Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Vic: Consumers pay for power privatisation

Electricity privatisation has failed to deliver cheaper power to consumers and has not improved the sector's efficiency, a new analysis by The Australia Institute has found.

The analysis shows that since Victoria privatised power in the 1990s, electricity prices have outpaced inflation, increasing by 170 per cent compared with an increase of 60 per cent in the consumer price index.

The Australia Institute's Senior Research Fellow and report author Mr David Richardson said a productivity slump in the electricity sector has contributed to price hikes.

"Since June 1995, productivity in electricity, gas and water declined by 24.9 per cent. All other Australian industries saw an increase of 33.6 per cent," Mr Richardson said.

"The number of managers in the electricity sector has increased by a staggering 217 per cent since 1997. Yet, at the same time there was a much smaller increase in front line staff, with the number of technicians and trades workers increasing by just 28 per cent."

In 1997 there was one manager for every 13 workers. By 2012 there was one manager for every nine workers. Over the same period, the number of sales workers increased from 1,000 to 6,000.

"It seems remarkable that a sales force of 6,000 people is necessary to sell a product which everyone needs," Mr Richardson said.

"During the privatisation of Victoria's network a lot of promises were made that it would deliver lower prices and a more efficient industry, and former Premier Jeff Kennett continues to sing the praise of privatisation.

"While Premier O'Farrell and Peter Costello might believe a power sell-off is the answer to New South Wales' and Queensland's budget problems, it's unlikely to ease cost of living pressures and might even slug consumers with higher bills and worse service," Mr Richardson concluded.

Opposition Leader John Robertson warned:
"NSW families simply can't afford to have the same huge price hikes here,"

Electricity unions launched a campaign earlier this month against what they claim is a move by the O'Farrell government to sell off the assets after the next state election in 2015.

Vic CFMEU: Grocon - A Dispute About Safety

NSW: Compo Win for Workers

Issued 29 April 2013

It’s the decision we’ve all been waiting for!  How could any government take attempt to take away the rights of seriously injured workers?  The O’Farrell Government!  This, we hope, will be the first in many challenges that highlight just how draconian the new W/C laws really are.  Big win for injured workers.


The Court of Appeal has handed down its decision in the Goudappel matter.
The Court has overturned the decision of Judge Keating, President of the Workers Compensation Commission that was made in October 2012.

The Court has held that the amendments affecting lump sum compensation that came into effect on 19 June 2012 do not apply to any worker who had made a lump sum claim before 19 June 2012 in respect of an injury that resulted in permanent impairment, whether or not the claim specifically sought compensation under Section 66 or 67 of the 1987 Act.

The effect of this decision is that:
  • the new threshold of 11% required to bring a whole of person injury claim under s66 of the Act does not apply to this class of worker
  • the worker can bring multiple claims under s66 as his or her impairment deteriorates
  • these workers are also entitled to bring a claim for pain and suffering under the old section S67 of the Act.

Kim Garling
WorkCover Independent Review Officer
13 9476

Italy: No to Austerity

Italy's 55th Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, says his coalition government will act fast to reverse an austerity policy he argues is killing Italy and has called on Europe to become a motor for growth.

"Italy is dying from austerity alone. Growth policies cannot wait," Mr Letta said during his inaugural speech to parliament on Monday, under the watchful gaze of European partners.

The recession-hit country is under pressure to act fast to tackle social, economic and institutional ills.

Letta, who was sworn in with his cabinet on Sunday, promised to have results in 18 months or "take the consequences".

Letta's hard-hitting speech appears to have reassured the MPs, who backed the new government by 453 to 153 in a confidence vote in Italy's lower house of parliament late on Monday.

Earlier, Letta told parliament that the economic situation in Italy – one of the first countries to fall prey to the eurozone debt crisis – was "still serious" and its €2 trillion ($2.56 trillion) debt "weighs heavily" on ordinary Italians.

But he also looked to Europe, saying it was suffering from "a crisis of legitimacy and . . . must become once more a motor of sustainable growth" – a reference to his aim to persuade Europe to reverse its discredited austerity policy.

Read more

Monday, April 29, 2013

Corporate Culture: Austerity programs based on faulty calculation

Harvard Kennedy School professor Carmen Reinhart and Harvard University professor Kenneth Rogoff argued in their 2010 NBER paper that economic growth slows down when the debt/GDP ratio exceeds the threshold of 90 percent of GDP.

These results were also published in one of the most prestigious economics journals – the American Economic Review – and had a powerful resonance in a period of serious economic and public policy turmoil when governments around the world slashed spending in order to decrease the public deficit and stimulate economic growth.

Yet, they were proven wrong. Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin from the University of Massachusetts tried to replicate the results of Reinhart and Rogoff and criticised them on the basis of three reasons:
  • Coding errors: due to a spreadsheet error five countries were excluded completely from the sample resulting in significant error of the average real GDP growth and the debt/GDP ratio in several categories
  • Selective exclusion of available data and data gaps: Reinhart and Rogoff exclude Australia (1946-1950), New Zealand (1946-1949) and Canada (1946-1950). This exclusion is alone responsible for a significant reduction of the estimated real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category
  • Unconventional weighting of summary statistics: the authors do not discuss their decision to weight equally by country rather than by country-year, which could be arbitrary and ignores the issue of serial correlation.
The implications of these results are that countries with high levels of public debt experience only “modestly diminished” average GDP growth rates and as the UMass authors show there is a wide range of GDP growth performances at every level of public debt among the twenty advanced economies in the survey of Reinhart and Rogoff. Even if the negative trend is still visible in the results of the UMass researchers, the data fits the trend very poorly: “low debt and poor growth, and high debt and strong growth, are both reasonably common outcomes.”

What makes it even more compelling news is that it is all a tale from the state of Massachusetts: distinguished Harvard professors challenged by empiricists from the less known UMAss. Then despite the excellent AER data availability policy – which acts as a role model for other journals in economics – has failed to enforce it and make the data and code of Reinhart and Rogoff available to other researchers.

Coding errors happen, yet the greater research misconduct was not allowing for other researchers to review and replicate the results through making the data openly available. If the data and code were available upon publication already in 2010, it may not have taken three years to prove these results wrong, which may have probably influenced the direction of public policy around the world towards stricter austerity measures. Sharing research data means a possibility to replicate and discuss, enabling the scrutiny of research findings as well as improvement and validation of research methods through more scientific enquiry and debate.


In the US, Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman said the unravelling of Rogoff and Reinhart's paper was a hammer blow to Republicans who had campaigned for spending cuts to reduce Washington's 100% debt-to-GDP level.

Austerity advocates around the world who have been influence by the faulty spreadsheet include the neocon UK Chancellor George Osborne. In a speech in February 2010, said: "Perhaps the most significant contribution to our understanding of the origins of the crisis has been made by professor Ken Rogoff, former chief economist at the IMF, and his co-author, Carmen Reinhart." The chancellor then quoted the finding from their paper: "The latest research suggests that once debt reaches more than about 90% of GDP, the risks of a large negative impact on long-term growth become highly significant."

Will there be a response from our local austerity advocates? ... did they also use faulty figures to prop up their economic arguments?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

National Workers’ Memorial on the International Day of Mourning

These Two Arms
A Song by John Warner©John Warner 2013

- [play]

These two arms cannot hold a woman close,
Or bounce a laughing child upon my knee,
When I want to end my life,
These two hands won't hold the knife,
Cutting safety for the corporate bottom line
Did that to me.

The last I remember was the snapping of the bolts,
Some distant words I heard somebody shout,
Brief seconds of despair as I tumbled through the air,
A crashing impact and the lights went out.
I awoke to the fearful smell of hospital,
Inside my skull, bells ringing their alarms,
All was numb below my head, and I realised with dread,
There was no sensation in my legs and arms.

These two arms  …

I used to practice footy with the blokes after work,
I don't suppose that I'll be doing that again,
The swimming, the surfing, the nights out with the girls,
There's nothing for me in the world of men.
And there's no use for me to watch it on TV,
My brain screams things my body just won't do.
I barely see my friends and conversation ends,
As my helpless eyes say “It's all right for you.”

These two arms …

Ah, there's folk who do their best to help when I'm depressed,
But no-one shares the quadraplegic's view.
I want to scream and squall, to punch and kick the wall,
And vent my rage like other people do,
As the rage spins in my head, I'm a corpse before I'm dead,
And I lie here just a hopeless, yearning wreck,
If I only had the power, I'd kill myself this hour,
Or go out and break some other bastard's neck

These two arms …

Safety's not for bargaining, you've only got one life,
It's been said before, the workers must unite,
The cost is way too high if we're injured or we die,
Keep untrained labour off the building site.
Let workers from the union inspect a building site,
For proper safety maintenance and care,
And call their members out if there's any kind of doubt,
If they want me on the picket, I'll be there...in my wheelchair.

These two arms cannot hold a woman close,
Or bounce a laughing child upon my knee,
When I want to end my life,
These two hands won't hold the knife,
Cutting safety for the corporate bottom line
Did that to me.


These Two Arms is being used for the opening of the National Workers’  memorial on the International Day of Mourning, 28th of April, along with Unknown Worker and Bring Out the Banners.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Corporate Culture: Bangladesh Textile Factory Horror

Hundreds of garment workers were killed and injured when an 8 story building housing five textile factories collapsed on 24 April.

Large structural cracks appeared in the Rana Plaza the day before and an evacuation order was given. The building and factory owners ignored the warning and insisted work continue hours before the building collapsed.

This, the worst ever, industrial accident in Bangladesh comes only months after more than one hundred garment workers died in two factory fires.

Working for a minimum wage of US$38 per month, less than one percent of garment workers in Bangladesh are represented by a union.

The Labour Law leaves workers unable to join a union and fight for safe workplaces, improved working conditions and better wages.

IndustriALL Global Union and IndustriALL Bangladesh Council is calling on the government to take urgent action to guarantee freedom of association and improve building and fire safety and the minimum wage for the more than 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh.

Send your message supporting these demands to the Bangladesh Prime Minister and Minister for Labour and Employment today - click here.

Corporate Culture:

Giant companies controlling the industry insulate themselves from responsibility for the conditions they create.  And their most important accomplice is the corporate social responsibility industry. 

According to a report just released by the AFL-CIO, Responsibility Outsourced, just before a fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in Pakistan killed 262 workers in 2012, clothing manufacturers hired an auditing firm, Social Accountability International, to certify it was safe. SAI then subcontracted inspection to an Italian firm, RINA, which subcontracted it yet again to a local firm RI&CA.  Ali Enterprises was certified that August. "Nearly 300 workers died in a fire two weeks after," the report charges.

Certifying factories that kill workers has become an $80 billion industry that "helped keep wages low and working conditions poor, [while] it provided public relations cover for producers,"  Responsibility Outsourced says. "Manufacturing work has left countries in which there were laws, collective bargaining and other systems in place to reduce workplace dangers," it says, while "jobs instead have gone to countries with inadequate laws, weak enforcement and precarious employment relationships."

This transfer was enabled by corporate-friendly trade agreements guaranteeing the products of these factories unfettered access to U.S. and European markets.  They simultaneously put pressure on developing countries to guarantee the rights of foreign corporate investors and an environment of low wages, lax enforcement of worker protections, and attacks on unions.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lessons from US Gas Rush

Global Unions declare Rio Tinto Anti-union

IndustriALL Global Union joined a diverse group of civil society activists, NGOs and community-based organizations in London to protest against Anglo American and Rio Tinto on the occasion of their Annual General Meetings on 18 and 19 April 2013 respectively.

The protests were held under the banner; “stories of resistance” and were organized and coordinated by the London Mining Network. The “stories of resistance” were echoed by:representatives from communities affected by Anglo American and others at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia, speaking about forced community removals and the alliance between farming communities and mine workers,

  • a national union of mineworkers' representative from South Africa NUM, speaking about silicosis and the legal action against Anglo American, 
  • a representative of Oyu Tolgoi Watch in Mongolia, speaking about the impacts on water and traditional livelihoods of Rio Tinto's operations there,
  • a representative of indigenous people affected by Rio Tinto's operations in Arizona, and representatives of the West Papuan independence movement, speaking about the Grasberg mine.

These stories of resistance, of Indigenous rights, workers’ rights, human rights in general, and the health of the environment, struggled to be heard inside the halls of the annual general meeting as they were drowned by both board members and individual shareholders’ concerns for a return on shareholder investments on profit.

One shareholder, though, raised a concern as to why last year’s Greenwash Gold Campaign, which was voted by the public and which was won by Rio Tinto did not appear in the company’s report. The chairman of Rio Tinto, Jan du Plessis, replied that he had no intention of publicizing the Greenwash Gold Campaign in the company’s report.

Glen Mpufane of IndustriALL Global Union asked about the company’s conflictive relations with trade unions, noting particularly the lockout of workers at the Alma smelter in Quebec, Canada, in 2012, and if the company was concerned about its anti-union image.

Sam Walsh replied that the Alma smelter dispute that went on during the first half of 2012 was about remuneration and how to do business, how to improve productivity and the viability of the smelter. He said that the company is not anti-union, that it respects the right of workers to join or not to join unions, {but} that that its overriding concern was to maintain direct contact with its employees.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

CFMEU VIC Launch Earthworker Coop

ACTU's Ged Kearney, VTHC's Brian Boyd & John Setka.
The CFMEU Victorian Branch today launched a cooperative involving solar hot water systems  in a bid to support local manufacturing and the environment.

CFMEU VIC Secretary John Setka said that their support for this initiative- the Earthworker cooperative, is part of the union’s ‘green’ tradition.

“Since the Green Bans of the 1970’s construction workers have a long and proud history of leading the way in building a sustainable and equitable future.”

Mr Setka assisted in unveiling the first Earthworker Cooperative solar hot worker system at the Coburg Uniting Church facility, Kildonan. Unions, The Uniting church, green activists and small manufacturers have come together to offer a practical solution to the dual crisis in Australian manufacturing jobs and the environment.

“Today, far too many of the manufactured goods that go into Australian buildings are made overseas, usually with little thought to the human, social and environmental costs involved,” he said.
Coming off the international year of the cooperative 2012, this unique project is the first off its kind to move beyond protest, into real jobs and real climate solutions.

“Our involvement in the  Earthworker Cooperative will help to begin the process of rebuilding the supply of Australian made goods, and especially manufacture of the renewable goods our country needs.

To date approximately 3-4% of Victorians have a solar panel on their roof. 5-6% of unionists. If that was taken to 30% by 2020 that would mean over 80,000 installations per year.

“Using clean energy products built for our conditions, made by Australian workers, will ultimately lead to the kind of buildings we all want to construct, live and work in,” said Mr Setka.

The distinguishing feature of the model is how the goods are sold. Unions and employers will include the solar hot water system as part of the Enterprise Agreements they negotiate.

“We intend to support this strategy because unions need to lead from the front now on jobs and sustainability, and Earthworker Cooperative is just one way we can begin to do that.”

CFMEU: Building Workers Prepare to March

Thousands of building workers are planning to march next Tuesday from Grocon's Swanston Street CUB site, where a wall collapse last month killed three people including a brother and sister, to WorkSafe's offices in Exhibition Street.

In February, after a crane driver fell to his death at Grocon's Emporium project in Lonsdale Street, Fairfax Media requested through freedom of information all WorkSafe reports on safety incidents at the company's sites in recent years.

The reports show that the builder seriously infringed safety requirements at least four times between February 2011 and February this year, and was once ordered to immediately stop work to improve safety conditions.

Included in the material provided by WorkSafe were 14 reports of less serious incidents on Grocon sites that resulted in either minor injuries to workers or warnings from the safety regulator.

Among these incidents:

  • In May 2011 steel fell from a crane at the Lonsdale Street building site previously occupied by department store Myer. The steel smashed windows in the Myer and David Jones stores in Little Bourke Street and damaged a glass canopy over the footpath outside Myer.
  • A 21-tonne excavator in operation at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre tipped over in April 2012, coming to rest on its counterweight.
  • Also at the new cancer centre, excavation work in October last year caused movement beneath Royal Parade, closing part of the road for several weeks.
  • The partial collapse of flooring during a concrete pour at the Lonsdale Street site.

One WorkSafe report also stated that in late 2011, as the builder began demolition work in Lonsdale Street, a piece of concrete dislodged from the facade of the former Myer building and fell eight storeys onto the street. No one was injured.

The WorkSafe reports on Grocon shed light on the notoriously dangerous construction industry and range from minor infringements that Grocon staff agreed with WorkSafe to fix to four orders to improve safety and one prohibition notice under which work stopped.

In the past five years, more than 17,000 injury claims across the construction industry were reported to WorkSafe. These claims cost almost $1 billion in treatment, wages and other expenses.

The Victorian head of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union said the three deaths at the CUB site last month were proof that Grocon did not take safety seriously enough.

''It was their site, they were in charge of it, and the wall has come over and killed three people,'' said the union's state secretary, John Setka.

The Age 25 April 2013

NSW: Keep Our Parks Safe

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

NSWTF: O’Farrell leads on Gonski – other states must follow

The NSW Teachers Federation has welcomed news that Premier O’Farrell has committed to the Gonski schools funding reform in New South Wales.

NSW Teachers Federation President, Maurie Mulheron said today:

“Today’s announcement shows that the Premier has been able to put politics aside and act in the interests of the school children in this state.

 “We will see additional funding to support children who need it most.  We will now have a genuinely needs-based model of schools funding, which is the way it should be.

“This has been a long time coming – parents and teachers across the state have been working for years to press the case for change.”

Premier O’Farrell’s decision today will allow an additional $5 billion to flow to NSW schools over the next six years.  NSW public schools do most of the heavy lifting in supporting disadvantaged students – with these reforms, funding to public schools will reflect that reality.

Mr Mulheron went on to say, “These extra funds will start to bridge the divide of disadvantage that plagues our current model of schools funding.

“Parents of every school aged child in NSW have reason to celebrate today.

“With NSW committing to Gonski, the imperative for other states and territories to follow suit is clear.

“There is no reason for any further delay by any other state or territory leader.  Investment brings results, and it is our firm hope that they will all now take a leaf out of Premier O’Farrell’s book.  They must commit to the Gonski reforms so that every child gets the support they need to achieve their best at school.

“The additional funding the state is putting into the funding reforms must not come at the expense of public education provision in the TAFE sector. TAFE has already suffered huge cuts and needs additional resources, not fewer.”

Vic: Job Cuts Fraud

The state government is dramatically lifting its spending on temporary workers and contractors in the public sector to nearly $1 billion - at the same time as it lays off more than 4000 staff.

The leap in spending on temporary workers is detailed in government contracts that reveal a big rise in the use of temporary administrative staff, information technology workers and consultants.

The $930 million expected to be spent from 2011 to 2014 compares with the government's outsourcing contract for 2006-2008, which was worth about $200 million.

Among the firms to benefit from the current outsourcing contract are labour hire giants Hays, Hudson and Randstad.

Agreements with seven labour hire firms were signed in 2011, just months before then treasurer Kim Wells announced plans to cut 3600 public service jobs. This cut would save the government $998 million over three financial years, according to a budget update released in December 2011 when Mr Wells made the announcement.

In last year's budget the government announced it would axe another 600 public service jobs, meaning 4200 public servants will go by the end of this year.

Opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Natalie Hutchins said there were now doubts over whether the government was saving money through its redundancy program.

''This government prides itself that it is running sustainable budgets, [but] how sustainable is it to sack 4200 people and put out a $1 billion contract for casual labour?'' she said.

Ms Hutchins said the move was ''about making the public sector more insecure, the delivery of services more questionable''.

A former senior public servant said labour hire staff and temporary workers were used by government departments to hide spending on wages and to disguise how many workers they used. Spending on labour hire could be reported in accounts as ''capital expenditure'' rather than staff costs, he said. ''It is a tried and true method way of hiding the cost.''

He said some departments now had more than one-fifth of their staff employed from labour hire or as non-permanent workers.

Community and Public Sector Union state secretary Karen Batt said the government was moving to replace the permanent public service.

''The government is spending $300 million for the most recent round of redundancies while utilising sham contracting through labour hire for just under $1 billion,'' she said.

Ms Batt said the government had ''perpetuated a political fraud'' over its redundancy program.

Abbott's Parental Scheme exposed

ACTU President Ged Kearney said parents and especially women should be extremely wary of the Coalition’s trumped up paid parental scheme policies.

“This policy would dismantle well-functioning agreements between business and employees and create a one-strike-and-fold opportunity for the Coalition to dismantle the scheme should they come to power,” Ms Kearney said.  

Tony Abbott said he was determined to push ahead with his plan to tax Australia’s top 3200 companies an extra 1.5 per cent to help pay for a $2.7 billion parental leave scheme but Ms Kearney said this levy would be difficult to maintain over time.

“You don’t have to be particularly imaginative to foresee where this is going.  Business will reach a point where they say they can no longer afford the levy for a variety of economic reasons. 

“By then agreements between employers and employees will have been undone and the Coalition will say it is no longer affordable to pay the scheme. 

“Australia should be proud of the paid parental scheme we currently have which goes some way to making the system fairer, especially for women. 

“We should do all we can to ensure Tony Abbott and the Coalition do not strike a mortal blow to what is currently a healthy and well-functioning policy that supports parents.

“What we know is that there are years of entrenched views from Mr Abbott that are antagonistic to women. In 2002, Mr Abbott told a Liberal Party function in Victoria: ‘Compulsory paid maternity leave? Over this Government’s dead body, frankly.’ “

Ms Kearney said that women fared extremely badly under a Coalition Government, which under WorkChoices took away job and income security, and made it harder for mothers to balance their work and family responsibilities.

It is also important to note that no one wants this.

“Business doesn’t want it, and there is dissent from his own party on the issue,” Ms Kearney said. 

“Many employers who provide paid parental leave on top of the Government's 18 weeks at minimum wage payment, would have to honour their legal obligation to do so until the workplace agreement expires - which could be three years. 

“They would have to pay both their leave as well as the hefty tax. It will be chaos. The collecting of the levy would also put an extra burden on business.

“This is trumped up policy which should be viewed sceptically and in historical context. Mr Abbott didn’t want to support parents, especially women, in the past and he won’t want to should the Coalition come to power in September.”

Greece - The Hidden Victims of Austerity ...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sydney: Save Welfare Rights - Friday 3 May 2013


An Earth Day Message: Take Heart from the Abolition Movement

By Bill Bigelow

On this Earth Day, those of us fighting for climate justice and an end to the world’s fossil fuel domination should take heart from the struggle against slavery.

Imagine for a moment that it is 1858 and you are an abolitionist. Talk about discouragement: The previous year, in its Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no black person—whether enslaved or free—was entitled to become a U.S. citizen. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that the framers of the Constitution believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…” The decision declared that the federal government could not ban slavery in U.S. territories. A few years before, Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which vastly expanded the U.S. government’s authority to seize and return to slavery individuals who had fled to freedom—or even those blacks born free in the North. Many Northern blacks crossed into Canada rather than live in constant fear.

And abolitionists were waging not just a moral struggle against the enslavement of human beings. Slavery was the largest industry in the United States, worth more than all the factories, banks, and railroads combined. In effect, the abolition movement aimed to expropriate without compensation the wealth of the most powerful social class in the country.

On the surface, abolitionists had made little, if any, progress. In fact, by most indicators, things had gotten worse. The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833. After about 30 years of antislavery activism, twice as many people were enslaved, more U.S. territory was dedicated to slavery, slaveowners possessed more wealth, and the federal government’s commitment to slavery was greater than ever before. Yes, talk about grounds to be discouraged.

Which brings us to today’s climate crisis and the many reasons for despair.

Recently, I taught a unit on climate change at a local high school in Portland. I began by introducing students to the “three scary numbers” featured in Bill McKibben’s important Rolling Stone article from last summer, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”

The first scary number is 2 degrees Celsius. As McKibben points out, it’s the only climate number that virtually the entire world agrees on. Keep the climate from warming 2 degrees Celsius—about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—and there is some hope of preventing a climate calamity. In the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Accord, 167 countries, including the United States, pledged “that deep cuts in global [greenhouse gas] emissions are required… so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.” McKibben acknowledges that even a 2 degree rise in global temperatures is fraught with danger, but it’s the only international consensus on a climate target—“the bottomest of bottom lines,” writes McKibben. The first scary number.

The second scary number is 565 gigatons. According to the best scientific estimates, that’s the amount of additional carbon that we can pour into the atmosphere and still hope to keep the rise in temperature to 2 degrees. Five hundred and sixty-five thousand million tons of carbon. It seems like a lot, until we hear that the International Energy Agency found that in 2011 global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 31.6 gigatons—3.2 percent higher than the previous year, and that projections call for humanity to blast through our 565 gigaton quota in less than 16 years.

Which brings us to the final number that makes the other two numbers so frightening: 2,795 gigatons of carbon. This number represents the stored carbon in reserves held by coal, oil, and gas companies, and the countries that act like fossil fuel companies, like Kuwait. McKibben notes that this number was first highlighted by a group of London financial analysts and environmentalists, called the Carbon Tracker Initiative. In other words, the fossil fuel industry already has plans to exploit five times as much carbon as can be burned without exceeding the 2 degrees ceiling. Burning these fossil fuels would enter the world into a dystopia of climate science fiction. Yet according to Bloomberg, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson says that Exxon will spend $37 billion this year, $100 million a day, attempting to add still more oil production by 2016.

Meanwhile President Obama brags about how many new miles of pipeline have been built under his administration—“enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some,” he said last year—and touts his “all of the above” energy strategy.

Yes, 43 years after the first Earth Day, there are abundant reasons to be discouraged—and frightened, too. In the midst of a class activity, “The Mystery of the Three Scary Numbers,” one of the students I was working with grasped the enormity of what she was uncovering; she turned to a friend and asked, “Does this mean we’re going to die?”

Back to 1858. The abolition movement rejected the death sentence imposed by Taney’s Supreme Court. Abolitionists became more radical in their aims, and more audacious in their tactics. As Vincent Harding writes in There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, following the Dred Scott decision, blacks throughout the North “flocked angrily to meetings. Frustration and rage filled their voices as they denounced the Court’s decision … [E]verywhere they gathered, the people committed themselves to broader, more defiant acts of civil disobedience.”

The black abolitionist Robert Purvis, in a Philadelphia gathering, attacked the U.S. government as “one of the basest, meanest, most atrocious despotisms that ever saw the face of the sun,” and asked why shouldn’t blacks “welcome the overthrow of ‘this atrocious government’ and construct a better one in its place?”

In Oberlin, Ohio in the fall of 1858, U.S. marshals acting under the Fugitive Slave Act were about to return a man named John Price, who had escaped slavery, to Kentucky. Thirty-seven black and white abolitionists seized Price from the marshals and sent him to Canada. The trial of two of the 37 rescuers turned into an antislavery rally as the courtroom was filled with cheering spectators.

Of course, the most consequential act of post-Dred Scott resistance was the 1859 attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia led by John Brown. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of the Harpers Ferry raid, the mission dramatized the refusal of the abolition movement to surrender to the most powerful institutions in the United States. And it electrified the antislavery movement in the North as nothing else had.

The point is not that we should copy abolitionists’ tactics, but that we should learn from their hope, from their tenacity, and from their willingness to defy those who put profit above humanity. And like the abolitionists, we should refuse to accept what the wealthy and powerful present as the “inevitable.”

Every Earth Day, some of us are tempted to say things like “We live on the same planet; we’re all in this together.” But no, we’re not. Last year, Exxon made almost $45 billion profit, while the superstorms and rising seas of global climate chaos forced people around the world to flee their homes. Yachts and villas for some; misery and insecurity for others. As the journalist and activist Naomi Klein has said, “[W]ith the fossil fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”

In history we find hope—if we look for it. Our opponents today are no more reckless and ruthless than the people who made their living enslaving others. But they still measure life in dollars. This Earth Day we need to recognize that the fossil fuel industry is waging war on the planet—and on the future. And, like the abolition movement before us, we need to act accordingly.

Monday, April 22, 2013

ACTU: Australians Want Time to Care

ACTU President Ged Kearney said unions, community groups and the public call on the Government, employer groups and the Opposition to listen to families in crisis and ensure we protect Australia’s economy.

The ACTU is today launching the Australians Want Time to Care report that clearly demonstrates through hundreds of case studies how Australians are struggling to cope with a lack of due process and out-dated workplace cultures.

This comes as the ACTU will this week lodge a submission to Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013, requesting an appeal process around the right to request family friendly work arrangements.

"A lack of employer engagement in the modernising of the workforce has left us no choice but to raise the volume on this very important issue," Ms Kearney said.

"We call on the Government to firmly acknowledge the existence of modern families by enshrining in law a right to appeal against employers unreasonable refusals to balance work and family."

"And we call on the opposition to support the Bill. The Coalition has been silent in regards to their family friendly policies and this is worrying."

Ms Kearney said employers stuck in the 1950s were limiting people’s ability to care for loved ones and forcing people, especially women, into insecure work or out of the workforce all together.

"We can't let these employers be the cause of a skills drought as people find they are unable to cope. We know that families are struggling financially and emotionally and the level of anxiety is hurting them.

"Anecdotally we hear that 50 per cent of women at mother's groups say they can't return to work because their employer is inflexible.

"Things have changed in broader society but with many workplaces you still have employers who can't wrap their minds around the idea that a dad might want to go part time to care for his kids or that a woman shouldn’t be forced into insecure work just because she has other responsibilities.”

"Our economy cannot afford to lose these valuable workers and that's why we say enough is enough. This is a ticking time bomb and we need to act now. Let's take unnecessary stress off families and all that’s needed is for employers to reasonably consider their employee’s request."

Ms Kearney said this might mean a change in work hours or to go part time.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

India: Supreme Court Blocks Vedanta Mine

Amnesty welcomed today a landmark ruling by the Indian Supreme Court that should put the breaks on a controversial mine development.

A subsidiary of the British company Vedanta Resources has been trying to develop a vast bauxite mine on the Dongria Kondh indigenous community's lands and habitats which they consider sacred.

The court decided on Thursday that the local tribespeople in Orissa should get a say on the mine's future.

Orissa Dongaria Kondh tribe protest against the Vedanta project
It said village councils in Rayagada and Kalahandi provinces would have three months to decide if they want mining in their area.

Dongria Kondh leader Lado Sikaka said they would use the official channel to press their decade-long campaign against the mine.

Amnesty India chief executive G Ananthapadmanabhan said: "The mine would have resulted in violation of their rights as indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to water, food, health and work.

"It is a clear vindication of the protests by local communities … and the sustained campaign carried out by many organisations which exposed how the communities' views had long been ignored."

He called on Indian authorities to set up a clear process to ascertain the assent of indigenous communities to potentially destructive land developments.

Tas: Anti Gunns pulp mill campaigner dies

The Tasmanian environmentalist Bob McMahon is being remembered as a dedicated activist who brought world attention to the campaign against the Gunns pulp mill.

Bob McMahon died unexpectedly at his home at Exeter yesterday, aged in his early 60s.

The professional rock climbing instructor helped establish the group Tasmanians Against the Pulp Mill (TAP).

He was the public face of a campaign against Gunns' $2 billion Tamar Valley project, which has been shelved since the collapse of the company.

Mr McMahon spoke to the ABC last year when his group gathered to celebrate Gunns' demise.

"We've saved this beautiful place, you know," he said.

"We've saved this place."

Fellow activist Ross Story says Mr McMahon's involvement was instrumental to the campaign.

"He provided inspiration for people," he said.

"The group is planning a memorial service."

See also The man who pulped the pulp mill

Friday, April 19, 2013

National Broadband Network Parliamentary Committee

Australians linked to the national broadband network will be able to get world-leading internet download speeds of one gigabit per second by the end of this year.

In an address to the parliamentary committee on the NBN in Sydney on Friday, CEO Mike Quigley said NBN Co remains "very comfortable" about staying within its forecast $34.7 billion capital cost to roll out the network. He said costs of the rollout and connections had also fallen significantly since the completion of initial connections.

An entire movie could be pulled down in several seconds using the service, which is about 100 times faster than the average speeds offered by ADSL connections.

The wholesale price for the 1Gbps service will be $150 a month, though retailers will add a margin to this. NBN Co will also launch two other high speed services - 250Mbps and 500 Mbps - by December.
NBN Co's announcement comes as the company's chief executive, Mr. Quigley, refuted claims by the Coalition that NBN Co prices will increase.

Most commentators believe that Labor's "fibre to the premises" technology is better than the Coalition's slightly cheaper and much slower plan which relies on decaying copper telephone lines.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing the NBN, Robert Oakeshott, said he would use the committee hearings to scrutinise the Coalition's broadband policy.''Now there is bipartisan commitment to complete the NBN, all policy suggestions on how to reach completion are fair game for the oversight committee,'' Mr Oakeshott said.

High speed rail – is it finally coming?

April 12, 2013  - National Loco Division, RTBU News

A high-speed rail line between Sydney and Melbourne is a step closer to reality after the Federal Government released a report looking into the viability of the project.

The report suggests a high-speed rail line down the east coat would cost $114 billion, but would pay its way, carrying 84 million passengers per year.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese announced he would convene a special panel to consider the construction of the line – with RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva set to sit on the expert panel.

Loco Division Secretary Bob Hayden said that the announcement is an important first step towards the possible introduction of high-speed rail into Australia – a possibility which has been discussed for decades.

“The price tag is large, and even though the report suggests the first high speed train would not be seen until 2035,  it’s important we don’t let that put us off the idea alone,” Bob Hayden said.

“Transport infrastructure on this scale should always be seen as a long term National Building investment, not a cost.

“We need to be looking at innovative financing options that can help us make the line a reality. There are plenty of options that need be explored – and we’re confident that the expert panel will be in a position to do just that.

“It’s fantastic to see a Federal Transport Minister willing to take a real look at the issue and one that can see the long-term benefits of the project.

“The benefits of rail cannot be underestimated. We’re hopeful that the long-term positive aspects of the rail service will not be overlooked in favour of short-term monetary interests.”

See Full Report

Bob Brown - No Hunting in National Parks rally

Bob Brown addresses No Hunting in National Parks rally in Sydney 18 April 2013

ACOSS Budget Submission

The Australian Council of Social Service today said raising the single rate of Newstart Allowance could be the greatest legacy of the 43rd Parliament if the Federal Government takes the courageous step for the first time in 20 years.

“The Hawke-Keating government was the last government brave enough to increase unemployment benefits in 1994, now this government has the chance before the federal election to leave a lasting legacy,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie. “The government would certainly have the support of the wider community, including the entire community welfare sector, unions, business, the Organisation for Economic Co-ordination and Development, and its own Henry Tax Review panel.”

Speaking at the launch of the peak community welfare body’s 2013 Budget submission today, Dr Goldie said, “Increasing the abysmally low base rate of Allowance payments by $50 a week is the single most important thing this government could do in the immediate term to lift more than one million people out of worsening poverty in Australia.

“This is not rocket science and it is completely fundable. We estimate it would cost about $800 million dollars this year to increase the payments, including indexation, and $1.8 billion in 2014-15.

“We understand the current pressures on the Budget, however, this is doable, especially if the Government tackled the current waste in the Budget in the form of tax avoidance and poorly targeted spending programs and tax breaks. We’ve identified around $6 billion dollars in savings, some of which could be used to fund this must needed increase.

“We are calling on the government to clamp down on things like the use of private ‘discretionary' trusts and capital gains. We are also proposing the scrapping of the health insurance rebate for ancillary or ‘extras' cover, the Seniors and Pensioners Tax Offset, and non-superannuation termination payments, which are wasteful measures.

“We are pleased the Federal Government has capped the deductions for education expenses and moved to make the superannuation system fairer. However it appears they have backtracked on the opportunity for more far-reaching reform of the retirement savings system, particularly the churning of income through super accounts to avoid taxes on wages.

“Now is the time for courageous decisions to be made in the national interest if we are to move towards creating a more sustainable tax base to fund the important social programs and services we all want into the future for our aging population.

“In his speech at the National Press Club this week, the President of the Business Council of Australia, Tony Shepherd, declared that our nation is at the crossroads and urged our political leaders to be brave and be prepared to lose their jobs to lift national prosperity. ACOSS supports those sentiments, especially the recognition that we need to do more as a country to ensure the benefits of that social progress are felt by all.

“With 2.2 million people, including 1 in 6 children living below the poverty line, we were pleased to hear the strong statement from Mr Shepherd that income support allowances need to ensure people without paid work are able to ‘live in dignity'. He is the latest in long line of prominent people speaking out in support of lifting the $35 a day Newstart payment.

“Now is the time for our federal leaders to listen to this widespread call and show this courage by prioritising an urgent increase in the single rate of Newstart Allowance in the May federal Budget,” Dr Goldie concluded.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Corporate Culture: War on Workers' Rights

BHP Billiton is apparently leading a business attack on the Labor government’s second round of changes to industrial relations laws, which the mining giant says will force it to respond to countless requests for flexible working hours and consult every time it wants to change rosters. Indeed how demeaning it must be for the "Big Australian" to have to consult! Who's the boss anyway?

Australia’s largest overseas owned company said changes to the Fair Work Act designed to increase flexible working arrangements, additional rostering consultation, new anti-bullying provisions and right of entry changes were unfair on businesses.

Predictably the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Mines and Metals Association, the Master Builders, the National Farmers Federation and the Australian Chamber of Commerce, all began singing the same song.

Family friendly changes to parental leave arrangements, additional protections for pregnant workers and increased unpaid leave entitlements, changes necessary to stamp out workplace bullying, guarantee access to union representatives are all anathema to the representatives of greed.

BHP head of human resources Gary Brown said in a submission the changes would "add unnecessary regulatory burden and cost, and will not assist the industry’s productivity agenda at a critical time".

The expansion of the right to request flexible working arrangements was "an unreasonable and unnecessary incursion into the operations of an employer's business" that would “radically expand the number of requests required to be considered by an employer" over the course of a worker’s career. This from the geniuses who brought us the global finical crisis.

"It will be unmanageable, even chaotic, if an employer is obliged to consult employees every time it contemplates a possible roster change," the submission stated. Bullying in particular should not be categorised as an industrial matter, BHP said.

Joining the wingeing chorus, the Australian Industry Group said the changes were "extremely lopsided" and did not deliver a “more productive, flexible and fair workplace relations system". "Employers' issues of concern are not addressed in the bill, and the absence of any attempt to do what we demand is glaring," the AiG submission said.

Striving for brevity the ACCI said the current legislation was "simply unbalanced".

The  fount of original thought, the National Farmers Federation, said the changes were unbalanced and could have a significant impact on jobs, AMMA called for the bill to be withdrawn, and ye olde world Master Builders Association said it strengthened the power of unions and did not "provide any measures which enhanced productivity".

There can be no doubt that "Class War" is alive and well among such unrepresentative male dominated self serving lobbyists.

Sydney: NO HUNTING in National Parks Rally

NO HUNTING in National Parks Rally “It’s a family affair”

Families and friends of the campaign against hunting in national parks are invited to a peaceful rally these school holidays.
  • When: 12:30 – 1:30pm, Thursday 18th April 2013
  • Where: Outside NSW Parliament House Macquarie Street, SYDNEY
  • Bring: Let’s make this a colourful event! Please bring a sign or banner: “Don’t put my kids at risk!” Children, please come dressed as your favourite native animal!
Speakers: Bob Debus, former ALP Environment Minister and Attorney General. Also a speaker for the Greens and representatives from the Public Service Association, WIRES, National Parks Association, and more.

Rain or shine, this event will be on.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ASU: 20,000 Community Sector Workers Win

The union representing community sector workers has welcomed the news from the State Government about the size of its commitment to a wage rise for thousands of South Australian community sector workers.

Australian Services Union (ASU) SA Secretary Katrine Hildyard says the SA Government will provide more than $119m extra to the community sector for the wage increases awarded by Fair Work Australia last year.

"Twenty thousand South Australian workers, who work with some of our most vulnerable people, will see increased wages in recognition of the important community work they do.

"Our members fought for eight years to have their work recognised and last year, Fair Work Australia agreed that their work had been historically undervalued because it was being done largely by women.

"The South Australian government was one of the first State jurisdictions to come on board and announce it would pay its fair share of the wage increase and we congratulate the Premier and Treasurer for putting his money where his mouth is.

"After decades of struggle and eight years of tireless campaigning, these community workers – who support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians – will finally get decent pay.

"These workers do crucial work in our communities but have been paid more than 30% less than those people doing the same kind of work in other sectors."

"Often, they weren't earning much more than the people they were helping.

"This has been a hard fought win and is one that is totally deserved by all these important working South Australians."

CFMEU: Gladstone community rally

More than 1000 local workers and community members will rally in Gladstone tomorrow to demand Government action to better spread the benefits of the mining boom.

Gladstone community rally
When: 12pm, Wednesday 17 April 2013
Where: Gladstone Bowls Club, 6A Ferris St, Gladstone

Their demands include greater investment in essential infrastructure for Gladstone and other mining communities, increased training and skills development for local workers, an end to the growing dependence on exploitable overseas workers under the 457 visa scheme, and the use of local content on projects to support Australian manufacturers.

A television advertising blitz, which tells the stories of four real Australians exposing the reality that not everyone in our community is sharing equally from the benefits of the boom, will also air on local TV screens.

The rally is part of the “Let’s Spread It Around” campaign — which is calling for policies to protect and bolster job opportunities for all Queensland workers — and will bring together members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Electrical Trades Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Maritime Union of Australia.

“We must ensure this once-in-a-generation mining boom benefits all Australians,” CFMEU QLD Construction and General Division Secretary Michael Ravbar said.

“For the Gladstone community, this means more needs to be done to support local health, education and road infrastructure, all of which is struggling to handle the rapidly growing pressures being placed on it.

CFMEU QLD Mining and Energy District President Stephen Smyth said inadequate investment in skills training and jobs for local workers were also concerning many in the community.

“A report by the Workforce Development and Productivity Agency last year highlighted that a third of 15 to 19-year-olds are out of work, that many companies don’t want to take time to train them, and that Queensland had ‘worrying clusters’ of unemployment,” Mr Smyth said.

“Locals also want to see greater investment in skills training — rather than the growing trend of importing cheap, exploitable labour from overseas — so local workers and their kids can benefit from the job opportunities in the sector.”

 CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary Dave Noonan said that while many of the big miners were increasingly trying to import a cheap, exploitable workforce from overseas under the 457 visa scheme, many local people find it impossible to get jobs in the sector.

“The Federal Government must strengthen the legislation to ensure employers prioritise the training of locals over bringing in compliant workers from overseas, which unfortunately seems to be increasingly the preference of many big companies,” Mr Noonan said.

CFMEU National Secretary Michael O'Connor said Governments at all levels should be using every avenue available to them to ensure that local jobs, industries and communities are supported.

“The jobs of Australian manufacturing workers can also be supported in simple ways such as ensuring major infrastructure projects that receive taxpayer dollars have an obligation to use locally manufactured products whenever practicable,” O'Connor said.

“With the Australian dollar likely to remain at historic highs for some time because of the impacts of the mining boom, and other industries desperately struggling to survive, the ‘Let’s Spread It Around’ campaign is about demanding policies that will put Australian jobs first.”

For more information on the campaign, or to watch the TV ads that are airing this week in Gladstone, go to: www.letsspreaditaround.com.au

Trude Kallir: 1922 - 2012

Trude Kallir and her family escaped from Vienna in 1939 and fled to Sydney. In 1948 she married Harry Kallir, also a Viennese refugee, who had been wooing her with dozens of long-stemmed red roses.

The young couple moved to a new housing estate in Boronia Park. It was so new that there were few facilities, and no sewerage. Trude, as she was known to everybody, immediately set about trying to improve the lot of her community. It was the start of a long career of volunteering and community activism.

One of her first projects was the nearby council dump, where burning rubbish and smoke wafted over neighbouring houses. Kallir, working with the Ryde-Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society, successfully fought to have that land converted to a bushland reserve, now the Field of Mars Reserve.

This brought her to the attention of a handful of women trying to protect five hectares of land on the Parramatta River in Hunters Hill. Developers planned to turn it into a series of high-rise buildings. There had been no community consultation.

Kallir leapt at the chance to help to save the last remaining strip of bushland in that area. The women called themselves the Battlers for Kelly's Bush. They wrote letters, lobbied Parliament and enticed the media with offers of tea and cakes. The battle continued for 13 years.The turning point occurred when Jack Mundey, the secretary of the Builders Labourers Federation, responded to a letter that the women had sent to Trades Hall. The members of the BLF voted to refuse to bulldoze the bush.

Green Ban Fusiliers - by Denis Kevans

Developer AV Jennings threatened to bring in non-union labour. Work then stopped on AV Jennings sites across Sydney. This was the start of the green bans. The Rocks, The Royal Botanic Gardens and Centennial Park are some of the sites to have benefited from subsequent green bans. The movement gradually spread throughout the nation and the world.

Read more:

NSW: Tiny Bulga locks gate against Rio Tinto !

The Lock the Gate Alliance has welcomed this morning's judgement in the NSW Land & Environment Court, which overturns the approval of Rio Tinto's (Coal & Allied's) proposed Warkworth open cut coal mine expansion near Bulga, in the Hunter Valley.

The Warkworth Extension was approved by the NSW O'Farrell Government in February 2012, against the wishes of the adjacent community of Bulga. While NSW law usually prohibits merits-based legal challenges to coal mine approvals, a brief change in the law allowed The Bulga-Milbrodale Progress Association to challenge the approval of the mine in the Court.

“This is a huge win for the community of Bulga, which would have been all but wiped off the map by this coal mine,” said Steve Phillips, Hunter regional coordinator for Lock the Gate. “This mine would have had major impacts on air quality and people's health. It would have destroyed an extremely rare and endangered ecosystem, home to 17 threatened native animal species".

Bulgar residents welcome the news

Margueritte Hannaberry, who owns and runs the Cockfighter Creek Tavern on Putty Road with partner Paul Burgess, said it was a ‘‘great feeling’’ and she instantly began ringing around members of the Bulga Milbrodale Progress Association to find out more.

"Everyone on the progress association is over the moon, it’s a massive relief,’’ she said.
"We’ve got a lot of happy people who were born and bred in Bulga today."

Mr Burgess said the mine would have destroyed the town.

"People have been dropping in for a beer and a chat about the decision in Sydney,’’ he said.
"The pub was right in the acquisition zone relevant to the expansion of the mine so we would have had to sell up. The town would have been fairly uninhabitable anyway, cut off from Jerrys Plains and Denman and really a shell of itself."

In a scathing judgment, Justice Brian Preston, chief judge of the Land and Environment Court, criticised the government’s approval of the proposed Warkworth mine, which he said could damage Bulga's "sense of place".

Grovelling to the mining magnates the Planning Minister Brad Hazzard said he was seeking legal advice on courses of action available to the government in the face of the community win.

Rio Tinto said the ability of the community to challenge the government’s decision was "significantly obstructing investment and job creation in NSW."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

NSW: Blacktown Schools Campaign for Gonski

Teachers, principals and parents of the Blacktown area have shown a united front in their support for funding reform as recommended in the Gonski review. A delegation representing public schools in the area today delivered large signed postcards to the local State Member of Parliament, Kevin Conolly.

The delegation coincided with a Western Sydney tour of a mobile billboard intended to put the spotlight on Premier Barry O’Farrell and the state government.

With the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on April 19, the message to Mr Conolly and Premier O’Farrell was clear, “Give a Gonski for our Kids”.

Elizabeth Rose, president of the Blacktown Teachers Association said. “Mr O’Farrell, negotiate school funding changes with the federal government.

“Implementing Gonski would better support student learning by increasing resources for smaller class sizes and more individual attention for students.”

Kirsty Boerst, speaking on behalf of local parents, urged the O’Farrell government and those negotiating funding reform to rise above politics and sign on for more equitable funding for students.

She said:
“It is time for all governments to stop using our children as political footballs. It is time to put our children and their education first. It is the fundamental right for our kids to access high quality, well-funded public education.”

Economics and Universities - the Switch to Austerity ?

From January next year universities will be hit by a 2 per cent efficiency dividend, saving the Government $900 million.

A 10 per cent discount on the upfront payments of HECS loans will be dumped at a value of $230 million and Student Start-Up Scholarships would need to be repaid once the student begins working.

Tax concessions for work-related education expenses will also be capped at $2,000, putting the total saving at $2.8 billion.

The Federal Government will today release further details of its school funding model, which it says will provide an extra $4,000 per student.

But Greens Senator Penny Wright says the Government should look to the mining tax, rather than universities to pay for the reforms.

"The Government just needs to have the courage to plug the holes in the mining tax to pay for Gonski," she said.

Federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott described the cuts as a "poison pill", and called on Treasurer Wayne Swan to rule out any further cuts to higher education in May's federal budget.

Fellow independent Andrew Wilkie believes the cuts will do enormous damage to the Federal Government.

"The Government, approaching an election, is making much of the fact that the Labor Party is the party of education and more funding in education," he said.

"But the fact that they have decided to cut more than $2 billion out of education funding, frankly makes a mockery of their claims."

The Tertiary Education Union's Jeannie Rae says the decision does not make sense.

"The system is in stress, and it's getting towards breaking point," she said.

ITF: Solidarity with Hong Kong Dockers

ITF president and chair of the ITF dockers’ section Paddy Crumlin attended a solidarity meeting with striking dockworkers at the Port of Hong Kong this afternoon.

Addressing members of the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD), Mr Crumlin said that systematic welfare abuses together with the woefully inadequate remuneration of dockworkers at Kwai Chung Container Terminal, amounted to “disgraceful behaviour” on the part of Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT) subcontractors.

Mr Crumlin said that HIT, a subsidiary of global network terminal (GNT) operator Hutchinson Port Holdings Trust (HPH), needed to come back to the bargaining table to restore peace on the waterfront.

“It is critical that HIT engages with the outsourced workers and their representatives. HIT needs to respect the fundamental rights of these workers and their right to decent work, irrespective of whether they are directly employed by the terminal” he explained.

“Four and a half million transport workers around the world are united in their solidarity with the UHKD and other workers in the port in the struggle for decent treatment and fair pay.”

The solidarity mission by the ITF president has been arranged specifically to build on the support expressed at the weekend by ITF regional secretary Mahendra Sharma who met  Hong Kong strikers and attended protest marches. UHKD has taken strike action in a last-ditch attempt to secure dialogue over health and safety, working conditions, pay parity between contract and directly employed workers and the exploitation of outsourced workers. The dockers have not had a pay increase in 15 years, despite a booming local economy. Dockworkers have also reported having to urinate, defecate and eat in their cabin so that operations are uninterrupted.

“Hutchinson should be ashamed that workers under their contract are being treated little better than caged animals. The abuses must stop and the employers need to show that they are committed to ending the exploitation of outsourced dockworkers” added Crumlin.

The union commenced strike action on 28 March. Last Friday, the ITF called on HPH to intervene and urge HIT to go to the bargaining table. Meanwhile Hong Kong High Court granted an extension of an interim injunction preventing full scale industrial action at Kwai Tsing. Despite the ruling the court appeared to recognise the need for dockworkers to be able to express their concerns publically to some degree. Restrictive terms on the injunction specify the union’s right to enter the workplace and take strike action in limited numbers and in designated areas.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

CFMEU: Canadian Backpacker Tragedy - O'Farrell's Cuts Again!

A 22-year-old Canadian backpacker has died at a building site that a union said was shut down at Easter because of concerns about safety.

Newtown police along with WorkCover are investigating the circumstances around the young man's death on Australia Street in Camperdown on Saturday. Emergency services attended the old Nurses Union building about 11.45am after reports a man had suffered head and chest injuries after being hit by a number of metal beams.

Fairfax Media understands the young Canadian was on a holiday work visa and had only been taken on by the company Ceerose a week ago.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union NSW secretary Brian Parker said it angered him that a worker had died despite recent attempts to improve safety.

Mr Parker said he believed the builders were digging at the bottom of the building and one of the slabs collapsed. Mr Parker also raised concerns about the abilities of WorkCover to investigate, saying: ''It worries us that WorkCover can't do a proper investigation due to recent staff cuts and expertise that has been lost.''

WA: Woodside pulls out of Kimberley gas hub

Local people protesting against Woodside's gas hub
on Manari Road, Broome. Photo | Damian Kelly.
Congratulations James Price Point, Broome and Australia! The Wilderness Society is excited and relieved by Woodside’s decision to pull out of the destructive gas hub project planned for James Price Point in the Kimberley.

The outcome is a testament to people power. It shows that communities are capable of stopping inappropriate developments, even when those developments are worth $45 billion, lead by some of the most powerful companies in the world, and backed by governments.

It's also a wake-up call to resource companies about how important social licence is. Woodside has deemed its James Price Project 'financially unviable'. This is in part due to the continual stopping and delaying of work at the project site by a committed group of local people supported by a coordinated international movement. Woodside has learnt the hard way that they should not have attempted to force an unpopular development on a community that doesn’t want them there.

A major lesson that Australia can take from all of this is that states cannot be trusted with environmental assessments. Premier Barnett and the Western Australian Government have been acting as both the gas hub’s main proponent and it’s primary environmental assessor. This inherent conflict of interest is simply unworkable and the Federal Government must be involved to provide some rigour to the process. We continue to call on Federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, to rule against this destructive project once and for all.

In the meantime, Premier Barnett and his government must officially dump this tainted project so that the people of Broome and Traditional Custodians can live in peace without the threat of alternative projects at James Price Point hanging over their heads.

Wollongong: CFMEU Slams O'Farrell Work Safety Cuts

Wollongong workers and the general public would be at grave risk of injury if the NSW government pushed ahead with plans to axe the region's safety inspectors, a union claims.

Seven WorkCover NSW inspectors in Wollongong were set to lose their jobs, meaning the construction industry would be without "front-line policing", Brian Parker said yesterday.

The CFMEU secretary called on the government to come clean on what it had planned, saying he believed the job cuts in Wollongong would be "the opening salvo in a bid to slash inspector numbers at the safety authority".

"Given the important role WorkCover inspectors are meant to play in maintaining safety on construction sites, we are demanding to know what is going on," Mr Parker said.

"Just last month, a 37-year-old man was killed at a Wollongong glass manufacturer when a sheet of glass fell on top of him.

"It is appalling that we can have fatalities on job sites and at the same time, WorkCover is cutting inspector numbers."

The WorkCover Authority was called to investigate the man's death at Coniston on March 8.

He was crushed under the weight of eight large sheets of toughened glass. The load fell as the man was handling the three-metre-high sheets, each weighing about 100 kilograms.

Workers tried to help him while paramedics were called to the site, a glass manufacturer on John Cleary Place.

Mr Parker said yesterday that losing seven WorkCover positions meant "no tough cops on the beat".

"To be honest, we are appalled at the situation," he said.

"In the industry, there are a lot of inferior products coming in from overseas, a lot of the work is high risk ... stuff like steel structures and scaffolding coming in, so there will be no policing of that.

"It really means no people left on the beat any more."

Mr Parker said "unscrupulous employers would cut safety programs to the bone" because there would be no one to enforce the rules.

"When you are looking at inferior materials coming into the country from places, like China and Taiwan, and big steel structures in the air ... our fears are just not for the workers in Wollongong, we are fearful for the general public as well."

Mr Parker said the government had "ripped the guts" out of workers' compensation system and was now adding to the burden workers faced, by removing "what little safety enforcement remained".

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Glenda Jackson - the ABC of Thatcherism - Over A Million Hits

"Thatcherism wreaked the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country"

"It’s a pity she did not start building more and more social houses after she entered into the right to buy, so perhaps there would have been fewer homeless people than there were"

"During her era London became a city Hogarth would have recognised"

"We were told it was going to be called Care in the Community. What in effect it was was no care at all in the community"

"Everything I had been taught to regard as a vice - and I still regard them as vices - under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue"

"If we go back to the heyday of that era I think we will see replicated again the extraordinary human damage that we as a nation have suffered from”

"People knowing under those (Thatcher) years the price of everything and the value of nothing"

"I’m beginning to see possibly the re-emergence of that total traducing of what I regard as being the basis of the spiritual nature of this country, where we do care about society, where we do believe in communities, where we do not leave people to walk by on the other side"

"If we go back to the heyday of that era I think we will see replicated again the extraordinary human damage that we as a nation have suffered from”

Jackson was jeered and booed by Tory MPs, with Tony Baldry arguing in a point of order that her speech was against the "conventions of the House" as "this is not and has never been a general debate on the memory of the person who has been deceased, but an opportunity for tribute".

But John Bercow, the speaker, rejected the criticisim, stating that "nothing unparliamentary has occured ... We are debating a motion that says ‘this House has considered the matter of tributes to the Baroness Thatcher’ - that is what we are doing and nothing has got in the way of that."

NSW: Stop the Cuts

NBN-Enabled Education and Skills Services Program

NSW: Keep electricity network in public hands

Electricity unions will today launch a multi-million dollar community campaign against a proposal by the O'Farrell Government to sell the state's electricity poles and wires monopoly to pay for unfunded election commitments.

The campaign — spearheaded by the Electrical Trades Union, United Services Union, Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia and Public Service Association — includes an initial commitment of $1.5 million to fund advertising, community events and campaigning in key electorates.

"Our polling confirms that the people of NSW are overwhelmingly against this proposal — as revealed last month by Treasurer Mike Baird — because they believe it is bad economics, bad politics, and bad for their communities," ETU secretary Steve Butler said.

"Of the almost two-thousand people polled, 87 per cent said the issue would have some impact on how they vote at the next election, 80 per cent said the electricity network should remain in public ownership and 71 per cent said they believed government does a better job of running the poles and wires than a private company would.

"These sentiments were even stronger in many regional areas, where the impact of potential service reductions or cost increases would be most acutely felt.

"The experiences of network privatisation in Victoria — where Black Saturday bushfire victims are currently suing the foreign multi-national whose faulty maintenance of the electricity network sparked several of the deadly blazes — also seemed to weigh heavily on many in the community. Ninety-two per cent of those polled said foreign companies should not be allowed to own important infrastructure such as our electricity network.

"If a bad government reduces services, the community can vote them out, but when large multinationals get their hands on essential services like the electricity network, the community has no recourse except expensive, time-consuming battles through the courts."

United Services Union general secretary Graeme Kelly said the campaign would seek to debunk the myth that privatisation would be good for consumers.

"South Australia has the highest electricity prices in Australia following the privatisation of their poles and wires, while power prices in NSW remain cheaper than Victoria where privatisation has been hailed a success," Mr Kelly said.

"Here in NSW, the community also gets the benefits of the dividends paid by these stateowned corporations, which deliver more than $2.5 billion every year to the state's coffers to fund hospitals, schools and community services.

"The transmission lines which bring power from the generators, down to the poles and wires running down your street, are a natural monopoly, where there is no possibility of competition. That makes it impossible for consumers get a good deal when it comes to price, maintenance and service delivery, as they have no other choice.

"This campaign is about bringing together working people and the broader community to demand the O'Farrell Government move away from this proposal to ensure essential services like electricity are kept in public hands."

SDA: Full Pay at 18+ Campaign

Retail outlets, fast-food stores, hairdressing salons, warehouses – many workplaces across the country are thriving off the back of the work of younger employees.

But are our younger workers being paid what they deserve?

Junior rates in Australia mean that many younger workers are being paid just a percentage of the full adult rate. For example, under the General Retail Award, at 18 years, workers get 30 per cent less; at 19 it’s 20 per cent less and at 20 it’s 10 per cent less.  That’s despite the fact that in every other aspect of life, you’re considered an adult once you turn 18.

The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association has today launched a campaign aimed at ending junior rates for retail workers aged 18 years and over – and called on the Federal Government to get behind it.

The 100% pay at 18+ campaign is calling on the government to support the SDA’s submission to the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission to change the General Retail Award which currently allows employers to underpay staff based on their age – and to support the premise of the campaign as a whole.

If the campaign is successful for retail workers, the SDA says it would expect to see the benefits flow to young workers in other industries.

National Secretary of the SDA, Joe de Bruyn, says the time for equal pay for younger workers has come and is excited about watching the 100% Pay at 18+ campaign help improve the working life of younger employees.

“It’s definitely time to overhaul the junior rates provisions and replace them with something that better reflects today’s society and provides young workers with the pay they deserve,” Mr de Bruyn says.

“The award provisions governing junior rates have been in place for many decades. They’re prehistoric and illogical these days. Everywhere else in society, you’re classified as an adult once you turn 18 – it just makes sense that employees have the same standing in the workplace.

“At 18, workers are giving 100 per cent contribution in the workplace – they have been trained and are often in positions of responsibility. The 100% pay at 18+ campaign is about paying 18 year olds for their contribution, not their age.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

More 457 Visa Horror Stories

The increased spotlight on the 457 visa skilled migration program is beginning to have an effect, with more and more cases being exposed of exploitation of foreign workers here on short-term permits.

In the latest case to come to light, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is investigating suspected rorting of the 457 system at the massive McArthur River zinc and lead mine in the Northern Territory.

A Spanish contractor, ESPA Pacific, is alleged to have underpaid foreign workers by as much as 50%, while also assigning jobs to some workers that their visas did not allow them to do. The open cut mine, 900 km south-east of Darwin, is operated by the Anglo-Swiss mining giant Xstrata on a fully fly-in/fly-out basis.

The DIAC is investigating the contractor after a complaint lodged by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

AMWU organiser Brian Wilkins said he came across the alleged rorting when he spoke to local workers during collective agreement negotiations. He said he had been told that ESPA Pacific employed about 12 diesel fitters on 457 visas, paying an average of about $5000 a month before tax, which equates to a flat rate of $21 an hour, before penalty rates or other allowances.

But on-site tradespeople with other contractors were paid $45 an hour for the same work. And direct employees of Xstrata are paid $10,800 a month, before bonuses including a Darwin rental allowance. It is also alleged that some workers have been employed to drive trucks, a job that they are not allowed to do under their visa conditions.

The union has been unable to talk to the workers after a meeting was arranged in a room that was in direct view of the mine’s HR manager, which may have deterred them from coming forward.

“I wouldn’t blame them for being worried… We’ve been told that there have been cases of 457 visa workers who questioned the company being sacked instantly then put on a plane and sent home within 48 hours,” Mr Wilkins said.

ACTU: Abbott's Work Choices plan

Unions are angry at Coalition leaked documents that show four key WorkChoices policies - that the Australian public clearly voted against - would be resurrected if the Coalition wins government in September.

The documents reveal four of the 15 industrial relations policies the Coalition says it is planning to implement.

These include:

  • Allow individual agreements to run for four years. Like the five year unfair individual contracts under Section 352 of WorkChoices;
  • Require workers to individually ask for representation in bargaining.  Just like the “Bargaining Agents” system under Section 335 of WorkChoices;
  • Cut minimum hours of work for young workers. Just like the unfair individual contracts that stripped award conditions under Section 354 of WorkChoices;
  • Restore unilateral “employer greenfield agreements” where employers can dictate the terms of agreements on new projects or business without the agreement of workers or unions.  Just like the old Section 330 of WorkChoices.

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said it was clear the Coalition would stay true to their partylines and reward big business at the expense of working Australians.

“They say they have consulted with unions but have not approached us about any of these proposals,” he said.

“The only winner here is big business and a coalition that aims to disempower workers.”

“These policies are acutely one-sided and in the interest of business without any consideration for workers and their representatives.”

“The proposal on Greenfields allows an employer to reach an agreement with themselves – a bizarre situation.

There is no need for them to attempt genuine negotiations because they know that at the end of the day what they say goes.”

Mr Oliver said this would mean more power to employers to dictate terms, conditions and employment to the detriment of workers.