Friday, August 31, 2012

South Africa: 93% Lonmin Miners Stay Out

Fewer than 7 per cent of Lonmin's 28,000-strong South African workforce reported for duty at the strife-torn Marikana mine today as the company held talks with trade unions.

The number appearing for work has declined every day this week amid claims by the company of intimidation and threats.

Lonmin mining operations have been shut for almost three weeks after a pay dispute exploded into violence and 44 people died.

That total includes 34 striking workers killed in a hail of police bullets, stiffening the resolve of survivors to hold out until their demands are met.

"We have a 6.6 per cent average attendance across all shafts this morning," Lonmin admitted today.

The talks to end the impasse in Rustenburg resumed today after dragging into the night on Wednesday.

Solidarity trade union deputy secretary general Gideon du Plessis said discussions were to secure "a return to work agreement - with the aim of getting workers back to work on Monday after most funerals have been concluded."

Solidarity represents skilled workers and its members have not been on strike but all unions are taking part in the talks.

The 3,000 strikers who have brought things to a standstill are mostly rock driller operators.

But the prospects for peace were not enhanced when it emerged that, under the South African legal system's doctrine of "common purpose," all 270 workers detained after the police massacred 34 miners would be tried for murder.

No police have been charged because a commission of inquiry will investigate their actions separately, a spokesman claimed.

Six of the 270 workers remain in hospital after being wounded in the August 16 shootings and the other 264 workers are appearing in the Garankuwa magistrates court near the capital Pretoria.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Frank Lesenyego said that they would all face murder charges, including those who were unarmed or were at the back of the crowd.

"This is under common law, where people are charged with common purpose in a situation where there are suspects with weapons and they confront or attack the police, a shooting takes place and there are fatalities," he told the BBC.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

ABC: The Left To Die Boat

Zodiac boat believed to be the same as the boat the survivors were travelling on.
Photo taken by French aircraft on 27 March 2011 and sent to Rome Maritime Rescue Centre
An epic saga of life and death on the Mediterranean.  Producer Sharon Davis investigates how the combined military power of NATO failed to prevent more than 60 people dying on board a small boat as it drifted for 15 days through the most heavily monitored ocean on earth.

When Libyan soldiers forced 72 people at gunpoint onto a Zodiac inflatable boat in Tripoli in March last year, the asylum seekers thought that in 18 hours they would be free - and ready to begin a new life in Europe. Fifteen days later, the small boat washed up back on Libya's coast and only eleven people were still alive. Two more would die soon after. This is an account by the survivors, three of whom are now living in Tasmania, of their epic tale of life and death at sea... but there's also a very disturbing twist.

A NATO naval blockade of Libya had begun, meaning the Mediterranean was full of military ships and aircraft scouring the waters where the ill fated boat was drifting. Two military helicopters and a military vessel came in contact with the boat. So why weren’t the asylum seekers rescued and taken to safety? The case of the so called “Left To Die Boat” has become the focus of a deepening scandal in Europe involving NATO and some of the world's most powerful nations.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

$4b dental reform package

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek says the Government will spend $4 billion to provide subsidised dental care for millions of children and low-income patients across Australia.

Announcing the changes this morning, Ms Plibersek said providing free care would free up "massive resources" in the dental sector and improve the dental health of people across the country.

She said the spending would be in two key areas:
  • $2.7 billion to provide subsidised treatment for children aged between 2 and 18 years whose families are eligible for family tax benefit A.
  • $1.3 billion on early intervention care for low-income Australians and those in remote rural areas.

"We will have a generation of kids for whom going to the dentist is as easy as going to the doctor," she said.

Will this scheme help you and your family? Leave a comment below.

The deal has been brokered with the Greens and was announced with Greens Senator Richard Di Natale in attendance this morning.

Under the scheme, children will be eligible for up to $1,000 in free care over two years.

Ms Plibersek said parents would have to present a Medicare card to get the free treatment for their children.

But she warned that the $4b package was contingent on the states and territories continuing to fund dental care at or above their current levels of spending.

She said the money was in addition to the $515 million announced in the 2012-13 Budget.

"We know that one in five of Australia’s lowest-income people have not been to a dentist in over five years, if ever," Ms Plibersek said in a statement.

"And we know that low-income households have more than double the number of family members with untreated tooth decay compared with high-income households. It’s just not good enough.

"Labor believes we have a responsibility to ensure Australians who are least able to afford to go the dentist, and particularly children, should be given access to government-subsidised oral health care."

USA: Mandatory audience with Romney

Coal miners in Ohio - who work for a company that's given almost $1 million to the Republican Party - say they feared they'd lose their jobs if they didn't attend a "mandatory" event with Mitt Romney and contribute to his campaign. Insult to Injury: They lost a day of pay for their trouble.

“We had managers that communicated to our work force that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend the event...We’re talking about an event that was in the best interest of anyone that’s related to the coal industry. I do not believe that missing an eight-hour day...,when you think about (how) how critical this next election is, and how critical it is that we get someone in this office that supports coal — to give up eight hours for a career." - Murray Energy "defending" the company's actions.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

ACTU: Need for offshore safety laws

28 August, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

The deaths of two workers on a drilling rig off the Victorian coast yesterday is a tragic reminder of the dangers of the industry, leading unions to renew calls for offshore petroleum workers to be given the same workplace health and safety rights and protections those on dry land.

While investigations are continuing into the circumstances of the deaths, ACTU Assistant Secretary Michael Borowick said it was not appropriate for the offshore petroleum industry to have a different health and safety regime than the rest of the workforce.

“We need to get to the bottom of this tragedy, but unfortunately, unions have been warning for some time that the offshore petroleum industry is an accident waiting to happen,” Mr Borowick said.

“The harmonised OHS laws should be extended to the offshore petroleum industry, so that workers in the industry can have the same standard of training and regulation as other workers.

“Occupational health and safety representatives in the offshore industry do not have the same rights to OHS training or access to OHS experts as on-shore representatives.

“The offshore regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), has taken a completely hands-off approach to policing its patch, putting workers at risk every day on the job.

“Until the new OHS laws are extended to the offshore industry, workers and their families cannot be confident they are protected as well as they could and should be.

“The lack of inclusion of offshore workers in these laws, combined with the hands-off approach of NOPSEMA, frustrates the involvement of workers and their unions in improving health and safety in a very dangerous industry.

“We cannot fathom why the Federal Government has one set of laws for workers on dry land, and a cavalier attitude and different laws in the dangerous offshore industry.”


CFMEU state secretary Bill Oliver said today that while there had been reports that construction workers had punched horses during the confrontation with police, they were just defending themselves amid the panic as they tried to avoid being trampled.

He also accused Grocon and the State Government of provoking the clashes, while Grocon head Daniel Grollo accused the union of mounting an "illegal blockade".

"What we've seen here this morning is Daniel Grollo's industrial relations, Mr Oliver said.

"This is what he wants for every Victorian construction worker - violence and thuggery on building sites.

"We have been down here for seven days, it's been a peaceful demonstration, and not once has Grocon tried to enter this site.

"We are back in the Supreme Court this morning, and there's no doubt that this was a stunt all organised by Daniel Grollo, organised by the State Government, to take on construction workers.

"This dispute is about construction workers allowed to go to their job safely, not to go onto construction sites and be stood over every day of the week."

He said today’s barricade was all about protecting workers’ rights. He said the workers had been banned from wearing union stickers on the work site, and from flying the union’s flag.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said police were attempting to assist Grocon employees to safely cross the picket line and enter their workplace.

A number of workers were sprayed with OC foam as the two groups came face to face in a tense stand-off this morning. Union members said they had been sprayed with OC foam during the scuffles with police.

Some protesters at the site began dispersing and going back to their jobs around the city about 8.30am, however a picket line is expected to remain throughout the day.

A union leader said through a microphone: "Go back and tell your boss that all this grief has been caused by Daniel Grollo."

Update 30 August 2012
Tender process 'eased for Grollo'

A former registrar of Victoria's Building Practitioners Board has alleged construction tsar Daniel Grollo was given preferential treatment in a $100 million tender to rebuild houses destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009.

Peter Brilliant, who resigned in May, claims senior executives of the Building Commission, which oversees the board, had ordered that Mr Grollo be registered as a domestic builder and demolisher despite not being properly accredited.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Sign the pledge to Save our Aussie Weekend

In the last two weeks, 4000 people have pledged to Save our Aussie Weekend – what an incredible response!

Just like 87 per cent of Aussies surveyed recently, you don’t want bosses to cut penalty rates that fairly compensate those who work unsocial hours and miss out on precious time with friends and family.

Even if you don’t work on weekends, your time with family and friends is still under threat. That’s because if penalty rates disappear, it won’t your cost employer one cent more to make you work on Saturdays and Sundays.

Let’s double the pledges to Save our Aussie Weekend: click here to share Save Our Aussie Weekend on Facebook, Twitter and email!

Make no mistake – the attack on our weekends is in full flight, right now. Independent Senator Nick Xenophon also introduced a bill in Federal Parliament to remove weekend penalty rates in the restaurant, catering and retail industries. Those employers claim penalty rates are “archaic.”

If they succeed, penalty rates could soon be threatened all across the country. People working in aged care, nursing, manufacturing and countless other industries could all suffer.

This is about defending our weekends, but it’s also about much more than that.

Many of us rely on penalty rates, giving up time with family and friends to pay our bills and meet our mortgages. Without penalty rates, we will find ourselves a lot worse off and may even need to find a second job to simply keep our heads above water.

Ultimately this is a fight for a fair economy for all Australians. We want an economy that works for every one of us, not one that just helps increase the profits of the few.

You and thousands of others have already signed the pledge – that’s an amazing start. But to win this campaign we need to send an even louder message to employers.

Please share this on Facebook, Twitter and email – starting with five of your friends and colleagues.

With your help, we can hit 8,000 pledges this week, and leave employers and politicians in no doubt that our sacred Aussie weekend is something we will never surrender.

Many  thanks,

Louise Tarrant,
National Secretary
United Voice

P.S. If you would like to share your story about what penalty rates mean to you and your family, email us at

Howard advises Abbott on WorkeChoicee 2

Individual contracts that cut pay and conditions and less protection from unfair dismissal are now well and truly at the top of the Coalition’s wishlist for Australian workers after the Liberals’ elder statesman John Howard let slip their real agenda.

John Howard’s call for a return to WorkChoices and an end to protection from unfair dismissal shows that attacking workers’ rights is core Liberal philosophy, despite Tony Abbott’s denials, said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said Mr Howard’s comments reported in today’s media that he wanted a future Coalition government to return to individual employment contracts were an indication of the real agenda of the Liberal Party to return to Work Choices.

Ms Kearney said Mr Howard’s comments on unfair dismissal were also inaccurate and insulting to workers.

“John Howard’s comments reveal that the Liberals’ love affair with WorkChoices remains as strong as ever,” Ms Kearney said.

“It is clear that big business and anti-worker zealots within the Coalition want Mr Abbott to take a hardline approach on industrial relations, and the Opposition Leader needs to be honest with the Australian public about his intentions.

“We need to know whether low-paid workers will have their pay and conditions slashed under an Abbott Government, as they did during Work Choices.

“Under the individual agreements of the Howard-era, 70% removed shift loadings, 65% removed penalty rates and 50% removed overtime and public holiday pay. Tony Abbott needs to say if this is the future he wants for workers. WorkChoices also made it easy for employers to sack workers with no rights to unfair dismissal.

“Any further changes to workplace laws should improve job security, rights and protections for Australian workers, not hand more power to employers.”

Ms Kearney said Mr Abbott also needed to be upfront with Australian households about whether he would impose the GST on food, as Mr Howard is urging.

“The Liberals’ prescription would attack Australians in their workplace and around their kitchen table,” Ms Kearney said.

Ms Kearney said unions would continue to fight for the right of workers to be represented by a union in collective bargaining and to stop the use of unfair individual agreements that drove down pay and conditions.

We Stand As One

Saturday, August 25, 2012

WA: Rio fined for discrmination

Rio Tinto will have to pay $35,500 to the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union because senior Rio management changed the ‘satisfactory’ performance assessment of a worker who stood his ground to ‘unsatisfactory’ to get rid of him.

In a decision published today, Federal Court Justice Anna Katzmann considered the contravention of the Federal Fair Work Act “serious”, and a further two of four breaches in total “grave”.

Daryl Lamberth had been employed on a 12-month contract as a trainee car examiner with Pilbara Iron Company (Services), a subsidiary of Rio, with the prospect of permanent employment at the end of the year.

Soon after he was hired, Mr Lamberth – a former occupational health and safety representative – started making OH&S complaints against Rio.


Justice Katzmann heard recently that this irritated Mr Lamberth’s supervisors.
After an altercation with one supervisor Mr Lamberth decided to join the militant CFMEU.

He quickly became an enthusiastic member, encouraging other employees to join, and campaigning for a collective agreement. This was contrary to Rio’s long-term encouragement of workers to bargain direct with the company.

He received a satisfactory draft performance appraisal, but senior Rio management removed all positive comments from the draft and reduced its marks to a result that Justice Katzmann said was “virtually guaranteed to bring about the termination of Mr Lamberth’s employment”.

Subsequently, Mr Lamberth was not offered a contract extension.

Justice Katzmann recently found Mr Lamberth had been argumentative and sometimes confrontational at work but also found Rio’s decision not to extend the contract had breached the Act.
This was because the decision had been made for the ‘prohibited’ reason that Mr Lamberth had exercised his right to make complaints and inquiries about his job.


Throughout the case Rio refused to show contrition.

“Far from cooperating with the prosecutor, it put the [CFMEU and Mr Lamberth] to strict proof on every matter (at first including, astonishingly, the CFMEU’s status as an industrial association within the meaning of the Act), and it denied engaging in adverse action when there was no evidentiary basis for doing so,” Justice Katzmann noted in the decision published today.

For a range of reasons, including the absence of contrition, Justice Katzmann concluded Rio was at a “substantial risk of re-offending”.

For the four breaches combined, Rio was ordered to pay the CFMEU $35,500.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

CFMEU: Perspective required on Mining Boom

Tony Maher - CFMEU
Tony Maher
General President CFMEU Mining and Energy Division

The multinational mining giant formerly known as the Big Australian announced a massive US $15.4 billion net profit yesterday afternoon (simultaneously on stock exchanges around the world, reflecting the global behemoth it has become).

It was reported in some places as ‘BHP profit down 35 per cent’. That’s true. But then last year’s $23 billion mega profit was up 80 per cent on the previous year, knocking all previous corporate profit records out of the park.

So a bit of perspective is in order.

This year’s $15.4 billion profit is still the second biggest corporate profit ever recorded in Australia. It is more than double the highest profit ever made in our next most profitable sector – banking. And the banks don’t mind raking in a buck.

And remember the $15.4 billion is net profit – underlying earnings (which take out one-off impacts like CEO Marius Kloppers’ dud deal on US gas shale assets) were a rudely healthy US$17.1 billion.

Following the ‘profit slide’, there is much speculation about Australia’s mining boom coming to an end – pushed along by BHP’s announcement it is delaying plans to expand its South Australian Olympic Dam project.

Mining companies love to announce they will delay projects that haven’t started yet. It is a great way to get governments quaking in their boots, without actually doing anything.

Public fear that mining companies will pack up their diggers and move to Africa is a very helpful tool in the utility belt of mining company bosses. They like to use it to their political advantage where possible to convince politicians that mining companies should, say, pay less tax.

We all saw the extraordinary performance the mining companies put on over the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

In its final form the MRRT was a modest tax on a highly profitable industry in the grip of a one-off boom. Now, the most vigorous complaint against it – even from the Coalition who are vowing to scrap it – is that the MRRT will fail to raise enough revenue.

It matters that Australians understand what is really happening in their mining industry, because the mining industry is having a major impact on our economy, affecting all of us.

Commentary suggesting that somehow a $15.4 billion profit from BHP is not big enough and reflects the end times of our mining boom misrepresents what is going on here.

What we know about the mining industry in Australia is that investment is continuing at a furious rate. It’s growing too fast, frankly, causing social and economic ructions as it goes.

We know this is a boom with a lifespan of at least a couple of decades as the rapidly-growing economies of Asia buy up our high quality resources to fuel their industrialisation.

Along the way there will be hiccups. There will be ups and downs in commodity prices in particular markets. There will be floods that affect production. There will be industrial action from time to time as workers look for fair treatment while they deliver the spoils. Over the course of the next 20 years there will be profits that are mega-high one year, not quite as high the next.

But to be sucked into a short-sighted panic that our boom is coming to an end prevents us from taking the action we need to take to manage this boom of ours.

Here’s something else we know about the mining boom. It has pushed our dollar into a protracted period of record-high territory.

Traditionally the Australian dollar has softened in line with commodity prices, easing cost pressures when sale prices are lower, as they have been over the past few months. But this is no longer the case.

Australia’s strong economic performance amidst global economic uncertainty means the Australian dollar has become a safe haven for international investors, keeping it artificially high.

The high dollar has been hammering industries including manufacturing, tourism and education, putting thousands of people out of work – now it has come back to bite mining too, as commodity prices fall from their record highs but the dollar stays there.

BHP’s profit announcement today shouldn’t spark panic about the state of our mining industry. It should spark a debate about where our boom is heading and how we are going manage it in the long term, in the interests of all Australians.

The MRRT was a good start. We need to build on it with a discussion about how we get a fair share for all Australians - including future Australians; and most urgently, how we keep the dollar at a level that delivers for Australians jobs, right across the economy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Australian Nurses

ACTU: Unemployed allowance increase required

A major reform of Australia’s income support system is needed to help unemployed people find decent, secure work.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said reform must start with a $50 a week rise to the Newstart payment, which had not increased in real terms since the early 1990s and was barely enough to live on, let alone pay for the costs associated with finding a decent job.

“The rate now so low it is just 18% of average wages in Australia and widely regarded among both the welfare and business communities as a major contributor to entrenching people into long-term poverty, with insecure work playing a large role,” Ms Kearney said.

“Newstart is a bedrock component of Australia’s social protection system, but it is letting the most vulnerable members of our community down.”

In its submission to the Federal Government’s Allowances Inquiry, the ACTU has called for welfare reform, including an increase to the Newstart payment, an increase of the level at which the payment starts to be withdrawn when people begin work, and a broader independent inquiry into the effects of insecure work on the welfare system.

As part of the submission, the CPSU conducted a poll of its members working at the federal Department of Human Services, including frontline Centrelink staff who spoke of their experiences with unemployed income support recipients.

The poll found almost two thirds of DHS workers believed the current Newstart rate was inadequate, while 75% reported insecure work was keeping many people dependent on welfare and unable to support themselves thanks to short-term and inadequate hours of work.

“Centrelink workers told us that many people in insecure jobs drop in and out of the payment system when their hours dry up or they suddenly lose their casual, contract or labour hire jobs,” Ms Kearney said.

“While the unemployment rate is around its lowest level since the 1970s, insecure work has risen and casual and contract work represents a larger share of employment than ever before, now affecting 40% of the workforce.

“We know that people working insecure jobs find it hard to get a mortgage or plan their lives, but now this new research confirms the devastation it is wreaking on the most vulnerable members of our community.

“The income support system needs to be designed for the labour market we have today, not the one we had decades ago.

“Allowing unemployment support payment to erode over time doesn’t just affect people who are currently out of work; it exposes all workers to greater risk of poverty if they lose their job.

“At the moment, Australian workers on average wages who lose their jobs receive a bigger cut to their incomes than their counterparts in any other OECD country, which can leave people unable to pay housing costs, cover loans or transport costs.”

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Illawarra welcomes Pilbara jobs move

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris was a vocal critic of the federal government's decision in May to allow the project in remote Western Australia to use 1700 foreign construction workers.

This week he welcomed the planned jobs forum as a "positive first step", but called for extra information about job numbers, skill requirements and where the positions would be based.

"If we're serious about this, if this is an effort to get people into jobs as opposed to a PR exercise - and I'd like to think it's the former - then let's do this properly," he said.

"Let's get a breakdown of the types of jobs and occupations and the numbers that they're after and let's start working on this before they come over."

Roy Hill Holdings agreed to attend a jobs forum in the Illawarra later this year - its first outside Western Australia - after an invitation from Gilmore MP Joanna Gash and Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

It also launched a national campaign seeking expressions of interest, which has released details of some of the skills and experience required.

Positions include carpenters, concreters, crane operators, plant operators and others.

Most of the 8500 construction jobs won't be required until next year and will be recruited by project contractors.

Flights to the Pilbara site will be provided from Perth, with no plan for an Illawarra connection.

Mr Rorris said the Illawarra had a large number of potential candidates, some of whom had previously applied for jobs in Western Australia, receiving no response.

"For me, and for the Labour Council more broadly, the trade union movement success here will be defined by seeing some of those people given those opportunities," he said.

Nurses Campaign

The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) has launched a new national campaign to raise the awareness of the valuable contribution nurses and midwives make throughout the Australian health system.

ANF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the campaign - called “Australia’s Nurses and midwives. You couldn’t be in better hands” – showcases the amazing and invaluable work that nurses and midwives do, day in and day out across Australia.

“We have spent months meeting and consulting with nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing, as well as members of the wider community to find out their feelings about the health system in Australia, and how they felt health care should be improved,” Ms Thomas said.

“The campaign is partly in response to Australia’s national nursing shortage and it will promote positive images of nursing and midwifery that will in turn attract people to the nursing and midwifery professions.”

Ms Thomas said the new campaign features a two-minute cinema ad, showing real-life nurses and midwives filmed as they work at three different hospitals. In addition, there is a 60 second TV commercial airing this Sunday as well as a radio ad, which starts today. Other campaign material includes posters, leaflets, bumper stickers and a new campaign website.

“We want this positive campaign to focus on the significant contribution nurses and midwives make to the health system every day, and the trust the community have in them to deliver safe patient care whilst they are being treated and cared for,” she explained.

“We will be working with our ANF State branches, other stakeholders and importantly, the wider community to deliver the solutions we want so we can achieve better and safer healthcare for all Australians.

“Neil Lawrence from Lawrence Creative oversaw production of the ads, with no actors, just the help of 22 nurses and midwives, and many generous members of the community who were happy to appear in the cinema and TV commercials whilst being treated and cared for by nurses and midwives.”

Ms Thomas said the campaign coincides with new figures showing further growth in the ANF’s membership across the Australian health system – with membership now standing at 220,000.

“We have continued to experience unprecedented growth in ANF membership across a full-range of health settings, including private and public hospitals, aged care facilities, medical practices and community medical centres,” she said.

“We believe this continued growth is the result of the very successful campaigns the ANF has run both nationally and by our state and territory branches, working on behalf of all of our existing and new members.”

The ANF, with over 220,000 members, is the professional and industrial voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Qld: Unions challenge Newman dictat

The Queensland Council of Unions and public sector union Together will join forces to argue the changes, made late last month, are contrary to industrial laws.

They will also claim Public Service Commissioner Brett Heyward was unauthorised to make the directive.

QCU president John Battams said the directive, issued on July 31, wiped out legally binding agreements made between unions and the state.

"We've got very senior counsel legal advice on this and we're reasonably confident that we're on pretty sure ground," he said.

The directive effectively stripped away job security written into enterprise bargaining agreements for all but police and health workers.

The removal clauses, relating to contracting out jobs and employment security clauses, mean public sector workers who cost more than private sector labour can now be sacked with the stroke of a pen.

The changes pave the way for the Government to sack workers en masse amid cost-cutting plans to strip the state's payroll of 20,000 jobs. Mr Battams said the change also reneged on Premier Campbell Newman's pre-election promise to honour existing enterprise agreements.

"When we enter these agreements we expect, as does anyone in the business community for example, that the agreement will be honoured," he said.

"You could imagine what would happen if the union side reneged on what was in a legally enforceable enterprise agreement - the Government would scream.

"When you're the Government and the employer you're in a very unique and powerful situation, and we believe that they've misused their power."

Mr Battams admitted the legal challenge would be costly, but said it had the backing of key Queensland unions and workers.

"This Government has a huge majority and they seem to have an arrogant belief that they can do whatever they like," he said.

"As unions representing Queenslanders, we're going to make sure that we keep them honest over the next 1000 days before the state election."

Law firm Slater and Gordon will lead the challenge, with employment and industrial lawyer Andrew Rich saying the directive should be ruled invalid because Mr Heyward exceeded his powers under the Public Service Act by issuing it.

Pilger: The chosen ones and the stolen generation

The ferries that ply the river west of Sydney Harbour bear the names of Australia's world champion sportswomen.

They include the Olympic swimming gold medallists Dawn Fraser and Shane Gould and the runners Betty Cuthbert and Marjorie Jackson. As you board, there's a photo of the athletes in their prime, and a record of their achievements.

Evonne Goolagong is one of the seven RiverCat vessels
This is vintage Australia. Often shy and never rich, sporting heroes were nourished by a society that, long before most other countries, won victories for ordinary people - the first 35-hour working week, comprehensive child benefits and pensions, secret ballots and the vote for women.

By the 1960s, Australians had the most equitable spread of personal income in the world.

In modern-day corporate Australia, this is long forgotten. "We are the chosen ones," sang a choir promoting the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

One of the ferries is named after Evonne Goolagong, the tennis star who won Wimbledon. She is Aboriginal, like Cathy Freeman, who won a gold medal in the 400 metres at Sydney.

For all their talent, both fit into a carefully constructed facade, behind which Australia's secret indigenous history is suppressed and denied.

The late Charlie Perkins, an Aboriginal leader who played first division football in Britain, told me: "There's an ambivalence that consumes many of us. I was so pleased to be back home, seeing that wonderful light, hearing the birds, seeing my mates, but I felt the racism more than ever. For one thing, no white person ever invited me home for a meal, for anything. Blacks weren't even allowed in the grandstands, not even in the blacks-only sections."

In the 1960s, Charlie led "freedom rides" into the north-west of New South Wales, where "nigger hunts" were still not uncommon.

Abused and spat at, he stood at the turnstiles of swimming pools and sports fields and demanded that the race bar be lifted.

"In South Africa, at least you knew where you stood," he said. "In Australia, you can have a friend and an enemy all in one person, especially if you're of mixed blood, like me. Someone will call you his mate one minute, then before you know it you feel an indifference, a coldness you can't explain. It's what drove my brother to kill himself."

Wally McArthur was one of the "stolen generation," the victim of a eugenics-inspired campaign to "breed out the black."

McArthur was taken from his mother as a small boy and was destined to become a servant in white society. His gift was speed. Running without shoes, he was the Usain Bolt of his day, but he was never selected for a state or national team.

Eddie Gilbert's story is similar. A dazzling fast bowler, he was given special permission to play outside his Queensland reserve and took five wickets for 65 runs against the West Indies.

He later faced the world's greatest batsman, Donald Bradman, and bowled him for a duck.

Thereafter the secretary of the Queensland Cricket Association wrote to the Protector of Aborigines: "The matter of Eddie Gilbert has been fully discussed by my executive committee and it was decided, with your concurrence, to return Gilbert to the settlement."

The letter noted that his cricketing whites "should be laundered and returned." Eddie was committed to an asylum where he was mistreated and died.

The great Aboriginal boxer Ron Richards died a prisoner on Palm Island off the Queensland coast. He had won most Australian titles in the 1930s, and when he became the British empire middleweight champion, the chief protector stepped in.

"Like many other crossbreeds," he wrote, "he is unstable of character and inclined to be gullible."

On July 30 2012 in London, the Aboriginal light-heavyweight Damien Hooper stepped into the ring for his Olympic bout wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the Aboriginal flag - the same flag now approved to fly on public buildings in Australia.

The Australian Olympic Committee did not share his pride and demanded that he make a public apology - a profanity in keeping with the enduring humiliation of Aboriginal people.

Wearing the shirt was said to have breached the Olympic Charter. Coca-Cola would have been acceptable.

A sports writer for the Sydney Morning Herald called it a "stunt" by an opportunist.

"I'm representing my culture, not only my country," Hooper said. "I'm very proud of what I did."

In his 1995 book Obstacle Race, Professor Colin Tatz, who has charted Australia's genocidal history, says that of the 1,200 Aboriginal sportsmen and women he studied only six had access to the same opportunities and sporting facilities as whites.

I asked him what had changed since then. "A few things are better," he wrote. "The figure now is about 1 per cent."

On the day Hooper was forced to apologise, the Australian swimmer Nick D'Arcy failed to make the final of the 200 metres butterfly.

Few in the crowd were aware that this "chosen one" was a thug convicted of smashing the face of his fellow swimmer Simon Cowley in an unprovoked assault in 2008.

Ordered to pay his victim 180,000 Australian dollars (£120,000) in damages, D'Arcy declared himself bankrupt and paid not a cent, nor showed any remorse.

Yet the Australian swimming authorities duly lifted his ban and allowed him to compete in London. After all, said a Liberal MP, "Nick has paid a terrible price for his indiscretions."

Josh Booth rowed in Australia's eight that came last in the final.

To a chosen one, last is unacceptable, so Booth went on a rampage in Egham in Surrey, smashing windows.

He later described it as an "emotional outburst," and the Sydney Morning Herald shed a tear for "the pain of a young man who lost an event that only comes along every four years."

Unlike those original Australians who are forced to defend their rights and apologise for their distinctiveness, both D'Arcy and Booth have enjoyed every advantage and privilege.

Their "indiscretions" and victimhood are the other side of a sense of entitlement that has shredded the national myth of a "fair go" - not to mention an Olympic prowess of which we all were once proud.

This article appeared in the New Statesman.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Save Our Aussie Weekend!

Fast-food chains are trying to wriggle out of changes to national wage laws that will soon force them to pay employees penalty rates on weekends.

Fast-food outlets, restaurants, retailers and unions have this week filed submissions to a major review of the nation's awards system by Fair Work Australia.

Among the more significant submissions is a push by Hungry Jack's, McDonald's, Red Rooster, Pizza Hut, KFC and other big chains - which together represent 47 per cent of the industry - to remove the requirement to pay compulsory weekend penalty rates.

The fast-food companies' submission, made on their behalf by the Australian Industry Group, asks the workplace umpire to do away with weekend penalties altogether. Big fast-food outlets such as McDonald's have enterprise agreements, covering thousands of staff, which until now have not awarded penalty rates to most employees.

McDonald's current agreement, which expires in 2013, covers 80,000 employees - about a quarter of them young people. If nothing is changed, from next year it would be forced to pay these workers 25 per cent extra on Saturdays and 50 per cent more on Sundays.

McDonald's human resources director Joanne Taylor has told Fair Work Australia the chain could not enter into a new agreement with staff under the new award, because of the "substantially higher costs". Pizza Hut franchisees have also said they could not afford the penalties.

Under the plan put forward by fast-food retailers, workers at all fast-food outlets would get 10 per cent extra if they worked after 10 on any night of the week and 15 per cent extra after midnight.

All obligations to pay extra on weekends from next year would be removed. Penalties in the fast-food industry for most major employers were imposed for the first time in 2010, when the current award came into place.

UK: Action for Rail

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

CFMEU: Asbestos in imported work sheds

The CFMEU has become aware that the Bechtel Construction Pty Ltd site on Curtis Island near Gladstone, Queensland, has imported buildings that have been made from converted shipping containers.

They have been assembled in Indonesia and supplied by the international company METITO Pty Ltd, to house the Motor Control Centres for the Sewage Treatment Plant.

The internal linings of the sheds consist of Asbestos Cement Sheeting / Tiles on the walls, floors and ceilings. This has been confirmed by testing.

“As we are all aware the importation of asbestos products has been banned through the Customs Act in Australia since 31 December 2003,” said CFMEU QLD/NT Safety Officer Andrew Ramsay.

“The asbestos in these sheds came to light after a fire in one of the switch boards caused the sheeting to be broken and exposed the fibres to the workers involved.

“The Union is concerned that many electricians may also have been exposed during fit-out of these sheds before the alarm was raised.”

CFMEU Construction National Office is alerting members around Australia, particularly on remote job-sites, of the possibility of illegal dumping of this type of converted shipping container for use as offices or sheds on those sites.

“CFMEU members on the Bechtel job on Curtis Island have voted unanimously to demand the company remove the sheds from the Island and send them back to Indonesia. Work will not be carried out in that area of the site until the sheds are removed,” said Assistant Divisional Secretary and National OHS Officer, Lindsay Fraser.

 “The CFMEU is alerting OHS Officers and members in all Branches to check their sites for imported products of this kind and alert their employers to the potential hazards.

“The incident also raises questions about the validity of Material Safety Data Sheets on building products coming from other countries, which the CFMEU will be investigating further,” said Mr Fraser.

NSW: No to O'Farrell's cuts

The O'Farrell Government could not have chosen a worse time to announce another round of outsourcing and cutbacks than today, with ABS figures showing a jump in NSW unemployment.

Today's final report of the Commission of Audit reveals the O'Farrell Government is considering further public sector cutbacks and outsourcing, under the guise of 'contestability'.

The response comes on the same day as the State's jobless rate rose to 5.2 per cent.

"It's alarming to see this Government push for even more public sector job cuts when the private sector is clearly contracting," Unions NSW Secretary, Mark Lennon said.

"Since the start of the year, we have been calling for a detailed and comprehensive jobs plan. Failing that, we have asked for an employment roundtable.

"These very reasonable requests have fallen on deaf ears.

"Despite another 2,256 people joining the jobless queue in the last month, we must now prepare for even more public sector cuts.

"A Premier who promised to create 100,000 new jobs is instead presiding over job losses in the public and private sector.

"It's utterly perverse to cut the public sector while the private sector is not delivering on jobs. Nobody voted for fewer jobs and inferior services."

Monday, August 13, 2012

US: Siemens' union busting attempt

US union United Steelworkers (USW) warned at the weekend that recently unionised workers at the Maryland Siemens's plant have become targets for an anti-union campaign by the company's management.

The company has launched a full-blown union-busting campaign, hiring anti-union consultant Ken Cannon who advertises himself as having "40 years of experience supporting managements' efforts to remain union-free."

Paradoxically, Siemens signed a global framework agreement with its general works council, the German metalworkers' union IG Metall and the IndustriALL Global Union on July 25 in which the company pledged to respect workers' right to choose a union.

In that agreement Siemens committed itself to fundamental workers' rights such as equal opportunity, freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The agreement states that "members of employee organisations or unions will be neither advantaged nor disadvantaged on account of their membership."

General manager Isadore Hossler told workers: "If organised, we will lose customers in the south as they don't want to do business with a union facility."

“This is a classic union-busting operation,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.  “It is completely inconsistent with the company’s stated principles and with International Labor Organization Conventions as well as U.S. law.”

The USW represents about 850,000 workers in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean in a wide variety of industries, ranging from glassmaking to mining, paper, steel, tire and rubber to the public sector, service and health care industries.

Qld: Newman's Axe: Workers face sack

The Newman Government razor gang is seeking to slice up to 4000 employees from Queensland Health.

Employees in areas such as preventative health as well as others in non-clinical and administrative positions are in the Government's crosshairs as it seeks to reduce the department's $18 million-a-day wages bill.

More than 7000 job cuts have already been identified by the Government across the entire public service.

However, large cuts in Health are needed to achieve the Newman Government's 20,000 target, a figure that emerged out of the Commission of Audit report into the state's finances.

Unions are concerned the cuts will have dire impacts on frontline services with clinical staff being dragged away from patients to complete necessary paperwork.

"People have to pick up administration work and other operation work if those staff aren't going to be there," Queensland Nurses Union state secretary Beth Mohle said yesterday.

Ms Mohle said the union did not believe the Government's economic rationale for cutting jobs, particularly given international conditions.

"Any government should just be ashamed of themselves in cutting jobs in the current environment," she said.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Cayman tax dodging buckles

Tax-dodgers' paradise the Cayman Islands buckled to the bankers' lobby today and scrapped plans to introduce a meagre income tax on wealthy expats.

Premier McKeeva Bush said the plan - conceived to dig the islands out of a $65 million external debt - was now "off the table."

Just 54,878 residents call the Caymans home, but so do more than 9,000 hedge funds, 260 banks and 80,000 companies, with Barclays alone reporting 174 subsidiaries and ventures there last year.

With no corporation or income tax, the industry employs an army of thousands of expat tax lawyers and accountants who brought the attempt to impose a mere 10 per cent tax on their earnings crashing to the ground.

Chartered accountant and campaigner Richard Murphy predicted "chaos" in the Square Mile's tiny tropical outpost following its decision.

Mr Murphy said he now expected expatriates to follow Jersey's lead and demand that locals weather the tax burden instead - most likely in the form of an additional sales tax.

"But all they'll be doing is inciting the sort of backlash against tax haven mentalities that now seems likely worldwide," he said.

A 2007 study found income inequality in the Caymans even higher than Britain.

The wealthiest 20 per cent of the population accounted for nearly half the country's consumption, while the bottom 20 per cent accounted for just 5.8 per cent.

But Mr Murphy expressed hope that local democratic movements could call their tax-dodging squatters to account.

"There would be a sense of justice in it if it were to happen and the more local people suffer in places like Cayman and Jersey for the abuse being administered from their shores the more likely that is to happen."

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Hindsight ABC Radio National : Thursday 9 August 2012 1:00 pm [repeat]

August 2012 marks the 151st anniversary of the death of Francis MacNamara, better known in convict Australia as Frank the Poet. According to one of Australia's leading contemporary poets, Les Murray, MacNamara's epic work A Convict's Tour to Hell should be placed right at the beginning of English literature in Australia.

Frank’s attitude to the colonial authorities, embodied in this now famous poem, can also be gauged from the punishments he received. Lashed 590 times, he was sent to solitary confinement, to the treadmill, and worked on chain gangs. All through his incarceration, Frank continued to entertain his fellow convicts with his rebellious verse.
For the Company Underground - Trimmingham Manuscript 1839
A Petition from the Chain Gang at New Castle To Capt. Furlong - Trimingham Manuscript 1839

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Qld: Campell Newman's axe

At least 27,000 Queenslanders, many of them disadvantaged job seekers, have fallen prey to Campbell Newman's cost-cutting axe as the fallout moves beyond the public sector and into the wider community.

The Premier's decision to dump $45 million in job skilling grants has robbed hundreds of community workers of their jobs and affected thousands more who were being helped into employment.

Charities supporting some of the state's most vulnerable, including at-risk-youth support group Boystown and Logan refugee social enterprise Access Services, have told dozens of workers their jobs will go as grant funding dries up in coming weeks.

Non-profit group Blueprint Employment will be forced to close its Darra training centre next month after losing three staff - half its workforce - to the cuts.

"The funding was designed to help people who fall between the cracks of other programs and that is just the shame of this program closing down," Blueprint operations manager Angie Rue said.

Despite the widespread success of Skilling Queenslanders for Work, Employment Minister John-Paul Langbroek argued it must be axed to end duplication with federal government initiatives.

He initially said the move would save $19 million but his office later confirmed that was a "mistake" and $53.8 million had actually been axed, including $8.5 million in operational costs and $45.3 million in grants.

Sally Edwards, CEO of Career Keys, which lost $1.4 million and had to sack 11 employees, said battler suburbs would suffer.

She believed 23 organisations had lost three-year funding worth $51 million in Logan alone, a city where unemployment at times hits 27 per cent, well above the statewide 5.5 per cent rate.

"These programs were concentrated in the areas of greatest need," she said.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Qld: Together Queensland

The public sector union Together Queensland was expecting the government to ballot workers on the new pay deal from this Thursday, to try to reach agreement without union involvement.

A government source said they believed the ballot would reveal the majority of public servants supported the pay offer.

But Together secretary Alex Scott said he believed the ballot would show the union was more on touch with its members than the government was with its workforce.

"This will become a referendum on whether they trust the Campbell Newman leadership, and a referendum on the way that this government is governing Queensland," he said.

Together Queensland would suspend any industrial action for the duration of the ballot, expected to be two weeks, Mr Scott said.

The union dared the Queensland government to take the new pay offer directly to public servants,  and expects it will be roundly rejected.

The public sector union Together says the new offer restores conditions that were stripped away and would have amounted to a pay cut for public servants.

A new government spokesman has told AAP the new deal will mean a 2.2 per cent pay rise, something Mr Scott says is a step in the right direction.

But he says members will almost certainly reject it because it appears to do nothing to address their primary concern - job security.

ACTU: Unfair dismissal - LIberal's punitive plan

A Liberal plan to make unsuccessful claimants pay costs in unfair dismissal cases would severely curtail a fundamental workplace right and protection.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the threat of costs being awarded for an unsuccessful claim would effectively prevent many low-paid workers from ever pursuing legitimate claims for unfair dismissal.

This was a back door way of restricting the rights of workers to be protected from unfair dismissal after the Fair Work Act restored these rights for all workers, she said.

“This proposal floated by Eric Abetz would punish the victims of unfair dismissal by hitting them with costs if for some reason their case is unsuccessful,” Ms Kearney said.

“The Liberal Party claims their plan would stop ‘frivolous claims’.

“There is nothing frivolous about losing your job, and nothing frivolous about standing up for your rights to be protected from unfair dismissal.

“How can a low-paid worker risk taking a legitimate case to the tribunal if they have the threat of substantial costs being awarded against them if they are unsuccessful?

“This goes against over a century of industrial relations practice in which the independent umpire has been a no-cost jurisdiction.

“The Liberals also fail to understand that unfair dismissal laws help prevent unnecessary sackings and give workers job security.”

Ms Kearney said the removal of unfair dismissal protections was a “Holy Grail” of the Liberal Party. Under WorkChoices, employers with less than 100 staff were exempt from any claims of unfair dismissal. This denied 66% of all employees in the federal system – almost 6 million people – from any unfair dismissal protections.

The Fair Work Act has restored unfair dismissal rights for all workers.

On average, about 1 million workers are dismissed each year, with only about 1.5% of all dismissals being taken to Fair Work Australia. Of those, only 527 were not resolved without needing a hearing , and just 154 of them were decided in favour of the worker.

“This proposal to slug unfair dismissal claimants with costs is part of the Liberal Party’s strategy to take away workers’ rights,” Ms Kearney said.

“Instead of actually coming out with a policy or a plan for Australia’s workplace relations system, their strategy appears to be death for workers’ rights by a thousand cuts.

“Unions are determined to expose these policies to public scrutiny.”

Thursday, August 02, 2012

ACTU: Fair Work Act review

01 August, 2012 | ACTU Media Release

The imminent release of the Fair Work Act review must not be used by big business and employer groups as another opportunity to attack workers’ rights.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said unions would vigorously defend any push by employers to return to reintroduce key parts of WorkChoices, which were so overwhelmingly rejected by Australian voters in 2007.

She said the release of the review should draw a line under the spurious arguments used by the business lobby that reducing rights at work would lift Australia’s productivity growth.

“At the very start of this review process, unions set out a positive agenda for workplace laws to increase rights for Australian workers,” Ms Kearney said.

“These included improvements to the safety net, rights to collective bargaining, dispute resolution and arbitration, right of entry, delegate rights and other organising rights, protection against unfair treatment, and work-life balance.

“In contrast, the vast majority of employer submissions failed to engage with the terms of reference or provide evidence in support of their policy prescriptions.

“Instead employer submissions overwhelming proposed a return to the worst elements of the WorkChoices regime which was decisively rejected by the Australian people in 2007.

“The public release of the review is now expected within days, and we look forward to seeing it bust many of the myths about Australia’s workplace system that have been spread by employers to push an anti-worker agenda.”

The ACTU Executive last week passed a resolution calling on the Government to continue to reject calls from business that would:

  • Restrict proper access to dispute resolution including arbitration;
  • Restrict collective bargaining (including rights to take protected industrial action);
  • Undermine the right to organise and be represented by a union;
  • Expand the use or scope of individual flexibility arrangements;
  • Promote the use or scope of unfair individual contracts; or
  • Reduce unfair dismissal protections for Australian workers.

Ms Kearney said any reasonable objective review would conclude that the Fair Work Act was achieving its objective of delivering fairness in the workplace and economic growth.

“It is lazy opportunism to blame the three-year old Fair Work Act for Australia’s decade-plus slowdown in productivity growth,” she said.

“The business lobby in Australia would do well to pay heed to NAB chief executive Cameron Clyne’s sensible advice that the productivity debate needs to be broadened beyond calls to wind back the Fair Work Act.”