Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halliburton and BP explosion

A White House commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon well disaster has alleged that BP and US contractor Halliburton knew that the cement mixture designed to seal BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico was unstable.

US President Barack Obama’s special commission on the disaster that killed 11 rig workers and caused the biggest oil spill in US history said that this could have contributed to the blowout.

Democratic legislator Edward Markey said: "The fact that BP and Halliburton knew this cement job could fail only solidifies their liability and responsibility for this disaster. This is like building a car when you know the brakes could fail, but you sell the cars anyway."

Legal experts agreed, saying the information could help to bolster plaintiffs' cases in the multitude of spill-related lawsuits by helping to show that BP acted with gross negligence before the spill.

"There's no question that it's important evidence," said Charlie Tebbutt, an attorney for the Centre for Biological Diversity, which has filed a lawsuit seeking $19 billion.

"It serves to confirm the previous reports of significant problems with the exploration and production of the well."

On Thursday night Halliburton issued a statement saying that it did not conduct a stability test on the final mix of cement after a last-minute change by BP added more of a certain ingredient.

Earlier statements by the company had said tests showed the cement to be stable.

The cement mix’s failure to prevent oil and gas from entering the well has been identified by BP and others as one of the causes of the accident.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Politics in the Pub: Sham Contracting

Saturday, 30 October 2010, 2.30 pm
Family Hotel, 15 Parke Street, Katoomba

Sham contracting occurs when an employer avoids their responsibilities to pay all of a worker's legal entitlements by hiring workers as "independent" contractors rather than on an employment contract such as an award or collective agreement. This is illegal, short changes the worker and creates unfair competition for employers who abide by the law.

The Speakers
John Sutton: National Secretary, Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)
Eleanor Gibbs: Blue Mountains Councillor and Greens industrial relations working group
John SuttonElenor Gibbs
According to the CFMEU hundreds of thousands of dependent contractors include backpackers, international students and apprentices who are being paid as little as $10 per hour with no other entitlements. They believe that the practice is prevalent for low paid workers on building sites, in restaurants and hospitality in general, and in the cleaning industry.

John Sutton says that it is too easy to get an ABN and has recently called on the Federal Government to tighten up the tax rules.
"The system is being abused by some employers who are forcing people to set themselves up as so called contractors to get a job."
"We have statistics from the ABS that show 116,000 people nationally holding ABN’s who describe their job as labourer. Being a labourer is inconsistent with being a bona fide business".

Friday, October 29, 2010

Patrick Dispute: Howard on conspiracy


John Howard has finally admitted to conspiring with Christopher Corrigan to bust the Maritime Union of Australia in 1998, Paddy Crumlin, the union's National Secretary said today.

Photo: Tony McDonough
Mr Crumlin said Mr Howard’s memoir Lazarus Rising, which devotes a 15-page chapter to the dispute, was the first time the former prime minister has admitted to an official meeting with Patrick’s Chris Corrigan prior to the lock-out on the wharves.

Mr Crumlin said the major admission came on page 292 of his book, where he states that he and Peter Reith met Mr Corrigan in Howard’s office in Canberra ‘during the latter half of 1997’.

“Until now, Howard had only admitted to one official meeting with Corrigan, which Reith has claimed was on 29 April 1998, on the eve of the High Court hearing that upheld the Federal Court finding that there was an arguable case of unlawful conspiracy,” Mr Crumlin said.

“This fresh disclosure also means that Howard misled parliament.

“The chapter is full of unsupported allegations about the waterfront and the union, many of which can be shown to be completely untrue. His ongoing falsification of the co-operative reform process that occurred under the Hawke Labor government, for example, is risible.

“But even where Howard reveals new information, he raises more questions than he answers.

“On page 294, for example, he says that no-one in his government knew about the Dubai training operation and that Reith was advised and publicly announced that Corrigan was not involved.

“In the next paragraph, Howard writes that ‘Dubai told me that Corrigan was serious about reform’. How then did Howard know that Corrigan was involved?

“Until now, no-one in Howard’s government has admitted to knowing about Corrigan’s involvement in the Dubai debacle before Corrigan himself publicly confessed two months later, in February 1998.

“Howard also admits that one of the government’s consultants apparently knew about the Dubai operation. This could only refer to Stephen Webster, who was seconded from Pratt Industries to
provide advice on waterfront reform.”

Mr Crumlin said the 82-page Webster report was submitted to the Howard government in October 1997 and has remained confidential.

He called on the Gillard government to release the Webster report to clear the air.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unions NSW: Rights in Fiji

The circumvention of human rights in Fiji is a problem for all citizens but particularly to those involved in civil society, such as trade union officials.

In December 2006 the democratically elected government of Fiji was illegally removed from office by the Military.

Consequently the people of Fiji are now subjected to 'Public Emergency Regulations', draconian regulations imposed by the military regime that curb the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and the freedom of the media.

The circumvention of human rights in Fiji is a problem for all citizens but particularly to those involved in civil society, such as trade union officials.

The heavy censorship of the media in Fiji and the continuous deprivation of human rights, including freedom of association must stop immediately.

As such, Unions NSW is making representations to the ACTU and the Federal Government with respect to the violation of human rights in Fiji.

Unions NSW is particularly concerned about the rights of trade unions to be allowed to freely have discussions with their members without the interference of the military.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tasmanian forest agreement

Historic agreement to protect Tasmania's ancient forests

It's been a long time coming!

For decades, environmentalists have been trying to protect Tasmania's stunning, ancient forests from destruction. And timber workers have been trying to protect their jobs. This unresolved dispute has led to protests, arrests and, sadly, ongoing logging in our high conservation-value native forests.

But with the Tasmanian timber industry in collapse, after five months of good-faith discussions, a way forward is here. The Statement of Principles agreed between conservation groups, timber communities, forest unions and the industry gives Tasmania a unique opportunity to create a sustainable timber industry, protect its remaining native forests and resolve the conflict over logging.

The benefits for the whole of Tasmania are huge, including:

  • a moratorium to end logging in the most precious forests within three months
  • world class forests like the Tarkine Rainforest, Great Western Tiers, Styx, Blue Tier and the Upper Florentine Valley will be formally protected
  • detailed planning and consultation for the timber industry to transition out of native forests will occur over the next 12 months – protecting and developing timber jobs that are sustainable
  • Tasmania’s image as a clean, green state will be preserved, in a major boost for tourism

This Statement of Principles is essential to Tasmania's future. People's jobs depend on it, Tasmania's economy requires it, and native species desperately need it too.

ABCC: Sham makeover

The CFMEU rejected moves by the new head of the Australian Building and Construction Commission to recast the public image of the organisation.

New commissioner Lee Johns told Senate Estimates that the ABCC will now prosecute employers who engage in sham contracting and other illegal practices.

"This back flip by the ABCC comes after widespread criticism of the agency’s ongoing bias against construction workers and their unions,” CFMEU Construction national secretary Dave Noonan said today.

"The ABCC has failed to prosecute even one employer for underpaying workers or ripping off workers entitlements since it was established in 2005, despite widespread rorting by employers in the construction industry.

"This attempt to give the ABCC an extreme make-over does not change the fact that the construction industry laws enacted by John Howard remain unacceptable and un-Australian.

"Adelaide construction worker Ark Tribe is still facing prosecution and possible imprisonment for standing up for safety on a worksite.

"Until the Labor Government honours its pre-2007 election promise to abolish the ABCC and end discrimination against construction workers, construction workers will continue their campaign for equality before the law."

IREHR Report: "Tea Party Nationalism"

"Tea Party organizations have given platforms to anti-Semites, racists, and bigots. Further, hard-core white nationalists have been attracted to these protests, looking for potential recruits and hoping to push these (white) protesters towards a more self-conscious and ideological white supremacy."

Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR)

This report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues. In these ranks, an abiding obsession with Barack Obama’s birth certificate is often a stand-in for the belief that the first black president of the United States is not a “real American.” Rather than strict adherence to the Constitution, many Tea Partiers are challenging the provision for birthright citizenship found in the Fourteenth Amendment.

One temperature gauge of these events is the fact that longtime national socialist David Duke is hoping to find enough money and support in the Tea Party ranks to launch yet another electoral campaign in the 2012 Republican primaries.

The leading figures in one national faction, 1776 Tea Party (the faction more commonly known as, were imported directly from the anti-immigrant vigilante organization, the Minuteman Project. Tea Party Nation has provided a gathering place for so-called birthers and has attracted Christian nationalists and nativists. Tea Party Express so outraged the public with the racist pronouncements of its leaders, that other national factions have (recently) eschewed any ties to it. Both ResistNet and Tea Party Patriots, the two largest networks, harbor long-time anti-immigrant nativists and racists; and Tea Party Patriots has opened its doors to those aiming at repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment and the direct election of United State Senators.

While Tea Partiers and their supporters are concerned about the current economic recession and the increased government debt spending it has occasioned, there is no observable statistical link between Tea Party membership and unemployment levels. Readers will note a regression analysis on this question done last January specifically for this report. And their storied opposition to political and social elites turns out to be predicated on an antagonism to federal assistance to those deemed the “undeserving poor.”

The Tea Party movement as a whole is a multi-million dollar complex that includes for-profit corporations, non-party non-profit organizations, and political action committees. Collectively they have erased the advantage that Democrats once enjoyed in the arena of internet fundraising and web-based mobilization. They have resuscitated the ultra-conservative wing of American political life, created a stiff pole of opinion within Republican Party ranks, and they have had a devastating impact on thoughtful policy making for the common good, both at the local and state as well as at the federal levels.


ILWU: Justice for Oscar Grant

On 20 October 2010 at a press conference by ILWU Local 10 on Oscar Grant Rally, participants spoke about why labor was supporting this rally for justice in the case of Oscar Grant. This is an edited segment of the press conference. Production of Labor Video Project

Saturday, October 23, 2010

French Unions continue campaign

Trade unionists vowed to launch legal action against the Sarkozy administration on Friday after it deployed riot police to break up pickets at refineries and ordered striking refinery workers back to work "in the interests of national defence."

Heavily armoured police soon cleared pickets and a barricade of burning tyres, injuring at least three people in the process.

Yet, as soon as police opened the site, strikers blockaded access roads, halting all traffic.

The aggressive operations were mounted after Seine-et-Marne police chief Michel Guillot issued an emergency decree which included the refinery as a vital part of the country's military machine.

Total CGT official Charles Foulard said that the bully-boy tactics were a reminder of the days of nazi collaborator Petain.

"We are outraged, we are scandalised," Mr Foulard said as he announced that the union would file a legal complaint against the government's thuggery.

He stressed that the goal of the blockade was not to paralyse the country. It was "a cry for help" to the government to open negotiations on its drive to pass a reform Bill that would see the minimum retirement age rise from 60 to 62 by 2018 and set the threshhold for full pension payments at 67.

"We are not at war, we are not in a state of siege, so the defence code does not apply in this case," another CGT activist said.

A quarter of the country's petrol stations are still closed and drivers faced limits on how much fuel they can buy across the the country.

And all 12 oil refineries are still either closed or blockaded, despite the Grandpuits site near Melun in Seine-et-Marne being forced open.

The Senate voted yes to Mr Sarkozy's pensions reform Bill and it could be on the statute books as early as next week.

An opinion poll published on Friday by the BVA institute and broadcast by Canal+ television showed that a large majority of French voters were opposed to the government's Bill and supported the strikes by a margin of 69 per cent to 29.

Unions have vowed to continue their strikes and street protests after the Bill is passed and have scheduled two more days of nationwide protest for October 26 and November 6.

Secondary school students have announced that they willtake to the streets in force again on Tuesday.

UK: Spending cuts target women

Measures announced in the comprehensive spending review will hit women twice as hard as men, according to research by the House of Commons library.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow foreign secretary and shadow minister for equalities, who commissioned the research, said tonight that the changes represent the biggest reversal in opportunities for women since the end of the first world war

Of the £8.5bn being raised by cutting direct contributions to individuals, £5.7bn – two thirds – is coming from women, while £2.7bn is being raised from men, the Commons library says.

In June's emergency budget £5.8bn was raised from women and £2.2bn from men.

That means that of the total £16bn being brought back into the exchequer by the coalition through direct tax benefit changes, £11bn will come from women.

Cooper shows that 70% of tax credits including childcare, working tax credits and other support is paid to mothers, as is 94% of child benefit. Some 60% of housing benefit, also due to be cut, is paid to women. According to the Daycare Trust, the spending review amounts to a £1,500-a-year cut in help with childcare costs.

Cooper compares the review to the period after the first world war when women who had been working had to stop because of the return of men from the front.

"Cutting back measures like childcare and working tax credit, when women still earn much less than men, will mean women have more limited career prospects.

"Women live on lower incomes yet they have chosen to take the majority from women," she said.

"You have to go back in history to find anything comparative. Not since the end of the first world war have we seen such a complete reversal of women's opportunities and economic independence. We haven't seen an attempt to turn the clock back like this for very many generations."


Friday, October 22, 2010

NZ Equity fight for Hobbit

NZ Actors Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand says everybody wants the same thing: to have The Hobbit made here in New Zealand.

"Finger pointing and blame is unhelpful to that aim," she says.

"It's time to put emotion and anger aside and to find a constructive way forward".

"The producers and the New Zealand public can be certain there are no industrial relations barriers to the film being made here," she says.

"NZ Equity has provided clear and unequivocal assurances to Warners and the production that there will be no industrial action on the film."

Ms Ward-Lealand says that NZ Equity has found a positive way forward with SPADA to agreeing standard terms and conditions for NZ performers in other screen productions in New Zealand. These discussions will be proceeding over the coming months.

"Our immediate focus is to help ensure the film can be made here," she says.

Wages share lowest in 46 years

19 October, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

Wages for working Australians are failing to keep pace with the rising cost of living despite company profits rebounding strongly from the Global Financial Crisis.

A new analysis of key economic data released today shows company profits have risen by 27.5% in the past year – more than ten times the rate of wages for private sector employees which have risen by just 2.7%.

ABS data shows that half (50%) the Australian workforce — more than four million people — earn just $850 a week or less.

And living costs for working households have risen by 4.5% — well above the overall Consumer Price Index and the rate of pay rises enjoyed by most Australian workers in the past year.

In his address to the Ai Group’s National Conference in Canberra (11 am Tuesday 19 October), Mr Lawrence warns that the strong growth in company profits relative to wages shows unions are justified in pursuing significant pay rises in companies that can afford it.

"Workers in the sectors that are growing strongly should be seeing more of the benefits.

"It’s clear that the Australian economy has emerged from the global recession in a better position than almost any other developed nation," said Mr Lawrence.

“Overall business is doing well from the resurgent economy and there are absolutely no grounds for big business lobby groups to be agitating to wind back workers’ rights under the Fair Work laws.

"Corporate profits are up strongly, helped by a big increase in the price of Australian exports relative to imports (the terms of trade).

"The profit share of national income is now near the record highs it reached in 2008, while the wages share of income is the lowest since 1964."

Changing of CFMEU guard

Date: 20 October 2010

Mal Tulloch
A new generation of union leaders has taken charge at the NSW branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy (Construction and General Division).

After 16 years as the State Secretary Andrew Ferguson has retired and Malcolm Tulloch has been elected to replace him.

Tulloch, who officially started as CFMEU State Secretary yesterday, is the first Indigenous person to hold the top job in Australia's largest building union.

Rebel Hanlon, 36, will move into Tulloch's previous role as Assistant State Secretary.

Tulloch, 48, a former Holroyd City Council mayor and trades person, traces his indigenous heritage through his paternal grandmother.

Tulloch said he was "honoured to be following a long line of great leaders of this building union".

The 48-year-old said his commitment to labour and indigenous policies complemented each other.

"Whether you are a building worker or part of your community, it is about a strong sense of social justice and it is about people being treated fairly and with dignity and respect," he said.

Tulloch and Hanlon were elected by the CFMEU Committee of Management with the decision endorsed by the union's delegates.

Hanlon is also Indigenous through his paternal side. His great-grandmother was an Aboriginal woman from Junee, NSW, in Wirradjurie country.

Hanlon said he was "blown away" by his election and hoped it would be an inspiration not just to young Indigenous people, but young people in general to become active in the union movement.

Ferguson, who has led the union since 1994, said Tulloch's election signalled a generational change at the union.

"It is also fitting that with Mal's appointment we are continuing the CFMEU tradition of making labour history by electing our first Indigenous leader," he says.

UK Cuts: Poorest pay most

The Institute For Fiscal Studies reports that the UK Coalition package of tax and benefit changes coming into force by 2014-15 is clearly regressive, including the tax increases put in train by Britain's Labour Party.

If households are ranked by spending the bottom 30% of households are all contributing more to the deficit reduction effort, as a share of their spending, than the top 10%.

Taking into account all tax and benefit changes up to 2014-15, the average loss across the bottom 30% is roughly 6% of their spending, versus just over 3% for the top 10%.

By far the biggest losers from the coalition's benefit changes will be families with children so the coalition's plan which is supposed to be "saving our children from the burden of rising national debt" is being paid for, in large part, by families and children.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Protections, rights for workers over-riding priority

14 October, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

The announcement by the NSW Government that it will seek to preserve higher protections for workers currently in state legislation supports the union position that a national workplace safety system should put employee welfare above all else, said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

The ACTU has been campaigning since the first moves were made towards harmonised national OHS laws more than two years ago to ensure that workers did not lose out.

Mr Lawrence said the proposed national occupational health and safety system should always have included a right for third party prosecutions over serious accidents and an onus on employers to prove they provide a safe workplace.

"Unions have always maintained it was a major oversight for the proposed national laws not to include these rights from the outset," Mr Lawrence said. "The proposed national workplace safety laws should now be reviewed to lift standards and protections for all Australian workers.

"The NSW laws contain these two elements and unions are pleased to see the Keneally Government is determined to maintain them. Today's announcement by the NSW Premier opens the door for a rethink about the uniform OHS system for all states and territories.

"We have always said that harmonisation of the various state and territory systems provided a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ensure that workplace standards were lifted to world’s best practice.

"As they stand, the draft national laws would reduce rights and protections for workers in a number of states. This is unacceptable. Workplace health and safety laws must put the interests of employees first, not those of business.

"The right for workers to take court action against negligent employers where the workplace safety authorities have failed to prosecute has been in place in NSW for more than half a century, and while rarely used, has resulted in improved and safer working environments.

"Reverse onus of proof focuses employers on identifying and controlling risks in the workplace. Both should be part of a national system that puts employee health and safety above all else."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Parental Leave: Entitlement NOT Welfare

12 October, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

The ACTU and unions will reject the proposed attempt by the federal coalition and business lobbyists to turn Australia’s new paid parental leave into a welfare payment rather than a workplace entitlement.

"Once again Tony Abbott, backed by business lobbyists, has shown a deep lack of understanding about the needs of working women and how paid parental leave can best help women stay connected to the workforce when they take time out to care for their babies," said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

The Private Member's Bill proposed by the Coalition would force Centrelink to administer paid parental leave, rather than allowing women to be directly paid by their employer as a workplace entitlement, as is the case with long service or sick leave, for example.

"This would weaken women’s connection to the workplace rather than strengthen it," Ms Kearney said.

"One of the key purposes of a proper paid parental leave scheme is to ensure women stay attached to the workforce rather than drop out altogether, taking their skills and knowledge with them.

"This has long been a problem in Australia which has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the OECD for women between the ages of 22 to 44.

"Research and direct experience show that when an employer administers the payment to a female employee it keeps the workplace relationship intact.

"This connection to the employer engenders loyalty and good faith between both parties. It creates a much greater likelihood that the woman will return to the workplace when the leave is finished," said Ms Kearney.

"Tony Abbott said he would introduce paid parental leave over his dead body. This Bill is just another attempt to prevent Paid Parental Leave from becoming an accepted workplace right for all women and speaks volumes about his ignorance on this issue."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dead buried and cremated?

Dead buried and cremated? WorkChoices rises again

We predicted that if Tony Abbott was elected by big business they would demand a return to WorkChoices.

He was not elected and the Australian people voted for rights at work and people like you voted for rights on construction sites.

But demands from big business haven’t been stopped by the ballot box.

Big business, fed by the editorial pages of The Australian have championed a return to work choices with the underhanded desperation of a cause that sits on the precipice of failure.

Today we have seen the continued support by big business for anti worker laws, which punish unions for doing their job, from representing workers to standing up for safety.

Mr Cheney should leave his former role as Head of the Business Council of Australia behind. Times have changed, he no longer has the mandate to talk on behalf of industry.

His thoughts on the role of the ABCC are at odds with Lend Lease and the Institute of Public Affairs who have turned their back on the politically motivated body and are in favour of restoring civil liberties and one law for all workers.

Dave Noonan
CFMEU C&G Division National Secretary and the Rights on Site Team

Abbott's dive in poll

Newspoll Oct 12 2010

Voter satisfaction for the Opposition leader has fallen dramatically from the last survey, conducted on September 10-12, when Mr Abbott had 48 per cent of the vote.

His satisfaction rating is now 39 per cent, while his dissatisfaction rating increased from 38 per cent to 47 per cent over the same period.

The percentage of voters satisfied with Ms Gillard's performance increased from 44 to 48 per cent, while her dissatisfaction rating fell from 36 to 33 per cent, the poll found.

Crown Casino: bets are off


Late yesterday casino workers notified Crown strike action will begin on Friday and continue into Caulfield Cup Day (Saturday), one of Crown's busiest days of the year.

Last week, casino union members who voted in an industrial action ballot supported for strike action by a margin of 97%.

Union members have rejected Crown's wage offer of 3.75% per year and changes that that could cost experienced dealers almost $5000 a year. Last week Crown upped its wage offer by 0.25% over three years, following the successful strike ballot.

Workers say good jobs and fair wages will ensure Crown can retain experienced, properly-trained staff who can serve alcohol and supervise gambling responsibly.

“This Friday, Crown staff will begin strike action. Strike action will continue into Caulfield Cup Day on Saturday, with further action likely next week," said Jess Walsh, State Secretary, of LHMU, the Casino Union.

"We've committed to give Crown sufficient notice so it can protect the millions in cash and thousands of patrons on the premises when staff walk off the job. We’ve also notified the gambling regulator."

"Crown staff are demanding recognition and respect for being the best casino workers in the country."

"Crown Melbourne dwarfs other Australian casinos by every measure. It needs to attract and retain the best staff, and now it has an opportunity to do just that — by creating the best conditions at work."

"Crown Melbourne just made a $350 million profit, thanks to the hard work of Crown staff."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sloppy Joe's dodgy "audit"

Peter Martin October 11, 2010 The Age

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey was not telling the truth when he claimed days before the election that the Coalition's costings had been "audited" by a big accountancy firm.

His claim that "we have the fifth-biggest accounting firm in Australia auditing our books and certifying in law that our numbers are accurate" helped shield the Coalition from criticism about its decision not to submit costings to Treasury.

Documents seen by The Age show the federal directors of both the Liberal and National parties would have known the claim to be untrue.

Brian Loughnane and Brad Henderson signed a letter on the day the costings were released addressed to the Perth accountancy firm WHK Horwath confirming that its work for the Coalition was primarily "not of an audit nature".

Mr Loughnane also countersigned a letter from two of the firm's principals that reminded the Coalition their work would "not constitute an audit in accordance with Australian auditing standards or a review in accordance with Australian auditing standards". Within hours of the work's release Mr Hockey inflated it to a legally watertight endorsement, telling ABC TV "they have certified our numbers based on all the information we have provided them; they have legal obligations and legal risks".

Challenged as to whether the Coalition's numbers made sense, he told ABC radio, "if the fifth-biggest accounting firm in Australia signs off on our numbers it is a brave person to start saying there are accounting tricks. I tell you it is audited. This is an audited statement.''

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb backed up Mr Hockey, saying if Horwath made a mistake with the auditing of accounts for companies "they are at risk of being punished and going to jail".

The letter from Horwath principals Geoff Kidd and Cyrus Patell dated July 13 and countersigned by Mr Loughnane makes clear that the work was little more than a spreadsheet to "review the arithmetic accuracy of the Liberal Party of Australia's costing estimates".

Currency wars: Joseph Stiglitz

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz talks about the inevitability of currency wars and comments on the dangers of addressing global economy through monetary policy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Minimum hours decision protects safety net

08 October, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

Today's decision by Fair Work Australia not to vary the modern retail award and to preserve a minimum three-hour call out will protect the wages of hundreds of thousands of casual workers around Australia.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the decision should put to rest once and for all a push by employers to wind back an essential award condition for all casual workers.

He urged employer groups and the Coalition to rule out any further attempts to undermine workers' minimum award pay and conditions.

The Full Bench of FWA today has refused an employer appeal against an earlier rejection of an application to vary the modern retail award to reduce the minimum shift from three hours to two.

A minimum shift of at least three hours has been the historical standard in all states except Victoria, and was reinforced by award modernisation this year. The three hour minimum was chosen as the national standard for modern awards in the award modernisation process conducted last year

There are about 400,000 casual employees in the retail sector, but an adverse decision today could have undermined the conditions of millions more across the workforce.

Mr Lawrence said the minimum call-out was a crucial safety net condition to ensure all casual workers were paid a decent wage.

"Today’s decision by the Full Bench has confirmed the importance of the award safety net that is in place to protect all workers," Mr Lawrence said.

"It was the thin edge of the wedge. A minimum call of three hours exists in dozens of awards, and ensures that people are not called in for short shifts.

"This is particularly unfair for workers who have to travel a long way to attend work, or who have to make childcare arrangements. Allowing students to work short shifts in the afternoon would also undercut the position of day workers (mostly working mums), whose shifts might be cut back to in favour of students working at lower rates."

Thursday, October 07, 2010

ABS: Jobs surge

The Australian unemployment rate remained at 5.1 per cent in September, as announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics today.

The ABS reported the number of people employed increased by 49,500 people to 11.325 million, seasonally adjusted, in September. The rise in employment was driven by an increase in full-time employment, up 55,800 people to 7.985 million, that was partially offset by a decrease in part-time employment, down 6,300 people to 3.340 million.

The number of people unemployed increased by 2,400 people to 611,000 in September, reported the ABS.

The ABS seasonally adjusted monthly aggregate hours worked series showed a fall in September, down 1.0 million hours to 1,594.1 million hours.

The ABS reported the participation rate in September increased 0.2 percentage points to 65.6 per cent.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

HR Nicholls Society: WorkChoicesTwo

Eric Abetz , the shadow workplace relations minister (and brains behind Godwin Grech and 'Utegate'), and Andrew (Rubbery) Robb, Coalition finance spokesman, will be guests of the right-wing HR Nicholls Society at its annual dinner in Melbourne.

The HR Nicholls Society has led the push to slash union power and entrench individual workplace agreements over the past 20 years. Former Labor PM Bob Hawke branded the organisation a group of "political troglodytes and economic lunatics".

Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said it was now clear WorkChoices was being resurrected by the Liberal Party.

"It has only taken a matter of weeks for the Liberal Party to revert to type and walk away from its election commitment to support the Fair Work Act. Consultation by the Coalition's most senior shadow ministers with the far-right HR Nicholls Society confirms that a return to anti-worker legislation is being developed"

Meanwhile (Sloppy) Joe Hockey is pleading with business to find its "squeaky voice" and offer more support to the outflanked Coalition and their "Moving Backwards" campaign.

"I think it's hugely important that members of the business community engage more directly in the policy debates that will shape Australia's economic future. The squeaky voice will get the oil in this parliament and we need advocates for mainstream change to balance against sectoral interests" he whines. 'Mainstream" once the codeword for the codeword "battlers" is now revealed as codeword for the codeword "business community" i.e. the "big end of town"

On top of this (Phoney) Tony Abbott has parachuted into the Tory Party conference in Britain to learn the ideological and public relations requirements for his plans to slash public health and education should he ever get into power!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Shifting Risk – Work and Working Life

The ACTU has released a major new report into work and working life in Australia before and after the global financial crisis.

The report Shifting Risk – Work and Working Life in Australia by Mike Rafferty and Serena Yu at Sydney University’s Workplace Research Centre identifies a series of major transformations, including:

  • Growing inequality in Australia. Despite strong increases in the productivity of Australian workers since the 1980s, returns to labour as measured by real wages growth, has lagged significantly. Conversely, the returns to capital have grown markedly and profit share is at record levels.
  • Casual, contract and precarious employment is now the norm. The increase in precarious jobs and in particular the rise in the casual work force to 2 million Australians is proof of what is happening in Australian workplaces today. Growth in non standard forms of employment is outstripping standard full time employment, defined as a working week in excess of 35 hours attracting paid leave benefits. The greatest growth has been in full time casual and part time jobs.
  • Massive increase in financial risk among working families. The period of excessive credit and leverage preceding the GFC saw working families take on more and more debt. While household indebtedness has eased since the GFC, it is still at levels above 150% and the likelihood of interest rate rises in the near future poses further risks for families.
  • Growing fixed costs are adding to financial pressure. As a proportion of the family’s budget, spending on non-food fixed costs has risen from 37% to 42%, driven by increases in housing, health, and education expenses — the traditional domain of governments. This rise in fixed costs means many families are now more sensitive to shocks from rises in price or the loss of wages.
  • High household debt makes the economy vulnerable. As the sub-prime experience in the US showed, a highly leverage economy cannot cope when the system comes under stress. The GFC was precipitated by extreme and irresponsible risks caused by seemingly inexorable rises in asset values and accessibility to credit.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said: "This major new report is a wake up call for Australia. As a nation we survived the global financial crisis better than most but that doesn’t mean it should be business as usual for the big corporations.

"Australians are among the hardest workers in the world. We work long hours and we are highly productive but wages are not keeping pace with company profits and families are exposed to high levels of debt and greater financial risk.

"Families deserve more secure jobs and less financial pressure. This will also deliver greater stability to our economy, making it less prone to shocks that could cause another financial crisis.

It is time for businesses and government and unions to work together on these major challenges," said Ms Kearney.

Ms Kearney will deliver an address to the National Press Club, Canberra — Wednesday, 6 October .

Monday, October 04, 2010

Labour Day: 2010

Labour Day commemorates the achievements of the Australian labour movement. The celebration of Labour Day has its origins in the eight hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.

The Garrison Church: sketch by Peter Neilson on the 150th anniversary of the eight hour day in Sydney
On 18 August 1855 the Stonemasons' Society in Sydney issued an ultimatum to employers that in six months time, masons would only work an eight-hour day. However men working on the Holy Trinity Church (Garrson Church) in Argyle Cut, and on the Mariners Church, in Lower George Street (98-100 George Street), could not contain their enthusiasm and decided not to wait. They pre-emptively went on strike, won the eight-hour day, and celebrated with a victory dinner on 1 October 1855

On 21 April 1856 Stonemasons and building workers on building sites around Melbourne, stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to achieve an eight hour day. Their direct action protest was a success, and they are noted as the first organized workers in the world to achieve an eight hour day with no loss of pay, which subsequently inspired the celebration of Labour Day and May Day.

The Labour Day public holiday varies considerably between the various states and territories. It is the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. In both Victoria and Tasmania, it is the second Monday in March. In Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March. In both Queensland and the Northern Territory, it is the first Monday in May.

Stiglitz warns Europe

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said the European economy is at risk of sliding back into a recession as governments cut spending to reduce their budget deficits.

"Cutting back willy-nilly on high-return investments just to make the picture of the deficit look better is really foolish," Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor, told Dublin-based RTE Radio in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.

Euro-area governments stepped up efforts to cut their deficits to below the European Union limit of 3% of gross domestic product after the Greek crisis earlier this year eroded investor confidence in the 16-member currency union. While the economy expanded at the fastest pace in four years in the second quarter, the recovery is showing signs of weakening.

"Because so many in are focusing on the 3% artificial number, which has no reality and is just looking at one side of a balance sheet, Europe is at risk of going into a double-dip," Stiglitz said.

"Obviously, Ireland by itself is too small to determine what happens to Europe as a whole," Stiglitz said. "But if Germany, the UK and other major countries follow this excessive austerity approach, Ireland will suffer."

Stiglitz said that with companies still cutting jobs, he doesn't expect economic growth to strengthen anytime soon. "The problem is that we aren't getting out of this current crisis very quickly," he said.

"What we're doing is setting ourselves for a longer-term Japanese-style malaise of weak growth for an extended period of time. It's very disturbing that people are talking about a new normal" with unemployment as high as 10% "which would be devastating."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

CPSU: Gender neutral agreement

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) and the University of NSW (UNSW) have finalised a new enterprise agreement that will be completely gender neutral.

CPSU's NSW State Secretary John Cahill said, "This is an important start in making a safe and welcoming environment for current and future staff who may be trans* or intersex workers who may not identify as either male or female, or who are transitioning."

The CPSU over recent years successfully lobbied for a growing number of Universities across NSW to implement the Ally Program, a program designed to change the culture of the University campus into a more inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex staff and students.

The University of NSW is one of the Universities to have implemented the Ally Program and removal of gendered language in the agreement will increases awareness of the need for a more inclusive campus for staff and for students.

"There is much more our peak education institutions can do to provide a best practice model for social inclusion, in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and intersex workers. This is one step in the right direction forming part of an ongoing development in which we hope to see even greater measures in the future to support our often marginalized Australians." added Mr Cahill.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Unions, Labour Hire and Fair Work – What Next?

Unions NSW has organised a seminar on the changing nature of labour hire, how it is likely to evolve under the FairWork Act and the potential industrial and organising opportunities available to unions.
  • WHEN: Thursday, 7 October 2010
  • TIME : 9:30 – 12:00 noon (A light lunch will follow)
  • WHERE: Unions NSW Auditorium
Ground Floor, Trades Hall,
4 Goulburn Street, Sydney
(Entry via 377 Sussex Street)

A light lunch will be served after the completion of the seminar.

Keynote speakers include:
  • Elsa Underhill from the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University who has written extensively about labour hire and temporary employees as well as completing her doctorate on the occupational health and safety implications of labour hire employment.
  • John Buchanan, Director of the Workplace Research Centre based at Sydney University who will be presenting on the WRC’s recent research examining the possibilities of an ethical approach to labour hire through group skills training cooperatives.
  • Luis Izzo a Senior Associate in Clayton Utz’s Workplace Relations, Employment & Safety Group who will be addressing the industrial future of labour hire under the FairWork Act.
If you are interested in attending please email Rose at: for catering purposes.

Should you have any questions or wish to discuss this matter further do not hesitate to contact Neale Towart at Unions NSW on (02) 9881 5999.

AMWU: Local Solar Panel Makers

Australian solar panel makers are calling for industry protection to slow down a flood of cheap panels being manufactured in China, as the NSW government reviews its solar tariff scheme.

The scheme fuelled a massive boost in rooftop panel installation when it was announced in January. Over 30,000 households signed up to receive 60 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity they fed back into the power grid - or four times the market rate.

The tariff was suspended by the state government after it surpassed its 50-megawatt capacity in August, well ahead of schedule, though people who had already signed up are guaranteed future payments.

But the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) is urging a two-tier system. Households installing panels made in Australia should receive the 60 cents rate and those putting in cheaper, imported panels should receive 50 cents, it says.

"A lot of the research and the product development happens in Australia but because there haven't been sufficient price signals here, most of the manufacturing has ended up overseas," said the union's state secretary, Tim Ayres.

"We have got a chance to get in at the start of a major new growth industry, and we have the smarts to make it work if the government signals that it will support local manufacturers.''

The union will also campaign to have the scheme broadened to cover commercial and industrial users of solar power.

"Then you also have to look at schools - they are open only during the day and they could get major benefits from the tariff," Mr Ayres said.

Friday, October 01, 2010

ACTU: National Paid Parental Leave

01 October, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

Today marks an important milestone on the path to delivering a national paid parental leave scheme next year.

It is the first day that expectant parents can make an application to the Family Assistance Office for coverage from the paid parental leave scheme, which begins on 1 January.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said Australia will soon be joining the rest of the developed world in having a universal paid parental leave scheme for all new families.

The Government scheme provides all parents of babies born after 1 January, 2011, with payment of $10,258.20 for 18 weeks leave.

Unions also welcome the Government’s proposal to make available paid secondary carers (or paternity) leave from July 2012.

Ms Kearney said the new national standard would be great for families and new borns and help the economy by encouraging a higher participation by women in the prime of their working lives.

"The national paid parental leave scheme is long overdue," Ms Kearney said.

"It has been a source of much international embarrassment that in a country as wealthy as Australia, two-thirds of women who have a baby currently get no paid parental leave.

"Parents have been forced to make a choice between have a child and paying the bills.

"It is thanks to a 30 year campaign by unions and community groups that the Labor Government’s 18 week scheme is now just around the corner after a 30 year campaign by unions and community groups.

I would encourage all expectant parents who are awaiting a birth after 1 January to get their applications in now to take advantage of the new scheme."

AMWU: Local Defence Jobs

Union representatives and workers from Sydney and Newcastle met with Defence Department Officials in Canberra on Wednesday, to discuss the importance of awarding upcoming defence maintenance contracts to local firms.

AMWU National Secretary, Dave Oliver, told defence officials that a broader range of factors than simply cost should be taken into consideration when deciding where to carry out defence contract work.

Hundreds of workers rallied in Sydney and Newcastle last week warning that awarding the maintenance contract on the HMAS Success to an overseas firm would cost the Federal Government more than it saves, and could result in the loss of hundreds of jobs.

"The contract for the HMAS Success alone would sustain up to 400 jobs and prevent layoffs between now and when much larger contracts are due next year," Dave Oliver said.

"It would mean ongoing work for a skilled workforce, including the training of apprentices, instead of layoffs and reduced capability in the industry."

Delegates from Sydney's Garden Island and the Carrington Dockyards in Newcastle also attended the meetings with representatives of APESMA and the NUW.

Dave Oliver said that it was important that the experience of workers was taken into account in the process.

"Defence work is highly specialised," Brian Hague said. "Regular work is vital to keeping up skills and our ability to carry out this work in Australia."

The Defence Materiel Organisation is expected to make its recommendation on the HMAS Success contract within the next few weeks.

It is then up to the Minister, Jason Clare, to make a final decision.

The AMWU has also called for Mr Clare to take a broader view on the job and skill retention factors.

The Four Trillion Dollar War

Top US economists predicted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will land US taxpayers with a whopping $900 billion healthcare bill.

A study by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Blimes estimated the cost of providing veterans with lifetime medical care and disability payments at up to $934bn depending on the length and intensity of the ongoing conflicts.

That is almost a third higher than both estimated in their 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War.

It claimed that direct US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - which did not not factor in the long-term costs of care for wounded veterans - already exceeded the cost of the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Around 600,000 of the more than 2.1 million combatants deployed since 2001 received treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs, they revealed.