Tuesday, June 30, 2009

School league tables are a mistake

The Public Education Alliance today welcomed the principled stand taken by the NSW Coalition and other MPs for supporting a Greens amendment in the Upper House of NSW Parliament last week.

Secondary Principals' Council president Jim McAlpine said:

'Coalition, Greens and other politicians' support for state legislation that imposes penalties on the publication of school performance rankings or comparisons provides important protection for students and their communities. This action maintains protection that has existed for a dozen years in this state. It's time other states and territories joined with the federal government to do the same.'

Parents and Citizens president Di Giblin said:

'By maintaining the twelve year ban on the publication of simplistic school comparisons, the Coalition, Greens, and other members of the Upper House have acted responsibly to protect school communities from the harm caused by misleading rankings based on aggregated test scores.'

Public Schools Principals Forum spokesperson Brian Chudleigh said:

'We are glad these politicians have stepped up to defend our students and their communities from such damaging school policy. We know league tables have caused major harm overseas. We know countries like Finland achieve world leading results yet do not do anything so simplistic and misleading as publish school league tables.'

Primary Principals' Association president Geoff Scott said:

'Parents, principals and teachers are at one on this issue. We already have a system that provides valuable information to parents and the community.'

Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscombe said:

'Media-generated criticism of the Coalition, Greens and other MPs will neither deflect nor dissuade members of the Public Education Alliance from welcoming the important stand taken. To argue that this blocks freedom of speech and information for parents belies the fact that this information is readily available from the Department and through annual school reports.'

Monday, June 29, 2009

QLD: Stop the sell-off


The Queensland Government has announced that it intends to sell-off some of our public assets to help fill in its budget bottom line. Queensland Rail's coal and freight arms, Queensland Motorways, the Port of Brisbane and forestry plantations are all up for sale.

Queensland unions are opposed to the sell-off of public assets which are operated primarily in the interests of the people of Queensland, rather than in the interests of shareholders' profits. We want the government to maintain our assets - not sell them off in a panic when times are tough.

Unions will be embarking on a campaign against the Bligh Government's planned asset sell-off - keep checking this page for updates and details of planned campaign activities.

ABCC: Political bias exposed

Recent comments by the Australian Building and Construction Commissioner have blown any pretence of the body's independence out of the water, say unions.
ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said it was disturbing that the Commissioner, a public servant appointed under Parliament's legislation, was taking sides in the debate about the retention of coercive powers by the building watchdog.
This raised concerns about bias and a lack of independence by the ABCC, Mr Lawrence said.
"The tabling in Parliament of a letter from the Commissioner to the Deputy Prime Minister reveals that the ABCC fancies itself as a political player, rather than an independent government agency," Mr Lawrence said.
"It has an entrenched culture of cracking down on basic workers' rights, yet as the letter shows, has no interest in investigating unlawful activities by employers, such as the establishment of phoenix companies.
"The letter’s arguments in favour of compulsory interrogations and against safeguards for workers further confirm the Commission’s lack of independence."
In the past week the Commissioner has also given a newspaper interview in which he stepped beyond the role of an independent public servant to that of a political advocate for draconian powers against building workers.
"We have grave concerns that the ABCC operates without any checks and balances as a quasi-secret police force in the building and construction industry," Mr Lawrence said.
"The only people it benefits are the big property developers and construction companies.
"No other Australian workers are subjected to such extreme coercive powers which infringe on their basic rights.
"More than 900,000 people are employed in the construction industry, playing a leading role in Australia’s economic recovery.
"We will continue to campaign for equal rights for construction workers and an end to coercive powers in the industry."

Friday, June 26, 2009

ABCC: Ark Tribe rally

Supporters rally for Ark Tribe's freedom

More than 200 people rallied at Elizabeth Magistrates Court in support of the latest victim of the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), South Australian construction worker, Ark Tribe in June.

Local unions closed ranks around Mr Tribe who faces up to six months jail for allegedly failing to attend a compulsory interrogation by the ABCC in 2008.

Speaking at the rally as Mr Tribe appeared before the court for the first time, CFMEU SA Secretary, Martin O'Malley said local workers, including nurses, ambulance officers, truck drivers and construction workers had pledged their support for Mr Tribe.

"Unions, representing nurses, ambulance officers, transport workers and construction workers, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ark Tribe in the fight against the ABCC charges," Mr O'Malley said.

Ark Tribe will be in court again on August 11.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Brett O'Brien

"We have recently received the sad news that our Comrade and former BMUC Secretary, Brett O'Brien has passed away.

The Blue Mountains Unions Council extends our sympathy to Brett's family.

The funeral may be held on 24/6/09 11am Wednesday at Castlebrook Memorial Park, Windsor Rd, Rouse Hill. The phone number of the Memorial Park is 96291477.

View Larger Map

ABCC: threat to safety at work

The coercive powers of the Australian Building and Construction Commission may jeopardise the safety of the construction industry, according to Greens senator Rachel Siewert.

Senator Siewert said the Senate's Employment and Workplace Relations Committee needed to investigate the safety impact of the coercive powers, which the Rudd Government has retained in legislation tabled in Parliament this week.

''The building industry has a lot of accidents, and the number of deaths appears to have increased. We've said all along that we were concerned that by bringing in these anti-union laws you start having an impact on safety,'' Senator Siewert said.

''What was put to us, and what I've seen in the industry, is that workers look after the safety on site, and they bring a lot of safety complaints. The suggestion is that workers have been intimidated out of taking measures to ensure adequate safety.''

The commission's coercive powers allow it to override a person's common law right to silence, with penalties of up to six months in jail for refusing to answer the commission's questions

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

PSA: Government must clarify public sector jobs freeze

The NSW Government must clearly define what it means by ‘frontline worker’ to reassure the public that services will not be compromised by the public sector jobs freeze announced in today’s State Budget.

NSW Public Service Association general secretary John Cahill raised concerns the freeze would put pressure on services already facing extra demand because of the Global Financial Crisis.

"It's good that the government is relaxing its freeze on frontline workers but this is only part of the challenge facing the public sector.

"Given the average annual turnover in public sector workers is 6,000, a jobs freeze really means a significant reduction in the size of the NSW public service.

"Because of this it is critical the government explains clearly who it believes is frontline - and how those who are not defined at frontline will manage with fewer staff.

"Economic modelling conducted by Access Economics shows that the GFC will lead to increased demand for services across the sector, including housing, community services and education and training.

"The community also needs to understand that so-called frontline workers rely on frontline support - and when these resources are reduced their ability to do their job is undermined," said Mr Cahill.

Mr Cahill also cautioned the government to approach restructures and cost cutting with a focus on service delivery.

"It's fine for the government to say it is implementing public sector reform, but there need to be assurances that no more strain will be put on the frontline delivery of services that are already stretched to the max," said Mr Cahill.

Unions remain opposed to coercive powers

Commenting on the announcement by the Federal Government that it would introduce new industrial relations legislation for the construction industry into Parliament today, ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said:

"Unions are determined to improve workers' rights and to ensure workers in the construction industry have the same rights as all other Australian workers.

“It will be good to see the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) abolished, as the Government has said it will do.

"The removal of unfair, higher penalties for construction workers is also a step forward.

"However it is unacceptable for the Labor Government to retain discriminatory laws including the use of over-the-top coercive powers against one group of workers.

"Unions are fundamentally opposed to the continued use of coercive powers against workers - even for a five year period and with the new safeguards that are proposed.

"The retention of a potential jail sentence of up to six months, simply for not attending an interview with the industry watchdog, underlines the unfairness of the coercive powers.

"The only people that will win from the retention of unfair laws in this industry will be the big building developers and construction companies.

"Our short term fear is that workers will continue to be subject to laws that are just unfair and unreasonable.

"Our long term fear is that these laws will stop workers on building sites from speaking out when a situation is unsafe or unfair.

"According to official figures from the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, prior to the introduction of the Howard Government's discriminatory laws for the construction industry in 2004, there were 19 deaths on building sites but in 2007 this had risen to 33 deaths.

"Special laws have failed to deal with the terrible record of health and safety in this often dangerous industry and have failed to improve productivity.

"The recent report by Justice Wilcox into the industry found the discriminatory laws had no positive impact on productivity and debunked the ABCC's claims that they had.

"The Australian people voted at the last election to restore workers' rights and to get rid of the Howard Government's unfair IR laws.

"Unions will continue campaigning to ensure this happens," said Mr Lawrence.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

ACTU Congress 2009 roundup

The theme of ACTU Congress 2009 was Unions: Delivering for all working Australians - where job security, rights at work, and a vision for a more prosperous and equal Australia were at the top of the agenda. The content below highlights the policies and resolutions which paves the way for the union movement for the next three years.

Media releases

Unions to push for radical new cap on executive salaries and bonuses
Unions to outline agenda for job security, workers’ rights and a fairer Australia at ACTU Congress
Unions put forward new plan to protect jobs & workers' entitlements
Unions call for end to discrimination against construction workers & action on workplace deaths
National Accounts figures show the Government’s stimulus packages are working
A fair go for Australian industry by government purchasing will support local jobs


Executive salary
Union Values statement
Global financial crisis


Sharan Burrow opening
Jeff Lawrence opening
PM Kevin Rudd
Julia Gillard
Jeff Lawrence response to Julia Gillard


Union Response to GFC

Analysis of new IR laws

Rio Tinto Tries to Sidestep IR Laws

Mining Union Launches Major Test Case

The ability of major corporations to sidestep new industrial laws giving workers the right to bargain collectively will be challenged in a major test case to be launched today.

The CFMEU mining union will launch a Federal Court bid to block Rio Tinto from moving AWA workers onto a five-year agreement before the Fair Work Act becomes law on July 1.

Under the Rio Tinto agreement hundreds of miners would be stripped of their right to bargain for future wage increases and improved conditions as their Australian Workplace Agreements expired.

Instead they will be tied to a new agreement that has been negotiated by the mining giant and just a handful of workers in the Pilbara, that prevents any worker from bargaining for any wage increase or improved conditions until 2014.

CFMEU WA Secretary, Gary Wood said the powerful mining giant had forged the new workplace agreement in a bid to circumvent the Rudd Government’s new IR laws.

“Rio Tinto has deliberately moved to dodge its obligation to recognise the right of its workers to bargain for future pay increases and improved conditions under Rudd’s new IR laws,” Mr Wood said.

CFMEU General Secretary, Andrew Vickers said that the union was prepared for a long legal battle, vowing to fight for the right of Australian miners to bargain under the Rudd Government’s new workplace laws.

"This is the first legal challenge of its kind in Australia and one that will hopefully test the reach of the Rudd Government’s new IR laws," Mr Vickers said.

"The CFMEU fought long and hard to safeguard the rights of ours members under fair industrial relations laws and we are not about to let Rio Tinto walk away from its obligations under those laws."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't treat workers like criminals

Senator Doug Cameron (Senator for NSW) says Labor should not treat workers like "organised criminals or terrorists", as the Government prepares for a caucus stoush tomorrow over plans to keep the coercive powers for the construction industry.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence, who cut short an overseas trip when he heard the Government was rushing in the legislation, was in Canberra last night as part of a union protest against the Government's stance.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard confirmed the legislation will come to Parliament this week.

From February 1 it will replace the Australian Building and Construction Commission, but have a specialist section in the new Fair Work industrial relations system. The compulsory interrogation powers will stay, with considerable safeguards, as recommended by former judge Murray Wilcox.

Senator Cameron said he was not convinced the Wilcox report had made the case for retaining the powers, and there was no political case for doing so.

"There's no way the party went to the election arguing it would treat workers like organised criminals or terrorists."

The powers had been a massive overreaction by the Howard government, which used them as a political tool, he said.

Mr Lawrence said: "We reject the Government's argument that it has a mandate to maintain discriminatory laws for the construction industry."

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rudd has no mandate to keep ABCC

The Rudd Government has no mandate to keep draconian building laws that strip away the basic rights of the nation’s construction workers, the CFMEU Construction Division said today.

CFMEU Construction division National Secretary, Dave Noonan said that the IR laws that underpinned the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) had no place in a modern industrial system.

“These laws that discriminate against construction workers are a hang-over from the Howard era and have no place in the Rudd Government’s modern industrial system,” Mr Noonan said.

“The Rudd Labor Government has no mandate to keep these laws and the coercive powers that strip away the basic rights of Australian construction workers.

Mr Noonan said that under these laws a South Australian construction worker now faced up to six months imprisonment for allegedly failing to attend an ABCC interrogation last year.

“The fact of the matter is that under these building laws an ordinary construction worker now faces the likelihood of six months jail for allegedly failing to attend a secret interrogation by the ABCC and answer questions after serious safety concerns were raised at his worksite,” Mr Noonan said.

“This worker and his colleges had legitimate concerns about the safety of their worksite – safety concerns that were later backed up the South Australian safety watchdog, SA Work Safe, which issued two prohibitions notices.”

Mr Noonan also said that on the issue of the Rudd Government introducing new legislation into the parliament covering the building industry, the union would consider the proposed laws but would not accept the inclusion of coercive powers.

ACTU: Fair work bill not fair for all

Secretary of the ACTU
Jeff Lawrence
11 June 2009

"The Prime Minister invited unions to work with his government in a historic partnership for the future on a social wage for the 21st century.

"Australian unions welcome the invitation and are committed to working with the government to achieve our shared aspirations for Australian working people.

"But the success of the partnership, as in the past, will be measured against the national interest and the results it delivers for working Australians.

"The partnership does not mean we will agree about everything or that there will not be sometimes serious differences in approach.

"For more than 100 years, the Australian union movement has fought for the rights of workers and for social policies that enhance the lives of working families, and having a Labor government in power does not change our focus or direction.

"The ACTU believes that at the 2007 election, Australians voted for their rights at work and for decency, fairness and equality at work. The Fair Work bill is a result of the Australian people having their say.

"The suggestion that the congress last week claimed there was a need for a further comprehensive rewrite of Australia's industrial laws is simply false. The only relevant party in the debate on industrial relations that has failed to rule out another wholesale rewrite of industrial relations laws is Malcolm Turnbull.

"The continued strong support for Work Choices within the Coalition poses a clear danger to the rights of working people and is the only possible source of uncertainty about Australia's IR framework.

"However, there is one area where the ACTU believes that the unfairness of John Howard's IR regime still exists and that is in the existence of the ABCC. We are totally opposed to laws that treat one set of workers differently from all others and believe that these laws are unfair and have no place in a modern, national industrial relations framework.

"The argument has been put that these laws are needed to stop inappropriate or unlawful behaviour. The union movement is absolutely opposed to any form of intimidation or bullying by any side in an industrial dispute. The isolated examples of inappropriate or unlawful behaviour, in the construction industry or elsewhere, should be and indeed are dealt with by the ordinary criminal law to which all Australians are subject.

"The most recent use of these laws is against an ordinary worker who attended a union meeting to discuss safety matters at the workplace and is now threatened with jail."


Bob Brown pays $240,000 to Forestry Tasmania

Public donations will enable Greens leader Bob Brown to pay off a big legal debt that threatened to cost him his Senate seat.

Senator Brown owes Forestry Tasmania $240,000 after a failed legal bid to stop logging in the Wielangta forest in Tasmania's southeast.

If he failed to pay the bill by the end of the month and was declared bankrupt, he would have been disqualified from the Upper House.

Senator Brown said he had been overwhelmed by the response to his public appeal for help earlier this week and will now be able to get back into the black.

He said over 1000 people had made donations to his cause, mostly small amounts between $10 and $100.

However, there was one $10,000 donation he knew about and he also sold one of his artworks for $20,000 to help fund the legal battle.

"It really just shows how strongly people are concerned about the forests and the wildlife in them," Senator Brown said.

"A lot of them are saying they're not Green voters but they didn't like the way that Forestry Tasmania were threatening my seat in the Senate."

Saturday, June 06, 2009

ABCC: Ark Tribe faces court

At 9:30 am on Tuesday 9 June, Ark Tribe, a construction worker from South Australia will be in court.

He is charged with not attending an interrogation with the Australian Building and Construction Commission and faces up to six months in jail.

As the South Australian State Secretary for the CFMEU, I'll be standing in court along side Ark.

You can show your support by joining us at Elizabeth Magistrates Court, 15 Frobisher Road, Elizabeth, South Australia from 9:30 am.

If you cant make it, please stand by him and send your message of support to Ark.

We'll be defending Ark's rights in court, and we will continue to campaign to get rid of the ABCC and its laws, before another construction worker faces jail.

Martin O'Malley
South Australia State Secretary CFMEU Construction
and the Rights on Site campaign team

Thursday, June 04, 2009

MUA Campaign: Time for a Sea Change

Australia would face an impossible task to meet a national freight target tipped to double by 2020 and triple by 2050, without making a new national shipping policy an urgent priority.

“The prediction is that post 2020 coastal shipping will experience significant coastal shipping growth with the need for greater use of efficient and low-carbon methods of transport but the establishment of a competitive Australian shipping industry must begin right now”, said Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.

Speaking at the Natship09 conference in Sydney, this morning, Mr Crumlin launched a new platform for the revitalisation of shipping, Time for a Sea Change in Australian Shipping, calling for the Federal Government to adopt a comprehensive package of regulatory reforms and fiscal support without delay.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Qld Rail workers oppose sell-off

Rail workers in Maryborough have been dealt another blow by the Queensland Government with Premier Anna Bligh announcing plans to sell off Queensland Rail's coal business.

Ms Bligh broke the news in parliament yesterday by saying it was part of a government restructure of its asset portfolio.

Also on the chopping block was Queensland Motorways Limited, The Port of Brisbane, Forest Plantations Queensland and Abbott Point Coal Terminal.

The news has sparked outrage from the Queensland Rail, Tram and Bus Union and cast doubt on future employment for industry workers in Maryborough.

Union state secretary Owen Doogan said it was an "appalling decision" by Ms Bligh to sell QR's coal business.

“Considering the privatisation of rail operations is deplorable,” Mr Doogan said.

"The sale of the track or the disposal of the track will have a major effect on workers in Maryborough and Bundaberg.

"It has the potential to affect jobs in the area."

Mr Doogan said Fraser Coast residents should be very concerned about the decision which was an "inappropriate" way of addressing issues.

He was also concerned future jobs with QR would go to contractors, which he believed did not put the safety of rail lines first.

The union planned to take "any action required" to counteract the decision including a "major campaign" to prevent the sale.

"We'll exclude nothing in making that campaign.

"We will take whatever action required to try and save our members' jobs."

Maryborough jobs were also a major worry for Brad Hansen, the convenor of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

Mr Hansen said from an EDI perspective Ms Bligh's decision could mean rail contracts could become more difficult to secure.

"It's very distressing and concerning for me."

EDI already shared QR work with private companies but Mr Hansen said they did not have the same "connections" and would find it hard if it had to compete even stronger with the private sector.

Mr Hansen planned to ask Transport Minister Rachel Nolan for more details of the decision when EDI union delegates meet with her tomorrow .

The meeting was to discuss QR's call for international tenders for a new carriage contract, but Mr Hansen said he would also seek detail about the latest news so the union can inform its members.

ACTU Congress: abolish ABCC

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard will address more than five hundred union delegates at the triennial ACTU Congress meeting in Brisbane today.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the Federal Government was failing in its duty to protect the families of workers in the construction industry.

“More than 40 workers have died on construction sites in the past year – including several in Queensland.

“Every one of these deaths is a tragedy that affects families, friends, workmates and the whole community.

"The high level of deaths and injuries in the construction industry is a national disgrace and yet safety standards have got worse in the period the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has operated.

"In the four years since the Howard Government set it up to pursue an anti-union political agenda, the ABCC has failed to adequately deal with employers who break the law or cut corners on safety."

Unions have pledged to support South Australian construction worker, rigger Ark Tribe, who has been charged for refusing to attend an ABCC interview.

Mr Tribe has refused to tell ABCC investigators about a union meeting held over persistent safety breaches at an Adelaide construction site.

Mr Lawrence said it was important the Federal Government delivered on ALP policy to abolish discriminatory laws and it should abandon its plans to retain a separate inspectorate for building workers in the new Fair Work Australia.

"No group of workers should be subject to discriminatory laws and coercive interrogation powers have no role in industrial relations in a modern democracy," said Mr Lawrence.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

ACTU Congress: opening speech

Brisbane  Convention Centre (02.06.09)

"Delegates, the world outlook is, in many ways, as bleak as at any time in our history and it demands our attention. Unions both nationally and internationally are committed to peace, peaceful coexistence and democracy, to social and environmental justice, to the eradication of poverty, to equality, and to economic security based on decent work.

We know we can make a difference in each of these essential priorities for the world.

The Global Financial Crisis is devastating the security and the aspirations of many workers throughout both developed and developing countries The ravages of climate change is all too prevalent in the destruction of homes, infrastructure and livelihoods in the communities of our nations and those of our neighbours. For too many the reality or threat of conflict, ethnic cleansing, denial of democracy, religious intolerance and oppression, particularly for women, is still a daily reality.

The challenge is as always, to take on these threats and to see them off. We can and we will.

The success of the Your Rights at Work campaign
When we met three years ago, working Australians were experiencing the threat of WorkChoices. They were having their take home pay ripped off, losing overtime and penalty rates, being forced to sign individual contracts to secure a job and chaffing at the injustice of employers refusing to bargain collectively. Job security was smashed with the overwhelming majority of Australians losing their right to unfair dismissal.

Our building and construction workers were subject to this and much more. The impost of coercive powers that afford our brothers and sisters in the construction unions fewer rights than alleged criminals was a John Howard special. Compulsory interrogation, no representation, fines or jail for refusing to give names and details of safety or union meetings, powers that should not exist in any democracy, these are still with us. Shameful!

Workers’ rights were under unprecedented attack from the Howard Government, and we were in the midst of a titanic struggle. But the ‘Your Rights at Work’ Campaign was emerging as the challenger.

‘Your Rights at Work’ was the most successful union and community campaign in Australian history. The real triumph came from the unity generated by the near universal Australian belief in a fair go for all – a basic belief in the Australian community for a collective approach and for standing up for and with each other.

It was these values that allowed us to unify workers and engage the broader community.

That engagement came in many forms. There was Tracy and all the other stories represented to the Australian community through the advertising and media campaign, massive mobilisation in community protests linked together by Sky broadcasts, the union leaders’ tours to regional centres and the infamous YRAW bus. The sheer visibility sustained with hundreds of street stalls, community forums, faith forums, presence at sporting events, door knocking, tens of thousands of one-on-one conversations and the magnificent effort on election day all worked to shift the vote.

And John Howard and his government were defeated; thrown out of office on the back of his obsession with Workchoices and his attempts to de-unionise Australia. The sweetest victory of all was like Stanley Bruce, same issue, same position, John Howard lost his seat. There is no question that in decades to come, historians will refer to the 2007 election as the ‘Rights at Work’ election.

We are very proud of all those who joined our army of orange shirts -- they became ubiquitous and unavoidable.

We are very grateful for the churches and numerous other community groups who stood up with us, supported YRAW, supported workers’ rights.

WorkChoices wasn’t about a more productive economy. It was about a vicious attack on the democratic rights of working people and their unions.

Enormous courage was shown by those who made a stand, often at the cost of their job."