Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pat Dodson keynote address

Indigenous leader Pat Dodson has urged Australians to look at the cause of the Australia Day Tent Embassy protests.

The tent embassy - on the lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra - is a semi-permanent site of tents and signs, that activists claim represents the rights of indigenous Australians.

In response to comments by the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, which sparked the protests on Australia Day, Professor Dodson says the Tent Embassy is still relevant.

"Everything's got a role in this country, we live in a democracy," he said.

"And our expressions of our points of view as long as they're respectful of others have all got a role. We need honest constructive dialogue around the issues and there are many unresolved issues that frustrate Aboriginal people."

Professor Pat Dodson made the comments during his keynote address at the University of New South Wales in Sydney on Monday night.

He also conceded the angry protests, which caused the Prime Minister and Mr Abbott to flee a Canberra restaurant, could taint the public's view of its cause.

He said it was an ugly event, but to condemn the protests outright is simplistic.

"You've got to look to why people are frustrated and why people feel that the aggresive behaviour like that is required," he said.

Professor Dodson says Indigenous people still feel frustrated, and that they have a right to express that.

But he says the Australia Day protest hasn't harmed the campaign for constitutional change.

"It's a reality of our unresolved issues, it's a reality of the frustration," he said.

"Let's see it for the ugliness of what it was and let's move on to dealing with the constructive things...that can help diminish the necessity for that kind of behaviour in the future."

''I will always condemn bad manners and unnecessarily aggressive behaviour by whomever. But I will always defend people's rights to assert their political position and try to look to the heart of why people feel so oppressed that they feel violent confrontation is the only recourse to the resolution of their position,'' he said.

NSW: Teachers prepare for action

The Australian Education Union NSW Branch (to which all TAFE members of the NSW Teachers Federation automatically belong) has lodged an application with Fair Work Australia for a Protected Action Ballot of AEU TAFE members.

This application has been successful and, as a consequence, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will conduct a postal ballot of TAFE teachers and related employees who were employed by the TAFE Commission on the 19 January 2012 and who were also members of the Australian Education Union (NSW Branch). The ballot will determine if there is employee support for industrial action in pursuit of salary justice and an industrial agreement for TAFE teachers and related employees.

Due to the timing of these orders, part time casual teachers are not counted as employees as the 19 January fell within the TAFE vacation period, and subsequently will not participate in the ballot. However, part time casual TAFE teachers will still be able to participate in protected industrial action supported by the ballot.

Given that teachers in other sectors such as schools and corrective services are already receiving salary increases the Australian Education Union (NSW Branch) believed it was important that the ballot proceed without delay. Changes made by the O’Farrell Government to transfer TAFE teachers and related employees to the Fair Work Act means that there must be a ballot before protected industrial action can take place.

Friday, January 27, 2012

UK: Employment Tribunal supports conspiracy

23 January 2012

A construction worker who lost a case against a major firm that admitted blacklisting him for union activities and raising health and safety concerns may go to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that UK law does not sufficiently protect agency workers.

Sitting on 20 January, the Central London Employment Tribunal ruled against Dave Smith, 46, who had worked in the past through an employment agency for respondents in the hearing, Carillion (JM) Ltd and Schal International Ltd (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Carillion). Despite the fact that the companies agreed, before the hearing, a joint statement of facts withSmith, in which they stated that they had blacklisted him, the Tribunal found that because Smith was not a direct employee of the companies, he could not win the case.

The extent of blacklisting of workers in the construction industry by some of its major players came to light in early 2009, following a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office on a West Midlands-based firm called The Consulting Association. The firm charged construction employers to subscribe to its database containing the personal details of ‘’troublesome” workers.

Speaking after the decision outside the court, Dave Smith said: “The blacklisting conspiracy is a deliberate breach of human rights by big business. Human rights are supposed to apply to everyone but Carillion and their subsidiaries have got away with systematic abuse of power simply because I was an agency worker. If the British justice system does not protect workers’ rights then we will be taking our case to Strasbourg.”

VIC: Schweppes lockout

Schweppes workers locked out for six weeks without pay over a roster dispute are being sent letters offering them a $5000 bonus to cross the picket line.

The offer is being made to the first 10 workers who sign up as the company attempts to divide workers to end the dispute at its Tullamarine plant.

Others who sign will get a bonus of $1000.

Struggling workers - facing mortgage payments, the Christmas credit card hangover and bills pouring in - said it was tempting, but they would not be able to face workmates if they took the money.

"You're between a rock and a hard place," one worker said.

"You've got to go back to work with these people, they're your mates, but it doesn't stop the bills coming in. I have a mortgage to pay."

People on the picket line, who have been locked out since December 15, said yesterday they would not take the company's offer.

"Everyone is enjoying a holiday for Australia Day because of what people like us did in the past," one worker said.

"Schweppes has launched a vicious attack on the eight-hour day, as well as trying to rob workers of their weekends — something that is sacred to all Australians as that hard-earned time to spend with friends and families," says Ben Redford, Assistant Victorian Secretary of United Voice, the Beverages Union.

"But when workers fought for their rights, Schweppes simply locked them out. These bullying tactics are the height of bastardry, but Schweppes’s workers are standing strong and are determined to keep fighting now matter how long it takes," Redford says.

"To make matters worse, Schweppes’s decided to lock out its workers at Christmas time. It could not have chosen a crueller time to launch an attack like this on the very people who work so hard to contribute to the company’s booming bottom line." he adds.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aboriginal Embassy 40 years

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, one of the most significant and sustaining political protests in the history of Australia.

A series of events on the lawns of the Old Parliament House in Canberra will pay tribute to the Aboriginal rights agenda that acted as a rallying call for communities throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s.

The commemoration and celebration will highlight current debates around sovereignty and self-determination, but will also act as a showcase for political performance.

The original tent embassy set up on the eve of Australia Day in 1972 was as much about theatre as it was about land rights.

Four activists from Sydney wanted to draw attention to injustices perpetrated against Indigenous Australians by not allowing Aboriginal title to land based on traditional association.

Michael Anderson, Billy Craigie, Bertie Williams and Tony Coorey travelled to Canberra from Sydney to campaign where the politicians lived and to hopefully get their photos taken holding political placards.

As they made their way from Redfern one of the four decided they were heading to the city of embassies so they would demonstrate how they were treated like foreigners in their own land by erecting an 'Aboriginal Embassy'.

The turning point came when they realised they were legally entitled to camp on Commonwealth land in front of the Parliament.

The police couldn't move them, so they settled in and put up more tents.

Veteran activist, the late Chicka Dixon recalled the Member for Canberra Kep Enderby identified the legal loophole:

"He said you found a gap in their law, they can't move ya unless they introduce legislation. So we put up eight tents then. I became the 'Minister for Defence' and we gave ourselves portfolios. We painted the gutter No Parking Aboriginal Staff Only and then we introduced the (Aboriginal) flag".

January 26 2012

ABCC pathetic wages boast

Rights on Site 17 January 2012

CFMEU National Construction Assistant Secretary Frank O’Grady said today that the ABCC’s recent series of press releases boasting about the $297,000 it had recovered in unpaid wages and entitlements was a desperate attempt for the organisation to justify its existence and $135 million cost to taxpayers since its inception.

Mr O’Grady said CFMEU branches around the country had recovered almost $20 million in underpaid wages and entitlements for construction workers in 2011.

“The NSW branch was recently able to recover $800,000 of entitlements for 51 workers caught up in the collapse of the Cardinal Group of companies, just in time for Christmas. But we don’t put out a press release every time we help our members get what they’re legally owed, that’s just what unions do.

“The ABCC shouldn’t be boasting about this, they should be embarrassed it has taken them so long to start doing anything to secure workers’ rights and at how unsuccessful their efforts have been.

“The $297,000 recovered does not even cover the salary of ABCC head Leigh Johns.”

“The ABCC has consistently ignored the reality that sham contracting is a major issue facing the construction industry. A few token back payments for workers does not mean that it recognises the endemic nature of sham contracting in the construction industry.

“The CFMEU’s research has found that the illegal use of sham contracting is costing the Australian taxpayer over a billion dollars each year. There are thousands of workers in construction who are forced to sign on as sham contractors – missing out on superannuation and workers’ compensation coverage – just to get a job.”

Mr O’Grady said that it was time for the Government to act on its election commitment and scrap the ABCC.

“This anti-worker organisation and its coercive powers have no place in a free society. The legislation introduced to the Federal Parliament last year to scrap the ABCC needs to be voted on as soon as possible.”

Unions Poll well

Gary Morgan of Morgan Poll says:

“Although Trade Union membership has declined significantly in Australia a clear majority of Australians (67% - up 5% since November 1974) believe on balance that Trade Unions have been good for Australia — including a majority of supporters of both major parties: 82% of ALP supporters and 56% of L-NP supporters.

“Despite this positive view of Trade Unions over the years, a very clear majority of Australians (87%) believe membership of Trade Unions should be voluntary (96% of L-NP supporters and 82% of ALP supporters) compared to only 9% that say compulsory (15% of ALP supporters and only 3% of L-NP supporters).

“However, the lack of support for compulsory unionism does not mean Australians reject the ‘right to strike’ — clear majorities of Australians support the right of Private Industry workers (83%), Public Utilities workers (76%) and Government workers (77%) to strike — this includes majorities of supporters of each major party. This is a big change from November 1974 when only 58% supported the right of Private Industry workers to strike and 48% supported the right of Public Utility workers and Government workers to strike.

“Another big change from the 1970s concerns the frequency of strikes - a majority of Australians believe there is ‘about the right number of strikes’ (57%, up 49%) while 32% (down 59%) say they 'occur too often’ and just 11% (up 10%) believe strikes should 'occur more often’. Here there is a clear ideological difference as 45% of L-NP supporters believe strikes 'occur too often’ compared to only 22% of ALP supporters and 14% of ALP supporters believe strikes should 'occur more often’ compared to only 5% of L-NP supporters.”

This special telephone Morgan Poll was conducted over the two nights last week of January 17/18, 2012, with an Australia-wide cross-section of 646 Australians aged 14+ including 540 electors.

Inquiry into Insecure Work

24 January, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

More than 450 workers, unions, community and other representative groups have lodged a submission with the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the overwhelming response to the inquiry, chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, showed insecure jobs were clearly a major concern for Australian workers and their families.

The inquiry began taking submissions in November. They closed last Friday, after they were extended due to enormous public interest.

Ms Kearney said 412 workers had told of their individual experiences in insecure work through its website, and almost 60 organisations had also lodged submissions to the inquiry. More submissions will be received in coming days after further extensions were granted.

“The Howe Inquiry is one of the most important investigations into the changing nature of Australian work in recent times, with the use of casual, fixed or short-term contracts, and labour hire almost doubling in the last two decades to make up about 40% of the workforce now,” Ms Kearney said.

“The submissions will provide valuable evidence for the inquiry panel to consider the impact insecure work has on people’s ability to plan for their future, to make ends meet and to spend time with family and friends.

“The Howe Inquiry is investigating all of these issues and it is important that we hear from as many in the community affected by insecure work as possible.”

Mr Howe said the Inquiry panel was delighted with the number of submissions, which provided insights into the impact of insecure work on individuals and on families, as well as providing policy recommendations from unions, community organisations and other workplace representatives who deal directly with the consequences of insecure work.

“The submissions provide a depth of knowledge and understanding about this issue that has not been explored in Australia before, and we look forward to investigating the issue and exploring policy solutions through hearings around Australia that begin next month,” Mr Howe said.

Hearing dates in capital cities and regional centres will be announced shortly.

Ms Kearney said that many business and employer groups and other representatives have been vocal in their campaign to remove workers’ rights, yet when given the opportunity to provide evidence to support their claims, they were silent, choosing not to lodge a submission to the Howe Inquiry.

“Despite our open invitation to all sectors, business and employer groups were missing in action during the submissions process. These organisations can hardly complain about the Howe Inquiry when they chose not to have their voices heard,” she said.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Greece: Financial Vultures circling

Costas Lapavitsas guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 January 2012

Negotiations to reduce Greek debt have been suspended after no agreement could be reached last week. At some point in the near future Greece seems certain to default on its obligations. But the drama surrounding the talks in Athens, Berlin and Paris shows that there will be nothing co-operative about Greek default. It is a ruthless contest dominated by the so-called troika: the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

At every turn the interests and rights of people across Europe have been disregarded. Negotiations have proceeded in secrecy. Greece, whose government is led by an unelected central banker, is represented by a team of politicians and technocrats who have performed lamentably during the crisis. They have hired bankers Lazard Freres and lawyers Cleary Gottlieb, renowned sovereign default specialists, although the benefits remain to be seen. Those who are owed money by Greece have been represented by the International Institute of Finance, a self-styled mouthpiece for bankers. Other lenders, including hedge funds, have no collective representative.

The troika has accepted that Greek debt must be reduced to sustainable levels; but it also wants the reduction to appear voluntary because, if the lenders were coerced, Greece would be declared in formal default, and banks and financial markets would be thrown into crisis. The troika would also like the reduction to be on terms that would allow immediate fresh loans to Greece – an urgent step if the country is not to stop repayments altogether – and wants Greek debt held by official bodies, including the ECB, to remain intact. Not surprisingly, the circle is proving hard to square.

The debt in question is €200bn. About half belongs to Greeks – banks, social security funds and others – who are first in line to bear the costs of reduction (the "haircut"). Less than a quarter belongs to international banks, and a good part of the rest to hedge funds.

The deal proposed by the troika is geared to the interests of lenders, particularly international banks. The face value of the debt would be reduced by 50%, and the remaining debt would be replaced by new long-term bonds bearing a low interest rate, perhaps less than 4%. The new bonds would be subject to British law, which favours lenders.

The losses for international banks would be modest. Even so, they are angling for a higher interest rate, although their bargaining power is weakened by reliance on the state for liquidity and capital. The real blow would fall on Greek banks, which would effectively go bankrupt. The Greek state is thus desperately seeking fresh loans to replenish its banks' capital. Much of the expected reduction of its debt would, therefore, be immediately voided. A cruel blow would also fall on Greek social security funds and small bondholders, with losses probably passing on to pensions and savings.

Meanwhile, hedge funds have been buying Greek debt at low prices in the hope of being paid at, or near, full value. Since Greece has to make debt repayments of almost €15bn in March, huge amounts of European taxpayers' money could potentially be transferred to these vulture funds. The speculators could possibly be coerced into the deal by applying Greek law, but if the reduction were not voluntary, there could be a chain reaction across financial markets.

The worst aspect of the deal is that it is unlikely to benefit Greece long term. The original plan was to bring debt down to 120% of GDP by 2020, but the "rescue" programmes of the past two years have forced the country into a real depression. The IMF now thinks that Greek debt will be on a much higher level by 2020 – clearly unsustainable. It is seeking deeper reductions, but the price would be even harsher cuts in wages, pensions, and public spending. The social repercussions on an already weakened country would be horrendous, quite apart from the political difficulties of introducing further severe austerity.

It is clear that Greece has little to expect from a debt-reduction process led by the troika. It should take charge of its own predicament, abandoning the charade of voluntary haircuts. For that, it needs to default in a sovereign and democratic way by immediately declaring a cessation of payments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stop Pokie Scam

QLD: Police target fracking protesters

Members of the anti-Coal Seam Gas group Keep the Scenic Rim Scenic have been subjected to much more aggressive tactics from police at blockades this morning.

The blockade at Kerry continued into its eighth day this morning and protesters opened up a new front at an Arrow Energy drill site at Silverdale on the Cunningham Highway.

A local woman, Linda Weston was arrested at 9.30 this morning at the Silverdale site for refusing to obey a police direction. Nearly five hours later she is still in custody in the Ipswwich watchhouse and she has been charged under the controversial section 805 of the petroleum and Gas Act which carries a potential $50,000 fine.

President of the lock the Gate Alliance, Drew Hutton, who was at the Silverdale blockade, said this was a blatant attempt at intimidation by the Queensland Police and the Bligh government.

Ms Weston was standing on public land no more than 5 metres from the highway and offered no resistance when arrested by the police," Mr Hutton said.

The police also used other intimidating tactics.

At the Kerry site a Police vehicle entered the blockaders' camp which was on property owned by a farmer sympathetic to the group and police continually threatened blockaders with arrest if they put one foot on the road.

"We generally have very good relations with the police and have no problem with them carrying out their jobs in a professional way, even if it means that, on occasion, they might arrest some of us," Mr Hutton said.

"However, I call on the police leadership to ensure their officers do not go beyond the limits of thier professional roles."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

USA: Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline

President Obama has rejected the permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial project, which would have run for 1,700 miles from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, would have devastated efforts to slow climate change and endangered people, animals, land, and water.

This decision is the result of months of advocacy by people in the United States and Canada, including many people of faith, and came despite intense lobbying by the powerful oil and gas industry.

But we can’t give up -- our nation needs to invest in cleaner, renewable energy sources if we want to move away from Keystone-type projects  in the future. Plus, TransCanada, the company trying to build the pipeline, is expected to reapply for a permit with a different geographic route within the year.

In short, this is a victory but not the end of the fight.
President Obama changed the rules of the game: he stood up to Big Oil’s bullying and rejected the massively destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The pipeline was rejected for all the right reasons. President Obama put the health and safety of our people, our air, lands and water – our national interest—above the interests of Big Oil. This a victory shared by many today – by farmers in Nebraska and all along the pipeline route and by those who have already suffered the harm of climate change in droughts, fires, floods and violent storms.

Rather than bringing America energy security, the tar sands pipeline would have bypassed the Midwest so that tar sands could be exported with tax benefits for the oil companies. Rather than provide a national jobs plan based on clean energy, the pipeline would have put our land, water and climate at risk for a single construction project. And rather than lowering oil prices, the pipeline would have lowered oil supply in the Midwest causing prices there to rise.

Republicans in the House brought this decision to a head. The President was going to take another year for a new route through Nebraska that would not cross the fragile Sandhills to be determined and assessed. But with a provision in the payroll tax holiday extension bill to force a decision by February 21, the Administration had no choice but to reject the permit application. How could a pipeline be approved when the whole route is not even known?

The President stood up to Big Oil – despite threats of “huge consequences.”  He listened to millions of Americans who said that we are done with oil schemes that pollute our homes and water and wreak havoc with our climate all so that oil companies can make out like bandits. He showed the kind of leadership that Americans look for and that people around the world respect. By rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the President stood up for our health, our safety, our farms, our homes in protecting us against tar sands oil spills and climate change. That is the kind of leadership that takes us into a clean energy future.

USA: Walker faces monster petition

The people of Wisconsin have delivered a mountain of petitions signed by over a million people to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker - 460,000 more than the 540,208 needed to trigger a recall election.

This kicks off yet another phase of the massive fight by workers and their allies in the US state to restore union rights that were crushed by Republican legislators last year.

The governor and his party rammed through a law that abolished the rights of public employees to collectively bargain and maintain a decent standard of living, unions and their allies say.

Recent reports have said that Mr Walker's policies are killing 18,000 jobs a year in Wisconsin.

The 1,000,208 recall signatures submitted on Tuesday are nearly equal to the 1,128,159 votes that Mr Walker received when he was elected in 2010.

"There is no question about it. Wisconsinites want to recall Walker in order to put an end to his disastrous agenda and stop his attacks on working families," said Wisconsin state AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt. He accused Mr Walker of "putting corporate allies above the people of Wisconsin."

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale said: "This is a governor who crippled the rights of workers, raised taxes on the poor, compromised our children's education and made it harder for Wisconsinites to vote.

"For 60 days union and community members have organised at union halls, grocery stores and bowling allies around the state" to recall Mr Walker and those who "walk in lock-step" with him, she said.

Unions NSW: Insecure Work inquiry

18 January, 2012

Unions NSW is reminding people to finalise their submissions to the Insecure Work inquiry as all submissions are due by Friday, 20th January.

About 40% of Australian workers are employed in insecure employment as casuals, on fixed or short term contracts, in labour hire, or as "independent" contractors. Even permanent workers are affected.

Unions NSW has developed an information sheet detailing how you can tell your story to the insecure work inquiry - take a look at it here.

The campaign will stand up for the many workers who have had to put up with insecure work for too long. Everyone should have a job they can rely on.

Ballarat: Mars workers act

Mars Chocolate Australia’s Ballarat site was affected by stoppages in a bid by unions to force progress in negotiations with the company over an enterprise bargaining agreement.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union spokesman Colin Muir said he would request further meetings with Mars before another 24-hour strike, scheduled to start at 10pm on Wednesday next week.

Mr Muir said he wanted Mr Ryan to be present in upcoming discussions.

“We want him involved in the meetings and we are also going to be speaking to Fair Work Australia to see if they’ll be involved. (Discussions) have got to happen, not in six weeks time,” Mr Muir said.

Mr Muir said further low-level action was planned during the rest of this week, and if no resolution had been made by 4pm next Wednesday, paperwork would be filed to escalate more industrial action for the following week.

ANZ: 5.3 billion reasons not to cut jobs

FSU Wednesday, 18 January 2012

ANZ began announcing to staff within Australian Operations and Commercial Banking that they will be restructuring the business with the loss of up to 133 jobs.

ANZ have also advised that this is the first of a series of announcements regarding job losses that will occur in the first half of this year which will result in hundreds of jobs disappearing from its Australian workforce.

Whilst the FSU acknowledges that the market is slowing and the business environment is unpredictable, we do not agree with the banks decision to cut jobs as a way of reducing costs. In the tough environment of 2011, ANZ recorded a record profit of $5.3 billion and it seems ANZ will slash jobs to protect another record profit in 2012.

FSU calls on ANZ to find other ways to trim their budget and minimise the impact on their dedicated staff.

Contact Details
1300 366 378
Ph: Member Rights Centre

Japan: Mothers lead anti-nuke protests

"Mothers are at the forefront of various grassroots movements that are working together to stop the operation of all nuclear plants in Japan from 2012," Aileen Miyoko Smith, head of Green Action, a non- governmental organisation (NGO) that promotes renewable energy told IPS.

More than 100 anti-nuclear demonstrators, most of them women, met with officials of the Nuclear Safety Commission this week and handed over a statement calling for a transparent investigation into the accident and a permanent shutdown of all nuclear power plants.

Currently six of Japan’s 56 nuclear plants are closed, some for stress tests after the Fukushima accident exposed serious breaches of safety precautions in the nuclear power industry.

More than 150,000 people remain unable to return home because of high levels of radiation in the Fukushima vicinity. There is now evidence that contamination has spread to rice and vegetables grown in nearby farming areas, and found its way into baby food products on supermarket shelves.

Japanese authorities announced last week that the devastated Fukushima Daiichi complex has been brought down to a state of cold shutdown.

"The first stage of controlling the terrible accident has been achieved. The government will follow a road map which in 30–40 years will make Fukushima safe again," said Goshi Hosono, minister of state for nuclear power policy and administration.

Speaking to the press, he explained that there is now no nuclear activity in the Fukushima nuclear reactors emitting radiation.

Power companies and government officials have also pledged to enforce safety regulations strictly and to ensure transparency.

Smith views the latest announcements as a warning. "We are stepping up our activism to ensure that the government and power industries, now eager to create a notion of security, will not restart nuclear plants," she said.

Indeed, groups of women, braving a cold winter, have been setting up tents since last week preparing for a new sit-in campaign in front of the ministry of economic affairs.

The women have pledged to continue their demonstration for 10 months and 10 days, traditionally reckoned in Japan as a full term that covers a pregnancy.

"Our protests are aimed at achieving a rebirth in Japanese society," said Chieko Shina, a participant, and a grandmother from Fukushima. "There is a need to change the way the authorities have run the country by putting economic growth ahead of protecting the lives of people."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

WA: Oakajee agreement questioned

According to the Oakajee agreement, Chinese companies are to be involved in the provision of fabricated steel rail cars, engineering and construction services and debt financing.

The unique wording of the clause in the development agreement between OPR and the West Australian government is contained in an internal email from the Department of State Development that was tabled in parliament last year. Premier Colin Barnett has refused to release the entire agreement.

Mr Barnett has been pushing for Chinese companies to become equity investors in the Oakajee project, which has been hit by major delays and cost blowouts.

OPR is owned by Japanese corporate giant Mitsubishi and troubled Perth miner Murchison Metals, which is planning to sell its half-share to Mitsubishi. The port and rail infrastructure is being planned to service several iron ore mines in WA's emerging mid-west region to open it up for exports, mainly to China.

Chinese interests own major stakes in the region's mines, but missed out on building the infrastructure when OPR won the government tender in 2009.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state president, Steve McCartney, said yesterday Mr Barnett should disclose the extent of China's involvement in providing goods and services to Oakajee.

"Colin Barnett became the first premier in WA's history to sign a state development agreement which gave preference to Chinese fabricators over local fabricators to supply to the Oakajee project," Mr McCartney said.

"What we want to know is that when the Premier went to China recently to seek financing for the Oakajee project, what else has he offered them in exchange? This has a real impact on the local community."

Figures released by the ABS last month revealed the number of manufacturing jobs in and around Kwinana fell from 14,000 to 12,000 over the past year and youth unemployment in the area has gone past 25 per cent. The peak body representing steelmakers, the Australian Steel Institute, has complained that the clause in the Oakajee agreement stipulating Chinese involvement was unfair because the local steel industry was not consulted.

Mr Barnett, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, has maintained that the vast majority of the Oakajee project will be Australian-built.

An OPR spokesman said the company aimed to provide opportunities for Australian and international suppliers and businesses to be involved in the project.

“OPR will balance its obligations under the State Development Agreement and ensuring that our procurement and contracting approach encourages local industry involvement in the project,” the spokesman said.

The controversy over Oakajee comes as unions also complain that a Chinese-owned mine project in WA has imported huge amounts of Chinese steel and equipment, including concrete footpaths at accommodation.

The Australian Workers Union says the $US6 billion Citic Pacific-owned Sino Iron project in the Pilbara has used 100,000 tonnes of imported steel, as well as Chinese pipes, plumbing, power generation and refrigeration infrastructure. A spokesman for Citic Pacific Mining said yesterday the level of local content investment to date was more than 70 per cent.

ASI has also expressed concerns to the government about the amount of Chinese steel to be sourced at the Daunia Coal mine project in Queensland.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Close Guantanamo Bay!

Avaaz.org 13 Jan 2011

10 years ago, Nabil Hadjarab was sent to Guantanamo Bay hooded, shackled and innocent. Although the US has cleared him of all charges of terrorism or any other crime, they still won’t release him. But, an international solution could close this illegal torture camp and end Nabil’s horrific ordeal.
There are 89 others just like Nabil, and 170 men in total trapped in this black hole of injustice. This is the US’s disaster, but the US refuses to find a solution to shut down Guantanamo. Now, with the help of two countries we could end this shame. Qatar has already offered to take innocent prisoners, like Nabil. And the UK, a close and trusted ally of the US, could give the remaining prisoners a fair and public trial in civilian courts. All that’s missing is the political will and public mandate to do it -- and that’s exactly what we, together, can create.

Today, let’s mark Guantanamo’s shameful 10th birthday with a massive global call to US, UK and Qatari leaders to do an international Close Guantanamo Deal and finally slam the door on this horror story for good. Sign the urgent petition and send this to everyone:

Sign Close Guantanamo Petition

After 10 years of injustice and broken promises, the US has failed to close Guantanamo. Both the Obama and Bush administrations and the US Congress and military have obstructed all meaningful moves to release the innocent, try detainees in fair and public trials, move detainees to civilian prisons and shut the prison down. With so many pledges and failures, a creative solution is urgently needed, one that involves taking the prisoners to another country. If we don’t act now to force a global solution, the US may operate Guantanamo indefinitely.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

AFL-CIO: Romney - job killer

Richard L. Trumka, President AFL-CIO

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney—who killed thousands of jobs as a corporate raider—recently said he “likes being able to fire people.”

Romney’s record as a corporate raider backs up his words: He supports laws that attack workers’ rights and make it easier to fire people. Laws like the so-called “right to work” bill being considered in Indiana that targets collective bargaining, robbing workers of union protection.

If Indiana’s so-called “right to work” bill passes, the state’s unions no longer will stand between corporate raiders like Mitt Romney and many of the workers they like to fire to boost short-term profits. And it will become much harder for everyday workers to improve their wages, benefits and retirement security.

In 2011, we saw the beginnings of a new democratic movement for economic justice. We had the most solidarity I’ve seen at any time during my career in the labor movement. We shifted the debate. And we’ll keep doing it.

But to translate this movement into lasting change, politics matter. Not just who we elect for president, but our choices at the state and local levels, too.

America wants to work—and it is politics as usual, not economic obstacles, standing in the way of putting people back to work. That’s why we’re promoting a job-creating agenda in statehouses around the country this year, focusing on priorities like:
  • Making sure state tax dollars are used to keep jobs in that state and in America.
  • Buying state-made and American-made goods—so we create jobs in our communities and in America.
  • Stopping corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for millionaires—so our states no longer are starved of the revenue they need for critical services.
Even though ruthless, corporate-backed attacks on workers continue, make no mistake: Our message—the message of the 99%—is taking root. Many politicians haven’t caught up yet. But they will. They’ll have to. Because people all across the country are saying our economy and our democracy are out of balance. They’re saying it’s time to create jobs for every person who wants to work—jobs that can support our families and that can support our dreams.

ACTU: Fiji Draconian Decree

ACTU 11 Jan 2011

The Australian Government must consider economic sanctions against Fiji’s military regime in the wake of new laws that place even greater restrictions on human rights in the island nation, say unions.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said a new decree quietly introduced by the Fiji Government was even more draconian than past laws, with anyone who campaigned for workplace rights able to be considered a terrorist and placed in jail indefinitely.

“Just two weeks ago Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama spruiked the removal of the draconian Public Emergency Regulations (PER), which banned public meetings and freedom of the press, as part of his desire to encourage free debate in the lead up to democratic elections in 2014.

“But Mr Bainimarama seemingly forgot to add that he had concurrently introduced another set of laws that give his illegal Government sweeping powers of arrest and detention without a warrant and for 16 days. Under the new laws, ‘terrorism’ is redefined to cover any act that is seen to be campaigning to influence the government towards change.

“This essentially means that a Fiji worker or union leader that asked the ACTU or Australian Government to pressure the Fiji Government to change its draconian ways would be guilty of an act of terrorism. That person may be imprisoned for life.

“This new decree is even more draconian and places even more restrictions on the rights of Fijians than past laws. The Australian Government cannot turn a blind eye. We renew our call to the Australian Government to reconsider its recent decision to renew a textile, clothing and footwear scheme with the Fijian Government under a regional trade agreement.

“The agreement which gives unfettered access to the Australian market – the largest market for Fijian textile products –merely legitimises an oppressive regime that has persistently flouted human rights in the face of international and local opposition.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Calombaris spray on conditions

Millionaire chef George Calombaris thinks he pays his staff too much on weekends and public holidays - but a junior waiter would have to work for two days to be able to afford a degustation menu at his flagship restaurant.

Not only does Calombaris charge $230 for a five-course degustation menu at his top Melbourne restaurant Press Club, his yet-to-open pasta diner Mama Baba will charge $27 for pasta, $33 for fish or meat of the day and $14 to $18 for salads.

Hospitality workers get 25 per cent loading on Saturdays and 75 per cent on Sundays.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten disagreed with Calombaris, stating that weekends and holidays are about spending time with the family and penalties provide compensation.

"While I love his excellent cooking and his entrepreneurial business sense - we need innovative small businesses like his in Australia - I just can't agree that cutting wages of low-paid workers is a boost for the industry or a fair thing to do."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Unions NSW: Government Boards

4 January, 2012

Unions NSW is seeking clarification on the future of employee representation on state government boards after recent comments made by the Finance Minister Greg Pearce.

"Unions NSW is concerned to hear of any move to remove employee representation from government boards.

"It’s long been recognised that organisations both require and benefit from having a mix of skills on their board and that includes members that understand the needs of employees." said Mr Lennon.

This fact was recognised by the Greiner government who established the practice of placing employee representatives on government boards in 1989. "If it’s good enough in 1989 it’s good enough in 2012. 

"The government again appears to be playing politics. If it is serious about governing for all then it should show its bona fides by keeping employee representatives on its boards." said Mr Lennon.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

ABCC's sham contracting sham

The ABCC’s long awaited report into its investigation of sham contracting in the construction industry has turned into another great sham: the ABCC has come up with no useful conclusions, no real solution, and appears to be in denial about the extent of sham contracting in the construction industry.

Its list of 10 recommendations reads like a job application for a future role for itself in the industry, rather than a real plan of action.

Bizarrely, the ABCC claims there is not enough evidence to prove extensive sham contracting in the construction—even though they have successfully prosecuted two companies, have four cases before the courts and another 32 investigations ongoing into allegations of sham contracting arrangements[i].

This also ignores the work of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Tax Office, the Ralph and Henry reviews into the tax system and  the CFMEU’s own “Race to the Bottom” report – which agree sham contracting represents a major rorting of the tax system.

The ABCC criticised “Race to the Bottom” – based on a few employer objections to it – but failed to produce its own independent figures, despite having had 12 months to do it.

 All the ABCC could come up with was a plan for more research and ‘education’ for employers and employees on the appropriate use of ABNs and sham contracting.

CFMEU members have had that kind of information now for almost a year, in multiple languages. CFMEU National Office has produced a variety of information materials on Sham Contracting in Construction. Do more taxpayers’ dollars need to be spent reinventing the wheel?

MUA: Melbourne port agreement close


A strike that threatened to cripple Australia's busiest port, Melbourne, from Sunday has been averted, after the warring parties reached an in-principle agreement over improved wages and conditions.
After more than seven hours of tense negotiations, the Maritime Union of Australia and stevedore firm DP World agreed late on Friday night to a deal that could halt the planned 24-hour strike, as well as a threatened retaliatory one-day lockout by the company.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin told the Weekend Financial Review that the parties had agreed to a complex deal that was "in the ballpark" of union demands for a 15 per cent pay rise over three years, plus improved conditions including superannuation.

"The talks have been constructive and we have reached an in-principle agreement which will need to be put to our members for approval," he said.

Mr Crumlin said MUA officials would recommend on Saturday that its Melbourne workers halt the strike, but conceded that the complexity of the yet-to-be-completed deal might prove a sticking point.

A DP World Australia spokesman said the in-principle agreements "open the way for settlement of the enterprise agreement".

"Subject to confirmation the union actions are withdrawn, the company will withdraw the lockout notice to its Melbourne employees and other notices of intent," he said.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

US: Indefinite detention codified into law

ACLU press release 31 Dec 2011

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today, allowing indefinite detention to be codified into law. As you know, the White House had threatened to veto an earlier version of the NDAA but reversed course shortly before Congress voted on the final bill. While President Obama issued a signing statement saying he had “serious reservations” about the provisions, the statement only applies to how his administration would use it and would not affect how the law is interpreted by subsequent administrations.

The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.

Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again.  The ACLU believes that any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA.  In addition, the breadth of the NDAA’s detention authority violates international law because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict as required by the laws of war.  

We are extremely disappointed that President Obama signed this bill even though his administration is already claiming overly-broad detention authority in court. Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back those claims dimmed today.  Thankfully we have three branches of government, and the final word on the scope of detention authority belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.

The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.

Monday, January 02, 2012

ACTU: Health and Safety campaign

01 Jan 2012 ACTU

A new national awareness campaign begins today to inform workers of their rights and employers of their obligations under harmonised health and safety laws.

Australian unions have launched the Speak Up campaign so that workers have a say in making sure their workplaces are safe and healthy.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said it was important that workers understood they would have enhanced rights to elect their own health and safety representatives under the harmonised occupational health and safety (OHS) system that begins in most states and territories today.

“Workers need to know that when they are confronted by a health or safety issue in their workplace, they don’t have to deal with it alone,” Mr Borowick said.

“They have an iron-clad right, under law, to elect their own health and safety representatives. These reps act as watchdogs within the workplace, making employers comply with the law well before regulators have to become involved.

“They have rights to stop work and demand improvements when there are health or safety concerns.

“Employers who interfere with the work of health and safety reps, or refuse to allow them to properly represent their workmates, are breaking the law.

“Importantly, unions can offer a wealth of expertise, know-how and training to back up those reps, and make sure they can perform the roles they have been elected to, and to provide workers with assistance to make their own workplaces safer.

“Health and safety is a fundamental industrial issue and a major priority for unions, who have a long and proud history of delivering healthier and safer workplaces for Australians, frequently in the face of employer and business resistance. Over the last 160 years unions have campaigned tirelessly to reduce injury and illness within the workplace, and many of the current rights and conditions have been fought for and won by unions.

“It is no coincidence that workplaces with a union presence are far more likely to be safer than those without unions. Collectively, with the support of a union, workers are far more able to speak up about health and safety than they can individually.”

Alongside the distribution of Speak Up campaign materials in workplaces around Australia, a new website www.safeatwork.org.au has also been launched.

The website will be a hub of information for workers and OHS reps about common health and safety issues, rights and obligations, tips for safer workplaces, legislation, and news. Workers will also be able to post questions about health and safety and get advice from union experts.