Friday, November 26, 2010

Ark Tribe - Victory

Pike River Mine disaster

25 November, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

Australian unions extend their sympathy to the families of the victims of the Pike River Mine tragedy in New Zealand, particularly the relatives of the two Australian victims, William Joynson and Joshua Ufer.

In a joint statement, ACTU President Ged Kearney and Secretary Jeff Lawrence said: “We all shared the hopes that these 29 brave men would come out alive, but tragically that has not eventuated.

"It should never be forgotten that underground mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations there is, and that the men and women who work in the industry put their lives at risk on a daily basis.

"In the wake of the Pike River tragedy, unions, employers and governments must redouble our efforts to improve occupational health and safety in the mining industry."

Europe: Unions oppose "Slash and Burn"

All across Europe, workers are rallying against government by the bankers, for the bankers.

Portugal 24 November 2010

Portugal was brought to a standstill to press the Socialist government to scrap its regressive cuts programme.

The general strike against EU-mandated austerity, the first to be organised jointly by Portugal's two main unions since 1988, is the country's largest ever stoppage.

Trains and buses weren't running, planes were grounded and banking services halted.

General Union of Workers (UGT) head Joao Proenca said: "It is a bigger strike than the one in 1988 - it is the biggest strike ever."

CGTP general secretary Manuel Carvalho da Silva said: "I have never seen so many people support and identify so closely with the causes of a strike before."

Striking worker Leonore Pedro said: "We are protesting against the cuts because they mean we wont be able to meet our basic needs, pensioners won't have enough money for medicine."

Pensioner Leandro Martins added: "It's the workers who are paying for the crisis, not the bankers or the shareholders of big companies."

Britain 25 November 2010

Police tactics used against student protesters on Wednesday were condemned as "outrageous and unacceptable yesterday by anti-cuts groups the Coalition of Resistance and National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC).

An estimated 130,000 school, college and university students across Britain participated in the day of action, which saw protesters in London -some as young as 13 - pressed into an area at Whitehall for almost nine hours without access to food, water or toilet facilities.

Greece 25 November 2010

Hundreds of trade unionists and ex-army officers marched through central Athens today in yet another protest against the government's deep austerity cuts.

The small-scale demonstration was organised by umbrella groups representing public and private-sector workers, who also organised a three-hour work stoppage in the capital that disrupted public transport and services.

The Socialist government has slashed pensions and salaries, boosted taxes and facilitated private-sector sackings and wage cuts.

Greek trade unions are planning a full-scale nationwide general strike for December 15.

The Greek islands remained without ferry services for a third day today due to a strike by seamen who are pressing for collective wage agreements with shipping companies.

Ireland 25 November 2010

Irish civil servants were urged to take action by their unions today after the government announced plans to cull almost 25,000 staff.

The proposals to cut public-sector pay by £1 billion will see veteran workers working alongside newly recruited civil servants earning 10 per cent less.

Siptu general secretary Jack O'Connor said that the four-year "roadmap to recovery" had all the hallmarks of a roadmap back to the stone age.

"It's a declaration of war on lower income people in the country who contributed least to the cause of the problems," he said.

Impact, which represents 65,000 people across the health, local government, education and Civil Service sectors, said that pay for new staff will be almost 25 per cent lower than two years ago.

General secretary Shay Cody said: "The measures outlined are driven by the obsession with bailing out zombie banks rather than the need to stimulate economic activity to create jobs and get us out of recession.

He said that Saturday's national demonstration called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was the last chance to express broad public support for a more sane approach in advance of next month's budget.

Be heard: Stop the power sell-off

The Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA) and the Greens invite you to join them for a public meeting to oppose the NSW government's plans to privatise the energy retailers.

Don't allow the NSW government to give you higher power bills to feed corporate mega profits.

Where: Theatrette, NSW Parliament House, 
Macquarie St, Sydney
When: Tuesday 30 November 2010
Time: 10.30 am - 11.30 am

Speakers include:
  • Greens NSW MP John Kaye
  • Charmaine Crowe, CPSA
  • Cate Turner, the Older Women's Network
  • Mark Henley, Uniting Care Australia, energy project, South Australia
Learn about the negative impacts of electricity privatisation on low income earners, particularly on pensioners.

Listen to a speaker from South Australia provide their perspective on the effects of deregulation and privatisation of energy retailers in that state.

Let the NSW government know you oppose the sell-off of public assets.

To RSVP contact Kelly Marks
Ph: 9230 2668 or email

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ABCC loses Ark Tribe case

Ark Tribe stood trial in Adelaide Magistrates Court charged with failing to attend the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) to answer questions about a union meeting at an Adelaide building site in 2008.

Magistrate David Whittle delivered a verdict of not guilty to the offence, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail for a conviction.

Leaving the court, Mr Tribe pumped the air with his fist and vowed to fight for other workers if they faced charges under the laws.

"Australians, regular working Australians can feel proud, we got them," he said.

In a statement released immediately after the verdict, National Secretary of the CFMEU Construction and General Division, Dave Noonan, says the union is elated.

"We have been fighting this for 18 months, and this is terrific news for Ark and his family.

It proves what a shambles the ABCC is. A worker has been dragged through hell for what?

The Government must now recognise the Australian Building and Construction Commission to be a shambles and move to abolish it once and for all," he said.

Federal Greens MP Adam Bandt said the Government should immediately scrap the ABCC.

"Ark Tribe's acquittal today is a rebuff to the powers of the building commission and further evidence of the need to scrap these laws," he said.

"There is no place for laws that give one group of workers less rights than accused criminals, let alone other workers.

"The Australian public does not support the ABCC having the coercive powers used against Ark Tribe. These are unjust laws that are not supported by the broader population."

ACTU: Asbestos campaign

23 November, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said this week’s national Asbestos Awareness Week is a timely reminder that up to 20,000 Australians will be affected by asbestos-related diseases over the next two decades, but more needs to be done to highlight the dangers of the deadly substance.

The continuing threat to public health posed by asbestos means there also must be a redoubled effort to safely manage and remove it from workplaces, homes and community buildings, says the ACTU.

The ACTU welcomes the recent announcement by the Federal Government of a national Asbestos Management Review to examine asbestos handling, removal, education, reporting and public health issues.

Last week's report by the NSW Ombudsman not only gave a snapshot of the extent of the problem, but backed calls by unions for a co-ordinated plan and agency to deal with the eradication of asbestos as a national level.

Mr Lawrence said a survey conducted by Victorian asbestos disease support and advocacy groups that found almost three-quarters of respondents feared they had been exposed to asbestos at some stage highlighted the need for co-ordinated action.

"Australia has an unenviable record of one of the world’s highest rate of asbestos related diseases and a legacy of asbestos containing materials in many workplaces and buildings, including houses,” Mr Lawrence said.

"Unions have a strong record of campaigning for the banning and removal of asbestos, better treatment and compensation of victims, and effective punishment for corporate neglect on this issue.

"The use of all forms of asbestos in Australia has been banned since 2003, including its import and export. But, because of the legacy of its use, we have not solved the problem of asbestos exposures – for either people at work or in the general community.

"To eliminate deadly asbestos related disease in Australia we must decrease and eventually eliminate all exposures to asbestos."

Mr Lawrence said the new Asbestos Management Review, headed by former ACTU Assistant Secretary Geoff Fary, was an important and welcome development, and consistent with calls by unions and advocacy groups for a national approach.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Countdown to Ark’s Verdict

Dear Supporter,

I’m on my way to Adelaide to hear Ark’s verdict.

I’m carrying with me a copy of over 2500 messages of support to give to Ark, so he can have them as he walks in to court to hear his verdict.

Thank you for all your messages.

In Adelaide we’ll be showing our support at a rally in Victoria Square at 8:30am, and lining up a guard of honour as Ark walks into court for his verdict at 9:30am on Wednesday 24 November.

New polling has been released today which shows that construction unions are trusted over the federal government and developers when it comes to looking after the health and safety of workers in the building and construction industry.

It goes to show how out of touch the ABCC is with community sentiment.

The ABCC was set up by the Howard Government as a means of strangling the role of unions on Australian workplaces. Yet most Australians are the best way of protecting the safety of ordinary construction workers.

Ark is just an ordinary bloke who pointed out safety problems on site. For this he has endured 18 months of legal wrangling with a jail term hanging over his head.

Just after 9:30am on Wednesday 24 November Ark will finally learn of his verdict. We’ll be sure to update our 20,000 supporters as soon as we hear.

Thanks for your support,
Dave Noonan and the Rights on Site team

US Economics explained

Federal Reserve: Quantitative Easing


"The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a "Saudia Arabia of natural gas" just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown."

Farmers' mining moratorium

Media Release | Spokesperson Christine Milne
Wednesday 27th October 2010

The Greens have long called for a moratorium on coal seam gas projects ... because of the risks to the water table and agricultural land. The Greens have also campaigned with farmers to protect farming land from encroachment by coal mining.

"As the farmers say, you can't eat coal for breakfast," Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said.

"The Gillard government promised a food security plan during the election campaign and they must heed the farmers' call to develop an effective, comprehensive plan before approving any more mining projects that could jeopardise that food security.

"Agriculture in Australia is already under serious pressure and faces an impossibly dry future thanks to climate change if we let the coal and gas sector keep expanding.

"But we don't even have to wait for climate change to bite - these mining projects are huge water guzzlers in their own right. Why should their claim on water trump that of farmers?

"The NSW Farmers Association is to be congratulated for the bold step in calling for a moratorium on mining projects until a food security strategy can be developed. The NFF should look seriously at following NSW's lead and call for a national moratorium."

Queensland farmers: Lock the Gate Campaign

ABCC: support for workplace spies

Construction workers face prosecution by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) for walking off the job in support of desalination plant workers.

Resumption of work at the Brumby government's $5 billion project hinges on a meeting this morning of members of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), who yesterday voted to stay on strike.

The ABCC yesterday raised the prospect of the workers being prosecuted for "unlawful" industrial action. He also suggested workers at Thiess sites in NSW had gone on strike.

In a statement the commissioner, Mr Johns said: "The ABCC is aware of the failure of workers to return to work at the desal plant in Victoria and of what appears to be sympathy unlawful industrial action at other Thiess sites in Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

"The ABCC is closely monitoring the situation and investigations are continuing."

Bill Oliver, the CFMEU's Victorian secretary, last night attacked the ABCC, comparing its conduct to the company at the centre of the controversy.

"The ABCC have surveilled, spied upon and secretly investigated workers and their representatives since its inception," Mr Oliver said. "Their behaviour is strikingly similar to that of Australian Securities Investigations at the desalination plant, except for the obvious protection they're provided by dubious and contentious laws."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Royal wedding circus?

Prince William, announced his long-awaited engagement to Kate Middleton.

The event is to be held in spring or summer next year - exactly 30 years since his father Prince Charles married Diana in a ceremony watched by 750 million people worldwide.

1981 was a difficult year for Great Britain.

In the grip of inflation, the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher took an axe to public spending. A recession followed and the poor and out-of-work took to the streets in deprived areas such as Liverpool's Toxteth estate and Brixton in London.

The Royal Wedding was a focal point, a distraction, an excuse to use the word 'fairytale' in news copy. The British nation stopped and watched, and for a little while a tiny bit of the magic rubbed off on everyone.

What a fortunate coincidence that, after an eight-year relationship, William and Kate have decided to wed now.

The British government last month announced 81 billion pounds worth of cuts to public spending in a bid to kick-start an economy bruised and battered by the global financial crisis. Unemployment is currently at 7.7 per cent with some warning public service cuts will send it higher. Last week thousands of students took to the streets in a protest that ended in violence.

Could this be the event which lifts the British psyche out of its deep depression?


NZ Miners

Trevor Bolderson, a member and delegate of the Engineering Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), said on Saturday that the chances of a second blast at the Pike River Coal mine were high after initial readings were taken of the gas levels in the mine.

"Gas samples taken at the mine are turning the wrong way and we are expecting that the second explosion may be forthcoming," he said.

"At the moment the rescue guys can't get into the mine because of this."

He said a number of families had congregated at a Red Cross centre in nearby Greymouth as the drama unfolded.

The miners were entombed after a powerful gas blast struck at the Pike River Coal Mine in Atarau, on South Island, on Friday.

A mission to locate the workers was hampered on Saturday by fears that dangerous gas could trigger a second explosion. It is not known if the men - who have now been missing for more than 24 hours - are alive or dead.

Two injured miners stumbled to the surface hours after the blast shot up the 108m ventilation shaft at the mine on Friday.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Queensland president Stephen Smyth said the two chemists would use the gas monitoring equipment to determine when the mine would be safe to enter.

"It's a terrible, terrible accident, very tragic," Smyth said. "When a coal mine goes bang, really the minutes and hours after it are the most important for people to get out because you've got the risk of secondary explosions."

Union general president Tony Maher said the Australian mine rescue experts that have been sent would be the best chance the miners had of survival, but it did not look good for them. "You've got to remember the Chile thing was a copper and gold mine. There's no explosive gases in those mines. Coal's got additional hazards. "If what's happened has been a methane and coal dust explosion, then... they've been disastrous in the past."

Maher said there was only a small number of Australians working in New Zealand mines. Two Australians are confirmed among the missing.

Asked if there had been any safety concerns about miners working in New Zealand, Maher said: "Mate, all mines are dangerous. I don't know if New Zealand is better or worse. We've had plenty of disasters in Australia."

Equal Pay - Pay Up!

After entering into an agreement with the Australian Services Union (ASU) last year to support the Equal Pay Case for social and community services sector workers, the Gillard Government has gone weak on that support for equal pay. In the submission put to Fair Work Australia yesterday, the Government has claimed that protecting the future budget surplus is more important than finally delivering pay equity to employees who work with the most marginalised in society.
The Government has certainly not said that there isn't a pay equity problem, on the contrary, they agree that the problem is real and needs to be fixed. They just don't want to pay what is necessary to fix it. For more information, check out the links below, which will be updated regularly. The ASU is asking all our supporters to contact their federal politicians and make their concerns known.

You can send an online postcard to Julia Gillard showing your support for the Equal Pay Case at - a renewed flurry of postcards will show them in Canberra that we don't agree with their submission!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vic Desal spy scandal

18 November, 2010 | ACTU Media Release

A secret operation to spy on workers at Victoria's desalination plant construction project is unethical business behaviour and an unacceptable breach of workers’ rights.

The ACTU said the covert operation spying on workers was an invasion of privacy and a breach of trust of the highest order.

The spying operation was even more outrageous given the impeccable industrial relations record at the project, said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.

"Revelations today that contractor Thiess Degremont hired a company run by someone with a long history of anti-union activities to spy on workers at the Wonthaggi desalination project are highly disturbing," Mr Lawrence said.

"This is a massive breach of trust of the employment relationship and under no circumstances can it be tolerated or justified.

"No worker should expect to be spied upon by people paid to pose as work colleagues and secretly gather information.

"The employment of Bruce Townsend – who has a criminal record for receiving stolen goods and is a known agent provocateur – was an appalling error of judgment by Thiess.

"This project has until now been a model for harmonious industrial relations. It has an excellent record of no days lost to industrial action and is approaching completion on time and on budget.

"It has been a great example of what can be achieved through a co-operative approach between management and unions, but that has now all been undone by these actions by the company.

"No-one could blame the workers on the project for feeling betrayed today.

"Public statements by the company's chief executive would suggest that senior managers were not aware of his hiring, but this is hardly an excuse as it reveals a terrible culture within the company.

"Shareholders of Thiess’ parent company, Leighton Holdings, would be fully entitled to ask why hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in this way."

Mr Lawrence said Thiess must conduct a full, open and independent investigation into this matter

Exec Pay: Boom in greed

A new analysis of remuneration at Australia’s 50 largest companies reveals the typical CEO is taking home almost 100 times that of the average worker.

The analysis of CEO remuneration at companies listed on the ASX/S&P 50 Index, shows that the gap is widening between what CEOs personally earn and what they pay their employees.

The study has found that after a short period of restraint in 2008-9 when the Global Financial Crisis hit Australia, executive pay has hit stratospheric new heights and the average CEO will this year take home $6.4 million in total remuneration

Other key findings include:

  • Executive pay rose by an average of more than $940,000 or 17.2% over the past year, while the annual wage of a full-time worker rose by just $3200, or 5.2%.
  • Since 2001, the base pay for CEOs has grown by 130%.
  • Profits soared by 27.5% in the last 12 months to a record share of the national economy, while wages’ share is the lowest since 1964.
  • The highest paid executive, News Corporation CEO and chairman Rupert Murdoch, earned $26.8 million in 2010.
  • The CEOs of the four big banks earned $44.3 million combined.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Executive PayWatch 2010 report highlighted the blatant hypocrisy of big business executives in pushing for industrial relations deregulation that would cut the pay, conditions and rights of Australian workers.

"The numbers in this report tell a story of greed and inequality," Ms Kearney said.

"They show that after a brief hiatus in 2008 and 2009, the pay packets of company executives are again rising sharply.

"Australians are rightly outraged at the excesses of the business community before the Global Financial Crisis. Ridiculously high salaries and unwarranted bonuses contributed to the financial meltdown by encouraging executives to take risks in pursuit of short-term profits.

"Millions of working people around the world are now paying the price for this unethical business behaviour through joblessness, higher taxes and reduced public services.

"We need stronger curbs on executive salaries and measures to force businesses to look to the long term sustainability of the company and to serve the interests of the whole Australian community, not just their shareholders. We need fairer taxation and an end to the rorts and loopholes benefitting high income earners.

"And we need to strengthen the rights of Australian workers and ensure employees are able to bargain collectively for a decent share of the nation's wealth."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

UK: Long term jobless increase

A quarter of a million people have been claiming jobseeker's allowance for more than one year, official figures showed today.

There are currently 245,370 adults in England, Scotland and Wales who have been unemployed and claiming the dole for 12 months or more - over double the number that were in this position at the start of the recession in January 2008.

The fresh figures paint a grim picture of the coalition government's much-vaunted economic recovery plan, which is based on the view that cutting public-sector budgets will pave the way for new private-sector job creation.

However the situation looks worse by the wider ILO measure of unemployment, which shows that 811,000 people in Britain are facing long-term unemployment, an increase of 110 per cent since the start of the recession.

A TUC analysis of official statistics shows that this rise is a result of hundreds of thousands of jobs being lost during the recession and insufficient new ones being created.

Warning that the situation is likely to get worse as the government's spending cuts put at least an extra million people on the dole, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "The UK has 2.5 million people out of work not because we're a nation of work-shy scroungers without a work ethic, but because with an average five unemployed people chasing every vacancy, there is a distinct lack of jobs.

"The number of people who have been out of work for a year or longer has more than doubled since January 2008. Unemployed people are the victims here, not the villains.

"The government should stop blaming unemployed people for their predicament and start creating rather than cutting jobs."

Big Banks - Big Lies

The big four banks have fattened their margins while complaining about being squeezed, new figures reveal.

As Parliament prepares to debate legislation forcing banks to lift rates by no more than the Reserve Bank, figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority indicate the average rate paid by the big banks on money they borrowed rose by less than the official cash rate.

"It means we have been complaining about the wrong thing," said Richard Denniss, the director of the Australia Institute, which analysed the figures.

"Whereas we have been angry about banks not moving in lock step with the Reserve, we should have been concerned their actual costs weren't even keeping pace with Reserve Bank increases," he said.

The figures show that while the Reserve cash rate rose 1.36 percentage points between the June quarters of last year and this year, the average rate paid by the big banks rose 0.88 points.

The lower rate would have been because rates on some of the funds banks borrowed went up more slowly than the Reserve cash rate.

"It's like making hamburgers. If meat accounts for a third of your costs and the price of meat goes up 10 per cent, you shouldn't be expected to put the price of hamburgers up 10 per cent," Dr Denniss said.

The Australian Bankers Association confirmed the calculations were correct but said they did not reflect the banks' actual cost of funds.

"To be honest we can't work this out," said its chief executive, Steven Munchenberg. "Performing the same calculation we get the same result but I know it is not right because if it was we would have been being beaten to a pulp with this by the government and the opposition."

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said separate Reserve figures showed that over four years the net interest margin of the big banks had "fluctuated in a relatively narrow range".

"This makes it clear there is absolutely no justification for any bank to move above the Reserve Bank," his spokesman said. "We are working on reforms and we won't let the big banks off the hook."


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"No!" to Groote Eylandt strip mine

The plan to strip mine the seabed for manganese between Groote Eylandt and Arnhem Land appears to be hitting heavy weather, with federal member Warren Snowdon joining traditional owners in condemning the proposal.

Mr Snowdon has told Perth-based Groote Resources Ltd to abandon its exploration plans, saying traditional owners already had one big mine on their island and that was enough.

Traditional owners say mining would not only destroy the seabed but have unknowable impact on eight significant song lines relating to reincarnation beliefs that criss-cross the tenements.

Groote traditional owner Nancy Lalara said the emergence of Mr Snowdon was crucial. "Snowdon's support is significant," she said. "It's important for us."

Indiginous Health Minister Warren Snowdon has called on manganese hopeful Groote Resources to reconsider its radical plan to mine the seabed near Groote Eylandt for the key steel-making raw material.

In an unusual intervention for a federal minister, Mr Snowdon said there was "vehement" resistance to the plan among the Warnindilyakwa, the indigenous people of Groote Eylandt, in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

"I have been involved with the Groote Eylandt community for more than 30 years and I have never seen the people there so angry and worried about the consequences of mining activity, and how it will impact on their community, culture and environment," said Mr Snowdon, who is the federal member for Lingiari, the vast outback electorate that includes Groote Eylandt.

He said the marine environment of the area was "far too precious" for undersea open-cut mining operations.

Traditional owners are likely to get strong support from the Northern Prawn Fishery as Groote is a key area in both the breeding and harvesting of prawns.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Public-Private fiasco

NSW taxpaers would have been better off if the state government had borrowed to fund the building of all of the tollways and tunnels built in the city, an independent study has found.

The study, by Nicholas Gruen's Lateral Economics for the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, has found the state would be $4.6 billion better off if it had built and operated the tollways itself.

The findings showed that the government could no longer claim it could not afford to build or operate new transport and community infrastructure, the group's president, Cr Alison McLaren said.

The government has argued consistently that additional borrowing to fund these projects would have jeopardised the state's AAA credit rating, resulting in higher borrowing costs.

The report showed that if the government had borrowed for the projects, they would be government owned and virtually paid off by now, Ms McLaren said.

"In addition, the tolls they command would be bringing in a healthy income to the state's coffers, or alternatively, the tolls could be abolished altogether."

Billions to lose in power sell-off

SMH Brian Robins November 15, 2010

The NSW power industry has generated nearly as much money for the state's taxpayers over the last 15 years as Victoria raised from the sale of its power industry, budget figures show.

Victoria reaped an estimated $21.7 billion from the sale of its power industry which began in 1992 and was finished later that decade.

Since 1996, taxpayers in NSW have received at least $15 billion in taxes and dividends from the state-owned power industry, while retaining full ownership of it. Bids close today on the sale of parts of the industry. The sale is expected to generate up to $10 billion, with the government retaining control of all the "hard assets".

For sale are the three power retailers – EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy and Country Energy – along with output of the three generators – Macquarie Generation, Delta Electricity and Eraring Energy – and some development sites. Not for sale are the "poles and wire" high voltage transmission network, the local distribution network or the power generators.

The government's electricity assets are highly profitable and a significant contributor to the state's finances, supplying $1.2 billion this financial year alone in dividends and taxes. As well, a further $544 million this year, rising to $798 million by 2013-14, is budgeted to be raised from a guarantee over the borrowings, mostly of the power companies.

"In the last few years, before the recent IPART-approved price rises, in dividend and tax returns from these assets, the state government has achieved a return of 24 per cent per annum," Bob Walker, a professor at the University of Sydney, said.

"That means that any sale price is likely to be dwarfed by the potential value to taxpayers from retaining these assets."

Banks: Insatiable greed

SMH 15 Nov 2010

The recent round of mortgage rate rises will add an additional $1.2 billion to the total profits of the big four banks, according to the Australia Institute.

Taken together with the Reserve Bank's official 25 basis point rise, borrowers will pay an additional $3 billion in annual repayments, analysis shows.

"There is no doubt that these banks are exploiting their market power to gouge excessive profits from their customers," said senior research fellow at the Australia Institute David Richardson.

"The latest round of interest rate rises shows just how insatiable their thirst for profits is."

The Australia Institute said Australia's banks can change the contractual interest rate on more than 95 per cent of housing loans.

The Australia Institute said it based its calculation on Australian Prudential Regulation Authority housing loan data for the big four banks, adjusted down by the total value of fixed-rate home loans sold over the past three years.

ACTU: Aung San Suu Kyi

The Australian Council of Trade Unions welcomes the release of Ms Suu Kyi from house arrest after seven years, but is deeply concerned that forced labour and repression of basic human rights continue under the military regime in Burma.

"Aung San Suu Kyi is a beacon for democracy fighters worldwide and her overdue release is wonderful news," said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

"It will give hope to activists for a democratic Burma, including the large Burmese refugee community in Australia.

"But it is only one small step towards true democracy, and as the recent sham elections showed, Burma remains an oppressive regime.

"The release of Ms Suu Kyi should be the touchstone for a renewed effort for democratic and human rights reform in Burma.

"The immediate next step should be the release of more than 2200 other political prisoners in Burma.

"Beyond that, violations of labour rights, including complete denial of the right to join a union, remain a major ongoing concern in Burma.

"Forced labour and child labour are also commonplace, and used as a tool of repression by the military regime."

Ms Kearney said Australian unions supported international calls for targeted investment and trade sanctions against Burma, and condemned any Australian companies that do business with the regime.

It has been estimated that Australian companies doing business in Burma are effectively funding the junta to the tune of about $US2.8 billion.

The ACTU’s overseas humanitarian aid agency, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, has had a long-standing commitment to Burma, and operates six projects for refugees on the Thai-Burma border.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi released

November 14, 2010 - 9:37PM

More than 1000 people were gathered outside her lakeside home in the hope of seeing the 65-year-old dissident, known to her supporters simply as "The Lady".

Excited supporters, who had waited outside her home for a glimpse of their idol, cheered and began to surge forwards as police began removing barricades around Suu Kyi’s crumbling mansion where she has been locked up by the military junta for most of the past two decades.

The authorities went inside to read the order to release her from house arrest, a government official said.

Although she has been sidelined and silenced by the junta - occasionally released briefly only to be put back in confinement - for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.

"I think of her as my mother and also my sister and grandmother because she's the daughter of our independence leader General Aung San," said 45-year-old Naing Naing Win.

"She has her father’s blood."

Despite the risks of opposing the military regime in a country with more than 2200 political prisoners, many supporters wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi".

Undercover police were photographing and filming the crowds.

Friday, November 12, 2010

High Court ruling "safeguards liberty"

David Marr SMH 12 Nov 2010
Back in 2001, Australia set up a deliberately second-class system for assessing refugee claims by boat people. About 14,000 have gone through that system which has never been fundamentally challenged until now. The architects of the scheme tried to exclude the courts by separating as far as legally possible the assessment of claims from the minister's role in granting visas. Assessments of visa claims were said to be "non statutory" investigations - hence outside the control of the courts - and only once they were complete did the minister enter the picture. Whether he granted a visa at that point was something said to be absolutely at his personal discretion. Once again, the courts were supposed to be excluded.
They might work, said the court, except that while each case was going on - and here the judges used italics to indicate the crucial importance of these few words - "the claimant was detained". And that changes everything. Loss of liberty, said the seven judges, can only be for lawful purposes. No one can be detained in ways beyond the supervision of the courts...
The court found that despite claims to the contrary, the minister was there at the start directing the assessors to do their work. They are not independent of the law but caught up in the machinery of the Migration Act. The work of the assessors - but not the minister - can therefore be directed by the courts.
The High Court in Canberra yesterday delivered two decisions that struck at the heart of Australia's most divisive and politically-pedalled fears: refugees and criminal gangs.

Richard Ackland SMH 12 Nov 2010
It was a big day for justice, freedoms and rights. As a consequence, you can be sure the political mugging will be even more unrestrained and distorted.
In the organised crime case, the court by a six-to-one majority struck down the key component of the South Australian bikies legislation. The reasoning was clear - the legislation sought to dictate what magistrates were required to do in implementing decisions of the state government...
In the refugee case, the court (unanimously) said that the offshore processing of asylum seekers had to be conducted with procedural fairness and according to law. The fact that the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock had tried to deny legal rights to possible refugees by containing them in black holes like Christmas Island did not excuse the ministerial obligation to observe binding decisions of the Australian courts or the Migration Act itself...
Yesterday was an emphatic statement by the High Court led by Robert French. Further, ministers ignore the law and the judges at their peril. That both major decisions were scheduled to come thudding down from on high on the same day rubs in the points even more forcefully.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

UK: Students v Con-Dem Education Cuts

Over 50,000 workers and students shook the Westminster halls of power today with a march against the raising of tuition fees.

Anger at the Con-Dem cuts and fee rises spilled over just hours after the march with 300 protesters occupying Tory HQ at Millbank.

Windows were smashed and small fires started inside with nine protesters and two police officers reportedly injured.

Protesters from inside Tory HQ released a statement saying: "We oppose the cuts and stand in solidarity with public-sector workers.

"We call for direct action to oppose the cuts. This is just the beginning of the resistance."

The demonstration was twice as big as expected by organisers. The vast majority of protesters rallied under the banners of "Fund Our Future" and "Unity is Strength."

They were flanked by stewards from lecturers' union UCU and the National Union of Students as they marched through central London and past the Houses of Parliament.

MPs inside the Commons could hear their anger loud and clear as students, lecturers and their families joined the chorus of chants against the government's education plans.

The increase in fees to £9,000 on top of inflation and the VAT rise will see the cost of a university education soar by an astonishing 311 per cent.

UCU leader Sally Hunt told protesters: "I am here today to send a message to the politicians at Westminster.

"It isn't fair to make our public universities the most expensive in the world. It isn't progressive to discourage young people from going to college.

"And it isn't just to ask the next generation to pay for others' mistakes. Over the next four years while college grants are cut and tuition fees triple, big business will get £8 billion in tax giveaways from the government," Ms Hunt said.

Labour MP John McDonnell, one of only a handful of politicians on the march, praised the unity shown on the demo.

"This is the biggest workers' and students' demonstration in decades. It just shows what can be done when people get angry. We must build on this," he said.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peter Hicks in Sydney

Saturday, 20th November, 8pm
Crown on McCredie's Velvet Bar
Cnr of McCredie & Fairfield Roads

Peter Hicks a former Sydney based acoustic and folk singer-songwriter now based in Tasmania is returning to sing in Western Sydney. Peter was a regular on the ABC radio in Sydney in the first half of the 90’s and performs frequently on ABC Hobart and has been played on Radio National. He travels around the country and internationally performing at folk festivals.
His songs have been described as chronicling our times in the best tradition of folk music. Peter sings about the environment, population issues, refugee rights with some traditional Australian themes such as Ned Kelly and convict ballads from Tasmania. He uses humour and satire and his serious songs sit alongside those which play havoc with the powers that be in a cheeky mood.

Enquiries: Colin 9043 5850 - 0412 924 251 Ingrid 0437 206 012
Admission donation: $15, $10 concession, $20 Keen Green

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Hong Kong: Café de Coral victory

IUF News 09-11-2010

A vigorous union mobilization against the abolition of paid meal breaks at Café de Coral has forced the company to retreat within days after the new pay policy was imposed.

On November 6, Café de Coral, "the largest publicly listed Chinese Fast Food restaurant group in the world" with over 500 outlets in Asia/Pacific and North America and substantial food processing and catering operations, announced that it was restoring paid meal breaks for restaurant and fast food workers. By abolishing the paid meal break while offering a token hourly increase, Café de Coral had actually imposed a pay cut on already low paid employees.

Workers have not only won back their paid meal time, but secured an overall wage increase averaging 8-10%!

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and its member Catering & Hotels Industries Employees responded to the company’s initial announcement with a vigorous campaign of public actions; the call for a planned boycott generated widespread support.

1960: Paul Robeson at Opera House

Mahir Ali: The Australian November 09, 2010

Fifty years ago today, more than a decade before it was officially inaugurated, the Sydney Opera House hosted its first performance by an internationally renowned entertainer when Paul Robeson, in the midst of what turned out to be his final concert tour, sang to the construction workers during their lunch break.

Alfred Rankin, who was at the construction site on November 9, 1960, recalls this "giant of a man" enthralling the workers with his a cappella renditions of two of his signature songs, Ol' Man River and Joe Hill.

"After he finished singing, the men climbed down from the scaffolding, gathered around him and presented him with a hard hat bearing his name," Paul Robeson Jr writes in his biography of his father, The Undiscovered Robeson. "One of the men took off a work glove and asked Paul to sign it. The idea caught on and the men lined up. Paul stayed until he had signed a glove for each one of them."

The visit, Rankin tells The Australian, was organised by the Building Workers Industrial Union of Australia and the Australian Peace Council's Bill Morrow, a former Labor senator from Tasmania.

In a chapter on Robeson's visit in the book Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia, which will be launched in Sydney tomorrow, Ann Curthoys quotes the performer as saying on the day after his visit to the Opera House site: "I could see, you know, we had some differences here and there. But we hummed some songs together, and they all came up afterwards and just wanted to shake my hand and they had me sign gloves. These were tough guys and it was a very moving experience."

10 November: Nurses rally

Safe Patient Care!
The State Government is not responding to the call from nurses & midwives
for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. Without ratios the crisis in our health
system will continue –
  • Staffed to budget not safe patient care;
  • Poor skill-mix; nurses replaced with unlicensed workers, if at all;
  • Recruitment slow or non-existent;
  • Medication errors, near misses, low morale, burn-out.

Monday, November 08, 2010

South Korea: Anti-G20 protesters

Tens of thousands of activists rallied for labour rights and secure jobs in Seoul yesterday before this week's G20 summit.

Trade unionists and their allies - numbered by organisers at 40,000 - chanted slogans and sang songs at Seoul Plaza outside the city hall, surrounded by thousands of riot police.
Activists wore vests with slogans reading: "Against the G20 that hampers labour rights and creates unstable jobs" and "Against the G20 that cuts social welfare and destroys public services."

Others held up mock traffic signs saying Stop G20, while campaigners distributed leaflets urging people to "rise up against neoliberalism and globalisation."

A representative of the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, which helped organise the protest, vowed to "continue the struggle to raise the minimum wage and solve the youth unemployment issue."

Hundreds of protesters tried to march towards the city centre in defiance of police warnings, pushing and shoving against police riot shields. Police used pepper spray to disperse the demonstrators.
Thousands of others staged a candlelit rally at Seoul Plaza, surrounded by buildings draped with huge banners heralding the November 11-12 summit.

Union activist Lee Chang Geun accused the G20 of failing to formulate meaningful measures to curb speculative financial capital and of pushing cuts in public spending on social welfare.

Better Banking Charter

The ACTU is endorsing the Finance Sector Union's Better Banking Charter which recommends a suite of regulations to drive greater competition as well as improved consumer protection and more sustainable corporate behaviour.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the community outrage this week over the Commonwealth Bank's
announcement of an increase in home loan interest rates that is well above the RBA increase is entirely justified.

"Public concern over bank fees and charges and excessive lending margins can no longer be ignored. In Australia, the profits of the major banks are surging and executive salaries are once again at obscene levels. And we need to make sure there is no repeat of the sort of unsustainable business practices that led to the global financial crisis.

"Australia got through the GFC better than most thanks to the Labor government's economic stimulus
and moves to shore up our finance sector. But the high levels of unemployment and sluggish recovery in many countries overseas show there is no room for complacency."

Leon Carter, Secretary of the Finance Sector Union said unions strongly believe further regulation in the sector is needed, including:
  • Regulation to require banks to reflect interest rate movements set by the Reserve Bank and to
  • fully justify any variation.
  • Requiring banks to demonstrate a direct link between their fees and charges and customer service
  • provision.
  • Bans or significant limits on the extent to which performance can be measured by sales volumes
  • linked to selling debt products to consumers.
  • Commitments from Government and banks to stop offshoring jobs and invest in developing skills in the Australian financial sector.
  • Ending the bonus culture that rewards risky short-term behaviour by executives in the finance sector.
"It is blatant hypocrisy for the major banks to record such massive profits and pay huge executive salaries while at the same time slugging customers and employees," said Mr Carter.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

AFL-CIO President Trumka: US Elections

Yesterday’s election results are deeply disappointing to the millions of voters who supported working family candidates this year. Voters in this election were angry, and for good reason. They’ve felt the pain of economic collapse. And they’ve paid for it with their jobs, their homes and often their hope. Many working people knew in their gut that Washington insiders did too much to help Wall Street and the banks, and not enough to help average people.

But this election was not a mandate for an anti-worker agenda. Voters in swing congressional districts overwhelmingly reject privatizing Social Security and raising the Social Security retirement age, they oppose tax cuts for the top 2 percent who make more than $250,000 a year, they reject abolishing the Department of Education and they oppose reducing or eliminating the minimum wage.

Now that Republicans will be in control of the House of Representatives, their leaders have to step up to the plate. If they keep saying "no," we’ll make sure voters know exactly who failed them on jobs and fixing the economy in 2012

ACTU: Commonwealth Bank greed

ACTU | 03 November, 2010 | Media Release

The latest rise in interest rates will make life harder for working families and worsen mortgage stress in the lead up to Christmas.

Yesterday’s decision by the board of the Reserve Bank to lift the official cash rate by 0.25 of a percentage point is the sixth rate rise in a year.

ACTU President Ged Kearney also condemned the decision by the nation’s biggest mortgage lender, the Commonwealth Bank, to increase its borrowing rates by almost double the Reserve Bank and warned other banks not to follow suit.

"These interest rate rises will mean an added financial burden for working families who have already been hit with price hikes for essentials such as water and electricity," Ms Kearney said.

"And there is no justification for the Commonwealth Bank to move so promptly to not only pass on the rate rise, but to almost double it.

"This is a greedy cash grab after the Commonwealth Bank’s profit recently increased by 20% to $5.6 billion and CEO Ralph Norris’ pay packet swelled by 75% to more than $16 million."

Ms Kearney warned other major banks not to follow the Commonwealth and to keep any increase in their lending rates to the same as that of the Reserve Bank.

"A stronger economy is not a green light for the banks to boost their profits on the backs of families who are struggling with rising mortgage stress."

Monday, November 01, 2010

Your Rights on Trial

Ark's journey:

May 2008 – Ark Tribe was working on the Flinders University site in Adelaide. Conditions were so bad that workers drew up a petition calling for safety improvements, on a hand towel.

It took an intervention by the union and the state government safety regulator to get the most pressing problems fixed and finally, after several days, things began to get back on track.

The Summons – No letter, no text, no visit. Ark is called to a compulsory secret interrogation by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABBC).

9 June 2009 – Ark's first appearance at the Elizabeth Street magistrate’s court in Adelaide, charged with not attending an interview with the ABCC. Ark walks through a union guard of honour as he enters the court.

11 August 2009 – Ark's second appearance at the Elizabeth Street magistrate’s court in Adelaide.

30 October 2009 – Ark's third appearance, this time at Adelaide Magistrates Court in the centre of Adelaide. The prosecution delay the case until 18th December because they are not ready.

18 December 2009 – Ark's pre-trial hearing to find out when he will face trial in 2010.

15,16, 18th June 2010 – Ark in court for three days of hearings.

20, 21, 22 July 2010 – Ark in court, the trial moves to written submissions.

13 September 2010 – Ark's final hearing.

Tuesday 3 November 2010, 9:30 am – Ark's hearing postponed.

Tuesday 24 November 2010, 9:30 am – Ark's Verdict.

Jockeys join ACTU

SMH November 1, 2010

Today the jockeys will join forces with the ACTU to launch a campaign demanding government support for the National Jockey's Trust, a fund set up by the AJA to support injured jockeys and the bereaved families of those who die on the track.

"Australia's $5 billion racing industry depends entirely on 840 jockeys who take extreme personal risks every time they race," the ACTU president, Ged Kearney, said. "Yet jockeys don't have many of the protections of other Australian workers."

The AJA chief executive, Paul Innes, said it was "obscene" that state governments refused to contribute to the trust, despite making more than $600 million in racing tax revenue. The AJA and ACTU are asking punters to donate part of their winnings or the office sweep to the trust.

The Sydney jockey Mark Lister knows what can happen. He suffered multiple compound leg fractures during a country race meet on Melbourne Cup day last year and spent most of the next 12 months on crutches.

"I was lucky enough to have some insurance as well as a bit of support from the trust, so we had to pull our belts in, but we got by OK," said Lister.

"The problem is that after a year out you've dropped off the radar a bit. I need to get back in there quickly. In this business, if you don't ride, you don't eat."