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.