Monday, March 31, 2014

NSW: John Hunter Hospital Staffing Disgrace

A Report that calculates John Hunter Hospital’s operating theatres are understaffed by 37 full-time nurses will be the focus of an Industrial Relations Commission hearing this morning.

The nurse’s union passed a resolution to strike this week if a “satisfactory answer” was not given to fix the understaffing issues found in the new report.

This prompted the health authority to file the dispute with the commission.

The report was created after the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association hired an expert to investigate staffing levels at the John Hunter Hospital operating theatre complex, taking into account annual leave, sick leave and long service leave.

It has found that the John Hunter Hospital operating theatre campus, which includes Royal Newcastle Centre, was understaffed by 37.5 full-time equivalent nurses.

The union’s general secretary Brett Holmes has claimed hospital management was “cooking the books” and nurses were exhausted and at breaking point from not getting proper leave entitlements.

 “The longs and short is, nurses are being told they can’t take leave,’’ he said.

“They are being worked past the point of exhaustion, their health and welfare is in grave danger and safe patient care cannot be guaranteed with staff half dead from fatigue.”

The investigation was carried out by registered nurse, Kerry Rodgers, an expert on the Australian College of Operating Room Nurses standards.

Hunter New England’s director of nursing and midwifery Karen Kelly said they were prepared to discuss the report’s findings in meetings held last week but the threatened strike action left them with “no choice” but to take the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission.

“Operating theatre lists and staffing levels are regularly monitored and reviewed in line with accepted guidelines, and staffing levels determined accordingly,” she said.

“Nursing staff have the opportunity to take their leave when requested.

“The number of permanent full-time equivalent theatre nurses has increased over the past 12-18 months.

“This includes seven new nurses who started towards the end of last year and who were selected from among 98 applicants for the positions.”

UN Court Rules Against Japan Whaling

The UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ruled that Japan's Antarctic whaling programme is not for scientific purposes.

Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year for what it calls scientific research.

Australia filed a case with the ICJ in May 2010, arguing that Japan's programme - under which it kills whales - is commercial whaling in disguise.

The court's decision is considered legally binding.

Japan had said earlier that it would abide by the court's ruling.

Reading out the judgement on Monday, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka ordered a temporary halt to the programme.

The court said it had decided, by 12 votes to four, "that Japan shall revoke any extant authorisation, permit or licence granted in relation to JARPA II [Japan's whaling programme in the Antarctic] and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance of that programme".

In a statement, the court said that Japan's programme involved activities which "can broadly be characterised as scientific research".

The decision is a major victory for Australia and environmental groups that oppose whaling on ethical grounds, though it will not mean the end of whaling.

Japan has a second, smaller program in the northern Pacific. Meanwhile Norway and Iceland reject a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission and conduct for-profit whaling.

Nevertheless, environmental groups rejoiced.

The ruling "certainly has implications ultimately for whaling by Iceland and Norway as well," said Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's whale program, outside the courtroom.

"I think it will increase pressure on those two countries to re-examine their own whaling practices and the various reasons and pretexts given for that whaling activity."

Japan had argued that Australia's suit was an attempt to force its cultural norms on Japan, equivalent to Hindus demanding an international ban on killing cows.

Though consumption of whale meat has declined in popularity in Japan in recent years, it is still considered a delicacy by some.

Japan has pledged to abide by the court's ruling.

The ruling on March 31 found that killing whales for scientific purposes would be justifiable under international law in the context of a better-designed study.

Japan's program was supposed to determine whether commercial whaling of some species can resume without bringing them in danger of extinction.

The ruling noted among other factors that Japan had not considered a smaller program or non-lethal methods to study whale populations.

The Casual Con Job - Is Flexibility the new "F" Word

The Earth is warming so rapidly that unless humans can arrest the trend, we risk becoming ''extinct'' as a species, a leading Australian health academic has warned.

Helen Berry, associate dean in the faculty of health at the University of Canberra, said while the Earth has been warmer and colder at different points in the planet's history, the rate of change has never been as fast as it is today.

''What is remarkable, and alarming, is the speed of the change since the 1970s, when we started burning a lot of fossil fuels in a massive way,'' she said. ''We can't possibly evolve to match this rate [of warming] and, unless we get control of it, it will mean our extinction eventually.''

Professor Berry is one of three leading academics who have contributed to the health chapter of a Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report due on Monday. She and co-authors Tony McMichael, of the Australian National University, and Colin Butler, of the University of Canberra, have outlined the health risks of rapid global warming in a companion piece for The Conversation, also published on Monday. The three warn that the adverse effects on population health and social stability have been ''missing from the discussion'' on climate change.

''Human-driven climate change poses a great threat, unprecedented in type and scale, to wellbeing, health and perhaps even to human survival,'' they write.

They predict that the greatest challenges will come from undernutrition and impaired child development from reduced food yields; hospitalisations and deaths due to intense heatwaves, fires and other weather-related disasters; and the spread of infectious diseases.

They warn the ''largest impacts'' will be on poorer and vulnerable populations, winding back recent hard-won gains of social development programs.

Projecting to an average global warming of 4 degrees by 2100, they say ''people won't be able to cope, let alone work productively, in the hottest parts of the year''.

They say that action on climate change would produce ''extremely large health benefits'', which would greatly outweigh the costs of curbing emission growth.

A leaked draft of the IPCC report notes that a warming climate would lead to fewer cold weather-related deaths but the benefits would be ''greatly'' outweighed by the impacts of more frequent heat extremes. Under a high emissions scenario, some land regions will experience temperatures four to seven degrees higher than pre-industrial times, the report said.

While some adaptive measures are possible, limits to humans' ability to regulate heat will affect health and potentially cut global productivity in the warmest months by 40 per cent by 2100.
Body temperatures rising above 38 degrees impair physical and cognitive functions, while risks of organ damage, loss of consciousness and death increase sharply above 40.6 degrees, the draft report said.

SMH Read more

ICJ Court : Japanese Whaling

The leading court at the UN will rule today on whether Japan has the right to hunt whales in the Antarctic, an emotive case that activists say is make-or-break for the mammals' future.

Australia took Japan to the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 2010, accusing Tokyo of exploiting a loophole by hunting whales as scientific research to get around a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.

Australia has asked the ICJ to order Japan to stop its Jarpa II research programme and "revoke any authorisations, permits or licences" to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean.

During hearings last year, Canberra accused Tokyo of doing nothing more than "cloaking commercial whaling in a labcoat of science".

Norway and Iceland maintain commercial whaling programmes in spite of the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium, but Japan insists its programme is scientific, while admitting that the resulting meat ends up on plates back at home.

Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales under the programme since 1988, according to Canberra, allegedly putting it in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve marine mammals and their environment.

In its application to the ICJ, Australia accused Japan of failing to "observe in good faith the zero catch limit in relation to the killing of whales".

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sydney; 13 April - Palm Sunday - Declare Peace on Refugees


Everyone has the right to live in peace, with justice and equality, AND THAT INCLUDES ALL ASYLUM SEEKERS.
By declaring war on refugees, the Australian Government is alienating and dehumanising people who come to our country seeking the help we promised sixty years ago when the Menzies Coalition Government signed the United Nations Refugee Convention.

  • close detention centres, on shore and off shore
  • house asylum seekers in the community
  • global and regional program to help people fleeing war and prosecution

War causes refugees - 80% of refugees are women and children. We condemn terrorism, by any person, group or government, but war is not a solution. Many of us believe we should reject all forms of violence. Australia is now out of the Iraq occupation and the Afghanistan War, where many refugees come from. Millions of Syrian people are dis­placed right now. Now we must make Australia really help reduce the level of conflict which makes people flee their countries looking for protection. This means reducing the dangerous tension between the United States, China and Japan. It means addressing the terrible repression in the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

Government policy brutalises children, by locking them up indefinitely in inappropriate facilities. Not knowing the term of your imprisonment induces anxiety, depression and self-harm, yet Government policy subjects over a thou­sand children - and more adults - to this psychological cruelty.

After the deadly violence against refugees on Manus Island, this has to stop!

  • resolve international conflicts peacefully through the United Nations
  • address poverty, racism, environmental destruction and inequality
  • vigorous response to climate change to do justice to future generations
  • no new nuclear arms race – end Australia’s role in the nuclear cycle
  • use national and international courts to bring terrorists and war criminals to justice
  • oppose the threat to civil liberties in anti-terrorism laws.

Australian policy now promotes greater inequality - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have less rights than others under the NT Intervention, Muslims are demonised, single parents with young children are forced onto poverty-level NewStart, women’s wages are much less than male wages, women face their old age with significantly less than men, workers’ rights to organise and bargain are under attack, jobs are being wiped out. Yet government generously subsidises the superannuation, health insurance and private schools of the wealthy.

  • a caring society instead of one of winners and losers!
  • raise our voices for equality and fairness in the lead up to the May Budget!

 Like the 1980s Palm Sunday Committees, and the 2002 Palm Sunday Committee, our 2014 Palm Sunday Committee is broad, with representation by invitation across ethnic, religious, social and political divides, with no group dominating.

SPONSORED BY: Anne Symonds (former MLC); Arab Council Australia; Assoc to Defend Freedom & Human Rights in Iran; Aust Manufacturing Workers Union; Aust Services Union; Benedictine Nuns Jamberoo Abbey; Blue Mountains Greens; CANA Communities; Carmelite Commission for Justice & Peace; ChilOut; Common Action; Construction Union (CFMEU); Edmund Rice Centre; Evatt Foundation; Finance Sector Union; Fire Brigade Employees Union; Josephite Congregation; Josephite Justice Office; Labor for Refugees; Maritime Union of Australia; Medical Assoc for Prevention of War; Metropolitan Community Church; Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Peace & Justice; National Tertiary Education Union; NSW Teachers Federation; Pax Christi; Quakers NSW Peace & Justice; Refugee Action Coalition; SEARCH Foundation; Socialist Alliance; Solidarity; Sydney Peace & Justice Coalition; Sydney Trade Union Choir; Unions for Refugees; Uniting Church Synod NSW/ACT; Woman & The Australian Church.

Contact: Fr Claude Mostowik 0411 450 953; Dianne Hiles 0425 244 667; Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713; Peter Murphy 0418 312 301
Facebook: search for Palm-Sunday-Sydney-2014
DONATE: Make a direct deposit or send a cheque to Sydney Peace & Justice Coalition, PO Box K941, Haymarket NSW 1240. BSB: 082-024 Account Number: 56 140 1082

Qantas workers demonstration campaign

Qantas workers are planning a series of street marches that will block roads around the country as they fight against the airline's plans to cut 5000 jobs and send positions offshore.

At a rally near Sydney Airport on Sunday attended by about 50 workers and family members, Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said aviation workers were determined to fight for the airline, not against it.

"Our intention is not to dislocate travellers, but we will take whatever steps necessary into the future to make sure Qantas doesn't part-time our jobs," Mr Sheldon said. "And that includes civil disobedience as long as the public is prepared to stick with us."

When asked whether the union would consider stop-work meetings or strike action, he said at this stage its focus was mostly on demonstrations.He said there was more action planned by the TWU and other unions over coming weeks.

At the rally, Qantas workers told of the stress that had been caused by the company asking staff to cut hours to part-time and the uncertainty over where the majority of job cuts would be made.
Jim Mitropoulos, who has worked as a baggage handler for Qantas for 28 years, said the workers earning $18 an hour could not be blamed for the company's problems.

"We've dug our heels in and we'll see the Irish man out," Mr Mitropoulos said, blaming the airline's chief executive, Alan Joyce, for its woes.

"It's the upper management team that's to blame, and their business plan, and its time for someone different to have a turn."

Mr Sheldon said: "We've now got 4000 people who don't have part-time bills, but have part-time jobs."
"These aren't rich people behind me, they make $51,000 a year."

Mr Mitropoulos said that as one of the last full-time baggage handlers, he was being pressured to leave the company.
"At our last enterprise bargaining negotiations, full-time workers were referred to as dinosaurs from the past."

He said he would have to sell his Penshurst house if his hours were cut to part-time and he would worry about his children's future.

Don Dixon, a baggage handler at the domestic airport, said each of the workers present represented a further 10 to 15 who could not be there.

"Hundreds of people were rostered on and are still working. We asked them not to come.
"This is not about attacking the Australian flying public, we want every family to keep flying and keep spending their money."

Read more:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Corporate Culture: Signing Away Sovereignty - "Daylight Robb"

Trade Minister Robb is negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Japan with the aim of completing it before Prime Minister Abbott visits Japan on April 8. We understand that foreign investor rights to sue governments (ISDS) is being offered as a bargaining chip to obtain access to Japanese agricultural markets.

There have been many cases of governments being sued over health and environmental laws. The recent claimed “safeguards”  have not prevented governments from being sued. This is a serious risk to our democracy and sovereignty. The inclusion of ISDS in multiple trade agreements increases the chances of Australian governments being sued. ISDS should not be included in the Japan FTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) or any trade agreement.

Send your message to Minister Robb

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tas: Election Results

ACTU: Minimum wage earners shut out of housing market

25 March, 2014 | Media Release

The ACTU calls for a fair and adequate raise to the minimum wage to combat rising inequality as housing price increases leave minimum wage earners without any hope of ever owning a home.

The ACTU will lodge a submission to the Fair Work Commission(FWC) on Friday March 28 calling for a wage increase for Australia’s lowest paid including cleaners, retail and hospitality staff, child care workers, farm labourers, and some factory workers.

ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver, said the Australian housing market had ballooned, with average house prices increasing by 250 per cent in the past 20 years making housing the biggest affordability dilemma for most workers.

However for minimum wage earners it was now all but impossible to buy a home.

“For those on a low wage, home ownership is a now pipedream. The minimum wage has less than doubled in the past 20 years compared to a 250 per cent increase in housing prices,” he said.

“Someone on a minimum wage of $622 per week has enough to cover their basic costs and that’s about it. These workers tell us it’s impossible to save up a deposit, let alone afford the weekly repayments.”

“The only way low income earners can afford to buy a home is to work multiple jobs but if all these jobs are low income then it still remains extremely tough.

“Working multiple jobs to afford the basics is moving us towards the ‘working poor’ scenario they have in the US – something Australians have made it very clear they don’t want.”

“When high-earning employers and politicians come out and talk about ‘tightening belts’ they’re suggesting a cleaner who spends nearly 50 percent of their wage on rent needs to budget harder. How is this fair and reasonable?

“Many minimum wage earners have been working all their lives caring for older Australians in aged or community care, they work farms, they clean schools and hospitals or look after young children in childcare.

“These are tough and important jobs and yet saving up for something as integral as a home is nearly impossible even after years of work.

Mr Oliver said the annual minimum wage review was the only chance for a pay increase for 1.5 million of the lowest paid workers.

“Every year we make a case for these workers. We will ask the commission to ignore false claims about a wages blow out or outdated arguments about minimum wage increases costing jobs. These arguments have been refuted by leading economists.

“The best outcome will be one that stops the gap growing between low paid workers and the rest of the community.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Millers Point: Attempted Social Cleansing

Alex Greenwich update

Despite repeated assurances from the minister’s office that no decision had been made, we found out last Wednesday that the Government intends to sell off the entire community of Millers Point public housing in two years, displacing 400 tenants from this tight knit community that has supported vulnerable people for over a century. The inner city already has massive waiting lists and now we will have less housing stock.

The government's media campaign contained a great deal of misinformation. Not all properties are $1.3 million Georgian terraces with harbour views needing costly heritage upgrades; sales include modern accessible apartments, newly upgraded terraces and one-bedroom 1980s flats. The decision puts public tenants in areas with rising property values on notice, and I’ve had calls from tenants in areas like Woolloomooloo, Chippendale and Surry Hills asking if they too will lose their home.

Frail, elderly people and those with a mental illness or disability need stable housing close to services, jobs, transport and social networks. The government’s social impact assessment argued these people should stay to prevent social isolation; health policy supports ‘ageing in place’.

The city needs a diverse mix of people, and in Parliament I moved an urgent motion calling on the government to halt sales. Along With Lord Mayor Clover Moore I held a community meeting to inform and support tenants. I’ll work with the local community including the newly formed Millers Point Defence Committee to oppose this sale.

The online petition to save their community is HERE.

NSW: March For Maintenance - 27 March

Join us to demand proper maintenance of public housing
$330 million needed for maintenance now

Assemble 11am      Thursday 27 March
Archibald Fountain, Hyde Park North
March to Parliament House
Rally and speakers 11.30-12.30 pm

speakers include a Millers Point representative,

NSW Opposition leader John Robertson, local MP Jamie Parker 

and public housing tenants from different suburbs


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hockey's Battle To Do Anything

Bob Ellis 22 March 2014

It’s hard for Hockey to do anything now.

He has to argue that though Sinodinos was worth twenty million dollars for a few days’ work no disabled person should get any new help for six years and no special needs kid should get a chance in life. He has to argue that though Photios was worth a million dollars for a few hours’ work a fifty-two year old Qantas engineer should be sacked soon, and retrain as a packer of shelves at Woolworths. He has to argue that though Thomson, for misspending twenty-five thousand dollars in seven years (that’s, wow, ten dollars a day), will rightly get a year in gaol, Sinodinos, for cosily — corruptly? — agreeing to fix things with a Liberal government and making nine thousand times that amount in a couple of weeks, should get no time at all.

Because, well, because ‘the age of entitlement’ has to mean something. It has to mean people making more money than Photios or Sinodinos, and there aren’t any.

In the end, these numbers count, and they matter; they really, truly matter. In the end, these numbers must be argued in a moral way. And Joe can’t do that any more. Because another fat man, Palmer, has some moral sense, and he’s got the numbers, or he will have soon, to make Joe do the right thing now and then — about the dead soldiers’ kids, and the Aboriginal scholarships, and the refugees O’Neill won’t take, and should be settled here. And the Qantas engineers, those sky-conquering heroes who deserve better.

And it’s going to be a big, ugly battle now, after Sinodinos, and we will see what we shall see.

Terrific Win For Young Workers

Twenty-year-olds working in the retail industry will finally be paid an adult's wage, according to a historic decision by the Fair Work Commission meaning thousands of young adults will see their wage rise by about $2 an hour.

Twenty-year-olds were paid 90 per cent of an adult working full- or part-time minimum wage before Friday's decision. But the ruling means they will be paid the same amount as 21-year-olds.

It comes after a two-year battle by the union movement, spearheaded by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said it was a great decision and had come after a long struggle.

"We heard the decision during the afternoon tea break today and I just shared it with some delegates," he said. "There was spontaneous applause because this means a lot to people, you know?"

Dwyer said some retailers had already started paying young workers the full adult minimum wage so the decision would "level the playing field" for workers in the industry.
The new rates will be phased in from July

Read more in SMH

O'Farrell Govt: More Tunnels and Landgrabs

West Con Action Groups and NOW Public Transport took to the streets of Sydney and Canberra to March in March. Meanwhile our booth with the Save Ashfield Park Group and the Haberfield Association at the Carnival of Cultures signed up 80 more concerned residents before the rain came.

Despite an estimated 100,000 people participating in March in March around the country there was little media coverage. Commentators have said this was because there were too many diffuse issues to encapsulate in a simple story or because journalists don't work on the weekend. An Action Group member sent the following from Mahatma Gandhi which better explains it.

First they ignore you
Then they laugh at you
Then they fight you
Then you win.
More tunnel madness
Described as a 'critical' tunnel, the announcement this week of the go ahead for NorthConnex, a $3bn tunnel and two ventilation stacks designed to link the M1 at Pennant Hills and the M2 at Wahroonga. It will take 50+ properties.

In a related story, it seems the economics of this unsolicited public private partnership (PPP) will only work if trucks are forced to use it at an estimated cost of $20 a trip. Similar noises are being made about forcing trucks to use the planned M4 East tunnel under Parramatta Rd.

Why tollways not public transport?
Ross Gittings gets up in his helicopter and looks at the whole tunnel vision thing in an excellent article.

From being ignored to fighting and winning
Tunnelpicketers and the action groups around the East-West link in Melbourne are no longer being laughed at and are well into the fighting stage. The daily non violent direct action has disrupted and seriously delayed the core sample drilling program forcing the government to push through laws limiting the rights to protest which has in turn sparked greater protest.

Meanwhile the $8bn scheme is under intense independent public scrutiny. Community dissenters are running a live blog from the Hearings and posting daily summaries. An awesome blog currently featuring the demon diagram Why demon? Only in footy mad Melbourne. Go to the blog for more.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Returning Corruption in Financial Advice

ACTU: Ripped off: workers will be hit by financial advice deregulation

19 March, 2014 | ACTU Media Release

Laws to remove consumer protections in financial services being introduced to parliament by the Federal Government today would see working people get ripped off by big banks, unions said today.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Abbott Government’s move to water down the Future of Financial Advice Act (FoFA) would lead to working Australians losing hard-earned savings to greedy and unethical financial institutions.

The attempt to remove the requirement for financial advice to be given in the client’s best interests is deeply concerning, said Ms Kearney.

“If not the interests of the consumer, then whose interests will financial institutions act in?

“This isn’t about red tape, this is a free kick to business that will put profits ahead of the interests of ordinary Australians.

“There are many examples of families losing their life savings because of financial products they didn’t understand or that they were pressured into.

“The FoFA laws are sensible, well thought out protections for consumers – usually hard-working people who have spent a lifetime accumulating their nest eggs.

“This attempt to water them down is a clear reward for the big banks who have lobbied hard for the removal of consumer protections and transparency around fees and commissions.

“We all know big business is there to make profits and the banks are very good at that.

“But Australians rely on government to protect them against the worst predatory behavior of business – not give them open slather.

“By removing consumer protections in the financial advice industry, Tony Abbott is paving the way for ordinary Australians to get ripped off.”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Qld: Aurizon Rail Jobs Under Threat

Rail company Aurizon says it has made a final decision on job cuts in four regional towns in north Queensland.

About 50 jobs will go from depots in Townsville, Charters Towers, Hughenden, Cloncurry and Mount Isa.

The company says it is in the process of telling workers about the decision.

The Rail Union's Les Moffitt says the company has offered voluntary redundancies to 21 people working at the Townsville's national operations service centre.

"There is opportunities for a number of them to go to Brisbane and there is a couple of them considering that but for the vast majority of the 21, there's very very little options, especially if they don't want to leave Townsville," he said.

He says workers in the other towns should know their future by the end of this week.

"The people out there need to know one way or another," he said.

"They seem to be telling us very little over the last probably month or so in terms of what the future prospects are for our people out there.

"They've got families and kids who start at school for the school year. People just want to get it over and done with."

What's Australian Water Holding ?

Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos has stood down from the frontbench after political pressure over business dealings that are before a NSW anti-corruption inquiry.

The Assistant Treasurer made a short statement at the beginning of Senate Question Time on Wednesday, after weathering three days of damaging headlines about his involvement in Australian Water Holdings - a company associated with corrupt former Labor Minister Eddie Obeid.

Senator Sinodinos will stand aside from his senior role in the Abbott government while giving evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

"Earlier today Senator Sinodinos advised me of his "decision to step aside for the good of the government", Mr Abbott said in question time on Wednesday."Senator Sinodinos has done the right and decent thing as you'd expect and for someone who has given out country such long and faithful service."

Senator Sinodinos said he did not want his corruption inquiry to become a "sideshow" to the important work being undertaken by his colleagues."I rise to make a statement in regard to the current inquiry into Australian Water Holding Propriety Limited by the independent commission against corruption in NSW," he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen called on Senator Sinodinos to appear before the Senate to explain himself."If he can't do that then he should stand aside," Mr Bowen told Sky News. "And if he won't stand aside the Prime Minister should show some leadership and stand him aside this morning."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Youth Unemployment Disgrace - 32.6%

Youth unemployment rates in Newcastle are soaring above the state average, with a key regional welfare organisation  blaming a lack of traineeships and other job-creation initiatives for the crisis.

Labour force figures from the federal Department of Employment show the jobless rate among those aged 15 to 19 in the Newcastle district stood at 32.6 %, or 6.3 % above the NSW average, in December last year.

Statistics for Newcastle  – which also include Lake Macquarie residents looking for full-time work – are higher than for the Central Coast, where about 28 % of  the ‘‘teenage’’ category cannot find a job.

In the wider ‘‘youth’’ category of 15 to 24, Newcastle recorded a rate of 12.5 % compared with the state average of 11.7 %.

Cec Shevels, chief executive of Hunter-based welfare organisation the Samaritans Foundation, said youth unemployment in the region was a persistent and ‘‘real’’ problem that showed no sign of abating.

Mr Shevels said Australia should be following the lead of the European Union in trying to guarantee a job to every youth coming out of training within four months.  ‘‘I think the problem we have in the Hunter is the nature of work has changed – you can’t get a job at BHP any more. And while there are now a more diverse range of employment opportunities, they tend to be knowledge-based industries that require post-school training,’’ he said.

‘‘We are not doing well enough in the education area. Not enough kids are completing year 12 and not enough are completing post-school training. And while ever that happens, we will be in trouble because you really have to train for just about everything these days.’’

Mr Shevels warned that penalising youth who breached their youth allowance or welfare payments was not the answer.

‘‘We have to give them genuine opportunities and expect them to take them, and we don’t do that,’’ he said.

‘‘We can say ‘It’s all their fault, they can try harder’, but that’s too simplistic. They can try but we must give something to try for.’’

Monday, March 17, 2014

NSW: Public Schools Perform Best

Maurie Mulheron NSW Teachers' Federation President writes:

I have just finished reading a new book co-authored by Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, The public school advantage: why public schools outperform private schools. The authors are academics at the University of Illinois and their book deals with the marketisation of education that is occurring at an accelerating rate in the United States. Laws to introduce vouchers, autonomous charter schools and tax credits for private schools have been passed in states across America as private management companies move in to run schools and churches see the opportunity to create more faith-based schools.

The authors acknowledge that the power of the market is eroding traditional boundaries between public, private and community sectors. Their concern is whether competition theory can be applied to non-market endeavours such as universal education.

At a time when Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne champions the fragmenting of the public education system by pushing for public schools to be more like private schools, such as the silly sounding "independent public school" model, the Lubienskis offer Australian educators some interesting insights.

Charter schools were to be given far greater operational autonomy so as to be more like private schools. So certain were the politicians pushing this agenda that in 2004 these “reformers” convinced the US federal government to collect data on a representative sample of autonomous charter schools as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This measure of achievement is sometimes referred to in the United States as the “nation’s report card”.

But the data collected “... contradicted the hope that these autonomous schools, modeled after private schools, would outperform public schools”.

Intrigued by the results, the two academics applied for funding to conduct a much more indepth research project so as to enable them to study more recent, more robust and much more comprehensive datasets.

The findings, published in their book, are important. As they state, “These results indicate that, despite the reformers’ adulation of the autonomy enjoyed by private and charter schools, this factor may in fact be the reason these schools are underperforming. That is, contrary to the dominant thinking on this issue, the data show that the more regulated public school sector embraces more innovative and effective professional practices while independent schools often use their greater autonomy to avoid such reforms ….”

The day after finishing reading the book, I awoke to the following headline in the Sydney Morning Herald (March 6): “Smart state arises from the public school base.”

I was struck by the synchronicity of it all — one chapter closing, another opening.

The Sydney Morning Herald article revealed that NSW public schools, in the latest NAPLAN results, represent 39 per cent of Australia’s top performing schools. NSW public schools make up just 23 per cent of the nation’s schools so the results are significant. What is even more remarkable is to understand that this achievement comes at a time when even more of the state’s students are identified as disadvantaged as measured by the revised socio-educational advantage index.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March in March - Tens of Thousands Protest


blue mountains
blue mountains

UK: Tony Benn dies aged 88

Tony Benn was one of the most charismatic and influential politicians in post-war Britain.

He renounced his peerage to remain an MP, he was described as one of the few politicians to move to the Left after serving as a minister, and there was the no small matter that he represented the former constituency of Bristol South East for a total of 30 years.

Despite all his achievements, Benn never forgot that his first duty as an MP was to serve those who had elected him and to prove the point, it’s worth noting that although he understandably had a deep mistrust of reporters and newspapers, he always responded to calls from this newspaper when it involved local issues and constituency casework.

Benn, a pilot during the Second World War who worked briefly as a radio producer with the BBC, first became an MP in 1950 after he was selected as the Labour candidate for Bristol South East. He succeeded Sir Stafford Cripps who stood down due to ill-health.

In those early days in Parliament, Benn held middle-of-the-road views. He did not shift to the Left until the end of the 1970s after his experience as a cabinet minister.

In 1964, Benn became Postmaster General in Harold Wilson’s first Government, overseeing the opening of the Post Office Tower in London and proposing without success that stamps should be issued without the Queen’s head.

Two years later, he became Minister of Technology and therefore responsible for the development of Concorde in Filton and only a stone’s throw from his own constituency where many aircraft workers lived.

He also dealt with the merger of several car companies to create British Leyland and the Government’s programme of industrial reorganisation.

In Wilson’s second Government, Benn was made Industry Secretary and in 1975, he was appointed Energy Secretary after an unsuccessful campaign for a No vote in a referendum to join Europe. Benn hated the EEC (European Economic Community) with avengeance because he believed it was bureaucratic and centralised and dominated by the Germans.

It was during this tenure that Benn showed his first signs of shifting to the Left. He opposed a move to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund to ward off an economic crisis, suggesting instead an “alternative economic strategy” which would have relied much less on outside borrowing.

Benn’s idea was rejected by the Cabinet and by the end of the 1970s, he had moved to the left wing of the party. His opponents insisted that a Bennite Government would lead to an Eastern European style of communism yet he was adored by Labour activists who wanted to see him become the party’s leader.

In 1980, two years after Margaret Thatcher had become Prime Minister, Benn made an important speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference in which he outlined that he wanted to see a Labour Government that would nationalise industries, control capital and implement industrial democracy “within weeks” of taking power. He would also return all powers from Brussels back to Westminster and abolish the House of Lords.

Benn supported Sinn Fein and a unified Ireland and in 1982 during the Falklands War, he said the dispute should be settled by the United Nations instead of the British Government sending a task force to the islands.

Benn was notorious by now among most Fleet Street editors who pilloried the doyen of the Left at every opportunity.

After Labour’s third successive defeat in a general election in 1987, Benn had a third attempt at the party leadership but lost heavily to Neil Kinnock.

One of his last parliamentary campaigns before he retired in 2001 was to put forward a Bill to abolish the monarchy in favour of a republic but it never achieved a second reading.

After he retired, he became president of the Stop the War Coalition which saw him oppose the Iraq War and which led to a visit to Baghdad in 2003 to meet with Saddam Hussein that was shown on television.

He was also a prolific diarist, publishing the ninth and last volume in 2012. By this time, Benn was an outsider looking in and grieving for a party which he believed had died.

He was disgusted by Blair, disappointed by Brown and convinced by May 2008 that he would not see another Labour Government in his lifetime.

He wrote: “I feel bereaved that the Labour party has gone that wrong. It has died. It's been assassinated by Blair and Brown."

Read more from the Bristol Post

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CFMEU: Government must act to end the exploitation of foreign workers

CFMEU National News

It was no surprise to the CFMEU to read about Chinese workers employed unlawfully as plasterers in the Victorian construction industry and their exploitation as reported on the front page of The Sunday Age last week.

Around Australia, the CFMEU has encountered numerous instances of Chinese plasterers, both lawful and unlawful, being employed by unscrupulous employers taking advantage of the workers’ visa status, lack of knowledge of their rights, their pay and conditions.

We have expended considerable resources to communicate with and gain the trust of Chinese workers in order to stop their exploitation. As far back as 2008, officials from the union met with the Victorian Multicultural Commissioner, to seek advice about reaching out to the community and encouraging workers to come to us for help.

Two years ago, a Victorian CFMEU official spent a week negotiating backpay for over 100 Chinese workers who had worked for three months without pay on the site of a major construction company in the inner city.

In fact the union has acted to secure back pay for non payment of wages and entitlements often to the tune of millions of dollars. In one case, the union was actually fined by the Fair Work Building Commission for doing so.

In another case in 2011, the union uncovered a plastering firm that won a major tender for a $5 million job with a $4 million bid.  It employed 120 Chinese workers on an array of temporary visas. Many had tourist visas with no working rights in Australia while others were working in breach of their visa conditions and some were over-stayers.

None spoke English, all were being paid well below the award, were given an ABN and forced to work as sham contractors.

The union has led the fight against the practice of these shonky contractors who unlawfully employ foreign workers and thereby undercut employers who pay the right wage rates and conditions and train young apprentices.

The CFMEU negotiated a temporary foreign labour clause in enterprise bargaining agreements which obliges employers to check that workers have valid visas entitling them to work in Australia.  We negotiated this clause into the Victorian plastering EBA precisely because of the problem of employers hiring Chinese workers without legal working rights as The Sunday Age reported.

The union also campaigned for the Employer Sanctions Act 2013 - which creates a statutory civil offence for employers and other entities employing non-citizens with no valid visa or working in breach of their visa conditions, or allowing them to work.

This new law imposes fines of up to $15,300 for each illegal worker rising to $76,500 if taken to court.

It is worth noting that Tony Abbott opposed this legislation every step of the way.

Read More

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

UK: Bob Crow 1961-2014

The sudden death of British Rail Maritime and Transport union leader Bob Crow drew tributes from around the world.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "This is shocking news. Bob was an outstanding trade unionist, who tirelessly fought for his members, his industry and the wider trade union movement.

"He was always a good friend and comrade to me. We will miss him, and our thoughts are with his family and the RMT at this difficult time."

Sir Brendan Barber, chairman of the conciliation service Acas, and former TUC general secretary, said Bob Crow was "one of trade unionism's larger-than-life characters, always battling with passion and energy for his members.

"His bluff exterior masked a shrewd and intelligent negotiator who actually won high respect from employers as well as deep loyalty and support from his members. My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time."

Bob was a life-long, and highly successful, fighter for the interests of his members and for working people as a whole. I am sure that is the only epitaph he would have wanted”

Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "Bob's passing is very sad news and the thoughts of firefighters will be with his family.

"Bob was a good friend to me personally and to the Fire Brigades Union as a whole."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "It was a privilege to campaign and fight alongside him because he never gave an inch."

He said: "Bob Crow was admired by his members and feared by employers, which is exactly how he liked it."

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka, who sat on the TUC general council with Mr Crow, said: "Bob was a tireless fighter for RMT members and working class people and a towering force in the trade union movement.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, said: "This is a sad day not just for the RMT and the rail industry but for the trade union and labour movement."

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: "Bob was a life-long, and highly successful, fighter for the interests of his members and for working people as a whole.

"I am sure that is the only epitaph he would have wanted."

unofficial London Underground memorial

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fukushima - Protests in Japan

Three years after the Fukushima disaster, thousands of anti-nuclear demonstrators have filled the streets of Tokyo. They called on the government to pull the plug on nuclear power for good. This was one of many protests which were planned across Japan on Sunday.

“I am here today because I want to rid the planet of nuclear power as quickly as possible,” said Fumiko Ichikawa, one of the Tokyo demonstrators.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is setting its sights on restarting some of the country’s 48 mothballed reactors. But, in the wake of the meltdown at Fukushima in March 2011, people in Japan are worried about safety and the impact on their health. Abe has announced he wants 30,000 residents to return to their homes and the reactors to be switched back on within two years.

A Fukushima insider and two former prime ministers have told the ABC's 7.30 program that such a move would be irresponsible.

At the risk of losing his job if his identity is revealed, a senior TEPCO staffer, who has worked at the Fukushima plant for more than 20 years, says the situation at the reactor is not under control and no-one knows how to fix the problem.

"There are too many systems and they all have problems," he said. "For example, too many water tanks with too many lines - it's very difficult to operate. It's made worse because all the experienced workers have reached their radiation limits, so TEPCO has to rely on staff that don't know the site and who aren't trained."

The whistleblower says mistakes are made weekly, and contaminated water leaks into the Pacific Ocean every day.

"The other day when contaminated water overflowed from a tank, an alarm was ringing but they didn't go and check. I couldn't believe it. It was ringing for nine hours and they thought the alarm was out of order."

The insider says the damaged reactors can never be decontaminated and that people should not be moved back into the no-go zone, a 20-kilometre exclusion area around Fukushima.

"I feel it is impossible to fix before my death," he said. "We just don't have the technology to fix it. It currently doesn't exist. We just can't deal with the melted fuel."

The Economy Stupid! - Not A Job For Abbott

When Tony Abbott was opposition leader, he promised that his government would create 1 million jobs. A million jobs in five years and 2 million in 10 years. Abbott is once again hopelessly wrong.

We have two problems. One is that jobs are disappearing and not only from manufacturing. The second is that the Prime Minister and his Coalition are a bunch of job snobs. They think that jobs in manufacturing are a rung beneath those in services.

The first we can easily demonstrate through the slew of closures and the sacking, retrenchments and the redundancies across Australia, from Toyota to Holden to Qantas. The second we can demonstrate only through the language of the politician himself.

He said of workers at a joint news conference at Parliament House in December: ''Many of them will probably be liberated to pursue new opportunities.'' And: ''What I can say is that our job as a government is to build a stronger economy, a stronger economy that enables people, over time, to go from good jobs to better jobs,'' the Prime Minister said on the ABC's current affairs program AM in February.

But what constitutes liberation, Prime Minister? What constitutes a better job? Does the prospect of working in a factory or on a production line so nauseate you that you diminish the contribution these people make to our community?

Sally Weller is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. For more than 20 years, she has been studying how to reconfigure the Australian workforce in a way that will benefit all of us - not just governments or employers, but the people who put Australia's economy together.

''The outcome for Ansett workers was very uneven,'' she said.
Even those employees who were made redundant after Ansett failed in 2001 had trouble getting jobs despite the health of the economy, she said. Because it wasn't about the economy, it was about which skills the workers had.

Jobs were particularly hard to find if the redundant worker was a little older, had English that wasn't top-notch or had a family so couldn't move.

The same is true now. Consider the story of one woman who was made redundant by Qantas last year. She'd worked for the airline for years.  She recalled how she would tell her friends she had the best job in the world: ''I was proud to say I worked for Qantas … it was like a family, you would always go above and beyond.'' But a year on from her redundancy, she cannot get a single interview. Prospective employers tell her that others have more experience, are more qualified. She is one of the lucky ones, in some respects, because her partner has a job in hospitality. Of all her friends who volunteered for or were forced to take redundancy, only two have jobs. But they are casual jobs. There is no future and no planning.

''I'm really sad, I was there for more than half my life,'' she said.
And she has a right to be more than sad if the only jobs available are unpredictable, poorly paid and in work that doesn't require the same skills.

Weller said any attempt to radically deregulate the Australian labour market must and will fail. She said the labour market in Australia has always been characterised by skills shortages - and that, when you deregulate the labour market, you get escalation of wages at the top end.
''We are seeing that quite clearly in parts of the economy and in places like airlines, where people have skills,'' she said. ''If I was an employer in an airline right now, I would want a regulated labour market to stop good people bidding up wages.''

As for the 1 million jobs (or does the Prime Minister mean 1 million part-time jobs in unskilled areas?), a brief word from Australian Institute director Richard Denniss: ''The Abbott government has been highly successful at liberating from their jobs particular workers in aviation, cars and food processing. What they are yet to do is to create a large number of opportunities for the liberated workers to fill.''

Yes, the Prime Minister went to the election promising 1 million new jobs.
And he's not even close to keeping up with the jobs we had before he was elected.

Read more

Monday, March 10, 2014

TWU: NSW Taxi Safety Scandle

Transport Workers' Union (TWU) New South Wales Assistant Secretary Michael Aird has labelled the maintenance of the NSW taxi fleet rotten to the core, with vehicle safety checks undertaken by mechanics facing a massive conflict of interest and drivers forced to use vehicles that are falling apart around them.

"The public should not have to play taxi roulette with their lives every time they hail a cab, Mr Aird said.

"The disgraceful self-regulation of safety in the taxi industry is a tragedy waiting to happen, with standards as bad as in the grounded fuel tanker fleets.

"What the travelling public expect is genuinely independent safety checks on the 6000 plus taxis in our communities. Instead we have a system where major taxi companies operate a system of virtual self-regulation via Authorised Taxi Inspector Stations, which in many cases are owned by the major taxi operators. Mechanics face a massive conflict of interest and risk losing work if they certify too many vehicles as un-roadworthy.

"Even though taxis are on the road 24 hours a day, often driving hundreds of thousands of kilometres each year, 31 pages of Government regulations are concerned only with issues like decals, taxi lights, windshield wipers and security cameras. There is nothing about the engine, breaks, airbags or the suspension.

"Taxi drivers earn as little as $7.55 an hour and many have no option but to drive crazy hours in un-roadworthy cars, risking dangerous fatigue problems just to put food on their tables.'

Sydney Taxi veteran Michael Hatrick said conditions for drivers and the travelling public have gone downhill big time over the past 25 years.

"Back in the day the Government used to carry out the safety checks but then they outsourced this to the taxi industry. Every other day I'm driving a car that probably shouldn't be on the road but it's been passed as safe", Mr Hatrick said.

Michael Aird continued, "Every taxi driver has a horror story to tell about having to drive a car with serious mechanical issues. It's not just a case of a few dodgy operators, it's endemic in the flawed system the State Government is responsible for.

"Many drivers speak English as a second language and are not aware of Australian workplace laws, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation by dodgy operators.

"It's a miracle that more serious taxi crashes have not happened on our roads, but unless the Government takes immediate action it is only a matter of time."

Today is Labour Day in Victoria and Tasmania - Should We Apologise?

Labour Day – known in Tasmania as Eight-Hour Day – commemorates the establishment of the eight-hour working day, and the contribution of workers to the nation’s development.

Melbourne is generally regarded as the global birthplace of the Eight-Hour movement, following action by stonemasons that resulted in an eight-hour day in 1856.

The achievement is commemorated by a monument featuring a golden globe bearing the “888” symbol at the top of Russell Street, across the road from the Trades Hall in Melbourne.

The eight-hour day was not something that was granted by the benevolence of employers, or business or conservative politicians. It had to be fought for.

Every gain has had to be fought for

Workplace rights have advanced greatly since then, and every gain has been opposed by business.

And if you listen to the business lobby today, all those gains have made Australia not a better place, but a worse one.

So last week, the Federal Government, responding to an increasing chorus of complaints from business and from its own backbench, confirmed a Productivity Commission inquiry into Australia’s workplace relations framework.

ACTU President Ged Kearney described this inquiry as putting wages, rights at work and conditions on trial.

This has all got us here at Working Life thinking: what if the business lobby is right? What if all these achievements we celebrate on Labour Day are bad for business?

Could we have been wrong all along? Do we owe the business community an apology?

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Coalition OHS Policy

NSW: Santos CSG Aquifer Poisoning

It's happened. After years of insisting coal seam gas mining poses no threat to our water supply, a Santos CSG project has poisoned an aquifer in north-western New South Wales. This is the first time an aquifer has been proven to be contaminated by coal seam gas mining in Australia. 

Now, it's filled with uranium at 20 times the safe drinking water levels, and has elevated levels of arsenic, lead, aluminium, nickel, barium and boron. And the penalty handed down to Santos? A paltry $1500 fine. Unbelievably, two days after the fine was issued, the NSW State Government signed an agreement with Santos to fast-track their coal seam gas development in the Pilliga Forest.

It's clear. Our governments won't stand up against dangerous projects that threaten our land, our water and our communities. Looks like it's up to the rest of us.

Click here to sign the petition to demand Santos CEO David Knox stop the CSG developments in our beautiful Pilliga Forest immediately.

There's an amazing opportunity for you to be directly involved in Santos' AGM. Already, 50 shareholders have put their name to a resolution calling on Santos to halt its huge CSG project in north-western NSW. But the resolution can only be put to a vote if 50 more shareholders sign on in the next few days. Click here for more details.

The AGM is being held in May, and is the perfect opportunity to voice our opposition to these dangerous projects. When shareholders meet to discuss the direction of the company, let's make sure they know exactly how Australians feel about the CSG developments ruining our water supply and the Pilliga Forest.

Santos executives and shareholders alike need to know that Australia simply won't stand for anyone gambling with our precious natural resources for short term profits.

If we can build a huge petition, you can be sure we'll be in the minds of Santos' shareholders when they make decisions about the company's future.

International Womens Day 2014 - Festival of Ideas

International Womens Day 2014

Festival of Ideas

“I Protest”

When:     Friday March 7, 9:30am- 1.00pm
Where:    SMSA, Level 1, 280 Pitt St Sydney

Some amazing speakers include Meredith Burgmann , Lee Rhiannon, Adele Horin, Irina Dunn, Eva Cox, Wendy Bacon and more…feisty older women all

We need to know numbers so RSVP please by February 28.

There are 3 ways you can book.

You can to and simply write IWD, and your name and email address

Go to Search for festival of ideas. This will open the registration page and you can book in, giving your name, email address

If you can’t email, ring 9987 4017 and leave message, saying Festival of Ideas, your name and phone number

Entrance; Gold coin donation

ACTU: International Women's Day: Let's Keep Strong

ACTU: Rights Wages and Conditions On Trial

Rights, wages and conditions on trial in Abbott Government review

The terms of reference made public today in the media are a complete repudiation of the Abbott Government’s pre-election promise to workers that wholesale changes were not on the agenda, the ACTU said.

“The terms of reference revealed today put the whole workplace system on trial – pay and conditions, rights at work, collective bargaining and unfair dismissal are all on trial by the Productivity Commission,” President of the ACTU, Ms Ged Kearney said today.

“Workers need to understand the scope of this review, because its outcomes will have a direct impact on them.
“The last time the Coalition were in Government they put in WorkChoices, the most radical change to our industrial relations system in 100 years.

“This time, despite all their promises, the Coalition clearly intend to put the system that Australian workers rely on for decent wages on trial,” Ms. Kearney said.

The terms of reference lists the matters that will be looked at, and its scope is very broad.

“It’s also revealing that there a number of objectives in the current Act which the Government hasn’t included in the Terms of Reference, including the needs of the low-paid, the enforceability of wages and conditions, work-life balance, representation and the prevention of discrimination,” Ms Kearney said.

Ms Kearney said that the public should be alarmed about the direction of the review.

“The Government has put its public view that Australian wages and conditions are too high, and too generous, and they have blamed workers for the loss of jobs going overseas.

“Given the sensitivity about these issues, the Government would only be asking for such a comprehensive review if they were determined make radical change.

“The Productivity Commission review will be the platform by which the Government can change the laws that protect Australian workers and make it easier for business to cut take home pay,” Ms. Kearney said.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Senator Ludlam welcomes Tony Abbott to WA

Corporate Culture: Meatworkers Ripped off in Visa Scam

Thousands of Taiwanese workers employed in Australian abattoirs are not paying tax, according to the meatworkers' union.

The young workers, in the country on working holiday visas, work for major Australian companies such as smallgoods manufacturer Primo through specialist labour hire agencies.

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union (AMIEU) says the workers are being ripped off, working long hours for little pay.

What is worse, it adds, is that the foreign workers are replacing local workers in towns where the meatworks is a major employer.

Veteran slaughterman Robert Baker said that in the NSW town of Scone, the meatworks, owned by Primo, employs mostly international workers.

Mr Baker has been in the industry for 20 years but lasted only three months at the meatworks before quitting over safety concerns.

He now worries about the Taiwanese friends he has made.

They will give you lots of forms to fill in, including ABN forms. When you ask them how about tax file number they say 'Don't worry about that - you don't have to pay tax, you can earn money using ABN'.

According to the AMIEU, Primo uses specialised labour hire companies to employ the Asian backpackers.

Scottwell International recruited many of the young Taiwanese through a variety of labour hire companies.

On its website, Scottwell says its principal business is the recruitment of Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean employees to work in abattoirs and slaughterhouses across Australia - now at 19 different abattoirs across three states and employing more than 1,100 people.

Ian Tam, who was recently hired by the meatworkers' union as a Taiwanese liaison officer, went undercover at Scottwell.

He says the backpackers are being encouraged not to pay tax by using ABN numbers.

"I investigated this agency. I just [pretended] I was one of them, like a backpacker looking for job," Mr Tam said.

"They give you a form to fill in, quick interview and ask you 'can you work now?'

"They will give you lots of forms to fill in, including ABN forms. When you ask them 'how about tax file number?' They say 'don't worry about that - you don't have to pay tax, you can earn money using ABN'.

"If you don't sign those documents you cannot get the job."

IndustriALL: Ukraine needs a peaceful way-out

Signs of frustration and despair are growing in the east of Europe; the entire population of a 45 million people country has been dragged into a series of divisive political conflicts. IndustriALL Global Union strongly believes in a route to peace and security in Ukraine without using weapons.

IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates in Ukraine report that the situation changes from bad to worse. The country faced political instability, which resulted in the deaths of more than 100 and over 500 injured people at Kiev’s famous Maidan square. Now the mass media are drenched with reports and different views about continued escalation of the situation around Crimea bringing a potential danger for further division in this country.

In these difficult times IndustriALL Global Union expresses, together with its worldwide family, deep solidarity with its Ukrainian affiliated-trade union organizations, who by all means are trying to prevent further escalation of conflicts. IndustriALL supports all those who find solutions that aim at keeping peace and stability for ordinary workers and their families.

There is a high risk that in wrangles between different groupings both inside and outside the country the economic achievements of Ukrainian workers will be victimized. This is why, IndustriALL Global Union is supporting peace and integrity in Ukraine, however the price for it should not be the deterioration of working and living conditions of the people of labour.

IndustriALL Global Union appeals to the Ukrainian authorities demanding them to wage all their efforts in order to maintain and improve living standards, and not to allow the impoverishment of workers and their families in Ukraine.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

ACTU: Public Supports Higher Minimum Wage

60% of Australians are concerned about the emergence of a “working poor” in this country, and support an increase in the minimum wage.

An even higher number – 71% – say a decent minimum wage is a way of ensuring Australia remains a good place to live, according to a new national survey.

And even though Australia’s minimum wage of $16.37 an hour or $622.20 a week is relatively high by international standards, a third of those surveyed say they could not afford to live off that amount.

The results are contained in a new national survey of 1035 people conducted by Essential Research for the ACTU.

As unions gear up for this year’s annual wage review, which will determine whether 1.5 million Award-dependent workers get a pay rise or not, the survey shows strong continuing support for Australia’s minimum wage despite a loud and organised employer campaign against it.

The ACTU has not yet settled on the amount it will claim in this year’s case. The application by the ACTU is due with the Fair Work Commission towards the end of this month.

Employers ready for tough fight
Last year, low-paid workers were awarded a little over half the extra $30 a week that had been sought by the ACTU.

Employer groups are already setting the scene for a tough fight in this year’s case, and there is much interest in what the Abbott Government will do.

In recent years, the previous Labor Government did not oppose the union movement’s claim, but did not nominate a number itself.

There is no guarantee the Coalition Government will do the same, as during the Howard Government it actively intervened in the wage review to back a lower amount than that claimed by the unions.

But whatever position the Government adopts, the new survey shows that there is strong community support for a higher minimum wage.

Only 15% of those surveyed disagreed with the statement: The Government should support a higher minimum wage to ensure all Australians have a decent standard of living.

Seventy-one per cent agreed that a decent minimum wage is a way of ensuring Australia remains a good place to live, while only 17% agreed with the central argument by employers, that Australia’s minimum wage is too high and is preventing business from hiring people.

NSW: O'Farrell - Privatisation Redundancy Scam

The NSW state government does not intend to offer redundancy payments to disability sector workers who decline to move to the private sector under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Legislation denying public servants the traditional redundancy payments offered during privatisations have stunned the union movement.

But the state government has defended the new laws, saying "the NDIS Enabling Act makes it possible for us to . . . plan for all aspects of transition to the NDIS over the next few years".

In a series of questions and answers posted on the Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) website, the government acknowledges passing legislation "that enables it to forcibly transfer ADHC employees to the not-for-profit/for profit sectors, without compensation".

Asked if anything similar had happened before, the government responded by saying there needed to be "continuity of support for ADHC clients . . . to ensure an experienced, skilled workforce is retained in the service system".

Public Service Association organiser Paul James said government promises to maintain the conditions of transferring workers were likely to prove hollow.

"While the government says conditions cannot be varied 'except in accordance with any applicable industrial law', the private disability services are already pushing to have the relevant laws changed," Mr James said.

The changes would affect more than 1000 staff at the Stockton Centre and another 13,000 or so people in other ADHC jobs set to go by 2018.

NSW Nurses Association Stockton delegate Michael Grant said Stockton Centre employees were "extremely angry".

It was morally wrong for the government not to offer redundancy payments to those who did not want to transfer to the NDIS, especially if their existing jobs were no longer needed and they were being forced to retrain, he said.

The government was even denying that the ADHC changes were a privatisation.

"They're saying a privatisation is where they sell a business to the private sector but because they are giving it away, it's not a privatisation. That is a ridiculous statement."

Redundancy would be one of the issues pushed by the unions at a consultative forum with the government in Sydney on Thursday.

Mr Grant said the nurses' association was holding a public forum on the NDIS at Newcastle Panthers on Tuesday, March 11, at 6pm.

Mr James said this would be preceded by a members-only PSA meeting at the same venue at 4.30pm.

CWU: Telstra Fibre Challenge

In a move that challenges the federal government to clarify its broadband policy, Telstra has been for some months trialling Fibre to the Basement (FTTB) services for residential areas.

In  September last year, rival provider TPG set a cat among the regulatory pigeons by announcing a plan to roll out fibre to half a million Multi Dwelling Units (MDUs), potentially overbuilding the National Broadband Network (NBN).

It didn’t take long for Optus to respond with its own “head-line grab” – as Optus’ managing director of networks Vic McClelland himself described it – with the company flagging its own interest in FTTB in mid-December.

The point, of course, is that the NBN is supposed to be a monopoly, at least within its own footprint, bounded by its 121 Points of Interconnection. And a good proportion of the MDUs that TPG is targeting would fall within that footprint.

Legislation designed to protect NBN’s monopoly from such cherry picking was introduced in 2011. This restricted the ability of carriers to offer infrastructure-based services in competition with NBN Co.

A carrier can now only extend its fibre within 1 kilometre of its existing assets and/or upgrade its network to speeds above 25Mbps if it is willing to offer a wholesale service on terms equivalent to NBN CO’s. (This last restriction has ensured the stagnation of the fixed broadband market, in terms of speed, since that time.)

It has never been clear just how TPG intended to get round these restrictions. But the company has no doubt been emboldened by Communication Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s enthusiasm for infrastructure-based competition.

The trouble with that competition, however, is that it will undermine NBN CO’s ability to fund services in the less profitable areas of its operations. And here lies the dilemma for the Coalition.

As Minister, Turnbull has the power to grant TPG an exemption from the anti-cherry picking laws.

But as the Prime Minister is becoming fond of saying, why should the government grant favours to one company and not to everyone?

Telstra’s move signals the fact that the industry will not wait forever for Turnbull to make up his mind on this question.

ACCOSS: End Funding Uncertainty

ACOSS calls on Commonwealth to end funding uncertainty over services for vulnerable groups

Amid growing budget speculation, the Australian Council of Social Service has today called on the Federal Government to end uncertainty about the future of key community services.

In a supplementary submission to the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Federal Government's Commission of Audit, ACOSS has highlighted its concern that many services are now being caught up in budget speculation, with no certainty about where the government plans to make cuts in the May Budget.

ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said: "Services for people who are homeless, women and their children leaving violent situations, at risk young people disengaged from training and employment, and people in financial crisis are all up in the air.

"Funding for these programs is only secure until 30 June. Government departments have been unable to confirm the future of these services; those under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Youth Connections program and funding for financial services are all affected.

“Other vital community programs have already been cut, or are clearly in the firing line, including funding for the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), Aboriginal Legal Services, legal aid and community legal services, and community programs for people from diverse cultural backgrounds.  The recent open letter calling for funding to be restored to ADCA, signed by ten highly respected Australians, shows the level of growing community concern," Dr Goldie said.  

“The National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH) supports adults and their children who are homeless. Whilst accurate figures aren't available, Mission Australia has estimated that about 180 services, 80 000 clients and over 3000 staff are covered under the NPAH.

"It would be extraordinary to pull the rug out from under these services when the Treasurer has promised that government funding will be targeted to those most in need.

“It would also be crushing for young people who can't get a job if their support programs were cut, when they should be expanded. The latest figures show youth unemployment is twice the general unemployment rate (12.2%) and as high as 20% among 15-24 year olds in some parts of the country.

Programs such as Youth Connections have helped many thousands of young people who had disengaged or were at risk of disengaging from education or employment. The program has achieved excellent results in an increasingly tough job market. Nationally, 67 organisations deliver Youth Connections over 113 service regions, assisting over 70,000 young people.

"The ongoing uncertainty is having a serious impact across the country, with service management unable to plan, and staff increasingly anxious. Valued workers are under pressure to start looking for new jobs, with many not knowing if they will be employed in just a few months.  Whilst we can’t establish the exact number of clients and staff who are affected, it is clearly in the thousands.

"Services are increasingly alarmed that the government may use the expiration of funding contracts on 30 June to deliver budget savings.  Whether this is intended or not is unknown. However, in the absence of new contracts being put in place, services are understandably concerned.

“We agree we have a budget challenge, and have supported a responsible audit of government expenditure.  However, we need to be looking for savings amongst the tax breaks, loopholes, rebates and payments which benefit people who already have significant income and assets: superannuation, discretionary trusts, private health rebates, the assets tests for the age pension, negative gearing and capital gains, as well as generous supplements and concessions to people already enjoying a well above average standard of living.

"Services and payments to support vulnerable and low income people should not be in the firing line in search of a budget surplus.

"This was the previous government’s mistake, one that Labor’s leadership now regrets in Opposition. Over 100 000 single parents and their children suffered the consequences, and are still waiting over a year later, for something to be done. Let us not make the same mistake again. The funds needed for these vital services are modest, and will save us far more in the future.

“The Government must put an end to all this uncertainty and urgently signal its ongoing commitment to funding," Dr Goldie said.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Abbott's "Green Army" - Abbott's Low Wage Economy

Tony Abbott's federally funded ''green army'' will enlist 15,000 young people in environmental work, striking young workers from official dole queue figures as youth unemployment soared in the year to January to 12.4 per cent.

The scheme - the cornerstone of the government's environmental policies - is modelled on John Howard's Green Corps, and will be an alternative to work-for-the-dole programs.

Under the legislation introduced by Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday, green army participants - who will be aged 17-24 - will work up to 30 hours a week. They will be given the chance to undergo formal training as part of their duties, but will lose their Centrelink benefits for taking part in the scheme and fall off official joblessness figures.

Mr Hunt's office stressed that the green army was ''an environmental and training program, not an employment program'', although the government has repeatedly described the army as Australia's largest ever ''environmental workforce''.

The government is aiming the scheme at indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, gap-year students, graduates and the unemployed. Enlistees will do manual labour, including clearing local creeks and waterways, fencing and tree planting. Green army members will not be covered by Commonwealth workplace laws, including the Work, Health and Safety Act, the Fair Work Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said the workers should be covered by the appropriate federal workplace protections.
''This is about taking away well-paid, well-protected jobs from people and replacing them with low-paid, unsafe jobs,'' she said. ''This is not about getting people on the margins of the workforce into work, this is about providing a low-paid workforce.''

Greens MP Adam Bandt said:
''Only Tony Abbott could create a 'workforce' where the workers aren't legally workers and have no workplace rights. If a green army supervisor and a worker under their command get injured while wielding a pick or building a lookout, the supervisor will have the same safety and compensation protections as ordinary employees but the worker won't.''