Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Introducing Beppe Grillo - Italy's New Start

Beppe Grillo has been a comedian since the mid-1970s. During the 80s his act turned steadily more political as he inveighed against the corruption that was steadily engulfing Italy under its then Socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi.

"A politician visiting China rang Craxi and said: 'Listen. There's a billion people here. Are they all socialists?'
And Craxi said: 'Yes. Why?'
'Well, who do they steal from?'"

"Who makes up a criminal conspiracy? If you go and look, they are made up of bankers, politicians, judges and, just perhaps, once in a while, a criminal."

"An artist ought never to prostitute himself or herself – except for money."

"They ask me: 'Are you on the left?' I don't know. I've stood still. It's all the others that have moved."

"Life has become a show at which we are the audience – and have to buy a ticket."

In 2010, Grillo started the Five-Star Movement through his popular blog, which has quickly gained traction among a wide swath of people in Italy who are losing jobs, fed up with austerity measures, and disillusioned with both sides of the political spectrum. With the initial plan to form a lose group to represent people who are dissatisfied with the current political system, Grillo has inadvertently shut down parliament.

Since the Five-Star Movement is not part of one of the two major coalitions, Grillo was never going to be in a position of power. But the ruckus he’s caused has forced Italian politicians to take him seriously, and even try to bring him into the fold. They may not want Grillo around but they have no other choice.

Even more amazing, and a sign of the times, is that Grillo gained all this support without the help of traditional media – he refused to take part in debates, did not grant interviews, and gathered his supporters through his blog and social media. Media magnates beware!

Italy: Beppe Grillo - Joker trumps the Bankers

Stock markets tumbled today with £20billion wiped off of London shares, after elections in Italy ended in deadlock.

There are fears of a fresh Eurozone crisis after the result in which the anti-austerity movement fronted by stand-up comic Beppe Grillo won 25% of the vote - denying the centre-left Democrats a chance to form a working government.

Billionaire media mogul (and former comedian) Berlusconi did not win enough Senators to form a majority in the upper house - leaving Mr Grillo’s Five Star party with the balance of power in both houses.

Mr Grillo won support after campaigning for a return to the lira and a referendum on Italy’s EU membership.

He also promised not to do any back-room deals with other parties to keep them in power.

The dramatic result wiped £20 billion off London shares today - with Milan, Frankfurt and Paris stock markets all falling even further.

Former PM Mario Monti won just 9% of the vote in a clear rejection of his austerity policies.

Monti took power 15 months ago at the head of a technocrat team after Mr Berlusconi was forced from office in murky circumstances.

Comic leader Mr Grillo predicted that even if his socialist rival was able to put together a government, it would barely last until the summer.

Italy has already suffered six years of austerity and cutbacks - pushing the country into a depression.

Monti forced through draconian austerity measures to comply with EU demands.

The predictable result is that the economy has take a great leap backwards to help Europe's all-powerful banks and is predicted to have shrunk by 10% by next year. Meanwhile the youth jobless rate has reached 37%.

TAS: Gunns Insolvency Report

An explosive report has questioned whether the Tasmanian timber company Gunns traded while insolvent before its collapse last year.

Administrator PPB Advisory was appointed last September when Gunns could not pay its debts.

It has now released a report to creditors saying the company may have had problems six months before the collapse, but further investigation is needed.

PPB reports that it has found three instances where funds from plantation growers or other companies may have been used to keep Gunns running.

It emphasises the conclusions are from preliminary investigations which have been limited by time and the amount of information in Gunns' books.

"As we are yet to form a conclusive view on the date of insolvency we are unable to state definitively whether the Gunns Group traded whilst insolvent," the report said.

"Additional investigations will be required by a liquidator (if appointed) before a view may be formed."

The administrators' "preliminary view" is that Gunns was insolvent from "at least" September 21.

But the report says solvency concerns could have existed when prospective partner in the company's proposed northern Tasmanian pulp mill, the Chandler Corporation, pulled out in March 2012.

PPB says there were also concerns in July, when Gunns announced it was relying on the support of lenders, and September 12 when lenders knocked back a request for funding.

It says it is continuing to investigate the possible use of third party funds from managed investment schemes among a number of potential breaches by directors.

The report concludes Gunns has debts of about $3 billion and recommends the company be liquidated.

It says lenders owed $446 million are unlikely to be paid in full and unsecured creditors owed $2.4 billion will not see any return.

Workers' entitlements totalling $10 million will be met, the report says, but the timing of payments remains uncertain.

A second meeting of creditors in Launceston next Tuesday will determine whether the company should be wound up.

Qld: Jobs Rally Today

Date: Wed 27 February 2013
Time: 11.30am-12pm
Place: The Sofitel, outside the main entry 
(beside the driveway), Turbot Street

Premier Campbell Newman is slashing public services and sacking public sector workers left, right and centre—all in the name of servicing a debt he has consistently misrepresented.

Now, Mr Newman’s Liberal National Party is holding $200-a-head fundraising lunch to announce the government’s health privatisation and outsourcing policy.

The Newman government’s intentions are crystal clear. It has already started closing or selling publicly-owned aged care assets in direct violation of a pre-election commitment not to sell any assets without an electoral mandate.

The latest proposed asset sale is the Yaralla Place nursing home in Maryborough. Fears are mounting that the state’s five electricity industry companies will be next to go.

If Campbell Newman thinks Queenslanders will allow their public assets to be dismantled like this, he is in for a big shock.

Join in for a mass rally outside the fundraiser to protest against the Newman government’s cuts.

CFMEU: Scott Morrison Denies 457 Visa Rorts

The CFMEU wants a legislated requirement
for employers to employ Australians.
The CFMEU has attacked the Opposition Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison for his comments on the Federal Government’s initiative to curb 457 visa rorts.

National CFMEU Construction Division Secretary Dave Noonan said the figures show there is an obvious abuse of the 457 visa system to import cheap foreign labour by business while local workers struggle to find work.

“From August 2011 to August 2012 there were 68,000 jobs lost in the Australian construction industry, a drop of  6.5 per cent.. At the same time there was a 38 per cent rise in the number of 457 visa workers in the same industry.

“This is a rort staring Mr Morrison in the face and his consistent denial of the abuse of these visas can only mean that he supports business in their quest to undercut Australian workers’ pay and conditions.”

 Over the weekend, Mr Morrison challenged Minister O’Connor to substantiate his claim of abuse of the 457 visa system. Last year Mr Morrison said there was room for expansion of the program and claimed that assertions that the market was being flooded with foreign workers was ‘ridiculous’.

 “It’s hard to understand why Mr Morrison can’t look at these figures – from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and draw the same conclusions that everyone else is reaching: the system is being abused,” said Mr Noonan.

 Mr Noonan said the figures show what the union has been hearing from construction workers for some time and is the driver behind the CFMEU’s Let’s Spread it Around campaign.

 “Many of our members struggle to find work, yet we are told that there aren’t enough workers to fill jobs.The statistics prove our case that Australian workers are missing out.”

 Mr Noonan welcomed the Government’s decision, but said what is needed is a legislated requirement for employers to employ permanent residents before they’re granted a right to access temporary overseas labour.

Turkey: 100 Union Members Arrested

In the early morning of Tuesday, 19 February, Turkish police targeted members and leaders of the public sector union KESK, arresting at least 100 of them, including members of the teachers union.

Overall, 167 arrest warrants were issued for trade unionists. The police have accused the trade unionists of links with terrorist organizations.

This is not the first time that the Turkish authorities have used anti-terrorism laws to crack down on trade unionists. On 10 April, the a trial will begin against 72 additional KESK members and leaders who were arrested in June 2012.

The International Trade Union Confederation, the Education International, Public Services International and the European Federation of Public Service Unions, representing tens of millions of organized workers around the world have launched a major new campaign demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all the arrested union members. They also demand that the Turkish state stop harassing and labeling trade unionists as terrorists.

Please take a minute and add your name to the online campaign:

And please make sure that your union shares this message with thousands of its members -- this is the only way to grow this campaign into something so massive that we cannot be ignored.

If thousands of us send off messages, and soon, we may be able to get the Turkish government to back down and to release our brothers and sisters from jail.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

WA: MUA Conference - Letter from PM



Dear comrades, colleagues and friends

I can’t be there in person, but as a proud Labor Leader, I’m certainly there in spirit today.

I’m deeply proud of each of you – for the job you do as workers to make this a nation of opportunity; and for the job you do as unionists to make this a nation of fairness.

The MUA has been a voice for fairness and opportunity since 1872, and few unions have your amazing record of strength and solidarity in good times and in bad.

Because the two wings of the Labour Movement – party and unions – have worked hand in hand for a better Australia, we’ve achieved some remarkable things.

Our world leading coastal shipping reforms are the most significant change to the industry since 1912. We’ve unified transport regulation. We’re making record infrastructure funding commitments like the Gateway project. And of course, we’ve consigned WorkChoices to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

Plus we’ve recently announced a $1 billion jobs package to help provide local content on major resources projects and with it, employment for our kids and grandkids.

That’s all very well but now comes the tough part – to defend what we have.

As Paddy says, the fight to keep our jobs and rights on the job is on. If ever there was a year to organise and unite, then 2013 is it.

Let’s fight hard. Let’s fight together. Let’s fight to win.

The Honourable Julia Gillard MP Prime Minister of Australia

Monday, February 25, 2013

MUA: Sydney Ports Corporate Bungling

Sydney Ports Corporation’s handling of the Challenge vessel rescue operation has been woefully inadequate, the Maritime Union of Australia said today.

The Challenge is a 100-tonne, 25-meters-long fishing vessel that has been stuck off Cronulla Point since Tuesday morning. So far attempts to salvage the boat have failed.

“You’ve got a 100-tonne ship and they are using a tug-boat that has a six-tonne bollard pull. That’s like trying to pull a parked car down the road using a kid’s scooter,” MUA Sydney Branch secretary Paul McAleer said.

“While there are emergency vessels ready to go nearby, Sydney Ports aren’t using the capacity that has been made available to them, instead they have tried to go it alone with an inadequate tug-boat.

“Sydney Ports seem to think this is an episode of Macgyver.

“When you have the incident controller stripping down to his budgie smugglers and swimming out to the boat with a coil of rope, some duct tape and a knife between his teeth, you need to question the competency of this operation.

“There is also 6,000 litres of diesel and 400 litres of lube oil on board, so if this salvage operation isn’t managed properly it could result in an environmental disaster on one of Sydney’s most beautiful beaches.

“Despite a team of oil spill experts being located in Glebe, Sydney Ports haven’t even bothered calling them in.

“Most importantly, this incident proves that Sydney Ports just can’t get away with down-grading emergency services responses.”

Sydney Ports recently broke 25 years of best management practice by refusing to replace a damaged tug, the Shirley Smith, with a commercial vessel to ensure emergency rescue capacity is maintained in the Harbour during the repairs. It was only when the matter was brought to Fair Work Australia that Sydney Ports relented.

“We have consistently argued to Sydney Ports that we cannot afford a reduction in emergency response capabilities at sea and our position has been vindicated yet again by today’s events,” Mr McAleer said.

“We refused to dock the Shirley Smith tug in protest – it would have left Sydney with no firefighting response at sea and there were already 26 cruise ships and a dozen tankers out of service in need of repair.

“We won’t let safety in and around Sydney Harbour be compromised by bad bureaucratic management.

“The O’Farrell Government needs to ensure that Sydney Ports maintain adequate capacity for safety services and those resources need to be used appropriately.”

WA: Nurses Solidarity Reaps 14%

Nurses have accepted an in-principle offer of a 14 per cent pay increase over three years from the West Australian government, putting an end to bed closures and further strike action.

But under the agreement, there will be no changes to their work conditions.

The Australian Nurses Federation had been threatening to go on strike for 24 hours if the state government did not offer them a 20 per cent pay increase over three years by Monday.

But union state secretary Mark Olson said the ANF had only increased that demand from 12.75 per cent out of frustration at the lack of response from the state government.

The ANF had voted on Friday to keep one in five beds closed at hospitals over the weekend and to wait until Monday to decide if it should take industrial action.

This was despite the Industrial Relations Commission ordering that they cease their work bans or risk patient safety.

Premier Colin Barnett said he had struck an in-principle agreement with the ANF to cease bed closures, not to strike on Monday and accept the conditional offer.

The proposed 14 per cent increase involves a five per cent increase from July 1 this year followed by a four per cent increase in 2014 and another five per cent increase in 2015.

But no official agreement can be signed until after the March 9 election because the government is still in caretaker mode.

Earlier, Labor leader Mark McGowan said he had sent the premier a letter explaining that any agreement made with the nurses would be supported by the opposition and implemented if they won the election.

Mr Olson said he was relieved to finally have the matter agreed on but was disappointed that it had taken so long to reach this point when the deal could have been struck a week ago when the first bed was closed.

"I think it's due to the determination, courage and solidarity of the nurses that we have reached this point," he said.

"The public has always supported us from day one and the premier knew that."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lazy - Mr Sage attacks Nurses

The stay-at-home husband of Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage has labelled nurses lazy and claims they would rather "sit around and do nothing" than deliver babies.

Edward "Ted" Sage's controversial comments came after Mt Druitt woman Christie Jones allegedly delivered her own baby in the maternity ward of Blacktown Hospital at 2am on Wednesday. The case is now under investigation.

On Twitter on Friday, Mr Sage said similar incidents "happened every day in hospitals all over Australia" and that opposition health spokesman Dr Andrew MacDonald was wrong to blame it on state government health cuts, instead pointing his finger at the hospital's nursing staff.

"Maybe he should look at the behaviour of the nursing staff who would rather sit around and do nothing," Mr Sage wrote.

The comments have been met with outrage by the Midwives Association and Dr MacDonald, who demanded he apologise.

Dr MacDonald said the comments made Mr Sage look like a "cretinous idiot" who had probably never worked with nurses in his life.

"Unfortunately, his comments are what many in the Liberal Party believe if you scratch the surface," he said. "He needs to make a public apology to the nursing profession."

Lisa Kremmer, from the Midwives Association, said the midwives were devastated by what happened at Blacktown Hospital.

"The midwives at Blacktown Hospital would like to see him apologise; I'm sure they don't see themselves as lazy," she said.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Telstra: Still Sending Jobs Overseas

ALMOST 400 Telstra jobs appear to be heading overseas, as it emerged that Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne will bear the brunt of deep cuts within the telco's Sensis division, publisher of the Yellow and White Pages.

Sensis announced on Thursday that it was cutting almost 700 jobs from its 3500-strong staff and creating 50 new roles as it accelerates the transition from print to digital-focused businesses.

About 390 jobs will be axed from backroom and sales roles, with most expected to be sent overseas to Philippine or Indian call centres.

Confidential documents seen by AAP show that 221 sales staff are expected to be shed from Sensis offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Ballina, Wollongong, Newcastle, the Gold Coast, Cairns, Townsville, Geelong and Mornington.

Sensis's Brisbane office is expected to shed 47 jobs under the proposals. The firm will also cut 47 jobs from its Sydney CBD, Parramatta and Penrith offices. There will also be 45 jobs cut from Sensis's Melbourne office. Adelaide will lose 35 jobs, Perth will lose 28 and nine jobs will be lost in Hobart.

A small number of staff will be axed from Sensis's regional NSW, Victoria and Queensland offices, including two in Newcastle, two on the Gold Coast, one in Ballina, one in Wollongong, one in Cairns, one in Townsville, one in Geelong and one in Mornington.

Most of the jobs appear destined to be sent overseas.

Sensis documents outlining the changes said 390 roles would be impacted by the "potential introduction of world-class partners (off-shore)" to carry out editing, production, artwork and contact centre work for Yellow Pages and White Pages.

A Sensis spokesman did not deny the jobs were being moved abroad but said nothing had been finalised.

He added: "What we announced yesterday was a proposal that would see about 391 back-of-house fulfillment and customer care roles outsourced but no decisions have been made or vendors chosen to provide those services."

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Paul Bastian - pointing to Telstra's recent record half-year $1.6 billion profit - said sending Sensis jobs overseas would be a disgraceful act.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said he was disappointed for the families but the changes were inevitable.

ACTU: Trifecta of Discrimination against Women

21 February, 2013 | Media Release

ACTU president Ged Kearney said as we approach International Women’s Day, March 8, it is a good time to call on employers: “Take an honest look at the impact of your practices on women.”

“Women are experiencing a trifecta of discrimination that can greatly impact on their working life and financial future,” she said.

Ms Kearney pointed to systemic wage inequities, the cost of caring and violence as three areas where employers had the potential to be part of the solution rather than of part the problem.

“Why, in 2013, are female graduates in many cases still earning less than their male counterparts? Who is deciding, for example, that male dental graduates should earn an average of $14,000 more than their female counterparts? Research shows us that across too many occupations women with a bachelor degree straight from university earned less than men. This is really troubling,” she said.

“Adding to this starting gate handicap is the fact that women are more likely to experience job insecurity because they often have to balance work and family. Their reward for a lifetime of caring is earning on average 1 million less than the blokes.”

Ms Kearney said the third ‘forgotten and often silent’ area of discrimination was experienced by victims of violence.

“We know that thousands of women fall victim to violence each year. Thanks to unions 1 million Australians now have the right to seek leave if they are a victim of domestic violence. However many workplaces still offer no options. What we hear is that women lose their job because they are unable to access short-term leave to assist them to put their lives back together.”

“We need to fix the culture and embedded discrimination within companies. We call on employers, rather than holding morning teas this International Women’s Day consider exactly how you will tackle the inequality too many working women face,” Ms Kearney said.

US: Drones Killed 4,700 civilians

Becoming the first elected government official to publicly state an estimated number of targets and innocent bystanders killed in US drone attacks overseas, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican) told a local crowd in his home state of South Carolina that "We've killed 4,700."

“Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we're at war," said Graham.

Speaking to a group of Rotarians at a forum in Easley, South Carolina, Graham responded to a question about drones by saying, "Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we're at war, and we've taken out some very senior members of Al-Qaeda."

His remarks, reported by the local Easley Patch, included a defense of the use of drones despite their propensity to kill innocent bystanders, including women and children.

“I didn't want him to have a trial,” Graham stated, refering to a US citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in Yemen by a missile from a US drone in 2011.

“We're not fighting a crime, we're fighting a war," Graham said. "I support the president's ability to make a determination as to who an enemy combatant is. It's never been done by judges before. I support the drone program.”

Graham's remarks have since been picked up by national and international media due to the fact that he appears to be the first high-ranking US government official to put an exact number of the number civilians killed by the US practice.

Among the innocents killed were 400 children.

Graham also noted in his comments that in addition to his support for the drone war overseas, he supported further use of the technology within the US.

“I don't want to arm them, but we need drones along the border so we can really control illegal immigration,” Graham told his constituents.

PS Don't tell Tony Abbott!

Qld: BHP-Billiton move to 100 per cent FIFO

BHP-Billiton’s use of 100 per cent FIFO labour ahead of workers from Central Queensland mining communities for two new Bowen Basin mines is a slap in the face for locals, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union said today.

Miners’ Union National Secretary Andrew Vickers said Bowen Basin workers were right to feel furious with BHP for shutting them out of the recruitment process, especially after the company closed two nearby coalmines last year.

Mr Vickers said the company’s decision to source workers for its Daunia and Caval Ridge mines solely from Brisbane and Cairns was made worse by the Newman Government’s celebration today of such damaging work practices.

Last week a parliamentary inquiry into FIFO released its report, outlining the damaging impacts of the boom in FIFO work arrangements.

"Giving preference to transient workers does nothing for nearby mining communities, many of which have endured significant job cuts in recent months, particularly at BHP's own operations,” Mr Vickers said.

"By relying so heavily on FIFO, BHP is locking out local workers from the benefits and delivering more of the negative aspects of the mining boom to Central Queensland communities.

"The union strongly urges BHP to rethink its 100 per cent FIFO policy and we also call on the State Government to withhold approval of any new mine applications using only FIFO, unless the company can prove there is no viable alternative.

“The fact that the State Government is applauding rather than condemning BHP for its use of 100 per cent FIFO shows just how endemic the situation is in Queensland."

India: 2 Day General Strike

The historic two days general strike called by Indian central trade unions on 20 and 21 February received unprecedented support among workers across India affecting all vital sectors.

The trade unions’ 10 point demands include measures to contain price rise, employment generation, strict enforcement of labour laws and universal social security cover for organized and unorganized workers.

Claiming that the general strike is total in all sectors by all workers, in a press release issued on 20 February, 2013, unions stated that, “the unprecedented response to the call of strike throughout the country much beyond our expectations reflects truly the anger of the people against the persistent increase in the prices of diesel, gas, coal, electricity and other essential goods for the bare need of the common people.”

Workers from all the major and strategic sectors participated, such as banks, insurance and other financial sectors, oil & petroleum, road transport (both public and private sectors) in many states, defence (civilian), postal, telecom, govt. employees in several states, several departments of Central govt., port & dock, coal & non-coal mines, power and plantation sectors. There was also a large presence of unorganized workers in the protest demonstrations.

The two days of general strike is a continuation of joint efforts by Indian trade unions that started in 2009. Since then to express resentment over anti-labour policies and government’s inaction to protect workers’ interests, cutting across political ideologies, major central trade unions have come together in a single platform and taken a number of actions.

However, further indifference of the government of India forced unions to intensify their efforts and call for general strike for two consecutive days on 20-21 February 2013 to pressure the Government of India to address some of the basic human and trade union rights issues faced by workers across the country

Thursday, February 21, 2013

ANZ: 500 jobs offshored in 2013

ANZ’s proposal to offshore 131 jobs brings the total number of finance jobs offshored in 2013 to 500, said the Finance Sector Union.

131 ANZ employees have been advised that their jobs will be offshored to India in coming months. This latest announcement comes hot on the heels of Westpac’s announcement last week that 134 jobs are heading offshore to India and the Philippines.

“We are not even two months into the year, and already 500 finance jobs have been offshored. Is it any wonder that finance workers are feeling increasingly concerned about their future?” said FSU National Secretary Leon Carter.

Most of the jobs caught up in the latest offshoring announcement are located at ANZ’s Wealth and Private Banking business in Sydney.

The jobs targeted for off-shoring involve administration of the pension funds of high net worth individuals.

“When these jobs are performed in Australia, the data that workers access is subject to Australian privacy laws. Offshoring these jobs may put customer data at risk,” said Leon Carter.

A recent Essential Poll found 85% of Australians want banks and other businesses to obtain consumer consent before offshoring their data.

The poll also highlighted significant public concern over the loss of jobs associated with data storage and administration, with 73% supporting government intervention to protect jobs in the services sector.

“ANZ should do the right thing by customers and their loyal staff, and keep jobs and data in Australia,” said Leon Carter.

“And with ANZ on track to post another record profit this year, it is simply not good enough that 131 finance workers face an uncertain future while working for one of Australia’s most profitable banks.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Protection from CSG

From GetUp!

People power has today shown it is more powerful than the coal seam gas companies like AGL, Origin, Metgasco, Dart Energy and others!

A network of community groups and individuals, led by Lock the Gate have organised a widespread defence of their communities, land and the environment. GetUp members have been a key part of this grass-roots movement, chipping in to run TV, newspaper and radio ads, attending events and rallies, lobbying your local MPs, making submissions to government inquiries and assessment processes and reaching out to your friends and family to make sure they know of the risks from CSG.

As a result the O'Farrell Government has said that legal exclusion zones will be put in place around all residential areas and future residential growth areas. That means much of NSW, including all residential areas, no matter the size of the town, will be protected from new CSG expansion. For those in rural areas that aren't yet protected, there's more work to do; but today is an encouraging sign.

Furthermore, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) will be given new powers as the industry watchdog, with the power to revoke CSG licenses and the State's chief scientist will be appointed to review impacts of CSG mining not covered by these reforms. There are also proposed exclusion zones around some industries such as vineyards and thoroughbred breeders.

We still have to ensure these commitments are delivered and that the other major impacts of CSG are addressed, such as the impact on:

  • People living in non-residential areas such as on farms;
  • Productive agricultural land;
  • Water catchments and aquifers; and
  • Natural assets like the Piliga Forest and other high conservation value areas.
Credit where credit is due. There is still more work to do but it is important we celebrate and consolidate this important and significant milestone.

Billion Dollar Plan for Manufacturing

The Gillard Government’s $1 billion plan to support Australian manufacturing will keep jobs in Australia and create new opportunities for Australian manufacturers.

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said new laws requiring developers of projects valued at over $500 million to allow Australian firms to bid for contracts were a welcome step towards creating a level playing-field for Australian businesses and workers.

“We need to make sure that the benefits of major projects being built in Australia flow through to Australian manufacturers and businesses,” Mr Oliver said.

“It has long been a concern of the union movement that major resource and infrastructure projects do not even look at what they could source locally.

“This will be the first time that the responsibility of major project developers to consider local companies will be written into law.

“Ensuring that Australian companies get a chance to bid for contracts on projects worth over $500 million will keep jobs in this country.”

The Government also plans to establish 10 innovation precincts around Australia by 2014, starting with a manufacturing precinct based in southeast Melbourne and Adelaide.

“These precincts are a great example of what we need to do to have a thriving high-value manufacturing sector in Australia,” Mr Oliver said.

“We need to have employers, workers, researchers and government working together to ensure that Australia continues to have a high-value manufacturing sector, that can take advantage of growing markets in Asia.”

Stiglitz: Steps to Equality

Americans are coming to realize that their cherished narrative of social and economic mobility is a myth. Grand deceptions of this magnitude are hard to maintain for long — and the country has already been through a couple of decades of self-deception.

Without substantial policy changes, our self-image, and the image we project to the world, will diminish — and so will our economic standing and stability. Inequality of outcomes and inequality of opportunity reinforce each other — and contribute to economic weakness, as Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economist and the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has emphasized. We have an economic, and not only moral, interest in saving the American dream.

Policies that promote equality of opportunity must target the youngest Americans. First, we have to make sure that mothers are not exposed to environmental hazards and get adequate prenatal health care. Then, we have to reverse the damaging cutbacks to preschool education, a theme Mr. Obama emphasized on Tuesday. We have to make sure that all children have adequate nutrition and health care — not only do we have to provide the resources, but if necessary, we have to incentivize parents, by coaching or training them or even rewarding them for being good caregivers. The right says that money isn’t the solution. They’ve chased reforms like charter schools and private-school vouchers, but most of these efforts have shown ambiguous results at best. Giving more money to poor schools would help. So would summer and extracurricular programs that enrich low-income students’ skills.

Finally, it is unconscionable that a rich country like the United States has made access to higher education so difficult for those at the bottom and middle. There are many alternative ways of providing universal access to higher education, from Australia’s income-contingent loan program to the near-free system of universities in Europe. A more educated population yields greater innovation, a robust economy and higher incomes — which mean a higher tax base. Those benefits are, of course, why we’ve long been committed to free public education through 12th grade. But while a 12th-grade education might have sufficed a century ago, it doesn’t today. Yet we haven’t adjusted our system to contemporary realities.

The steps I’ve outlined are not just affordable but imperative. Even more important, though, is that we cannot afford to let our country drift farther from ideals that the vast majority of Americans share. We will never fully succeed in achieving Mr. Obama’s vision of a poor girl’s having exactly the same opportunities as a wealthy girl. But we could do much, much better, and must not rest until we do.

Read more

Monday, February 18, 2013

ACTU: 2012 - 50,000 Public Service Jobs Slashed

New research by the ACTU reveals that the number of public sector jobs in Australia has fallen for the first time in more than a decade after Coalition state governments last year sacked tens of thousands of workers and made harsh cuts to public services.

More than 50,000 public administration and safety jobs were lost around the country in the year to November 2012, with about half of those cuts taking place between May and November as state governments in New South Wales and Queensland executed radical job cuts. And more job losses are on the way as state governments foreshadow further deep cuts to their wages bills.

The ACTU Jobs Report found that employment in public administration and safety fell by 6.9% - by far the biggest yearly fall in employment in that industry on record going back to 1984 - with these cuts to public services being a major factor in the rise in Australia’s unemployment rate.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said cutting public servants had led to more pressure on vital services like health and education and an impact on unemployment rates.

“The Federal Government, as well Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and WA, and local governments, have reduced the size of their public sector,” Ms Kearney said.

“This is likely to continue this financial year, and into 2013-14. For example the Newman Government in Queensland only took office in March and the bulk of their savage cuts took effect in the second half of 2012.”

“Cutting public sector workers is a short-sighted policy which will lead to reduced services for all Australians. Many of the workers who lose their jobs will spend long periods of time in unemployment.

“What is most concerning is that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have said they will slash 20,000 Commonwealth government jobs as soon as they are elected, and are looking for savings of more than $50 billion.”

The National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Nadine Flood, said public sector workers were fiercely proud of the work they do, but warned Australia’s world-class public service is under threat from conservative politicians at the State and Federal level, keen to make deep budget cuts.

“With the public sector already under pressure, cuts like those put forward by Tony Abbott will severely damage public services in Australia,” Ms Flood said. “No matter how the Coalition tries to spin it, deep cuts to the public sector mean cuts to the services that Australians rely on.”

Ms Kearney said that the ACTU’s analysis of unemployment data showed that while the official unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent had stayed steady over the last three months, the total number of hours worked had dropped.

Meeting - Women and Globalisation: TPPA - 5 March

12:15-1.30pm - Tue 5 March 2013 - Waratah Room
NSW Parliament House
6 Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW

Free entry

Never heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement being negotiated by Australia, the US and nine Asia Pacific countries?

Think that trade agreements don’t affect women’s rights? Think again!

Trade agreements can create global rules which mean higher prices for medicines and for seeds used by women farmers, privatisation of public services and less ability for governments to make laws to protect women’s rights.

The Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network (AFTINET) presents a special seminar to mark the lead-up to International Women’s Day and the 17th Round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations being held in Singapore.

Dr Elizabeth Hill, Department of Political Economy, Sydney University – Women, Globalisation and Development

Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET – The Trans-Pacific Partnership: where is it up to and what are the issues for women?

Kelly Nichols, Doctors Without Borders - TPPA threats to access to affordable Medicines for women and other vulnerable groups

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Iraq: Ten Years On

Anti-war activists in the UK took to the streets once more last night - exactly 10 years after almost two million people demonstrated against British involvement in the conflict in Iraq.

Estimates have put the civilian death toll from the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in the hundreds of thousands. On top of that up to two million refugees.

The Stop the War Coalition staged a demonstration opposite Downing Street in Whitehall highlighting Britain's murderous role in Iraq and Afghanistan and how it has paved the way for intervention in Syria, the ongoing war in Mali and a possible attack on Iran.

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians have brought claims in the British courts alleging abuse by British forces, amid calls for a full independent public inquiry.

The al-Sweady inquiry into allegations that between 20 and 22 Iraqis were tortured and murdered in British custody following a firefight between British forces and insurgents in south-east Iraq in May 2004, will commence next month and could see senior politicians called to the stand.

Organisers of the event on February 15 2003 have maintained that while they failed to prevent the war, the protest helped alter government policy and has made it harder for the government to claim justification for further military intervention.

StWC convener Lindsey German, who was one of the organisers of the London protest a decade ago, said that it was an "absolute travesty of democracy" that Britain went ahead with the war.

"It was one of those very rare moments when people genuinely believed they could make a difference, so it was shameful that Blair ignored the protests and went ahead with his war," she said.

"He has got away with it but I would still like to see him brought to court.

"The MPs who voted in favour should be ashamed of themselves."

And Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament general secretary Kate Hudson said Blair "shall be tried for war crimes.

"CND put together a very strong legal case, but the buck has always been passed beyond him."

Historic Act of Aboriginal Recognition

Friday February 15, 2013

At a full Board meeting in Sydney today , the Australian Council of Social Service praised the passing of important legislation through Federal Parliament this week, which takes us a step closer towards recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia’s Constitution.

The ACOSS board congratulated the leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and all sides of politics for coming together and acknowledging what the Prime Minister described as, ''The unhealed wound that even now lies open at the heart of our national story.”

"As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said, Australia would be an incomplete nation and a torn people until the nation's guiding document is changed.

“It was pleasing to see the passage through the House of Representatives of the Act of Recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the presence of such prominent Indigenous leaders, including Mr Patrick Dodson, Dr Lowitja O'Donoghue and others, who have fought so hard for so long for this moment,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“We hope the major political parties continue to work in this same cooperative spirit so we can progress the work that remains to be done to achieve full equality and opportunity for Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“We know there is still so much to be done, and only together, working with representative Aboriginal organisations and communities can we improve the lives and opportunities of our Indigenous Peoples.

“We would also like to congratulate the hard work of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples whose work largely framed this important Bill.

“We should not lose sight of the importance of ultimately recognising our first peoples in the country's founding document. This is a fundamental necessity on the road to healing our national wound,” Dr Goldie concluded.

Friday, February 15, 2013

O'Farrell madness: Kids in parks with guns

AWU: Friday 15th February 2013

Children as young as 12 will be allowed to go hunting with bows and arrows and guns inside NSW National Parks under Barry O’Farrell’s latest mad proposal to appease the Shooters and Fishers Party.

The NSW Game Council revealed the “kids with guns” policy in a meeting with The Australian Workers’ Union earlier this week to discuss the implementation of the State Government's plans to allow hunting in National Parks.

AWU NSW State Secretary Russ Collison today said any sensible person would be horrified by the thought of young children being encouraged to use deadly weapons in a public place.

“This is a reckless and dangerous decision that will send a shiver down the spine of everyone who works in or visits NSW National Parks.

“You wouldn’t let a child loose with a gun inside a shopping centre, so why would you let them go shooting in a public park?

“This is not about controlling feral animals, it’s about giving the Shooters and Fishers Party whatever they want so Barry O’Farrell can get his legislation passed through the Upper House.

“It’s a grubby deal, it stinks, and quite frankly it’s going to put lives at risk.”

Not about feral animals
Mr Collison said feral animals should be controlled by trained professionals, using methods that did not put park workers or the public at risk.

“Families should be able to enjoy a walk or a picnic in a NSW National Park without having to worry about being shot or wounded by an arrow.”

Black-powder firearms
Mr Collison said the Game Council also advised that black powder firearms would be permitted in National Parks.

“This means that hunters will be wandering around National Parks with old-fashioned pistols and replica vintage firearms.  Presumably they’ll be wearing Davey Crocket hats as well.

“It would almost be comical if it wasn’t deadly serious.

“The O’Farrell Government has completely lost the plot, and it’s time for a little bit of common sense.”

Colombia: Mine Contractor Convicted of Murder

Following the murders of two union leaders in Colombia in 2001, Jaime Blanco, a former contractor for the US-based coal company Drummond Co., was convicted of murder on 25 January 2013 and sentenced to nearly 38 years in prison.

The court found that Blanco, who supplied food services for Drummond's La Loma mine in the northern department of Cesar, had arranged with rightwing paramilitaries for the killing of Valmore Locarno and Victor HugoOrcasita, leaders of the mine's union. Blanco's assistant, Jairo Charris, was convicted in 2009 in the same murder plot and was sentenced to 30 years.

Judge Castiblanco also ordered prosecutors to investigate Drummond's president and three former employees to determine whether they might also be responsible after several witnesses, including the convicted man, alleged Drummond senior managers ordered the killings.

In addition, the judge supported a request by the victims' relatives to ask the Supreme Court to investigate former assistant prosecutor Edgardo Maya for allegedly failing to act to protect unionists in Cesar; Maya is Jaime Blanco's half-brother.

Blanco, who ran a food services concession at the Drummond mine, was sentenced to 37 years and 11 months in prison and fined him $369,000. The judge said that Blanco "took advantage of his closeness to commanders of the paramilitaries" to help him eliminate Locarno and Orcasita, who represented union members who had complained about his food service.

Drummond management has long been suspected of involvement of the murders of Locarno and Orcasita and of another La Loma unionist, Gustavo Soler, who was killed later in 2001.

The US-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) and the United Steelworkers (USW) union filed a civil suit against Drummond in March 2002 under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama, where the company is based.  The Birmingham jury found the company not liable in 2007.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

RTBU: Train Drivers Negotiations

Pacific National Coal negotiations will continue in the Fair Work Commission after Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, stepped in to help resolve the current dispute.

This follows numerous requests from the RTBU for Pacific National to continue negotiations in order to reach an agreement.

PN Coal has either refused and or not even responded to every request from the union to come back to the negotiating table and has made it very clear at every opportunity that they will refuse to move from their wage offer.

The Minster has now stepped in and ordered the company back to the negotiating table.

National Secretary Bob Nanva said while the company’s bullying actions to date actions are not conducive to a company genuinely seeking to reach an outcome with its employees,

“We’ve been asking the company to come back to the negotiating table for some time now, but they’ve refused,”Mr Nanva said.

“The union is willing to participate in the negotiations if there is a commitment to address the legitimate concerns of 85 percent of members who comprehensively voted against the company’s proposed agreement.

“Members at PN Coal deserve an agreement that offer fair wages and conditions. The agreement the company put to the membership certainly didn’t provide that, but we’re hopeful the company will now be open to reaching an agreement that works for both parties.”

A True Greek Tragedy


A monumental drama is playing out before our eyes. It is a true Greek tragedy.  The plot: A society is being pushed to its limits. The denouement is not yet determined, but survival is at stake and prospects are precarious. Greece is at the sharp end of a radical and risky experiment in how far accumulation by dispossession can go, how much expropriation can be endured, how far the state can be subordinated to the market. It is a global narrative, but the story is a few episodes ahead here.

Greece is the crucible.  It is a caldron where concentrated forces are colliding in a process that will bring forth either a reconfiguration of capitalism or the dawn of its demise.

Salaries, pensions, public services are falling, while prices and taxes are rising. Massive asset stripping is underway. Water, power, ports, islands, public buildings are for sale. Unemployment, emigration and evictions have brought a sense of a society unraveling. Homeless people wander the streets and scavenge for food in bins or beg it from the plates of those eating in tavernas. If they are immigrants, they are terrorised. Those looking into a horizon without hope either drift into desolation or perform the ultimate decisive act of suicide.  Some have done so in private spaces, while others have chosen public places to underline the political nature of their fate, as they jump from heights, set themselves on fire or shoot themselves. In April 2012, Dimitris Christoulas, a retired pharmacist, who felt he could no longer live a dignified life after his pension had been slashed, shot himself in front of parliament. His last words were: “I am not committing suicide. They are killing me.” He urged younger people to fight.

Speaking to Greeks, it is hard to find any without a far reaching systemic critique. They tell you so many details of the deceits of the troika, the corruption of government, the decline in their own standards of living, the pervasive sense of social disintegration. When asked if they see any hope, few answer in the affirmative.

Nevertheless, some do. It is a precarious hope. For some, it is hesitant and weak, full of doubt, but a faint sense of some possible breakthrough from the morass. They protest, they march, they strike, even if they sometimes feel as if they are just going through the motions, because they do it so often now. They are not sure what it will take to break this cycle and move it on to another level, but they know it cannot go on as it is. For others, hope is clearer and stronger, although not without doubt and not without a sense of nearly overwhelming forces that could swamp all their best efforts. These are the ones who are not only critiquing and resisting, but also strategising and organising for a social transformation that would chart a path out of the crisis, ultimately a new path out of capitalism and to socialism. Conscious of all previous attempts that have crashed and burned or have betrayed the hopes they engendered, they are sober about their chances, but determined in their work.

Read More

Unions: Clearing Asbestos Campaign

Two out of three homes in Australia built between World War II and the early 1980s still contain asbestos and building unions will launch a campaign in Sydney on Wednesday demanding new laws to dispose of it.

The unions will also renew a push for the creation of a federal asbestos authority.

Renovators who do not realise their homes contain asbestos are still being subjected to deadly exposure, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union say.

Australia was the biggest user of asbestos between the 1950s and 1980s, and as a result it now has the highest incidence of asbestos-related cancer in the world, a rate that is still rising.

The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Paul Bastian, said the threat from asbestos was still a risk to the community and more needed to be done to combat its effects.''The fact that asbestos-related disease is still killing people . . . means we really need to combat hidden traces of the deadly material in our homes and commercial buildings,'' he said.

Many residents did not realise until they started work on their homes that they had asbestos in them. ''They have been clad over - they look like a normal building until you drill through it and you find an asbestos wall.''

The union wants the recommendations of a government report on asbestos that was completed in June to be fully implemented and funded.

An assistant secretary for the CFMEU, Lindsay Fraser, said priority needed to be given to the removal of asbestos from government and public buildings. The review in June recommended asbestos in houses built before 1987 should be labelled to alert buyers, tenants and renovators.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

National: Bob Carnegie support grows

Sign Petition
Reacting to news that Abigroup/Lend Lease dropped several charges against Bob Carnegie, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said, while the news that some charges were being dropped was welcome, Bob Carnegie still has a battle ahead of him and the MUA would be standing rock-solid behind him.

“Australians everywhere have rallied to Bob's side because they understand that the only contempt involved in this case was the contempt Lend Lease and Abigroup had for values we hold dear in Australia – the principles of democracy, free speech and the right of association,” Mr Crumlin said.

“We will not rest until the threat to Bob is over. The rallies today across the nation in support of Bob show that he can rely on the support of his mates and community allies.”

During the first day of hearings today in Brisbane, construction firm Abigroup decided to drop the majority of its original charges against unionist Bob Carnegie – from 54 to 18 – regarding an industrial dispute at the Brisbane children’s hospital site last year.

Thousands of union members – including MUA officials – Australia rallied in support of Bob today in sites around Australia.

The hearing is scheduled continue for the next two days. Bob Carnegie is pleading not guilty to all the charges.

Building workers have started walking off the job on Lend Lease projects in Victoria, in protest at contempt charges being pursued against a the Queensland unionist.

Industry sources said workers at all Lend Lease, Baulderstone and Abigroup jobs in the state would walk off the job for the day.

About 500 unionists marched from the Federal Court to the company's headquarters in Brisbane on Monday. They chanted ''hands off Bob'' and ''Lend Lease and Abigroup scum''.

In Victoria, ''defend Bob Carnegie'' flyers have been distributed on building sites which accuse Abigroup of a ''spiteful attempt to intimidate every community activist who may in future wish to assist workers in obtaining justice.''

Monday, February 11, 2013

Working Mothers' Rights

ACTU President Ged Kearney said she welcomed the Prime Minister’s focus on issues faced by working mothers but more was needed to ensure genuine rights were achieved.

“We welcome today’s announcement on the right to request part-time or flexible work for mothers returning from maternity leave,” Ms Kearney said.

“This is a good first step towards achieving a fairer working environment for working mothers but the Prime Minister must go further to ensure these rights are meaningful.”

“Parents’ and carers’ right to request family-friendly work hours should be backed up with a dispute resolution procedure, otherwise employers can simply say that they do not offer part-time work.

“We know that not all employers are in a position to offer part-time work, but those that are should be required to genuinely consider requests from workers.”

“The right to request should also be extended for all workers with caring responsibilities, whether for children, adults with disability or frail and elderly parents.”

Ms Kearney said the Prime Minister’s announcement that she will increase protections against sudden changes of rosters and hours is another positive step, but again an appeals process was needed.

“Sudden and unreasonable roster changes can play havoc with childcare arrangements and cause huge disruption to families.”

“Employer refusal of family friendly working arrangements is one of the leading reasons that women are over represented in insecure work."

“Workers should not have to choose between work and caring responsibilities. As our population ages more and more workers, particularly women, will also be carers. Finding a balance between work and family responsibilities is one of our key challenges as a society.”

Ms Kearney said the majority of OECD countries had a right to request part-time work, including access to independent dispute resolution.

Friday, February 08, 2013

NSW: O'Farrell Gun Control farce

The issue of gun-crime control turned into a blame game after the NSW Premier accused the federal government of being too soft before he was pulled up for failing to deliver promised regulations on ammunition sales.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, criticised the federal government's new firearm trafficking laws as too weak and unlikely to lead to prosecutions.

The new offence for ''aggravated trafficking'' consisted of a threshold of 50 illegally imported firearms over a period of six months.

Mr O'Farrell said the maximum number of firearms detected in NSW so far was 25 over a year and the federal law should reflect those figures.

''My concern is the bar has been set so high that no one will ever be prosecuted under these laws,'' he said. ''This is another case of Julia Gillard seeking to look tough but failing to deliver.''

But the NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said the Premier had failed to implement his own plan to restrict ammunition sales.

''The Premier is being hypocritical in attacking the federal government's gun laws when he has had ammunition control legislation on the books since June last year which he has failed to implement,'' Mr Shoebridge said.

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show the state government drafted regulations to restrict the sale of ammunitions for all firearms.

It has abandoned those regulations and instead, will only restrict the sale of bullets for pistols, which it says are used in most drive-by shootings.

AMWU: The Greening of Electrolux in Orange

AMWU members are set to share the benefits of a $14 million invested to assist Australia’s largest manufacturer of refrigerators meet consumer demand for quality products with lower carbon emissions.

AMWU official Mick Rattigan (left) with Electrolux
workers Ally Shaw and Tony Cardwell, a union delegte.
The union has welcomed plans by Electrolux Home Products in Orange, NSW, to expand manufacturing after the Federal Government agreed to a $4.7 million grant as part of its Clean Technology Investment Program.

The company will invest $9.4 million in new plant and equipment as it modifies its production line to increase the energy efficiency of its refrigerators by at least 11 per cent.

AMWU National Secretary Paul Bastian said the project had the twin merits of helping the natural environment through increasing the efficiency of 300,000 fridges manufactured each year, while helping local industry and jobs to make the transition to a lower carbon economy.

“The grant to Electrolux is a great example of how the carbon pricing scheme should work, with big polluters paying and that revenue being used to benefit local businesses, jobs and consumers,” Mr Bastian said.

“That’s what the AMWU has been campaigning for.”

AMWU Organisers Sheryl Vine and Mick Rattigan visited the Orange site soon after the announcement, where the new manufacturing era was among issues discussed with members.

Delegate Tony Cardwell said the work of the AMWU in encouraging investment should bring its 600 workers extra job security and should be an incentive for increased union membership at the factory.

“Today with carbon pricing, you’ve really got to be looking at ways to improve,” he said.

“The foam in the refrigerator will be thicker with some modifications to the gas which will save emissions. There’s some pretty clever people working with us.”

Mr Cardwell said innovation by Electrolux’s Asian Pacific research and development centre in Orange made the factory cost competitive with importers, while also winning a company workplace safety award.

The grant is part of the government’s Clean Technology Investment Program, offering $800 million funded by carbon price revenue to local manufacturers to implement energy efficiencies and innovations.

The Electrolux plant has a rich history and been either the biggest or among the three biggest employers in Orange since it opened in 1946.

Adjoining the plant is the Electrolux Skills Centre which opened in 1994 in a joint venture with the NSW Government. The state and federal governments, plus organisations involved in the agricultural, mining, food processing, telecommunications and aged care industries – as well as Electrolux – are among the many which conduct different training programs at the Centre.

The Tarkine - The Last of Gondwana

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has rejected a bid by conservationists to lock out mining from Tasmania's Tarkine region.

Mr Burke has rejected the Australian Heritage Council's advice to list more than 400,000 hectares of the Tarkine on the National Heritage Register.

Mr Burke says it would have been "disastrous" for potential mining jobs in the area if he had followed the council's advice.

"From purely environmental terms, it would have been something that would have been a wonderful thing to be able to do but you have to take into account the impact on people and taking that impact into account meant that I simply couldn't go with the Heritage Council's recommendations," he said.

"To do heritage listing you have to truly represent the values and, politically, there may well have been an option of my putting a bigger area on the heritage list and claiming 'there you go, I've done it', but it would have been an abuse of the system."

A two-kilometre stretch of coast in the far north-west has been placed on the list, due to Indigenous heritage values.

Environmentalists had wanted heritage protection for 433,000 hectares of the state's north-west, which is covered with temperate rainforest which provides a habitat for endangered species.

Mr Burke has already approved a magnetite mine, but has applied conditions aimed at protecting Tasmanian devils and quolls from being killed by traffic on new roads through the area.

Corporate Culture: Abbott gets his IR orders

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Mr Abbott should commit to changing the individual flexibility arrangements that existed to ensure employers and employees had the capacity to trade-off penalty rates.

The chamber's chief executive Peter Anderson said the arrangements should allow workers to have their base rate of pay loaded up in exchange for a cut to penalty rates, with any agreement subject to a "no-disadvantage" test.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said he was confident Mr Abbott would reinstate the legal flexibility that operated under the Howard government before Work Choices.

"If IFAs can be offered as a condition of employment, be subject to a no-disadvantage test against a relevant award and can operate for up to four years, the resources sector in effect could return to similar pre-Work Choices direct employment arrangements," Mr Knott said.

Japan: Fukushima disaster mystery - more lies

It remains one of the biggest mysteries of the Fukushima meltdowns - was the cooling system in the plant's oldest reactor, reactor one, damaged by the massive earthquake before it was even swamped by the tsunami?

That was what the investigation panel appointed by the Japanese parliament wanted to know during its cross examinations of TEPCO officials last year.

And to get to the bottom of this mystery the investigators wanted access to the reactor one building.

But as this recording of a meeting between TEPCO official Toshimitsu Tamai and investigation panel member Mitsuhiko Tanaka makes clear, the company wanted none of it.

"Now there's a cover over the building," says TEPCO's Mr Tamai. "There are no lights. So I'd like you to understand that the building is completely dark. You won't see anything," he tells investigator Mitsuhiko Tanaka.

To support his case the TEPCO official produces some images showing shafts of light inside the reactor one building. Those pictures, explains Mr Tamai, were taken before the roof cover went on the shattered structure.

Now, he explains again, the building is in complete darkness. In fact, as the tape recording obtained by Japan's Asahi newspaper reveals, Toshimitsu Tamai spent one hour and nine minutes insisting that there was no way investigators could see anything inside.

"If you get lost in there, you'll enter a terribly high radiation area," warns the TEPCO official. "You won't know how to get back again," he says.

But this was all false. So what does TEPCO say in response to the allegation that one of its officials lied to parliament-appointed investigators?

Well in a statement to the Asahi newspaper the company apologised, admitting there had been a mistake and saying it had no intention of making a false statement.

And as to the mystery of the reactor one building and the possibility that it was damaged before the tsunami hit, in its report the parliamentary panel found that there was a possibility that pipes had burst during the earthquake causing a cooling problem.

It called for a full investigation - one that still has not been carried out.

RTBU and Pacific National Coal dispute

Michelle Rowland, Labor MP and member for Greenway, spoke out in Federal Parliament yesterday in support of Pacific National Coal workers.

"I rise to speak in support of workers at Pacific National Coal who are currently locked in a protracted industrial dispute with their employer over a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

"The workers, represented by their union, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union have been negotiating with PN Coal for over 12 months.

"On 23 January, the company walked out of negotiations despite the RTBU seeking to extend discussions by a further 48 hours, in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

"Workers at PN Col deserve a fair and reasonable pay rise that will bring them in line with other companies in the industry and

"I give my support to these workers and stand with them in solidarity in whatever course of action they choose to take.

"In what is a bullying tactic by the company pay rises have been offered to individual rail workers who do not take part in legal strike action. I understand that the RTBU is taking this to the Federal Court as a breach of the Fair Work Act.

"I wish to recognise the work of RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva, National Assistant Secretary, Allan Barden, NSW RTBU State Secretary, Alex Claassens and NSW Locomotive Divisional Secretary Bob Hayden.

"Most importantly, I recognise the hundreds of workers at PN Coal who deserve a fair go, not the bullying and intimidation they have received at the hands of their employer for over 12 months.

"There are important lessons we can learn from this dispute. The tactics used by PN are simply a curtain raiser for Tony Abbott’s Australia. Let there be no doubt that if Tony Abbott wins the next election, he will bring back the worst aspects of WorkChoices.

"Those opposite wants nothing more than to bring back individual agreements and make it harder for workers to bargain collectively.

"Because in Tony Abbott’s Australia, the only thing that is dead, buried and cremated about WorkChoices is its name."

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Dave Oliver: Preserve Weekend and Tackle Insecure Work

06 February, 2013 | ACTU Media Release

Dave Oliver at National Press Club
The ACTU has called on all parties to ensure that they make secure jobs an election issue and to enshrine penalty rates in law to preserve the weekend for Australian workers.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra today, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver also called for an “entitlement portability” scheme to ensure workers in insecure work had access to sick leave and annual leave.

Mr Oliver said the union movement would make its push for secure jobs a major part of its campaigning this year, up to and beyond the Federal Election.

“Finding a solution for the rise of insecure work, and its effects on workers, families and communities should be a priority for all political parties,” Mr Oliver said.

“40 per cent of Australians are in insecure work of some kind and many are not able to access sick leave, carers leave or annual leave.”

“These workers are often low-paid and need these entitlements to cope with family emergencies.”

Mr Oliver said that the union movement would campaign for a system of portable entitlements to ensure that workers in insecure work were able to benefit from sick leave and annual leave.

“We believe that the decent wages and entitlements that have made Australian jobs the best jobs in the world need to be defended.

 “The union movement does not accept it is necessary or desirable to transfer risk on to the shoulders of workers.”

“In many parts of the construction industry, entitlements travel with workers from job to job, and there is no reason why this cannot be extended to other sectors.”

Mr Oliver said that all political parties needed to commit to enshrining penalty rates in law to ensure that workers required to work week-ends were adequately compensated.

“Week-end work is often necessary, but there should be recognition that weekend workers sacrifice time with friends and family, and penalty rates provide that.”

“That’s why we’ll be asking the government to enshrine penalty rates for weekends and public holidays in legislation, and protect them forever.”

NBN: Remote Area Satellite Service

Internet users in regional and remote Australia are being promised download speeds under the National Broadband Network (NBN) that are faster than those currently available to city users of the copper wire network.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy today announced the NBN would push ahead with plans to provide 25 megabits per second (mbps) download speeds over the fixed wireless network. It will have a 5 megabits per second upload speed.

He says the same speeds will now also be offered to remote users of the NBN through the satellite service, following negotiations with the satellite's manufacturers.

"25/5 is better than metro users today. If you live in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and you're using the copper network today - ADSL 2+ - it's inferior to the satellite that we'll be delivering," Senator Conroy said.

He says that will provide satellite-based internet speeds that are some of the best in the world once they are launched in 2015.

"The price for customers for the 25/5 mbps service on fixed wireless and satellite will be the same as that charged for 25/5 mbps fibre services at around $40 per month."

NBN chief executive Mike Quigley says the extra speeds will give internet users in the bush the same access to technology enjoyed by people living in metropolitan areas.

"This improvement in speeds on the fixed wireless and the satellite is part of our ongoing aim to keep bringing the best technology," he told reporters in Bungendore, outside Canberra.

He says the company also expects to upgrade speeds available over the fibre optic network from next year, meaning customers will get access to 1 gigabits per second download speeds as opposed to the 100 megabits per second speeds currently available.

Corporate Culture - "Poor's Standards"

The US government has filed its first lawsuit against one of the world's biggest ratings agencies for giving high ratings to investments which turned toxic and helped bring about the financial crisis.

When Standard & Poor's gives high ratings to investments it is a seal of approval.

However, the US attorney-general Eric Holder has accused the ratings agency of deception.

"S&P misled investors, including many federally insured financial institutions, causing them to lose billions of dollars," he said.

"In addition, we allege that S&P falsely claimed that its ratings were independent, that they were objective, and that they were not influenced by the company's relationship with the issuers who hired S&P to rate the securities in question."

The securities were linked to home mortgages. Financial advisers steered many investors into these products, including local governments in Australia.

When US house prices slumped, home owners began defaulting on their mortgages and the mortgage backed securities turned toxic.

The acting associate attorney-general Tony West says Standard & Poor's said one thing and did another.

"It's sort of like buying sausage from your favourite butcher, and he assures you that the sausage was made fresh that morning and is safe," he said.

"What he doesn't tell you is that it was made with meat he knows is rotten and plans to throw out later that night."

Tony West says that by early 2007 Standard & Poor's own analysts had come to believe that many of the mortgage backed securities were in trouble, but the alarm bells were ignored.

"S&P's business executives rejected those downgrade recommendations," he alleged.

Allowance payments $50 Boost

6 February 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) today welcomed the passing of legislation through the Federal Parliament that will provide some support for hundreds of thousands of people living below poverty line incomes, but added that a $50 increase in Allowance payments is urgently needed to reduce poverty in Australia.

“ACOSS welcomed the Income Support Bonus of $210 a year for people living on low paying income support allowances when it was announced in the 2012 Budget. However, this is only a small step. Allowance payments, such as Newstart must be lifted in this year’s Budget,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“People living on Allowances like Newstart are among the most disadvantaged in our country. It is therefore deeply concerning that even a small step to improve their situation was voted against by the Federal Coalition during voting on the Income Support Bonus Bill in parliament last night. Coupled with the announcement by the Leader of the Opposition that the Coalition will remove the tax assistance on superannuation for low income earners if elected, we must ask what the Coalition will do to address poverty in Australia, which continues to rise, if elected?

“All the evidence is in and we simply must find the money to fund a modest increase in the Newstart Allowance. There is no justification for keeping the payment so low. It’s clear that nobody can live on $246 a week with current costs of living. $35 a day is not enough to pay the rent, feed and clothe yourself, and get around to look for a job.

“This has been made all too clear by the overwhelming evidence presented at the recent Senate Inquiry and countless reports from major charities and other community organisations.

“We understand the tight fiscal environment. However, after nearly 20 years of virtually staying frozen in time in real terms, Newstart Allowance should be increased by at least $50 a week as the Government’s own Henry tax panel recommended in 2010.

“We can and should right this wrong at the upcoming Budget. ACOSS has identified billions of dollars that could be saved in the Budget if the Federal Government tackled poorly targeted subsidies and tax concessions and clamps down on tax loopholes such as private trusts.

“Tackling these areas of waste will make room in the Budget for more investment in major social and economic infrastructure that we all want. Things like an NDIS, better education and healthcare and other important services. And for a vital in Allowance payments.

“We call on all political parties to ensure the passage through the Senate of the Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Income Support Bonus) Bill 2012. And we continue to urge bipartisan support for a much needed increase in Allowance payments in the upcoming Budget,” Dr Goldie said.

ACOSS, ACTU, BCA partnership

04 December, 2012 | Media Release

Today the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Business Council of Australia (BCA) released a joint statement outlining how the three organisations will cooperate to tackle entrenched disadvantage through collaborative action.

The statement is the first of its kind in Australia and outlines a shared commitment by the three peak bodies to work collaboratively towards:

  • providing employment opportunities for Australians who are disadvantaged in the labour market; and
  • giving employers access to workers who meet their skills needs.

“Our organisations share a belief that well-managed economic growth shared amongst all Australians is the key to enduring prosperity and is the best way to tackle entrenched disadvantage,” said ACOSS Chief Executive Cassandra Goldie, speaking on behalf of the collaboration.

Our vision for shared prosperity is based on the following key principles:
  • a strong economy with competitive businesses and enterprises
  • robust public institutions that engender confidence
  • healthy, safe, productive and fair workplaces
  • greater access to employment for those currently missing out
  • access to lifelong education and training opportunities
  • a social safety net that provides adequate income support without impeding transition to work
  • effective and efficient support services targeted to those in most need.
“Everyone wins if we can bring people currently excluded from the labour market into regular decent work that is productive and delivers a fair income in conditions of freedom, equity and security in line with human dignity. This is one of the best ways to ensure that prosperity is shared by people who are currently missing out,” Ms Goldie said.

“The joint statement represents a commitment from our three organisations to contribute to enduring prosperity for all Australians by focusing on the areas of common ground between us rather than those areas we disagree on.

“By working together collaboratively it has become clear that we actually share many common aspirations and agree on many important principles. To that end this alliance will:
convene an expert roundtable to discuss best practice polices that support ‘demand-led’ employment assistance for disadvantaged jobseekers;
  • investigate options for better linking of pre-employment training initiatives with demand-led approaches; and
  • host a forum to explore the importance of reducing inequality and entrenched disadvantage for Australia’s future economic growth and prosperity.
“All three organisations believe that by working together we will be able to achieve better social outcomes for Australia. We can reduce poverty and reliance on social security, and at the same time, grow the economy,” Ms Goldie said.

“Cooperation is fundamental to achieving lasting reform, which is essential to building enduring prosperity,” BCA President Tony Shepherd said.

“Business wants to see all Australians in a position to contribute to and benefit from economic growth. Growth is fundamental to prosperity but we know that it must be well managed, it must be fair and there must be equality of opportunity.”

Ged Kearney, President of the ACTU, said: “There are groups of people in Australia – long-term unemployed, people with fewer skills, women caring for a child alone, people with disabilities, many Indigenous Australians, as well as people new to Australia – who remain excluded from society.

“We must ensure that everyone, irrespective of background or position in society, has the opportunity to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from our shared prosperity.

“If we can bring people currently excluded from the labour market into regular decent work, we can reduce poverty, enhance human dignity, and improve the economy,” Ms Kearney said.

“This alliance shares the vision that pursuing social and economic objectives at the same time is in our nation’s long-term interest,” Ms Kearney said.

Corporate Culture - "Preventable Injuries"

Recently, Communications Workers of America (CWA) won an important victory re. telecom giant  AT&T's injury discipline program. The case involved a company technician who fell while walking on an icy surface during an installation call and injured his arm. Under AT&T's safety policy, discipline was imposed against the worker once he sought medical treatment for the injury. The employee was suspended for a day for allegedly sustaining a "preventable occupational accident" by not following AT&T's safety rules.

Under the company's policy, such disciplinary action remains on the worker's record for five years. AT&T's action was challenged as discriminatory under Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA). The Agency concluded that AT&T had discriminated against the employee by suspending him for engaging in a "protected activity"- i.e., the reporting of an on-the-job injury. Further, the Agency concluded AT&T 's policy violated the Michigan OSHA statute as well as federal OSHA guidelines.

The ALJ held that AT&T's decision to discipline employees for reporting injuries sustained on the job, even when there is no proof that they violated any specific company safety policy, was arbitrary and discriminatory, in violation of federal OSHA guidelines. The company's ability to impose disciplinary sanctions on workers "with or without just cause" using "broad and vague definitions of safety rules or policy to label accidents as preventable" was found to discourage employees from reporting injuries in violation of federal and state law.

As the ruling indicated:
... the practice of employers creating disincentives to discourage injury reports has happened enough times that the Federal OSHA program addresses the issue in investigation guidelines used nationally. Employers save money when employees do not seek medical treatment at the expense of the employer. Further, supervisors who get bonuses based on injury records of employees under their supervision have motivation to discourage reported injuries. Therefore, it can be in the employer's interest to discourage the reporting of injuries that require treatment.

Because AT&T used "arbitrary standards" to assign the label of "preventable" injuries to any set of circumstances, "coupled with a plausible motive to create disincentives to the exercise of protected activity," the ALJ found AT&T's discipline of the employee was an adverse action for the exercise of the protected activity of reporting a job related injury" and thus a violation of the Michigan OSHA statute.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Corporate culture - "Double Irish Dutch Sandwich"

Global giants including Apple and Google will be forced to reveal how much tax they pay the federal government, under a plan to name and shame firms seen to be dodging their responsibilities by using tax havens.

The proposed crackdown, announced today, would also clear the way for the government to publish more detail on how much mining tax resources firms are paying. Until now, the government has refused to say exactly how much money the mining tax has raised, citing the need for taxpayer confidentiality.

A fundamental principle of tax law is that the affairs of all taxpayers, from individuals to corporate giants, are kept secret.

But with governments around the world seeking to protect their budgets against use of tax havens, especially by technology firms, large companies operating in Australia may no longer enjoy such privacy.

Federal Labor hopes to pass legislation before the September election that would require large firms to publish more detailed information on how much tax they pay.

Treasury is currently looking at how to implement the change, ahead of a meeting of a high-powered working group meeting later this month.

“Large multinational companies that use complex arrangements and contrived corporate structures to avoid paying their fair share of tax should not be able to hide behind a veil of secrecy,” the Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, said.

Although no firms were named by Mr Bradbury, the move is directed at global firms such as Google and Apple, which have come under fire around the world for their use of tax havens.

Accounts show Google paid just $74,176 in Australian tax in 2011, though the company argues it actually paid more.

Apple was last year slapped with a bill for $28.5 million in back-taxes, taking its total tax bill for the year ending September 24, 2011, to $94.7 million.

The latest move comes after Mr Bradbury last year took the rare step of naming Google and referring to a technique known as the ‘‘th’’ - where forms divert income through low-taxing Ireland and the Netherlands.

The general manager of policy at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Yasser El-Ansary, said the move was part of a global push by developed nations to apply increasing pressure on multinationals.

‘‘It’s going to be an area where there’s going to be an ongoing focus, and not just by our government here in Australia but also around the world,’’ he said.