where: Australian High Commission , Australia House, The Strand, London, UK

Time: 12:00 - 1:00pm
Where: Australian High Commission , 72 Hobson Street, Thorndon. Wellington, NZ

Monday, December 01, 2008

Babies before Banks campaign


Childcare crisis - tell the banks to do the right thing

The 2008 festive season isn’t looking very happy for ABC childcare workers waiting to see if they will be paid their hard-earned entitlements and if they’ll have jobs in the new year.

And tens of thousands of Australian families are facing worry and uncertainty while they wait for the ABC Learning Receivers to decide the fate of ABC Learning centres - especially the 386 childcare centres which the Receivers say are still under investigation.

You can help these workers and families by sending a strong message to the big banks: They helped to build ABC Learning. Now it’s time for them to do the right thing by ensuring that all ABC workers have a secure future and that all children have a guaranteed childcare place.

Sign the online petition and ask your friends, colleagues and family to do the same.

You can download the petition to distribute to people who don’t have access to the internet. Click here to download.

Make sure the big banks hear the message - BABIES BEFORE BANKS.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

ACTU: Charges dropped - ABCC must go

The dropping of charges against union official Noel Washington is a victory for common sense and shows why the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) must be immediately abolished.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the decision by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions not to proceed with the charges was a welcome development.

He said the prosecution of Mr Washington for refusing to attend an interview with the ABCC had been a futile waste of taxpayers’ money and resources.

"The decision by the DPP to drop the charges renders the ABCC and its discriminatory laws even more obsolete,” Mr Lawrence said.

"The ABCC is an unaccountable organisation that discriminates against construction workers.

"New laws introduced into Parliament yesterday to replace WorkChoices will establish a fairer and more balanced system of workplace relations.

"It is fundamental that all workers should have the same rights under this system and there can be no place for the ABCC in it.

"The ABCC is an unwanted relic from a bygone era.

"Even the Liberal Party has disowned WorkChoices.

"It is now time for the rest of the unfair and discredited laws from the failed Howard-Costello experiment on industrial relations, including the ABCC, to be swept away," said Mr Lawrence.


ABCC disarray: DPP drops Washington charges

Australia’s Building and Construction laws are in disarray today as the DPP dropped charges against union official Noel Washington.

Mr Washington was charged for refusing to attend a compulsory interview. As a matter of principle he had refused to attend an interview with the Australian Building and Construction Commission. He was due to appear in court on 2 December. Mr Washington was not being investigated for any matter, but was required by the ABCC to attend an interview about what had occurred at a union meeting.

Dave Noonan, CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary said the first cracks are appearing in the ABCC laws, but the campaign would not be finished until the laws were scrapped.

“For months now we have spoken out how the laws are unfair. The decision by the DPP today to drop the laws shows that they are fundamentally unworkable.

“This decision is a clear message to the Government that the laws are in disarray and need to be abolished,” said Dave Noonan.

“The fact that over 100 workers have already been dragged before the ABCC and threatened with imprisonment should not be forgotten. These laws were created by a Government determined to destroy building workers rights, and it is time that they were removed.

“Construction workers should have the same rights as other Australians, and this decision today is a terrible slap in the face to an unaccountable organisation that is a hangover from the Howard era.”

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Industrial Relations: rights returned

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the industrial relations legislation is the result of a concerted campaign by unions to scrap WorkChoices, which undermined the wages and conditions of Australian workers.

“The Bill is another step towards reversing the damage done by a decade of anti-worker legislation by the former Howard Government,” Ms Burrow said.

“From what we already know, it will be a major step forward from WorkChoices, which removed workers’ rights.

“Workers and activists campaigned like never before to rid us of WorkChoices, and a year ago millions of Australians said the Liberals and Nationals had gone too far with their assault on our rights at work.

“We have more than 10 years of harm to undo, but we have turned the tide.

“Everyone who campaigned or voted against WorkChoices should take some pride in what has been achieved so far.”

Ms Burrow said unions expect the legislation would deliver:

Strong rights for workers to collectively bargain and be represented by their union.

An industrial umpire with powers to settle intractable disputes.

A new role for the courts to enforce awards and the National Employment Standards, providing a strong deterrent against infringement of workers’ rights and entitlements.

A ban on further use of Australian Workplace Agreements, and a requirement that existing AWAs must comply with new national standards.

Unfair dismissal rights for all workers.

A fair and transparent process for setting minimum wages.

Ms Burrow said under the new laws, unions would be well-placed to deliver improved wages and conditions for workers, and to protect their income and jobs in an uncertain economic environment.

“This legislation is a major achievement but does not mean the campaign for better rights is over.

“Unions remain concerned that there are important areas of unfinished business.

“We will never stop pushing for improvements in the workplace and better mechanisms to safeguard the jobs and living standards of working Australians,” Ms Burrow said.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Howard legacy: ABC Learning debacle

Alan Ramsay 

By the year 2006 the Howard government was pouring $1.7 billion a year of public money into its child-care benefit scheme, including $128 million a year in subsidies straight into the pockets of Fast Eddy's booming company. Thirty-two months later and ABC Learning has collapsed under debt exceeding $1 billion, Groves has been forced to resign, his estranged wife is suing him for $40 million, and the Rudd Government is temporarily propping up ABC Learning's 1100 child-care centres across Australia with a $22 million handout that ends on December 31.

What happens after that, who knows?

But clearly, back in March 2006, when the Groves corporate bandwagon was belting along, sweeping up admirers and investors as fast as it was piling up 44 per cent of its income from Howard government subsidies, nobody was listening to people like Jennie George (Federal Labor MP), not even her own party. George's parliamentary speech that March night came during debate on a piece of 2005 budget legislation the Labor Opposition was trying to amend.Now that Fast Eddy's career has collapsed, leaving chaos and family heartache in the child-care industry in this country, ( George's speech is worth recalling. Some excerpts:

"When you look at the [latest] data, in June 2002, which is quite dated now, we see around 113,000 children [across Australia] were not able to access child-care, either because no places were available or the cost was prohibitive. So something is fundamentally wrong with the administration and planning of child-care services in this country. This bill has a very limited scope in proposing one minor change when I think the system needs drastic overhaul…

"At a time when [government spending] on child care since 1990 has risen tenfold to around $1.7 billion a year … the Howard government has allowed the system to become dominated by private providers for whom the profit motive is primary. Child-care provision has become a licence to print money. As Mr Groves, CEO of the largest private conglomerate, said recently, 'You cannot help but make money.' He confirmed ABC Learning Centres had received 44 per cent of its income from government subsidies - that is, $128 million of its $292 million last year. This company has spent around $700 million on acquisitions and takeovers. It now controls about 930 centres, with the aim of expanding to 1300 by mid-2008…

"No wonder their recent announcement of $88 million in profits was described as appalling by the National Association of Community Based Children's Services [which] argued these profits could go to far better use in making child-care more accessible and more affordable. The truth is companies like ABC Learning have tapped into a rich seam of taxpayer funding underpinning its earnings and profit levels. What worries me is that often these healthy profits are coming at the expense of decent staff conditions and quality facilities …

"Companies like ABC Learning can cherry-pick the market, free of government constraints. Company profits are under-pinned by taxpayer funding, yet taxpayers' interests are left to the mercy of the marketplace, free from government intervention, free from any overall consistent planning, and free from any form of regulation …"

Federal Judge condemns ABCC

The Age 22 Nov 2008
Former senior federal court judge Rod Madgwick has condemned the controversial workplace law for construction workers in a union TV advertisement starting tomorrow night.

The advertisement will run for three weeks, putting pressure on the Federal Government over the Australian Building and Construction Commission with unionist Noel Washington due in court on December 2 for refusing to attend the ABCC to answer questions. Washington, from the Construction, Forestry, Mining Union faces jail.

In the advertisement, authorised by ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence, Mr Madgwick says: "Unfortunately, not all Australian workers are equal before the law. Construction workers are subject to industrial laws such as we've never before seen in this country.

"They can be fined up to $22,000 for stopping work and jailed for up to six months for refusing to answer questions about a workplace meeting".

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Katoomba: Electricity Privatisation

Bad for the environment, the economy and the community

8pm Thursday 20 Nov 2008
Upstairs - Blackburn's Family Hotel
15 Parke Street Katoomba

Speaker : Dr John Kaye
Member for the NSW Legislative Council, Member for the Greens

Before entering parliament, John taught and researched electrical engineering at the University of NSW where he specialised in sustainable energy and greenhouse issues. John has a PhD from the University of California Berkeley and over twenty years of research and teaching experience. He has been a vocal critic of electricity industry privatisation and a strong advocate for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Friday, November 14, 2008

FSU fight for jobs

The Finance Sector Union vowed to fight for the 5000 jobs that are at risk following St George shareholders approval of the Westpac takeover, creating Australia’s first mega bank.

Bank workers including Branch Managers, Customer Service Officers, Mortgage Officers and IT staff from Bank SA and St George made their voice against the takeover heard at today’s Extraordinary General Meeting.

Leon Carter, National Secretary Finance Sector Union, said this is a dark day for St George bank workers and bank customers.

“The popular voice from the floor of the shareholders meeting today was overwhelmingly against the takeover. Mum and Dad shareholders, bank workers and retirees all spoke passionately about the need to keep St George bank as Australia’s strong, independent and fifth largest bank.

But in the end faceless institutional share holders passed the vote, shutting the door firmly on competition in the Australian banking sector,” said Leon Carter.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Public Education For Our Future

Want the Best Public Schools For Our Children?

Public schools have a vital role in ensuring every child gets a high quality education. But they are under-resourced. Teachers and parents are joining together to convince the Federal Government to invest more in our public schools.

The Federal Government is in discussions with the state and territory governments about the development of a new National Education Agreement. This agreement provides an opportunity for an increase in the general funding for government schools and the development of new targeted programs to address disadvantage and issues associated with quality teaching.

The Australian Education Union has launched a national campaign calling on parents and teachers to work together to get more Federal Government funding for public schools.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Miriam Makeba 1932-2008

Miriam Makeba was an exquisite singer who was a big star in her native South Africa in the 1950’s. Things started going wrong for her in her homeland in 1959 with an appearance in the anti-apartheid film Come Back Africa, although this appearance lead to an invitation to the Venice Film Festival where she formed a Grammy-winning partnership with Harry Belafonte.

The Grammy was for the album An Evening With Belafonte and Makeba, released in 1963, attracting major attention for this incredible voice. This attention led her to use his new status to highlight the problems back home by speaking at the United Nations and seeking international condemnation for South Africa’s policy of apartheid. Exile from her homeland followed.

She was particularly renowned for her performances of songs such as what was known as the Click Song — named for a clicking sound in her native tongue — or "Qongoqothwane," and Pata Pata, meaning Touch Touch in Xhosa. Her style of singing was widely interpreted as a blend of black township rhythms, jazz and folk music.

In an interview in 2008, Miriam Makeba said: "I’m not a political singer. I don’t know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us — especially the things that hurt us."

Nelson Mandela has paid tribute to legendary singer describing her as "South Africa's first lady of song … She richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika". 

"Her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. Even after she returned home she continued to use her name to make a difference by mentoring musicians and supporting struggling young women," Mr Mandela said.

She only returned to her homeland with the crumbling of apartheid in the early 1990s.

"It was like a revival," she said. "My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Teacher training = best school results

Nations with the best student performances have focused on developing a highly trained teacher workforce rather than publishing school results.

Finland, the world's top performing nation in international student tests, has no national system of tests but every teacher has a master's degree and differences in school performance are minimal.

A co-author of the study, Professor Brian Caldwell says school results published in the media could give parents a false impression because research showed that the difference in student performance between classrooms within an individual school is often greater than the differences between schools.

"Teacher expertise is the biggest in-school influence on student performance," he says. "If we are to follow Finland and the Federal Government's intention of creating an education revolution we need a highly skilled profession that knows how to interpret data about a child's performance and knows how to take action if a child falls behind.

"If we have that across all schools, a national testing program becomes superfluous because it won't matter what school your child attends: they will do very well as students do in Finland."

Professor Caldwell, the former dean of education at Melbourne University, says the Federal Government should use its power as the funding source of tertiary places to encourage university education faculties to upgrade their teacher-training courses to a master's degree or equivalent. Almost all teacher training courses now are undertaken as a four-year undergraduate degree or a one-year post-graduate diploma.

"There's a sense of urgency here because we've had about 20 reviews of teacher education over the last couple of decades and there hasn't been much change. We should be insisting that every teacher be very well trained to at least a master's level and not allow any child to fall behind."

The five-year study by Professor Caldwell and researcher Dr Jessica Harris examined successful secondary schools in countries as diverse as Britain and China, including seven government and non-government schools in Melbourne.

It concluded that, despite the differences in culture and student populations, all of the schools shared crucial common practices that led them to be successful. Some of the practices were strong links with neighbourhood organisations, including businesses, and each school was led by a valued and visionary leader.

"Secondary schools in many communities have simply lost contact with their communities," Professor Caldwell says. "School councils were intended to overcome that but they've had a limited impact. If we want our schools to be a central part of community life they need to engage with the wider community. The study highlights the importance of social capital and engagement in the schools that have been transformed."

Friday, November 07, 2008

MUA congratulates US labour on Obama victory

By MUA news -

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin congratulates International Longshore and Warehouse Union and US labour movement for the role unions played in the US Democrat election victory - a victory for all workers

The following is his letter to Bob McEllrath, ILWU, with letters also going out to the ILA and SIU

Dear Bob and all our ILWU brothers and sisters,

Congratulations on behalf of MUA members and staff, dockworkers and maritime workers of the world on the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the USA. It is something we know the ILWU and the US labour movement played a major part in. You've done Harry Bridges proud. Your campaign embodies the values of the union and its leaders - industrial rights cannot be separated from political leadership.

We were with you on November 4, along with working men and women around the world, because we know this election will benefit workers and their families worldwide, not just in the US.

In fact if the world could have voted Obama would have won by a landslide (According to a global poll by Reader's Digest magazine widely published here 16 out of 17 nations surveyed gave him their vote - 76 per cent of Australians!)

We heard the president elect acknowledge that the Democratic campaign was "built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give" and we know the ILWU dug even deeper. Bob you were among the first to endorse Barack Obama as the Democrat candidate on behalf of the ILWU months before other unions and long before the vote was counted.

We also know that before you were photographed alongside Obama shaking hands, you got his written commitment to workers' rights, a commitment to include labour and environment standards around the world in trade agreements, to support Blue Diamond workers, the Employee Free Choice Act, the rights for workers to organise and collectively bargain, the right to union representation on the National Labor Relations Board, a commitment to give workers a voice in the workplace and to educate the American public about the importance of unions and our essential role in the political process, in democracy and in the economy. We know you also have Obama's written commitment to universal health care, to curb the cowboys who run the stock market, an end to the war in Iraq and to replace warmongering with diplomacy.

Bob, congratulations again on your vision; for getting together with the leadership and membership of the ILWU behind this man and behind this historic change.

Congratulations go also to the ILWU members in the swing states of Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, Nevada and New Mexico - longshore workers like George Romera and his wife Diane, De Andrew Hollywood Whitten and Sal Pardo who went door to door talking to people about their vote.

Special congratulations, too, for Willie Adams, who as an African American leader and serving ILWU official would take special pride in seeing the first black president and world leader take the stage and continue the Martin Luther King dream of a civil rights/labour coalition that gives black workers dignity and pride. Over the years his initiative with Celebrations of Black History and Labour have gained both national and international recognition. I was fortunate on two occasions to participate. It continues to be one of the finest experiences of my trade union life.

To Ray Familathe - this is one birthday you'll never forget, brother. We appreciate your ongoing work by our side on the international stage and recognise the pride and emotion you shared on the special day of the election.

Our responsibility now, as labour leaders both in the ITF and our two unions is to ensure Obama's inspiring words translate into actions; that this new world leader you have given us moves even further along the progressive path of world peace, human rights and decent work.

Yours in Unity

Public services vs private profit: 8 Nov

Public services vs private profit: What can be done?

Special seminar by Power To The People

Speakers include:
  • Bob Walker (Professor of Accounting, University of Sydney)
  • Betty Con Walker (former Treasury official and co-author with Bob Walker of Privatisation—sell off or sell out?)
  • Frank Stilwell (Professor, Political Economy, University of Sydney)
  • Sharon Beder (author Power Play: the fight for control of the world's electricity and Professor, School of Social Sciences,Media and Communication, University of Wollongong)
  • Steve Turner (Public Sector ssociation assistant general secretary)

Time & place: 2pm-5pm Saturday November 8, Tom Mann auditorium AMWU Building, 136 Chalmers st, Surry Hills (walking distance from Central station).

The campaign against privatising electricity in NSW has exposed the desire for an end to the continual sell-off and decline in quality of public services. While the campaign successfully defeated plans to privatise power stations, other privatisations and cutbacks are still on the agenda as the NSW government prepares its "mini-budget" for release in November. This seminar will examine the alternatives to privatisation, and how we can restore quality, well-funded public services from electricity to water, to hosptials and schools.

Organised by Power to the People--a coalition of ALP members, unions, the Greens, Uniting Church groups, Socialist Alliance, Solidarity and environmental and community groups that formed to oppose the sell-off of the power industry in New South Wales.

Contact Colin Drane 0419 698 396 for info

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mandela: Letter to Obama

Dear Senator Obama,

We join people in your country and around the world in congratulating you on becoming the President-Elect of the United States. Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.

We note and applaud your commitment to supporting the cause of peace and security around the world. We trust that you will also make it the mission of your Presidency to combat the scourge of poverty and disease everywhere.

We wish you strength and fortitude in the challenging days and years that lie ahead. We are sure you will ultimately achieve your dream making the United States of America a full partner in a community of nations committed to peace and prosperity for all.


N R Mandela

Newcastle unions oppose power sell-off

Gary Kennedy (Secretary Newcastle Trades Hall Council)
Newcastle Herald 5 Nov 2008

Last week an internal ALP committee voted to accept, albeit not unanimously, a new plan outlined by Premier Rees for the privitisation of the retail arm of NSW Electricity and agreed that it meets the party policy platform.

To say we in the Hunter were bitterly disappointed at this decision is an understatement and an already growing resentment toward the NSW ALP from workers and the community at large has increased as our previous leaders support this decision.

The new deal will see the leasing of the retail arm as well as selling off the generation development sites with some strict guidelines and the lease of the trading function to private enterprise.

The Government claims this will transfer the risk to private enterprise while guaranteeing generation, transmission and distribution remain 100 per cent in public ownership.

The generation development sites were buffer zones kept for the future expansion of generation and can now be bought by private enterprise who can construct and run generation in tandem with the current generators. Simply put, this means not a single extra megawatt hour will be constructed by the Government. This has serious ramifications.

Employees will be given guarantees on wages and conditions for five years and a job in their current location if they do not wish to transfer to the new private entity, and consumers will be protected from price gouging until 2013.

If this a such a great deal for employees and consumers who will want to buy/lease the assets?

Let's not kid ourselves, there are overseas organisations queuing up to jump on board.

The press release from the Premier stated: "Under the Government's outsourcing model for generation trading, electricity price and trading risk will be transferred to private-sector operators, who will pay the state-owned generator a fixed fee to cover the cost of producing the electricity. This guarantees the State a low-risk return on its assets."

This will provide a low risk but also a low return to the Government as private enterprise plays the market with our electricity touting for the best price it can get.

The point has not changed that private enterprise is driven solely by the need for profit and despite all the spin and fluff someone has to pay the piper.

The Government is handing over the control of our product, electricity, to a bunch of suits who will gouge a profit at every opportunity.

The retention of the generators was a magnificent win for the community, but we have not achieved all we could have and should have and we were so close to seeing the issue of electricity privatisation disappear for the foreseeable future.

In the current economic climate it is beholden on governments, both state and federal, to forget about budget surpluses, which are funds that have been paid for by taxpayers, and build necessary infrastructure.

Selling off assets that return huge dividends to Treasury is still a false economy and financial experts are clearly saying that a controlled level of deficit to build infrastructure is good for the economy.

This plan does neither and I worry we are going to see more government assets sold off at bargain-basement prices instead of spending our taxes on job creation and stabilising the economy.

However, we cannot change government policy on our own in the Hunter. We will need to work with everyone at all levels of government to fully understand what will happen and ensure the Hunter is well and truly looked after.

US Unions: Obama victory

After eight years of an administration hostile to unions, America’s union members helped bring about much-needed change by electing Obama and working family-friendly candidates up and down the ballot.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says Obama is a leader who reached out to workers and spoke to their economic concerns, and workers responded by getting behind Obama with strong support and volunteer efforts.

"Barack Obama brings new hope to America’s working families, and our increased majority in the Senate means we can translate that hope into reality.

We salute labor leaders and volunteers all across our country for a record turnout of voters from union households—they made the difference in critical states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and so many others. We congratulate Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Our prayers and our continuing support are with them as we begin the arduous task of turning our country around."

Obama earned the trust of working families on the economy, and he proposed strong policies on crucial working family issues like health care, job creation, retirement security and the Employee Free Choice Act. He opposes the anti-worker policies of George W. Bush and John McCain on trade and taxes. Throughout the campaign, he’s focused on those issues, not trivia and misleading attacks.

Obama has stood with America’s workers, whether marching on a picket line during the presidential primary or joining volunteers at a Labor 2008 phone bank as his final act of the campaign. Obama’s success is a sign of what’s possible when a candidate speaks to workers’ concerns and pledges to fight with them, not against them.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

USA: President-elect Barack Obama

"Change has come to America"

Barack Obama used his victory speech to thank US workers for the part the played:

"Above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to: it belongs to you.

"I was never the likeliest candidate for this office; we didn't start with much money or many endorsements; our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington."

He said his campaign "began in the backyards of Des Moines (Iowa)" and was built by working men and women "who dug into what little savings they had" to give small donations to the campaign.

"It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generations apathy, who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.

"It grew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers.

"And from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organised and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from the earth."

"This is your victory."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Finance crisis: temporary or systemic?

Kenneth Davidson
The Age 03 Nov 2008

Is the crisis the result of a temporary liquidity problem or is it the result of systemic insolvency?

The free market fundamentalists are in denial. They are demanding increasingly large doses of government intervention in failed financial markets to restore sound market fundamentals.

It is a bit like asking the devil to save God according to Henry Lieu, chairman of a New York private investment group writing recently in the online magazine, The Asian Times.

The fundamentalist ideological inconsistency is shameless. The implications are more serious if the problem has been misdiagnosed. There is a big question still to be resolved: is the crisis the result of a temporary liquidity problem or is it the result of systemic insolvency?

The crisis itself has built up over decades in part because the response of central bankers to any downturn has been to ensure plenty of liquidity to avoid the risk of a major depression.

This was the lesson that central bankers learned from the Great Depression. Despite their public disavowal of Keynesian economics, they understood that pro-cyclical policies to tighten money supply would increase the amplitude of any downturn in the business cycle.

In Australia, the 1931 Premiers Plan involving a 10% cut in wages led to an even larger cut in prices. Those who held their jobs and had no debts did well out of the Depression. All the burden fell on the 30% of unemployed people and their families. But the plan achieved the main objective of its architects - protecting the interest of the London bondholders.

But the other half of the lesson, that the banks should be kept under tight regulatory control to ensure they played their subordinate role to facilitate the functioning of the "real" economy was forgotten after the generation that experienced the Depression and World War II retired in the 197os.

The iron law of financial deregulation is that competition to increase market share leads to self-destruction because the only way banks can increase market share at the expense of their competitors is by lowering lending standards.

Australia experienced this after financial deregulation in the early 1980s. The increase in the number of banks led to a collapse in lending standards as the banks competed for the dubious multibillion dollar business of the paper entrepreneurs such as Alan Bond and Robert Holmes a Court.

The major product of the period was $20 billion in non-performing loans, the November '87 sharemarket crash, the transfer of many of Australia's finest assets into the hands of foreigners and the response of the monetary authorities in the form of a huge injection of debt/liquidity that financed the subsequent property boom and led to the "recession we had to have" in 1989.

Now the systemic problem is more deep seated. In Australia the problem of household debt has been ameliorated so far by the continuation of the housing bubble. The bubble has burst in Britain and the because of their housing glut.

But the housing bubble is arguably bigger in Australia than Britain and the US and it is reasonable to expect the bust will be proportionately bigger when it comes.

In Australia, the systemic risk to financial markets has been fuelled by capital gains concessions and negative gearing, squeezing first-home buyers out of the market.

Wage earners have no choice but to see their savings flow mainly into domestic and foreign financial markets that are mainly vehicles for speculation rather than productive investment.

The amount going into public infrastructure is inadequate and infrastructure priorities are being distorted by the public-private partnership industry, which is controlled by the financial engineers whose financial "products" have been the major factor in creating the financial crisis that is still threatening to lead to a 1930s-style debt/deflation depression.

What is apparent so far is that the monetary authorities (the central banks seem to have quietly given up their independence for now) have the ability and the financial resources to keep the banking system from failing. What the authorities do not have is the experience and the resources to keep the much larger non-bank intermediaries and capital markets necessary for the operation of the real economy from failing.

Lenders are afraid to lend because they are no longer confident they can assess the credit worthiness of borrowers because of the corruption of the risk assessment process.

And borrowers are afraid to take on more liabilities while there is the risk of an economic slump.

According to Liu "the current credit crisis has evolved from the unregulated global growth of structured finance with the pricing of risk distorted by complex hedging which can fail under conditions of distress. "The proliferation of new market participants such as hedge funds operating with high leverage on complex trading strategies has exacerbated volatility that changes market behaviour and masked a heightened level of risk in recent years.

"The hedging against risk for individual market participants has actually increased an accumulative effect on systemic risk," Liu writes.

How the world goes depends on the US - and how the US goes will depend on the presidential and congressional elections.

Based on the opinion polls, it would appear that Barack Obama will not only win the election but even have a sufficient majority in the Senate to prevent Republicans from frustrating the Democratic legislative program.

The most important legislative reform will be to reverse the 1989 legislation that deregulated hedge funds so they were exempt from supervision and scrutiny.

The new administration must understand that under the present deregulated system, the US Federal Reserve is faced with a Hobson's choice: impose a depression to cut off a long period of stagflation as occurred in Japan in the 1990s or flood the market with unproductive liquidity.

According to Liu, insolvency cannot be solved by injecting liquidity without the penalty of hyperinflation. The new administration should be able to avoid this invidious choice by taking a few sensible measures that show recognition of the true systemic nature of the crisis and by indicating the administration is prepared to co-operate with the major European economies such as Britain, France and Germany, as well as China and Japan, to repair the damage to the Bretton Woods system by the market fundamentalists since the 1971 Smithsonian Agreement to float the US dollar against major European and Japanese currencies.

The Johnson administration foist that deal on the rest of the world to finance the Vietnam War and the "Great Society" without increasing taxes by exporting stagflation to the rest of the world for over a decade.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Protest against NSW power sell-off

United Services Union (USU) members protested against the state's retail electricity sell-off outside the ALP country conference in Port Macquarie.

NSW Premier Nathan Rees is expected to address the meeting before visiting the Port Macquarie Hospital on the NSW mid-north coast.

The NSW ALP on Friday gave Mr Rees the green light to sell off the state's electricity retailers.

USU spokesman Scott McNamara said about 2,000 retail electricity workers' jobs could be lost throughout NSW.

"If retail gets sold, you no longer have call centres in Port Macquarie and regional-based areas, and the intimate service regional people currently get will no longer exist," Mr McNamara said.

About 250 jobs would be lost in Port Macquarie and potentially 2,000 jobs would be lost statewide, he said.

"This is the first step, we've been campaigning on this issue for over a year, we intend to take the government's package back to our membership after the meeting and seek further direction," he said.

The union had put up alternative proposals to the government, he said.

"By simply selling off one branch, it is simply the first step to further privatisation and the first step to reducing the government's income stream," he said.

"We've suggested some reforms to make the electricity sector stronger so it's more competitive in the market."

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Green car for South Australia?

South Australia should aim to manufacture a new "green car" the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union believes.

AMWU secretary John Camillo said the state should focus on how to win a slice of up to $1 billion which could be up for grabs for fuel efficient or alternative fuel car manufacturing, after the Federal Government releases its response to the industry review by former Victorian state premier Steve Bracks.

Mr Camillo said he expects the response to be released next Monday, including acceptance of a recommendation to bring forward Labor's $500 million "green car" innovation fund from 2011 to 2009, and doubling that figure if it was successful.

He maintained that the industry should not only focus on possible job losses from a recommendation to cut tariffs from 10 to 5 per cent in 2010.

"There will be a hell of a lot of money available and this is a great opportunity," Mr Camillo said.

"The Australian public are telling us they want a clean, green, locally manufactured vehicle and the opportunity is there with this money to deliver that."

Mr Camillo said he had met an electric engine manufacturer who could apply to use the former Mitsubishi site and some of the $1 billion green-car funding for a joint venture with a car manufacturer.

The vehicle manufacturing industry employs 8000, including 4000 workers in the components industry, which is expected to benefit from a rescue package of between $2 billion and $2.5 billion.

TAFE’s Funding Crisis

Since 1997, Commonwealth funding has decreased by 26%, and state/territory government funding has decreased by 16%.
  • 1996 – 1997 Howard government cuts funding, reduced base for 1998-2000 ANTA Agreement.
  • 1998 Commonwealth funding freeze, “Growth through Efficiency”, de-regulation of the training market.
  • 1997 – 2001 16.3% decrease in per unit funding, 16.3% enrolment growth.
  • 2001 – 2003 limited growth funding restored, total growth funding $460m over three years, about a half of what was required.
  • 2004 rollover of 2003 funding with no indexation of 2003 “growth” funds and Commonwealth direct purchase of Australians Working Together programs ($20.5m).
  • 2005 ANTA is abolished, WorkChoices and Skilling Australia’s Workforce Act – forces states to comply with Howard government’s industrial agenda to maintain funds.
  • 2007 Rudd government elected on Education Revolution platform.
  • 2008 Release of Boston Consulting Group Report. Rudd announces 450,000 Productivity Places to be delivered contestably.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ACTU: Millions working under ‘precarious’ conditions

Tougher safeguards and new industrial relations laws with a strong independent umpire are needed for workers exposed to the global financial crisis say unions.

A new report released today by the Workplace Research Centre shows millions of workers remain vulnerable to the former Liberal Government’s harsh WorkChoices IR laws and are working under ‘precarious’ conditions.

The report finds around one in three workers are without access to redundancy payments if they lost their job tomorrow.

It also finds there has been a rise in the number of working families who are struggling to pay their bills and are falling behind in mortgage and credit card debts.

The report finds nearly 900,000 workers are currently not a member of a union but want to join.

Meeting with workers and unions in Brisbane today, ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the new report underscores the urgent need for the Rudd Government to scrap the rest of the Coalition’s WorkChoices laws.

“This report shows working Australians and their families are feeling the pinch and need tougher safeguards to protect their jobs and incomes in the face of a possible downturn.

“It is vital that the Rudd Labor Government’s new IR laws — which are expected to be publicly released in the next few weeks — give workers strong collective bargaining rights and the protection of an independent umpire with the power to settle disputes.

“Getting rid of WorkChoices and restoring collective bargaining rights will protect incomes and jobs for working Australians.

“It will also help the economy by growing workforce skills, driving productivity and ensuring working Australians have stable and secure jobs in these uncertain times,” said Mr Lawrence.

WorkChoices took away workers’ right to redundancy pay and removed protection from unfair dismissal for more than three million employees in small and medium businesses.

TAFE Privatisation plans?

The New South Wales Greens say they have obtained documents which show state governments are planning to privatise the TAFE system.

Greens MP John Kaye says the Council of Australian Governments discussion paper reveals a plan to abandon $4 billion in guaranteed funding for TAFE and instead force it to compete against the private sector.

"The future of skills formation in Australia is at risk. This is a lousy time to be doing this," he said.

"On the cusp of a global recession and with a skills shortage this is no time to be experimenting with market-based solutions to making sure we solve the skills crisis."

Dr Kaye says the documents show the plan is alive at the highest levels.

"The state Premiers and Prime Minister are colluding in secret to push through one of Australia's biggest privatisations since Telstra," he said.

"About $4 billion a year currently provided by state and federal governments to TAFE colleges is about to be taken away and put out to competitive tender."

The Australian Education Union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, said proposals to force TAFE to compete with low-quality private training facilities for all funding would undermine its ability to provide community services such as quality low-cost training and libraries.

"Recent global events show how dangerous it is to hand crucial parts of the economy like education and training over to an unfettered market," said Mr Gavrielatos.

download Blue Mountains Union News Oct 2008

TAFE - Government sellout?

NSW Teachers Federation

The Federal government is proposing changes to the TAFE system that will redirect funding to private providers and result in significant increases in fees and charges for students.

"Such changes will have a severe effect on the TAFE system, effectively placing it out of reach of many students," said NSW Teachers Federation Acting President Bob Lipscombe.

"The changes proposed by the government will make funding for vocational education provided by the state contestable.This means that for-profit private providers will have a competitive advantage over their TAFE counterparts. Private providers pick and choose the most lucrative course whereas TAFE delivers a variety of courses across the breadth of the state, ensuring that regional areas and disadvantaged students have equitable access to quality vocational education and training.

"The Teachers Federation calls on Premier Rees and Minister for Education and Training Verity Virth to to reject these changes and defend the TAFE system. It is vital that the integrity of a TAFE system that has served this country soundly for many years is upheld.

"Federation also calls on the Rudd government to suspend proceeeding with the changes, to ensure that that there is full public consultation and broad community debate about the future of the TAFE system."

download Blue Mountains Union News Oct 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

"The Intervention": ABC 30 Oct

A record of the first year of the Emergency Intervention in the Northern Territory region of Katherine and the surrounding communities. Thursday, 30th October 9.30pm on the ABC.

" insightful, if dispiriting, vision of the bureaucratic dysfunction, endemic poverty and alcoholism that still plagues parts of central Australia and how the Intervention, despite some improvements, made some people's difficult lives even more so. The film poses the question of whether the Intervention was really worth it, given so few convictions for sexual abuse have been recorded. Decide for yourself."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lobby for Public Schools

Want the best public schools for our children?

Public schools have a vital role in ensuring every child gets a high quality education. But they are under-resourced. Teachers and parents are joining together to convince the Federal Government to invest more in our public schools. The Federal Government is in discussions with the state and territory governments about the development of a new National Education Agreement. This agreement provides an opportunity for an increase in the general funding for government schools and the development of new targeted programs to address disadvantage and issues associated with quality teaching.

Let's work together to maximise the opportunity this presents for further funding for government schools.

Visit to lobby Members of Parliament.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

GM food danger exposed

The food authority responsible for approving genetically modified products has been accused of pandering to agrochemical giants at the expense of consumer health, in a report released today analysing the authority's recent decisions.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is gambling with the health of consumers, the director of the University of Canterbury's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, Professor Jack Heinemann has warned, and is one of only a few regulators to have approved every application for genetically engineered food products.

"Many other regulators have at least stood up once where FSANZ appears to have cowered under industry or political pressure," Professor Heinemann said, describing the authority as the victim of "flawed legislation that mixes the goals of trade and public health".

Over the past 12 years the authority has approved more than 50 varieties of genetically engineered crops, from corn and soy to potato and sugar beet, the report, compiled by Greenpeace, found. Among the products approved despite what the organisation described as a weight of harmful evidence were:
  • A strain of corn (MON863) by Monsanto found to cause liver and kidney toxicity when fed to rats in a peer-reviewed French scientific study last year.
  • A Syngenta-manufactured corn (GE alpha-amylase) specifically designed to be used in bioethanol production and not intended for human consumption, yet with the potential to enter the human food chain through unchecked US imports.
  • Another Syngenta corn (GE Bt10) approved by the authority despite being banned by the European Union and Japan because no safety assessments have yet been conducted.
  • A Monsanto canola, still the subject of debate in the European Union and banned outright in Austria, after Monsanto's own testing found increases in liver sizes in rats by up to 16 per cent.
Endorsing the report, Professor Heinemann said many of the authority's decisions on genetically engineered food were based on assumptions, and "picking and choosing only the science [the authority] wants to believe". Moreover, while in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South Africa more stringent food labelling laws are being passed, in Australia genetically engineered products such as oils, starches and sugars as well as meat, milk, cheese and eggs produced by animals that have been fed genetically engineered crops still require no labelling. Food from restaurants and takeaway outlets is also exempt.


Monday, October 20, 2008

ACTU: Paid Maternity Leave a must

A government-funded paid maternity leave scheme is more important then ever with Australian families now facing great economic uncertainty in the wake of the global financial crash, unions say.

"Most families instantly lose one entire salary when a child is born and the mother takes maternity leave," said ACTU President Sharan Burrow in a speech to a Paid Maternity Leave Forum at the Hobart Convention Centre today.

"Despite the economic prosperity of recent years, this loss of salary has proven more and more difficult for families to cope with. In the current climate, it’s about to become even tougher.

"The ACTU says it is imperative that the Productivity Commission’s recent recommendation that the Rudd Government introduce 18 weeks paid maternity leave for all Australian women be included in the 2009 federal budget.

"A paid maternity leave scheme would provide real security at a time when Australian families need all the help they can get to weather the effects of the financial crisis," said Ms Burrow.

Without such assistance, the ACTU believes there could be a sharp increase in the number of women unwillingly returning to work soon after the birth of a baby because of financial stress and uncertainty.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sydney cleaners: Anti-poverty Day

Sydney’s office cleaners celebrate International Anti-Poverty Day as contractors sign on to reform the contract cleaning industry

After a two and a half year battle Sydney cleaners watched a majority of NSW contractors commit to implementing the Clean Start Union Collective Agreement to reform the contract cleaning industry.

Nine contractors signed on to implement the Agreement at a function organised by the LHMU – The cleaners’ union. They are:

ISS, Solutions, Swan, BIC Services, Glad Group, Quad, Baytons, Ezko, Heba.

"By signing on to the agreement, contractors formally accepted what cleaners have been saying for years: the industry is in crisis and unsustainable. Cleaners have borne the brunt of their vicious price-cutting war and the only viable solution is for us to work together to create better jobs and a better industry," says Mark Boyd, Secretary of the NSW Branch of the LHMU.

"The Clean Start Agreement will secure a better future for contractors, as well as better services for tenants and better maintenance of property owners’ valuable assets. This is good news for the whole industry."


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Limits to growth

The economy is killing the earth

A growing band of experts are arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.

This, of course, is economic heresy. Growth to most economists is as essential as the air we breathe: it is, they claim, the only force capable of lifting the poor out of poverty, feeding the world's growing population, meeting the costs of rising public spending and stimulating technological development - not to mention funding increasingly expensive lifestyles. They see no limits to that growth, ever.

In recent weeks it has become clear just how terrified governments are of anything that threatens growth, as they pour billions of public money into a failing financial system. Amid the confusion, any challenge to the growth dogma needs to be looked at very carefully. This one is built on a long-standing question: how do we square Earth's finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too? It has taken all of human history for the economy to reach its current size. On current form it will take just two decades to double.


Politics in the Pub: The Future of TAFE

Saturday, 18th October 2008, 3.00 pm
Family Hotel, 15 Parke Street, Katoomba
(download small flyer | BM Union News Oct 2008)
Rod Brooks Memorial Forum
The political climate underwent what appeared to be a massive change at the last election.
What plans has the Rudd Labor Government for TAFE?
What has changed in attitudes to education and training?
How will the models of funding for schools and TAFE be affected by the Education Revolution?
How will attitudes to the teaching profession be affected by the Education Revolution?
How will TAFE's Outreach Programs and community access to TAFE be affected?
Dr Peter Kell, Professor of Education, Wollongong University
Phil Bradley, Assistant General Secretary, NSW Teachers Federation

Phone 0413866520 or email BMUC

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ABC Radio: 'Death of religion'

Yesterday the ABC released its 2009 Radio National schedule, confirming that eight specialist programs would not be returning. The programs are the Media Report, Religion Report, Sports Factor, Perspective, The Ark, In Conversation, Radio Eye and Street Stories.

Today, the Senate supported a motion from the Greens calling on ABC management to explain why the programs have been axed.

Religion Report presenter Stephen Crittenden criticised the decision.

"The ABC specialist units have been under attack for years but the decapitation of the flagship program of the religion department effectively spells the death of religion at the ABC," he said.

"That such a decision has been taken in an era when religion vies with economics as a determinant of everything that is going on in the world it almost beggars belief, but you have to remember that just a couple of years ago they axed the Environment program.

"The ABC Religion Report has always been fearless and I don't have to tell you that it has put many powerful noses out of joint. This is a signal to the churches that the ABC has decided to vacate the field."

Former ABC religious broadcaster Paul Collins told Crikey the move is a "dumbing down" of Radio National content.

"Nowadays religion is a mainstream political, cultural and socio-economic issue with enormous impact on world affairs. To cover it adequately you need specialists," he said.

"That is precisely what Stephen Crittenden has done on the Religion Report. He knows what the issues are and where the bodies are buried. Sure, he's upset some powerful people but that's the nature of a free media.

"I'm not paranoid. I don't see this as an attack on religion. It's more a lack of appreciation of specialisation, derived from the half-witted, post-modern conviction that everyone can do anything. Sure, they can ask a few prosaic, 'man-in-the-street' questions. But that's not the task of Radio National. If you think it is, get a job with the commercials."

'Extreme Capitalism' plan for TAFE?

The Federal Government is planning to make far reaching changes to the funding and organisation of the TAFE and VET in Australia. In summary, these changes will:
  • reduce government funding allocated to vocational education and training
  • increase the amount of money students will have to pay to study at TAFE
  • reduce the range of courses available for students
The Federal Government is intending to use its estimated 30% share of VET funding to “reward” states for implementing a range of marketisation strategies.
These include:
  • full competition for all government (federal and state/territory) VET funding between public (TAFE) and private providers, and between TAFE Institutes as well
  • a significant shift of costs for training from governments to individual students, masked by the introduction of a deferred payment loan scheme (HECS)
  • penalising TAFE Institutes for the funding they have received in the past for capital and infrastructure through the implementation of competitive neutrality principles
When the Howard government tried to force its industrial relations agenda on TAFE and the VET system, they used the threat of withholding federal VET funding from the states and territories to coerce them into compliance. The Rudd government is using exactly the same strategy to implement its marketisation agenda in TAFE.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Up uncharted waters - without a paddle

October 13Illustration: Petty

Sydney Peace Prize: Patrick Dodson

Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson is the recipient of the 2008 Sydney Peace Prize for his “courageous advocacy of the human rights of Indigenous people, for distinguished leadership of the reconciliation movement and for a lifetime of commitment to peace with justice, through dialogue and many other expressions of non violence.”

Lecture by Patrick Dodson

Including appearances by singer/ songwriter Archie Roach and the children’s choir Moorambilla Voices

Wednesday, 5 November Concert Hall,
Sydney Opera House: 6.30 pm for 7 pm

The Sydney Peace Prize is the only international award for peace in Australia.

Tickets: Adult: $25 Concession: $20
School group concession available
Bookings through the Sydney Opera House
phone (02) 9250 7777 or online at

Enquiries: Sydney Peace Foundation
(02) 9351 4468 website:

Friday, October 10, 2008

ABCC preliminary findings

A paper by Murray Wilcox, the former Federal Court judge who is reviewing the role of the body to replace the Australian Building and Construction Commission after early 2010, makes a number of preliminary findings.
  • Building workers were treated more harshly by the law than other workers.
  • There was powerful evidence that a culture of lawlessness by some building union officials and workers existed before 2003.
  • An economic analysis trumpeted by the former government and employers of improved productivity was deficient.
The Government has vowed to keep the commission until the end of January 2010, when it will be replaced by a special division within Labor's new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia.

Mr Wilcox's review, which has involved meetings with more than 100 stakeholders, said the most controversial decision was whether the Government should keep the building industry legislation.

Mr Wilcox said if the watchdog kept its special powers then safeguards to monitor it would be desirable.

"These rules treat building workers more harshly than workers in other industries," Mr Wilcox said.

"However, many employers argue they are necessary in order to maintain industrial peace and high productivity in the building industry. I am looking for hard evidence about that."

Under current laws building workers can be jailed for up to six months for refusing to give evidence to the commission.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said Mr Wilcox had also demolished an Econtech report relied upon by employers to justify the existence of the ABCC. That report had attributed the boost in productivity in the construction industry to the ABCC and associated laws. It also found the regime had resulted in a big fall in industrial action on building sites.

Mr Wilcox found the reduction in time lost in the building industry between 1996 and last year was not necessarily attributable to the ABCC.

He said ABS statistics showed there was also substantial reduction in time lost in other industries during the same 12-year period and "community-wide" factors may have been responsible for most, if not all, of the reduction in lost time in the construction industry.

ABCC: Blind eye to employer unlawfulness

The anti-worker bias of the Australian Building and Construction Commission has again been exposed by the acting chief justice of the Federal Court who has found the ABCC turning a “blind eye” to dishonest employer behaviour.

In scathing comments issued from the bench this week, Justice Jeffrey Spender said the ABCC had failed to act in an even-handed way in its pursuit of the Plumbers Union and its Queensland secretary, Bradley O’Carroll.

Justice Spender said the case should never have been brought by the ABCC and rather than prosecuting the union, it should have been investigating the employer, a company called Underground, and its “foul-mouthed industrial cowboy” boss.

The ABCC must now pay the costs of the Plumbers Union for its misguided decision to seek a prosecution.

The humiliating result for the ABCC follows this week’s report by former judge Murray Wilcox, QC, that the building industry watchdog discriminates against construction workers and infringes on their rights.

In his comments, Justice Spender said that rather than waste resources on an unfounded coercion case against the union, the ABCC should have been investigating “sham” independent contracting operations and tax and superannuation evasion by Underground.

Justice Spender also said that if the “foul-mouthed” language used by the managing director of Underground had instead been used by a union official it would probably have been the subject of a prosecution.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the case confirmed that the ABCC was biased against workers and unions and should be scrapped.

“The ABCC has focused its resources on attacking workers’ rights, but has turned a blind eye to unlawful acts by employers such as tax evasion, sham contracting and intimidation of workers,” Mr Lawrence said.

“There is scant evidence that the ABCC’s taxpayer funded activities have led to any improvements in the construction industry, and its bias has now been exposed by the Federal Court.

“Workers have been subjected to secret interrogations and threats of jail from the ABCC simply for maintaining their right to silence.

“No group of workers should have fewer rights than others, and the ABCC should be abolished immediately.”

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sarah's Hard Rock Candy

A song by Peggy Seeger©Peggy Seeger 2008
administered by Harmony Music Ltd.

Johnny needs a running mate
His campaign is failin'
Let's get someone no one's heard of
Hello Sarah Palin

John's a weary weather vane
Sarah's hard rock candy
If they win they'll stop the clock
Keep your passport handy

Now Washington's a stormy sea
The hope for Sarah Palin
Johny's ship is full of cracks
Sarah's boat needs bailin'

Global warming, evolution
Human rights and all
On every issue on the table
Sarah's off the wall

Suppose they win and then oh oh
His heart comes to a stop
Then presto, bingo, "what do you know?"
Sarah's at the very top

In the Hard Rock Candy Mountains
You always watch your stocks
And streams of campaign double talk
Are bubbling down the rocks

Now if you wanted Hilary
How could you vote for Palin
Either you have changed your mind
Or else your mind is failin'

She lives with guns, runs with hogs
Loves a corporation
All of them will be involved
If Sarah runs the nation

Goodbye Sarah, goodbye John
And all the media drama
Time to move our country on
Vote Barack Obama
Time to move our country on
Vote Barack Obama

Visit Peggy's websites at: &

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

World Day for Decent Work

Global economic turmoil has made the right to decent work and full employment more essential than ever, Australian unions say.

For workers around the world, organising and collective bargaining rights are crucial to giving workers real influence over their lives for job security and a fair share of wealth, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said on the inaugural World Day for Decent Work.

The global call to action has been organised by the world trade union movement and could not be more timely given the economic uncertainty created by the financial crisis emanating from Wall Street, said Ms Burrow, who is also President of the International Trade Union Confederation.

"We are living in an increasingly globalised economy, where decisions made on Wall Street have a palpable impact on workers throughout the world," Ms Burrow said.

"As the world economy evolves and becomes interlinked, we need to ensure that the principles of decent work and full employment are protected.

"Today is about standing up for decent work, for job security, for a fair globalisation, against poverty and in the interests of much greater equity and justice.

"We have seen the global economy go off the rails because of corporate investor greed.

"Real wages fell or stagnated while profit shares have reached record levels.

"We have an opportunity now to relaunch globalisation along a path of sustainable and just development with fairness, equity and rights at work at the centre of public policy so globalisation works for all, not just a privileged few."

In Australia, the focus for unions is the right to collective bargaining laws that can deliver fair wages and conditions for working Australians.

In addition to a safety net, unfair dismissal rights and dispute settlement procedures, it is collective bargaining that will deliver not just wage justice but a more equitable society.

"We will see laws that will return rights at work to working Australians back in the Parliament in the next few weeks," Ms Burrow said.

"This is the culmination of a determined struggle over three years by working Australians to have rights restored and hand on a legacy of decent work to their children and their grandchildren."

Tale of 2 puppets: 2003

Howard for Australia, Harper for Canada

Who wrote the speech?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rich Staging a Coup

The Rich Are Staging a Coup This Morning ... 
a message from Michael Moore


Let me cut to the chase. The biggest robbery in the history of this country is taking place as you read this. Though no guns are being used, 300 million hostages are being taken. Make no mistake about it: After stealing a half trillion dollars to line the pockets of their war-profiteering backers for the past five years, after lining the pockets of their fellow oilmen to the tune of over a hundred billion dollars in just the last two years, Bush and his cronies -- who must soon vacate the White House -- are looting the U.S. Treasury of every dollar they can grab. They are swiping as much of the silverware as they can on their way out the door.

No matter what they say, no matter how many scare words they use, they are up to their old tricks of creating fear and confusion in order to make and keep themselves and the upper one percent filthy rich. Just read the first four paragraphs of the lead story in last Monday's New York Times and you can see what the real deal is:

"Even as policy makers worked on details of a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry, Wall Street began looking for ways to profit from it.

"Financial firms were lobbying to have all manner of troubled investments covered, not just those related to mortgages.

"At the same time, investment firms were jockeying to oversee all the assets that Treasury plans to take off the books of financial institutions, a role that could earn them hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees.

"Nobody wants to be left out of Treasury's proposal to buy up bad assets of financial institutions."
Unbelievable. Wall Street and its backers created this mess and now they are going to clean up like bandits. Even Rudy Giuliani is lobbying for his firm to be hired (and paid) to "consult" in the bailout.

The problem is, nobody truly knows what this "collapse" is all about. Even Treasury Secretary Paulson admitted he doesn't know the exact amount that is needed (he just picked the $700 billion number out of his head!). The head of the congressional budget office said he can't figure it out nor can he explain it to anyone.

And yet, they are screeching about how the end is near! Panic! Recession! The Great Depression! Y2K! Bird flu! Killer bees! We must pass the bailout bill today!! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!