Sunday, June 30, 2013

ACTU: Combet a champion of Australian workers

29 June, 2013 | ACTU Media Release

Greg Combet - Your Rights at Work Rally 2005
Greg Combet is a champion of working people who has used his career in Parliament and the trade union movement to deliver real outcomes for jobs and workplace rights.

Mr Combet’s announcement he will not recontest the upcoming election was an opportunity to reflect on his enormous contribution, said ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver.

“Greg has been an outstanding Labor Minister, putting the interests of working people front and centre of policy reform.

“As Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation he has delivered historic climate change reform that supports jobs while addressing the urgent challenge of transitioning to a lower-carbon economy.

“Among countless achievements as ACTU Secretary, Greg drove the highly successful Your Rights at Work campaign that killed off WorkChoices.

“He guided the union movement through the difficult waterfront dispute, leading the fight against Patrick’s shameful attempt to smash a unionised workforce.

“He secured compensation payments from James Hardie for victims of asbestos disease.”

Australian unions can’t thank Greg enough for his contribution to the union movement and to all Australian working people, said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

“We hope to see him remain involved in the labour movement in some capacity, and wish him well for the next chapter of his life.”

Greg Combet joined the ACTU as an industrial officer in 1993 and served as ACTU Secretary between 2000 and 2007.

[Before that he was a project officer for the New South Wales Tenants' Union, then worked for the Lidcombe Workers' Health Centre. In 1987, he was employed by the Waterside Workers' Federation, now part of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).]

PBS: New Drugs added

Abortion pill RU486 and three cancer drugs have been subsidised, with the Federal Government adding them to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has announced 17 new or amended PBS listing that will cost $1 billion to subsidise over the next four years and make them available at a cheaper price for consumers from August.

Ms Plibersek says a number of the cancer drugs cost more than $100,000 and will be able to be purchased for under $40.

Women have paid up to $800 for the RU486 pill, but Ms Plibersek says from August it will cost less than $37.

"It doesn't change any legal position around abortion and it doesn't change the number of women who are likely to terminate a pregnancy," she said.

Ms Plibersek says about 22,000 women have already used RU486 through some clinics.

"What the provision of these medicines does is give women slightly more choice and more options," she said.

"I think that is a good thing in the situation where women are faced with one of the most difficult decisions that they will ever make."

Treatments for skin, breast and prostate cancer have also been added, including Ipilimumab and Abiraterone.

The subsidy for breast cancer treatment Vinorelbine has also been extended.

"The exciting thing about these new treatments is that they will extend the life of patients with melanoma, prostate cancer and breast cancer," Ms Plibersek said.

"If we didn't subsidise they would be out of the reach of most Australians."

Tilly Ryan from Melanoma Patients Australia has praised the move.

"Our members will no longer have to look at selling their homes to access treatment," he said.

Cancer survivor Christine Bleigie says Ipilimumab costs more than $110,000 a year and was not affordable to most suffers of malignant melanoma.

"We have people in our melanoma patient support groups that are just waiting on this drug to be on the PBS listing because they just can't afford it," she said.

"They are fourth stage melanoma people and so this to them is just the best days in their lives."

CFMEU: Saving Australian Jobs

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) says.

“The passage of this piece of legislation will help stop abuses of the system, give Australian workers a fairer chance of getting Australian jobs, and provide much-needed protection for workers on temporary visas,” CFMEU National Assistant Secretary Dave Noonan said.

“The CFMEU has long highlighted abuses of the 457 visa system and the impact of those rorts on Australian workers and vulnerable 457 visa workers.
“This new system puts in place a simple requirement that employers advertise many of the jobs before 457 visas can be approved. Australians overwhelmingly see this as a sensible and overdue reform, as our polling consistently shows, and the Government should be commended for listening.

“With 50% of all 457 visas now going to temporary visa holders already in Australia, effective Labour Market Testing is even more important.”

“The CFMEU believes that as well as job advertising, employers should have to prove that no Australian citizen or permanent resident is available before 457 visas are granted. But mandatory job advertising is an important and essential step in the right direction.

“This 457 bill will help many Australians who are missing out on jobs due to the unscrupulous abuse of 457 visas by employers, many cases of which have been documented by the CFMEU.

“The extra powers and resources that will be given to the Fair Work Commission to investigate breaches of the 457 rules will mean less exploitation of workers on 457 visas.

“The changes will also require employers to invest more in training, instead of relying on short-term solutions to any skills shortages.

“Even though over the last year we have seen thousands of workers lose their jobs across a number of sectors, the number of workers on 457 visas has risen by 20%, often in the same industries. This is reason enough to better regulate our temporary work visa system.

“The CFMEU will continue to campaign for stronger protections in the 457 visa program for both Australian workers and temporary overseas workers,” he concluded.

ANF: Australian nursing and midwifery jobs protected

Local nursing and midwifery jobs will be protected by new laws for 457 work visas, according to the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF).

ANF Federal Secretary, Lee Thomas, said amendments to the Legislation, which passed through the Federal Parliament, will mean that nurses and midwives will not be exempt from labour market testing.

Demonstrate they have tried to employ local nurses and midwives 

“At a time of growing nurse and midwives shortages and the continued underemployment of local graduates, the ANF welcomes these reforms to the 457 visa system,” Ms Thomas said today.

“With nurses and midwives not exempt from labour market testing, employers will now have to demonstrate they have advertised and tried to employ local nurses and midwives before recruiting overseas workers on a 457 visa.

Stop passing the buck 

“As Australia’s largest health union, the ANF has long been concerned that the use of 457 work visas to bring in workers from overseas could undermine training and job opportunities for local nursing and midwifery professionals.

“The Legislation will now at least offer greater protection for local nurses and midwives and and graduates by tightening requirements for 457 visas.”

The ANF’s ongoing national campaign “Stop passing the buck, Australia's nursing grads need jobs”, is calling on the Federal Government to find solutions to the growing shortage of nurses and midwives across the country.

Shortage of 20,000 aged care nurses

Ms Thomas said the ANF was now urging Prime Minister Rudd to work with State and Territory Governments and health stakeholders to solve the nursing and midwifery crisis and ensure that the delivery of safe patient care was an election priority.

“There’s a predicted shortage of 109,000 nurses by 2025. In aged care alone, there is a current shortage of 20,000 nurses to cope with a rapidly ageing population,” Ms Thomas added.

MUA Welomes Changes to Migration Act

The Maritime Union of Australia today welcomed the passage of legislation that puts in place a critical fix to a serious gap in the Migration Act.

The bill closes a gap in the Migration Act that was exposed in the Federal Court judgement in the Allseas case in 2012. The gap meant that the Australian Government was currently unable to regulate employment and visa conditions for workers on nearly all projects in the offshore oil and gas industry that are located outside the Migration Zone.

This new legislation will deem those workers to be inside the Migration Zone.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin praised the Government and, in particular, Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor, Senate Leader Penny Wong and incoming Treasurer Chris Bowen, who had worked on the fix during his tenure as Immigration Minister, for delivering a long-awaited solution, which passed with the support of the Greens and Independents.

“This legislative solution now creates a level playing field so that all workers, irrespective of origin, can have their migration status regulated and hence their employment standards regulated,” Mr Crumlin said.

“We can now end the exploitation of temporary guest workers in the critical offshore oil and gas industry, and ensure that employment, safety, training and occupational licensing requirements can be brought up to Australian legal and industrial standards.

“Passing this legislation shows how much we can get done when we have a Parliament committed to functional decision-making, uniting the votes of Labor, Greens and Independents for the benefit of people.”

Mr Crumlin also noted that the new regime would have important national security benefits for Australia by ensuring that the Government has the tools to monitor non-nationals working on our critical resource installations.

“We look forward to working with the government on the implementation of the legislation,” he said.

Gillard, Windsor and Oakeshott

When Julia Gillard failed to win majority government in 2010, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott announced they had struck a deal with the Prime Minister allowing Labor to form a minority government.

Under Windsor's authoritive hand, for three years the pair kept much of the government's legislative program on the conveyor belt. On Wednesday both men announced they would resign, citing family reasons.

Gillard said of her extraordinary partners:
"Tony Windsor long ago earned the respect and affection of his community in New England. In the past three years he had earned the respect and affection of many Australian from all political persuasions. Millions will be sorry to see him depart the Parliament at the coming election and I will be one of them."

"Rob Oakeshott is a man of energy and ideas whose fundamental optimism for Australia endears him to almost everyone who knows him ... He is still a young man with a young family and I know how much he is looking forward to being at home ... Rob smiles easily and wears his heart on his sleeve and politics could do with more of that, not less."

Read more

Saturday, June 29, 2013

NSW: O'Farrell War on Superannuation

In an appalling lack of good faith, the NSW Government has overturned the independent umpire’s decision by directly setting public sector wages by Government dictate.

The NSW Government has today passed a special regulation to strip superannuation increases from the salaries of public sector workers.

“The Government has lost its moral compass when it comes to its employees,” Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon said.

“It needs to understand workplace relations is about give and take, not just take.

On Tuesday, the NSW Industrial Relations Commission ruled that public sector workers were entitled to receive both a pay-rise of 2.5 per cent as well as the Commonwealth mandated superannuation increase of 0.25 per cent.

But in a cynical move, the Government has announced a special regulation that will force public sector workers to pay for their own superannuation increase.

“This is a highly cynical move, announced late on a Friday afternoon while the public attention is fixed on Canberra,” Mr Lennon said.

“The Government is trashing proper process and ignoring a decision by the independent umpire, the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

“The NSW Government’s wages straightjacket of 2.5 per cent will now be cut back to only 2.25 per cent.

“How does this Government think it is going to attract the nurses, teachers, police and firefighters this State needs when wages are effectively stagnating or going backwards?

“Whenever the O’Farrell Government wants to make cuts it always expects public sector workers to wear the pain.”

Greg Combet to quit politics

Former federal Labor frontbencher Greg Combet has announced he is quitting politics for personal reasons. He quit the frontbench last week after the Labor Party voted to remove Julia Gillard as prime minister and reinstate Kevin Rudd.

He will retire from politics at the upcoming election, but says his reasons are personal and have nothing to do with the Labor leadership change, but he says the spill provided a catalyst for the decision.

In a statement today, Mr Combet says he had decided not to recontest the NSW seat of Charlton after a long period of consideration, and discussions with family, friends, colleagues and local Labor supporters.

"It is a matter that I had discussed over a period of months with the former prime minister Julia Gillard," he said.

The former ACTU secretary entered parliament in 2007, and as Climate Change Minister had been responsible for the government's controversial carbon tax.

Mr Combet said he had on Saturday advised the prime minister of his decision to quit politics, which came after 30 years of working within the labour movement.

"It is simply time for me to step back from a frontline role and pursue a change in my working and personal life," Mr Combet said.

"I wish to be more available to my family and friends, look after my health, and focus more on my personal life."

US: Argument for Maximum Wage

Currently, Americans are debating raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour over the next two years. While conservatives will oppose it, such a boost shouldn't be contentious.

Such limits would motivate CEOs to augment the pay of their workers because their own raises would depend on it.

Back in 1967, the U.S. minimum wage was $1.40 per hour. That's not as measly as it sounds. Your grandparents’ tales about when ten pennies could actually buy something are not mere nostalgia. In fact, the 1967 wage had 20 percent more purchasing power than the current minimum.

Economic productivity is an even bigger part of the story. Our labor is producing more value today, but working people aren’t seeing any of the gains. Had the U.S. minimum wage kept pace with productivity increases since 1960, it would now be $22 per hour.

Who has walked away with the proceeds from all that productivity? It's a fair question, but it leads back to discussion of a maximum wage. And that's where things get controversial.

A January report from Oxfam noted, “The richest one percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years.” It further argued that the 2012 net income of the world's top 100 billionaires—a haul of $240 billion—would be four times the amount needed to eliminate extreme poverty internationally.

While regions such as Latin America have made strides in reducing the gap between the rich and poor in the past decade, the United States has led the way in manufacturing excess at the expense of equity.

To remedy this, Larry Hanley of the Amalgamated Transport Workers Union recently proposed a “maximum wage” law that would limit an employer's income to being no more than 100 times the salary of his or her lowest-paid employee. If an entry-level worker gets $30,000 per year, the CEO would make no more than $3 million.

Other countries provide precedent for such a policy. “In Spain, the manufacturing and retail enterprises that belong to the Mondrag√≥n cooperative network limit top pay to three to nine times worker compensation,” explains author and policy analyst Sam Pizzigati, perhaps the most outspoken U.S. proponent of a maximum wage. Since 2011, Egypt and France have each pursued fixed pay ratios for leaders of state-owned enterprises. Even Switzerland, a country not known for being inhospitable to bankers, has passed restrictions on pay for bank executives and banned “golden parachute” severance packages.

Some advocates contend that a maximum wage should apply only to businesses receiving taxpayer support—in the form of bailouts, government contracts, tax abatements, or other public subsidies. Since American industry has been notoriously hungry for corporate welfare, this would cover a large portion of the U.S. economy.

Free marketeers will no doubt blast the idea of a maximum wage as the type of insane socialistic tyranny that chains everyone into the same, lowly state of mediocrity. Yet a ceiling based on a ratio between the executives at the top of a business and the grunts at the bottom doesn't set a hard cap on earnings. It merely puts to the test one of their most cherished claims: that the profits of a successful enterprise trickle down to benefit everyone.

Economists love to talk about incentives. In this case, such limits would motivate CEOs to augment the pay of their janitors, secretaries, and cashiers for a simple reason: Their own raises would depend on it.

Besides, a 100-to-1 discrepancy is hardly government-enforced equality.

It would be a considerable departure from the status quo, however. A typical American CEO now makes 380 times what the average worker in the country earns (never mind the lowest-paid).

That's not an example the world needs. And it's something that will take more than just a small boost in the minimum to fix.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Julia Gillard: "Guts, Fortitude and Resilience"

Julia Gillard thanked the colleagues who stuck with her through a difficult time in politics.

"They defied political gravity time after time to provide me with support as leader when things going got incredibly tough," she said.

"When those that read polls were saying there was only one logical conclusion and that was to change the leader, my colleagues showed courage, they showed determination, they showed spine in the face of that kind of pressure."

"They showed conviction in our Labor project and in our Labor cause, they showed belief in the agenda of this Labor government," she said..

She said she respected he decision of those supporters who deserted her in last night's leadership ballot.
"But I do say to my caucus colleagues, don't lack the guts, don't lack the fortitude, don't lack the resilience to go out there with our Labor agenda and to win this election I know that it can be done," she said.

Ms Gillard said she was privileged to have been the nation's first female prime minister but said it partly explained her demise.

"There has been a lot of analysis about the so called gender wars, about me playing the so called gender card because heavens knows no one noticed I was a woman before raised it," she said.

"I do want to say the reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my time in the prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership," she said.

"I've been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past but they've concluded it had zero effect on my political position or the position of the Labor Party."

"It explains some things and it is for the nation to think in a sophisticated way about those shades of grey," she said.

"What I am absolutely confident of is that it will be easier for the next woman and for the woman after that and the woman after that and I'm proud of that," she said.

Washington Post: Corporate Culture

The Washington Post’s publisher “dropped a bomb” on its Newspaper Guild (TNG) members on the first day of bargaining talks on Tuesday. “Moments after saying that the company would not be seeking drastic changes in a proposed two-year contract, the publisher’s labor lawyer outlined its most contemptuous proposal in memory,” reports TNG 32035 co-chair Freddy Kunkle.

The Post’s proposal “would give managers the power to fire anyone for any reason,” Kunkle says. Under the Guild’s existing contract, the Post must go through a system of progressive discipline, including oral and written warnings, before suspending or terminating an employee. Its decisions are also subject to review by an arbitrator.

Other Post demands include eliminating important layoff provisions, weakening the use of seniority in deciding layoffs, and “a poison pill” that the Guild says would make it even harder for the union to collect dues at the end of the next contract.

The Post’s proposals are especially “shocking,” Kunkle says, “since the company has asked everyone to work harder than ever to cover for colleagues whose jobs have already disappeared.” The Guild is beefing up bargaining strategies and organizing efforts at the Post, urging workers there to join the Guild, “prepare for action - join us in fighting for a moral workplace.”

Peter Garrett Valedictory Speech

Retiring Federal Labor MP Peter Garrett has delivered his valedictory speech to Parliament, after last night quitting the frontbench over Kevin Rudd's re-election as Labor leader.

Mr Garrett, who served as a Cabinet minister for six years, says he is proud of his record as Schools Minister and Environment Minister.

"I've endeavoured to do my best, both in terms of loyalty, and in terms of the disciplines that I think are very necessary in parliamentary politics," Mr Garrett said.

"We needed a national vision. We needed to set the standards of the curriculum as high as we could and reach agreement with the states through the vexed processes of COAG to make it happen.

"Now we've done it, we have the best national curriculum in the world."

Mr Garrett says it has been a privilege to be given responsibility for Australia's education.

He highlighted concerns that many reforms made by Labor are under threat from the Queensland Government.

"There is a taint of recklessness and disregard for our environment that washes through that Queensland Government administration that frankly gives me great cause for concern," he said.

"Once I leave this place, I will be doing my utmost to make sure that those natural heritage, natural environment gains that have been hard-won by the community and then by the Parliament, are kept in place."

US Supreme Court Guts Right to Vote Laws

The United States Supreme Court threw out the landmark law on Tuesday that first forced open voting booths for minorities 48 years ago.

The justices voted 5-4 to stop the enforcement of a requirement in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that forced 15 states with a history of discrimination to get Washington's approval before changing the way they hold elections.

The majority judges argued that strides in racial equality meant the special law was no longer needed for the historically racist areas.

However Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the improvements only happened because of the landmark 1965 Act.

"Throwing out preclearance … is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet," she said.

She also pointed out that Congress had reauthorised the law in 2006, deciding with overwhelming bipartisan support that "40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination."

"Today's Supreme Court decision is a major setback to our democracy and the voting rights of real Americans," declared Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, also on the media call.

"We cannot allow discrimination at the ballot box and must prevent minorities from having their votes purged, packed, gerrymandered and redistricted away, Henderson declared. "No one should be fooled by the Pollyannaish fantasy that voting discrimination no longer exists."

Henderson said that he is still hopeful about the current situation, however, even after the ruling.

"What you have here is the Supreme Court overriding the authority of Congress. The court disregarded all the work Congress did back in 2006 when it reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with big bipartisan majorities - 98 votes in the Senate and more than 350 votes in the House."

President Barack Obama was said to be "deeply disappointed" by the decision, but said it wasn't the end of efforts to halt voter discrimination.

He urged Congress to pass new legislation to ensure equal access to polls.

ACTU: Federal Government

The ACTU welcomes the resolution of the Labor leadership and wishes to congratulate Kevin Rudd on becoming leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party.

The ACTU also wishes to acknowledge and pay tribute to Julia Gillard, who as Prime Minister delivered much for working people.

Australians will remember her Prime Ministership for the key reforms it delivered, including a comprehensive paid parental leave scheme, equal pay for women working in our social and community sector, a national disability insurance scheme, a better retirement for working Australians through increased superannuation, safer roads for our truck drivers and the community, the protection of penalty rates, and historic action on climate change which protected jobs and invested in industries for the future.

Australia has had a very good government for the past 6 years, delivering excellent policies for working people.

On behalf of nearly 2 million union members, the ACTU now calls on the whole labour movement to unify behind a campaign to ensure that Tony Abbott is not elected on his stated policies of bringing back individual contracts, changing the Fair Work Act in the interests of business, abolishing the increase to superannuation, and his lack of support for Australian jobs.

Kevin Rudd was right when he said earlier tonight that many Australians are fearful that the Abbott Opposition would attack their penalty rates and conditions at work.

We look forward to working together with the Labor Government to fight to protect Australian working families from a potential Liberal Government.

NSW: Dalfram Dispute and Pig Iron Bob

The Dalfram Dispute

On November 15, 1938 the steamship Dalfram berthed at No. 4 jetty Port Kembla to load pig iron for Kobe, Japan.Japan was at war with China and reports were making their way back of the brutalities carried out by the Japanese Imperial Army – “the Rape of Nanking.”

Ted Roach, Branch Secretary, addressed the men at the labour pick up for the Dalfram. He told the men of the destination of the pig iron and the obvious use the Japanese would make of it: bombs – first to be used against the Chinese and eventually against Australia.

At 11 am the men walked off the ship declaring they refused to load pig iron for Japan to turn into weapons. It led to a nine week lock-out, with incredible pressure and threats applied by the government of the day, leading the Attorney General and future Prime Minister Robert Menzies from this time on being known as Pig Iron Bob.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Federal Labor: Gillard Concedes Defeat

Kevin Rudd is set to once again be Australia's Prime Minister after he defeated Julia Gillard for the leadership of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.

Mr Rudd won a party-room ballot by a margin of 57-45. Anthony Albanese has been elected deputy leader after facing off with Labor elder and Rudd backer Simon Crean.

The ballot was the culmination of a three-year internal war within the Labor party, after Ms Gillard toppled Mr Rudd for the leadership in June 2010.

It was Mr Rudd's third attempt to re-take the top job, after an unsuccessful coup in February 2012 and an aborted leadership tilt in March this year.


Julia Gillard was stoic as she addressed the media following her defeat, and declared she would remain true to her word and resign from politics.

"I announce that I will not re-contest the federal electorate of Lalor in the forthcoming electorate," she said.

Ms Gillard listed the carbon tax, the Royal Commission into child sexual assault in institutional settings, and Australia's strengthened foreign ties as her greatest achievements.

She congratulated Kevin Rudd and thanked her Labor colleagues for their support throughout her leadership.

"I understand that at the caucus meeting today the pressure finally got too great for many of my colleagues, I respect that and I respect the decisions they made," she said.

"I have had loyal and capable colleagues and I want to thank them for their dedication and determination."

Gillard urged the Labor party to continue to victory in the forthcoming election.

"I also say to my colleagues that will best be done by us putting the division of the past behind us and uniting as a political party, making sure we put our best face forward in the forthcoming election campaign and in the years to come."

"Don't lack the guts, don't lack the fortitude, don't lack the resilience to go out there with labor agenda & win this election."

NSW: Unions win Breakthrough in Super Battle

Public sector unions took action in the NSW Industrial relations Commission to make sure that workers get both a fair pay rise and the quarter per cent super increase to which they were entitled.

The Industrial Relations Commission agreed with the unions. The Federal Government has put in place a scheme to raise the minimum superannuation payments from 9% to 12%.

The NSW Government tried to pull a swiftie by taking the first instalment -  a mere 0.25% from a scheduled pay rise. But the Commission said they couldn’t do under the current rules.

This is an important ruling because as super shifts to 12 per cent, it should not be at the expense of wages.

This is a huge win for working people.

Mark Lennon
Secretary Unions NSW

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Corporate Culture: Textiles in Bangladesh

Supermarket group Coles has been accused of paying so little to its Bangladeshi suppliers that it is impossible for them to run a safe factory.

Coles, Target, Cotton On and Forever New were named as retailers using low-cost labour in Bangladesh, where a factory collapse in April claimed more than 1100 lives, by ABC TV’s Four Corners program on Monday night.

The Australian retailers are the latest to be drawn into controversy over the use of Bangladeshi suppliers. On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that Kmart, Big W and Rivers were among Western companies manufacturing in the poverty-stricken South Asian country.

Four Corners reported the Gous Fashions factory, in Bangladesh’s second largest city, Chittagong, started supplying Coles in May 2011.

Managing director Anwarul Azim told the program Gous Fashion had ceased previous abusive practices against employees, including demanding excessive overtime and locking female workers in the factory.

Mr Azim said Gous Fashion would not take any more orders from Coles because it was ‘‘impossible to be a compliant factory with the Coles offer prices’’.

‘‘Actually if they want to do the business, they’ll have to go to the non-compliant factories, like you know you have seen the Savar tragedy,’’ he said. ‘‘So many people died.’’

The April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Savar, on the outskirts of capital Dhaka, was the deadliest structural collapse of the modern era, excluding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

Workers who had abandoned the eight-storey building because of safety fears were forced back into it on the morning of the collapse.

The building’s politically connected owner, Soheil Rana, insisted that people were ‘‘exaggerating’’ the risk from ‘‘a hair line crack’’.

He has since been arrested and a Bangladesh government report in May recommended he and the owners of five factories inside the building be sentenced to life in jail.

Read more

Monday, June 24, 2013

ACTU: Wages Race to Bottom a Dead-end

24 June, 2013 | ACTU Speeches & Opinion

The recent well publicised problems of Australia’s three carmakers has led to another round of politically opportunistic finger pointing at an alleged “industrial culture” that fosters low productivity and high wages.

According to this well-trodden argument, Australian manufacturing workers have had it too good for too long, and are to blame for the predicament their industry now finds itself in.

This is a gross slur upon Australian manufacturing workers who are not only among the most highly-skilled and productive in the world, but have never baulked at adapting to structural changes when a convincing business case can be made for it.

Once again, with GM Holden facing some unpalatable decisions, employees and their union representatives are prepared to work constructively to find solutions, but this won’t be helped by politicians and media commentators taking potshots at working conditions, and by implication, at workers.

And it is the height of hypocrisy for the senior management of GM Holden to be seeking pay cuts from their workforce, while declaring their own salaries won’t be touched.

A complex mix of circumstances has led to this crisis the Australian auto industry now finds itself in.

These include the impact of the high Australian dollar and foreign currency manipulation; the failure of the domestic manufacturers to adjust to the reality of a relatively small domestic market that has expressed a preference for small, fuel-efficient cars; the opening of trade barriers here that have allowed foreign makers to flood the market while new barriers have been erected overseas; and – in the case of Ford – the lack of a plan to produce cars for export to overseas markets.

The uncertainty created by the Coalition’s pledge to rip $500 million out of auto industry co-investment also cannot be underestimated.

To boil this down to a crude argument that it is all to do with labour costs and inflexible working conditions is simply wrong.

Wages and salaries make up roughly 17% of the cost of making a car in Australia – well below the figures of 60-80% that have been bandied around.

Cutting auto workers’ wages by 10% would save less than 1.7% of a firm’s expenses in the short term – a saving which is swamped by fluctuations in the value of the Australian dollar.

Australian unions have never been afraid to have a robust discussion about productivity.

We understand that higher productivity benefits everyone because it creates economic growth and wealth.

When the Australian auto industry underwent major structural reform in the 1980s and 1990s, it was achieved through constructive collaboration between industry and unions.

But with the election of the Howard Government in 1996, that approach shut down overnight, and over the next decade the Coalition government, for purely ideological reasons, encouraged employers not to engage with unions. That mistake must never be made again.

We will seek to engage with auto industry employers to achieve greater productivity through the high road of high performance and high trust workplaces, not the low road of cutting wages and conditions, or creating a more insecure workforce.

Innovation and R&D, investment in infrastructure and technology, skills development and training, and better management are the keys to increasing productivity.

A simplistic race to the bottom on wages and conditions is a dead-end strategy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Corporate Culture: Australian 457 Visa Rorts

A shocking report on the ABC's 7:30 program on Thursday revealed the terrible extent of abuse of the 457 visa system. Big businesses are going out of their way to avoid Australian applicants and often not even advertising positions locally.

7:30 showed footage of a US-based lawyer coaching employers on how to avoid hiring local workers to make way for cheaper labour from overseas.

The total number of 457 visa workers in Australia at 31 March 2012 was at an all-time high of 88,590 -- an increase of 22% in comparison with 12 months ago.

This is exactly why we need fix the system by passing the legislation currently facing Parliament and teetering on a knife's edge. It's time for proper government regulation to protect all workers, and ensure that employers are not using short-term immigration when they could - and should - be employing or training local workers.

As it turns out, everyone loses in the current system. There have been too many cases where workers on 457 visas have been underpaid, abused and subjected to sub-standard conditions of work.

At the same time, the 457 visa program has undermined good working conditions in Australia by enabling employers who are unable to attract local labour as a result of offering poor wages and conditions, or who are unwilling to train workers in areas of skills needs, choosing instead to sponsor workers from overseas.

There's not much time, but together, we have the power to improve the conditions for all workers -- foreign and domestic -- here in Australia. Add your voice to the thousands already fighting to fix this broken system and stand with Dave Oliver and union members as they fight for change in Canberra on Monday.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

PSA: Baird's Budget cuts to hit schools, TAFE, foster care, parole

NSW State Budget cuts jobs and resources from critical public services while putting a further squeeze on workers’ pay and conditions, the Public Service Association said today.

The budget outlines job cuts from across the public service including TAFE, schools, disability and foster care and parole officers.

PSA General Secretary Anne Gardiner said the budget outlined a reckless approach based on cutting rather than investing, with no plan to service the growing NSW population.

“You can’t build a better NSW by putting people out of work and cutting services to the community,” Ms Gardiner said today.

“Today we’ve discovered that TAFE, secondary education and support for disability and other vulnerable community members will be axed.

“These are random and dangerous measures that will have long-term consequences on communities and local economies, particularly in regional NSW.

“You may not feel the impact of these cuts when you wake up tomorrow, but when you next try to register yout car, or contact your child’s school or seek care for a family member, you will experience the eroding effects of these cuts.

The 15,000 job cuts already announced by the O’Farrell Government are still playing out, hitting jobs and local economies in uncertain economic times, said Ms Gardiner.

“We don’t accept that the government has to put people out of work in order to invest in transport.

“We don’t accept that the government has to put people out of work in order to build schools. We need more people to service our growing state, not fewer,” she said.

Today’s budget also includes:

an extended efficiency dividend which will lead to pressure to cut corners in the public service; and
plans to claw back superannuation increases guaranteed by the Federal Government.

Baird’s budget: job losses, sell-offs and fewer services to Blue Mountains

19 June 2013

The Blue Mountains Unions Council is warning that behind the shiny spin of Mike Baird’s budget, lies job losses, sell-offs and fewer services for the Blue Mountains.

According to the budget figures, NSW is shedding public sector jobs even faster than expected, with more than 5,000 positions slashed from services in the last financial year alone.

This takes the total job loss figure to an incredible 15,000. The closure of Orange Hospital’s palliative care ward, leading to the removal of 10 beds and nine nurses in the ward as well as the removal of five surgical beds and five nursing positions at Bathurst hospital

BMUC president Kerry Cooke said that local member Roza Sage needed to explain what she is doing about the impact of Baird’s budget in the Blue Mountains

“It is ludicrous for Baird and Sage to suggest that you can cut 15,000 jobs from the public service and for this to have no impact on frontline services. Just ask any single local working in the Blue Mountains - in emergency services, or the justice systems, or community services – these cuts are hurting,” he said.

“Further job losses and cuts from the State’s public sector will mean ambulances take longer to arrive, fire stations will be closed and patient care in Blue Mountains hospitals will suffer.

“Once again this State Government has delivered a budget that puts crude short term cost-cutting ahead of the Blue Mountains long-term social and economic needs. Cutting jobs and services today to fatten up the State’s bottom line is a false economy. We are just creating a deep social deficit that will have to be addressed down the track.

“The budget papers also confirm that public sector workers will suffer a decrease in real wages in 2014-15 and 2015-16, when the Government absorbs further superannuation increases into their wages. This will have significant and destructive knock-on effects for the entire Blue Mountains economy.”

Monday, June 17, 2013

Qld: Mount Isa Lead Poison Evidence

Excess blood lead levels of Mount Isa children is caused by mining, not naturally-occurring mineral exposures as argued by the State Government and miner Xstrata, scientists say.

Macquarie University scientists say their research provides conclusive evidence for the Government to act on the contamination.

Professor Mark Taylor said the combined effects of historic and contemporary emissions were the definitive cause of environmental lead contamination that had dogged the northern mining city for decades.

His study used lead isotopic finger-printing techniques to attack the long-held government and mining argument that contamination was due to natural mineralisation.

"The data we’ve generated for this research provides conclusive and unequivocal information for the state’s regulatory authorities who are responsible for Mount Isa’s environmental remediation and human health protection," Prof Taylor said.

"Xstrata and Queensland Government agencies have long disputed the industrial source of environmental lead, arguing that the elevated lead in local children comes from natural surface exposures of ore bodies.

"This is fundamentally and scientifically incorrect and this study provides sufficient evidence to bring closure to that distracting debate."

He said Mount Isa residents should be informed about the contamination so they could make choices about risks in their jobs and lives.

"The people of Mount Isa deserve the same protection from air, soil and water contamination as is afforded to the rest of Queensland and Australia," he said.

The research potentially could open up a legal hornet's nest, with lawyers already taking legal action over seven children with high blood lead levels.

In 2010, testing of 136 children found seven had excess blood lead levels.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Damian Scattini, who is acting for children with lead poisoning, was not able to comment yesterday because the matter was before the court.

In 2010, he accused the Government of downplaying the contamination issue.

Corporate State v. Democracy

When Darrell Anderson, 22, joined the US military he knew there was going to be a war, and he wanted to fight it. "I thought I was going to free Iraqi people," he told me. "I thought I was going to do a good thing."

Until, that is, he realised precisely what he had to do. While on patrol in Baghdad, he thought: "What are we doing here? Are we looking for weapons of mass destruction? No. Are we helping the people? No, they hate us. What are we working towards, apart from just staying alive? If this was my neighbourhood and foreign soldiers were doing this then what would I be doing?" Within a few months, he says, "I was cocking my weapon at innocent civilians without any sympathy or humanity". While home on leave he realised he was not going to be able to lead a normal life if he went back. His mum drove him to Canada, where I met him in 2006 at a picnic for war resisters in Fort Erie.

Anderson's trajectory, from uncritical patriotism to conscious disaffection and finally to conscientious dissent, is a familiar one among a generation of Americans who came of political age after 9/11. Over time, efforts to balance the myth of American freedom on which they were raised, with the reality of American power that they have been called on to monitor or operate, causes a profound dislocation in their world view. Like a meat eater in an abattoir, they are forced to confront the brutality of the world they are implicated in and recoil at their role in it – occasionally in dramatic fashion.

It is from this generation that the most recent prominent whistleblowers have emerged: Edward Snowden, 29, the former National Security Agency contractor, now on the run after passing evidence of mass snooping to the Guardian; Bradley Manning, who at 22 gave classified diplomatic and military information to WikiLeaks and now faces a court martial; the late Aaron Swartz, who by 24 was a veteran hacker when he was arrested for illegally downloading academic articles from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later took his own life; and Jeremy Hammond, 28, who is facing federal criminal charges for allegedly publicising the internal files of a private spying agency.

Just as America's military record abroad, complete with torture and "collateral damage", has helped push a section of disaffected Muslim youth across the globe towards terrorism, so the violation of civil liberties and privatisation of information has driven a number of disillusioned Americans to law-breaking dissent at home.

There may not be a dictatorship, but there is a layer below the surface where the life of society is being tracked. This is the subterranean world of surveillance. It occasionally rises to the surface, as has happened in the past few days with revelations from American Edward Snowden of secret US government programs to collect and monitor communications. Snowden, now in hiding in Hong Kong, had worked for the CIA and now works for Booz Hamilton Holding, which has contracts with the National Security Agency.

This should not be seen as merely an internal matter for the US government and its relationship to its citizenry. Technology has turned the world into a global village. It has also spawned new phrases such as ''data-mining'' and its NSA offshoot, the far more insidious ''Boundless Informant''. The latter is a tool that maps the information the agency collects worldwide. In March alone, it collected 97 billion pieces of meta-data - the numbers, locations, length of call. It is not the content.

As well, it has been revealed that the NSA is collecting the phone records of customers who use telecom provider Verizon and that a program called Prism is operating that allows the agency a gateway into the communications of foreign users of companies such as Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo. It is true that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court must approve a surveillance application, but of almost 34,000 applications from its inception in 1979 to last year, only 11 have been rejected.

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MUA: Mabo Day in Townsville

The MUA ATSI Committee recently attended Mabo Day in Townsville. Mabo Day is a day of great significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders as it is a day that we celebrate the anniversary of the court victory that inserted the legal doctrine of native title into Australian Law, paving the way for all indigenous Australians to claim title to their ancestors land.

The delegation to Mabo Day has been the first opportunity for a face to face meeting this year, timed well for a productive agenda to be met. The committee met with the late Koiki Mabo’s wife, Bonita Mabo, as well as other senior Torres Strait Islanders at the event. The benefits of unions and indigenous people working together in a formal relationship through Social Compacts was discussed, reaffirming that unions walk alongside indigenous people in their struggles.

Bonita Mabo in Townsville
The great work that the MUA has done in empowering indigenous members was recognised by  the ACTU Indigenous Committee who held their meetings in conjunction with ours. A full agenda was addressed in a short time frame, the committees jointly addressing the ALP election campaign and indigenous strategies, work on an ACTU indigenous media campaign, the naming of an indigenous leadership program in unionism, and social compacts.

ACTU Secretary David Oliver attended the meeting to brief the committee on the ACTU “Join, For a Better Life” media campaign and to seek advice regarding how to reach our indigenous members and non members. Dave was impressed by the professionalism displayed and the contribution of the MUA.

Another significant guest to the meeting was Rod Little from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples was formed to and represent Australia’s indigenous people. The Committee’s made many suggestions on how the National Congress could improve and resolved to follow the suggestions up with a formal letter to the leadership.

This years attendance to the Mabo Day celebrations was all the more valuable because of the interaction with the ACTU Committee, learning from the way that they function. Indigenous members from all branch’s are welcome to become involved and have your voice heard on the committee.

AMWU: OH&S Win Against Visy

The AMWU has won a major victory for workers’ health and safety in a case where packaging giant Visy was condemned by a Federal Court judge for persecuting an AMWU delegate for honestly doing his duty as an OH&S representative.

Visy threatened Jon Zwart with dismissal after he put  OHS “tag” notices on two unsafe forklifts at its Coburg can factory in 2011 because their beepers were not loud enough, consistent with the company’s own “zero tolerance” safety campaign.

The court agreed with the AMWU position that the company’s attitude to Mr Zwart was totally unjustified.

Justice Bernard Murphy found the result of an “independent” inquiry the company instigated into the worker’s conduct was neither impartial or truly independent of Visy mangement.

Justice Murphy criticised evidence by Visy’s plant operations manager Robin Street as “unreliable,” finding he should have never suspended Jon Zwart from work, investigated his actions or later issued him with a final warning notice.

The judge found Mr Street’s “prevarication and the contortion his evidence involved, has led me to conclude he was not frank with the court.”

Mr Street had suspended Mr Zwart and ordered the “independent” investigation because he claimed the AMWU member was “uncooperative” by insisting safety regulations be followed.

When Mr Zwart rejected  a company proposal that forklift drivers honk their horn and turn their head when reversing as unsafe, Mr Street accused him of trying to disrupt production. Mr Zwart’s stance was later endorsed by two outside safety experts.

Disruption to work turned out be minimal with the forklifts adjusted with louder beepers later on the day of the incident, August 8, 2011.

AMWU Victorian Secretary Steve Dargavel hailed the decision as a victory for all workers.

He said it proved that unions were able to take legal action under the Fair Work Act to remedy a health and safety matter, reducing reliance in Victoria on WorkSafe which has the lowest prosecution rate in the nation.

Mr Zwart said the case had proven the rights of workplace health and safety representatives to disagree with employers without suffering discrimination.

“I think it’s a big lesson for standing your ground when you believe you’re right and standing up to bullying,” he said.

“I’m forever grateful to the union for backing me up.”

The AMWU’s lawyer in the case, Slater and Gordon’s Brad Annson, said Justice Murphy’s decision confirms OH&S care as a workplace right. It means:

*employers should not regard an OH&S rep as un-cooperative just because his or her opinion does not agree with theirs. Bosses should accept that an independent OH&S rep has a duty of care to fellow workers under OH&S law.

*employers cannot evade their possible liability for wrongly imposing disciplinary actions by engaging an external consultant to investigate an employee.

*OH&S reps have protections under the Fair Work Act, provided they act with a genuine concern for safety. This applies whether or not those concerns are ultimately proved to be justified.

*wrongly suspending an employee was adverse action because it deprived a person of the satisfaction and dignity of work, with the final written warning jeopardising the security of Mr Zwart’s future employment.

The court found that Visy had engaged in adverse action against Mr Zwart, leaving it open to a maximum $33,000 fine on each of three breaches of the Fair Work Act.

Mr Street also faces two potential $6600 fines for his conduct.

NSW: Concerns about hearing compo loss

A Newcastle audiologist says close to 40 per cent of his clients will be affected by changes to the workers compensation scheme.

The amendments mean many of the Hunter's former steelworkers suffering hearing loss from workplace noise will no longer be entitled to free hearing aid upgrades, repairs and batteries.

Coal miners and emergency service workers are not included in the changes.

Audiologist Nick Blackwell says it will be extremely difficult for those affected

"What we know happens when you have an untreated hearing loss is people don't communicate with others," he said.

"And they retreat and - all sorts of other side effects can happen you know, you know, you can develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety because you're having difficulty communicating with others."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Vic: GEO Group Nurses Pay Demands

Nurses in 10 Victorian prisons will take limited strike action from Tuesday, in a pay dispute with the private operator that employs them.

Prison nurses have been negotiating with prisons outsourcing company the GEO Group for 18 months, after their workplace agreement expired last June. About 60 of these nurses have now threatened to take strike action.

Among planned industrial actions are a two-hour stop-work meeting on Tuesday; bans on all filing duties and collection of statistical data; no working in higher duties; no overtime; a ban on receiving some phone calls; and the wearing of campaign T-shirts, badges and stickers.

The bans will apply at 10 prisons, including the Melbourne Assessment Prison in West Melbourne; the Metropolitan Remand Centre and the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in Ravenhall; Beechworth Correctional Centre; and the Hopkins Correctional Centre in Ararat.The last wage increase nurses in the GEO Group's prisons received was in January 2011.

The union that represents nurses argues that the company is offering a pay increase of just 2.5 per cent a year.

Nursing staff at the prisons have already voted down one offer GEO has made to them.
The strike threat follows what the nurses' union last year termed an "industrial marathon" run by Victoria's nurses, ending last March after nine months of strikes and work bans.

The Australian Nursing Federation argues the GEO Group will be unable to maintain a stable nursing workforce if its current conditions continue, as staff will go to workplaces that have better conditions and are less stressful.

The union's Victorian secretary, Lisa Fitzpatrick, said negotiations had broken down over back pay and the introduction of some entitlements she said were standard for all other Victorian nurses.
"[The entitlements] are way below health industry standard and this is impacting on recruitment and retention," Ms Fitzpatrick said. "Nurses working in our prison system have very low morale ... Working in a prison medical clinic is an extremely challenging job."

She said the GEO Group did not pay health industry standard penalty rates to nurses working on public holidays, as well as not paying some annual leave loading and long-service leave entitlements other nurses received.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Corporate Culture - Greek Public Broadcasting Under Attack

The news yesterday that the Greek Goverment has ordered the immediate closure of Greece's national broadcaster ERT (Hellenic Radio Television), and surrounded its buildings with troops, is a monumental blow against freedom of speech and media diversity, not only for the Greek people but democrats throughout the world. The loss of 2000 jobs - many being the best in this field - compounds this tragedy, in a country already bleeding with unprecedented unemployment of almost 30%.

This vicious attack against the Greek equivalent to the ABC is dictated by the privatisation zealots of neo-liberalism, to stifle dissent and independent media voices and concentrate media power in even fewer hands.

The Greek national broadcaster has been providing SBS television with free daily programs for Greek Australians. This will go too, most likely to be replaced at a price by a second-rate Greek commercial TV station, a prospect overwhelmingly rejected by SBS's Greek viewers.

Popular resistance is mounting in Greece, led by the ERT workers, who decided to stay put. The Greek government is under pressure, even from its own coalition government partners, to abandon such a reckless mission. Messages and actions of solidarity are obviously needed.

The decision to close it was announced during an inspection in Athens by officials from Greece's bailout creditors. The so-called "troika" of the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund has been pressing the government to start a long-delayed program to fire civil servants.

The European Commission said it had not sought the closure of ERT but "nor does the Commission question the Greek government's mandate to manage the public sector."

Christopher Warren, federal secretary of the Media Alliance, said: “Silencing the state-run broadcaster deprives the community of vital information. At the very least this is a short-sighted move that savages a crucial public service. And it is a ham-fisted attack on 2500 experienced and dedicated media professionals who have worked hard for years to keep the community informed about the immense upheavals taking place in Greece. But this is also a very sinister assault on democracy and the public’s right to know, aimed at shrouding the activities of the powerful from legitimate scrutiny.”

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Sydney 29 June War Women and Song

An exhibition of Drawings, Mixed Media Artworks, Assemblages, Photographs and Music Memorabilia by

Opening Event:
Saturday 29 June 2013, 2pm
Includes a performance by legendary Australian singer
Jeannie Lewis and an open mic for music fandom stories.

168 Day St, Sydney (behind Town Hall Station)
Ph: 02 9283 2903

Exhibition Runs  29 June 2013 – 20 July 2013
All Welcome