Monday, September 29, 2014

Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions Strike for Democracy

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) - the only independent union in China - has called for workers to strike in support of the democracy movement as mass civil disobedience actions come under heavy police attack. The Swire Beverages (Coca-Cola) union and the HKCTU unions of school teachers and dockers are striking and will be joined by other member unions.

Tensions have been building in Hong Kong since the August 31 government announcement that candidates for the position of Chief Executive would have to be vetted and approved by a pro-business, pro-Beijing committee.

The protests, originally organized by the students' federation and the Occupy Central coalition, have drawn increasing numbers of supporters. The mainland government has harshly condemned the protestors' demands and the "illegal" protests.

On October 28, the HKCTU declared "we cannot let the students fight alone", and called for workers to strike in support of 4 demands: the immediate release of all the arrested, an end to the suppression of peaceful assembly, replacing the "fake universal suffrage" formula with the genuine political reform workers have been demanding, and the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.

The HKCTU has been the backbone of the democracy movement, before and following Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule. Their courageous action deserves the support of trade unions everywhere.

ANMF Staff set to cease work over safety fears

26 September 2014

  • Staff members under siege from a violent patient in their care are calling on management and the state government to step in and address their safety concerns or they will be forced to walk off the job at a Warrnambool nursing home.
  • Staff demand violent resident is relocated
  • Resident is the source of 200 formal violent and aggressive incident reports
  • Management, state government and Premier given window to respond

Staff to cease work on Thursday if no action is taken.

ANMF (Vic Branch) members at Lyndoch Living's Lakeside Lodge have today agreed that unless alternate living arrangements are made for a female resident, who has been at the centre of almost 200 formal violent and aggressive incident reports, they will cease work on Thursday 2 October at 1pm.

All other ANMF members will refuse to be redeployed to Lakeside Lodge due to the imminent risk to their health and safety.

Members demanded that the facility's management begin work with the Department of Health immediately to find an appropriate specialist psychogeriatric facility for the resident, such as those available in Geelong.

Werribee's South Stone Lodge would also have been a suitable alternative facility; however, it is due to be closed by Melbourne Health in December as part of the Napthine Government's aged-care sell off.

Around 745 public aged care beds, including 108 devoted to mental health patients, have been closed or ear marked for sale by the state government since it came to power in November 2011.

ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary Paul Gilbert said members are dismayed over Lyndoch Living's failure to address their safety concerns.

‘We are providing a window of opportunity for Lyndoch Living, the Premier and the Department of Health to step in and resolve this serious matter,' Mr Gilbert said.

'Lyndoch Living is failing in its duty of care to staff and is demonstrating that it does not have the capacity to care for such a resident with specialist care needs.

‘We are understandably concerned for the welfare of the other residents should a cease work be necessary.

'Yet, despite our best efforts, management has failed to address the safety issues of its staff and the fallout from the many violent incidents which are being reported to them for action.

"No appropriate action has been taken in response to numerous incidents, including injury to staff, and management has failed to implement government policy which requires appropriate security responses to occupational violence and aggression including Code Grey.

 ‘We believe that Lyndoch Living ceased the interventions put in place to provide 24 hour care to the resident in question, and has done so without consultation with staff, or the ANMF.

'It should be noted that we have received further complaints to us today by staff who have been victims of separate violent incidents at Lyndoch Living due to inappropriate occupational violence and aggression policies being in place."



Until very recently, gas extracted in Australia stayed in Australia. Because our nation has abundant natural gas reserves, it meant our gas prices have stayed low by global standards.

Affordable gas has been a key national advantage. It has been a boost for Australian industry, especially manufacturing, which faces a range of challenges. Without affordable gas, many Australian manufacturing operations would be unable to survive.  

Today, new technology has made it possible for Australian gas to be liquefied economically and exported, via ships, overseas. Multinational gas companies have been given licenses to extract Australian gas from major new gas fields and to export it, primarily to Asia. Exports of Australian gas will start ramping up from July 2015.

With exports now possible, gas companies will be able to attract the much higher Asian price for Australian gas. So while gas has cost approximately $4 per gigajoule in Australia, it can attract $15+ per gigajoule in Asian markets like Japan and Korea. 

If gas companies have the option of selling Australian gas for $15+ per gigajoule, that’s the price they will charge everyone - including Australians. There is currently nothing to stop them.

This means Australian gas prices will shoot up by 300 to 400 per cent as existing gas agreements expire and new ones are negotiated. By way of comparison, the much discussed carbon tax increased energy costs by 14.5 per cent on average.

This price rise will hit household gas bills, small business gas bills, and major industrial operations.

MUA and Abbott's Royal Commission

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) will appear today at the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin confirmed that while the Union would participate in hearings, it stridently disagreed with the politics driving the inquiry.

"This Royal Commission is draining $53 million from the public purse, and frankly, taxpayers’ money could be better spent elsewhere at this time," Mr Crumlin said.

"At a time when there is clear evidence of corruption in the funding of our political system, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet are more interested in pursuing partisan politics through secondary processes.

“A far more useful conversation about the extent and influence of corporate money in politics is being had in the NSW ICAC, where there is a cricket team of Coalition MPs who have either been demoted or now sitting on the crossbenches.

"We will co-operate with this Royal Commission but the politics driving it are reprehensible.”

Mr Crumlin said the MUA is fully audited by independent external auditors.

“The MUA operates with full transparency. We do not, and never have, operated slush funds,” he said.

“The time and effort we have to devote to the Royal Commission is resources that would be far better utilised improving safety on the wharves or improving the retirement dignity of our members.

“Unemployment is at a 12-year high but rather than help Australian workers find decent employment, the Abbott Government is instead hell-bent on opening the back door to cheap foreign labour across the country.

“The Abbott Government is being actively supported by the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) which not only wants to sell out Australian jobs but also water down training requirements by dumbing down and eroding the national framework.

“The truth is there are employers out there who still believe it is in their interest, and the national interest, to train Australians. The MUA looks forward to continuing to work with those companies.

“But the Abbott Government and AMMA are so ideologically driven they can’t see that many employers want to do the right thing.

“The Abbott Government and its mates at AMMA would prefer to open the back door to cheap foreign labor – whether it’s in coastal shipping or in the offshore oil and gas sector - rather than invest in our country’s youth and indigenous workers.”

Follow the Money: Australian Tax Avoidance Highlights

Almost a third of Australia's largest companies are paying less than 10¢ in the dollar in corporate tax, a report that exposes a gaping hole in government revenues over the past decade shows.
As Australia prepares to host world leaders at the G20 summit in Brisbane in November, where a global assault on tax avoidance will be discussed, the report found 84 per cent of Australia's top 200 stockmarket-listed companies pay less than the 30 per cent company tax rate.

Some, among them household names such as James Hardie, do not contribute a dollar to Australian coffers, it found.

Tax minimisation by large companies far outweighs that of small- and medium-sized businesses and has a disproportionately large effect on eroding the tax base.

''Tackling corporate tax avoidance is an urgent priority; Australia does not have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem and it must be fixed,'' says Who Pays for Our Common Wealth?, prepared by the union United Voice and the Tax Justice Network - a group of charities, unions and churches.The 90-page look at tax contributions of the S&P/ASX 200 between 2004 and last year claims up to $80 billion in tax was forgone in that period. That could all but wipe out the past two budget deficits.

It details the widespread and growing use of subsidiaries in tax havens and so-called ''thin capitalisation'', where local entities are saddled with huge debts to reduce tax liabilities in Australia.
Almost 60 per cent of the ASX 200 declare subsidiaries in tax havens. For example, global broadcaster 21st Century Fox has 117 and logistics group Toll Holdings 72 in low-tax jurisdictions.

Nearly a third of companies have an average ''effective tax rate'' of 10 per cent or less. James Hardie pays an effective rate of 0 per cent tax, Sydney Airport 2 per cent and Echo Entertainment - owner of
Sydney's Star casino - 5 per cent, the report found. It said many of the lowest-paying companies are real estate investment trusts, which pass some of the tax burden on to investors.

The authors of the report said the scope of their research made it clear that ''tax minimisation practices of a minority of very large companies have a significant and disproportionate impact on Australia's corporate tax revenue base''.

David O'Byrne, national secretary of United Voice, said ''the corporate tax system is broken''.
''When 29 per cent of Australia's largest listed companies are paying an effective tax rate of 10 per cent or less, it's clear that the system is broken,'' he said.

''In the last five years the proportion of total tax revenue from business shrank from 23 per cent to 19 per cent, while the proportion from individuals rose from 37 per cent to 39 per cent. Working people across the country are doing all the heavy-lifting because many of our biggest companies are shirking their responsibilities and it's costing all of us billions of dollars a year.''

The Tax Justice Network and United Voice will call for a parliamentary inquiry into the corporate tax take after briefing federal MPs.

But they will face stiff resistance from the corporate world, which points to Australia's place at second on the list of countries for company tax take to GDP ratio. Business leaders complain that foreign competitors pay far less in their home countries even though countries such as the US have a higher corporate tax rate, of 35 per cent.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development this month unveiled plans to tackle profit shifting and tax avoidance by multinational corporations. Australian companies will be forced to provide more transparency to the Tax Office from next year.

Read more:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Anti-Poverty Week 12-18 October

ETU: Stop The Selloff

Electrical Trades Union members visited the railway station last Friday to hand out leaflets opposing the proposed "sell-off" of the electricity "poles and wires" network.

Union members took their protest to the nearby office of Heathcote MP Lee Evans.

Mark Buttigieg and other members of the Electrical Trades Union protest against the proposed
electricity "poles and wires" sell-off outside the Engadine office of Heathcote MP Lee Evans
Premier Mike Baird announced in June the Coalition would ask for a mandate at the election next March to lease 49 per cent of the network and plough $20 billion from proceeds into an infrastructure package.

Proposed projects, which are due to be finalised in November, include a southern extension to the WestConnex motorway, which would run from Tempe to President Avenue, Kogarah.

Stop the Sell Off campaign spokesman Mark Buttigieg, a union organiser and former Sutherland Shire councillor, said the privatisation plan would "inevitably result in higher power prices".

"Our electricity network, made up of Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and TransGrid, is the state's most valuable income-generating asset," he said.

"Its profits currently provide billions of dollars every year to help pay for schools, hospitals and transport."

Mr Buttigieg said private owners of the network would cut back on spending and increase prices to maximise returns for shareholders.

"Mr Evans will likely say that price regulations and job protection will be put in place, but these are just temporary measures designed to get him past the next election," he said.

NSW: Young Workers Ripped Off

More stories are emerging of young workers ripped off by unscrupulous bosses in the wake of Lauren Moon's story of underpayment at the hands of a former employer.

The 17-year-old spoke to the Mercury this week after she was allegedly paid the equivalent of just $3.26 an hour for working 24.5 hours at Fancy Fruits in Thirroul Plaza.

A number of other young people, and even parents, have since contacted the Mercury to tell their own stories of unpaid work trials and alleged underpayment by various employers across the region.

Two of those people were prepared to speak on the record.

Mikaela (surname withheld) claims she was paid just $50 for up to 26 hours of work during a "training week".

Louise Chapman, whose daughter worked at Fancy Fruits earlier this year, said her daughter had been happily employed at the store for six weeks.

However, she held deep concerns her daughter was being underpaid.

Fancy Fruits was approached but declined to comment on the allegations.

Confusion exists over the legality of unpaid trials, which a Fair Work Ombudsman spokesman said were generally unlawful.

"However, an employer can ask an employee to demonstrate a skill, such as making a coffee, where this is directly relevant to a vacant position," he said.

Any period beyond what is reasonably required to demonstrate the skills required for the job must be paid at the appropriate minimum rate of pay.

"The trial period would be dependent on the nature and complexity of the work, but could range from an hour to one shift, but the person must be under direct supervision during that time, the spokesman said.

Employees must also be paid for probation periods, meetings, training and extra time spent opening or closing a business.

The spokesman said an investigation into allegations made by former Fancy Fruits employee Lauren Moon in a Mercury story this week was ongoing and as such it would inappropriate to comment further on the matter.

He urged anyone who feels they may have been underpaid or not received their fill entitlements to visit or call the Fair Work Infoline on 13 13 94.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ACTU: Korean free trade agreement sells out Australian workers

24 September, 2014 | Media Release

The Government and Labor’s support for the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement gives a potential greenlight for imports made in the misery of North Korean prison camps.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the Korea-Australian Free Trade Agreement goes against the core values of the ALP.

“This disgraceful deal will not only cost thousands of Australian manufacturing jobs, it also leaves the door open to  imports from parts of North Korea that are not subject to labour standards and which are notorious for forced and prison labour,” said Ms Kearney.

“We’d expect this from the Abbott Government but it is deeply disturbing to see the Labor party support an agreement that is contrary to core Labor values such as labour rights in trade agreements.

“How can the ALP support a policy that potentially gives preferential access to products produced by forced or prison labour? To do so at the expense of Australian jobs and our manufacturing industry is even more shocking.”

Ms Kearney said the Korean free trade agreement will have a significant impact on Australian jobs and industry.

“Under this agreement, if a mining billionaire like Gina Rinehart wants to open a new mine, the whole operation including the plant and equipment can be manufactured in Korea, shipped to Australia and then built by Korean workers on 457 visas.

“Unemployment is already at a 12-year high yet the Government and Labor are committing to an agreement that will put even more pressure on jobs.”

A Productivity Commission Inquiry into Bilateral Trade Agreements found the benefits are overstated, finding:

“The increase in national income from preferential agreements is likely to be modest. The Commission has received little evidence from business to indicate that bilateral agreements to date have provided substantial commercial benefits.”

Not only is there no substantial benefit, the agreement also includes an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that allows private companies to sue the Government and override Australian laws if a policy decision impacts its business, said Ms Kearney.

“The Productivity Commission has recommended against this clause and even John Howard rejected it – yet the Abbott Government and the ALP have just given Korean private corporations unprecedented powers in Australia.

“Corporations will be able to sue the Australian Government for potentially billions of dollars in an international tribunal that is above Australia’s legal system with no avenue for appeal.

“This is an appalling agreement that strips away local jobs and Australia’s sovereign rights.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Credibility gap as Canberra goes into lockdown

By Peter Lewis and Jackie Woods

It says much about modern politics that the spectacle of the leaders of the major parties reaching out across dispatch box with a bipartisan approach to the threat of terrorism seems so novel.As Canberra goes into lockdown over terrorism threats, voters remain deeply suspicious of our major political parties and their motivations, write Peter Lewis and Jackie Woods.
One year out from the most fractious period in recent political history, where public debate descended into a mud wrestle, the public is being asked to give government more powers to thwart the terror risk.
But this week's Essential Report shows that as Canberra goes into lockdown, voters remain deeply suspicious of our major political parties and their motivations.
There was a time when bipartisanship on major issues was part and parcel of political life: think Fraser and the boat people, Howard and the dollar float, Beazley and gun laws.
Not so 21st century politics, where total opposition became an art form through Latham's war on the elites, the union campaign against WorkChoices, reaching its crescendo with Abbott's war on just about everything.
The problem our leaders face today as they propose laws that shift power from the individual to the state is that they do so at a time when trust in government and public institutions is severely diminished.
This week's Essential Report illustrates the conundrum. We support sending military personnel to Iraq (52-34), but we recognise it will make the situation in Australia less safe (51-13).
In normal circumstances this is where our leaders would step in and reassure a tentative public we could trust them to take tough measures in our best interests.
But a look at the standing of the major parties' political brands 12 months after the 2013 election shows they are still tarnished in the public mind.
Q. Which statements do you feel fit the Liberal Party?  
 19 Aug, 201323 Sep, 2014Change
Will promise to do anything to win votes65%69%+4
Too close to the big corporate and financial interests60%65%+5
Out of touch with ordinary people58%63%+5
Have a vision for the future51%49%-2
Clear about what they stand for45%46%+1
Understands the problems facing Australia48%44%-4
Have good policies38%39%+1
Has a good team of leaders36%38%+2
Looks after the interests of working people36%31%-5
Keeps its promises32%26%-6
For the Liberal Party that campaigned on a mix of truth and competence, 12 months in power has taken lustre off the brand. The big movements are at either end of the scale - seen as closer than ever to big business, less trustworthy and less likely to keep their promises.
Twelve months after being banished from power the news is not much better for Labor.
Q. Which statements do you feel fit the Labor Party? 
 19 Aug, 201323 Sep, 2014Change
Will promise to do anything to win votes65%62%-3
Looks after the interests of working people53%54%+1
Out of touch with ordinary people51%51%-
Understands the problems facing Australia50%46%-4
Have good policies46%42%-4
Have a vision for the future49%42%-7
Clear about what they stand for38%36%-2
Too close to the big corporate and financial interests31%36%+5
Has a good team of leaders36%33%-3
Keeps its promises27%29%+2
For Labor, opposition has started to dispel the impressions of being divided and extreme, but there has also been a sharp turnaround in the indicators around policies and vision for the future. And as with the Coalition, trust and faith they will keep promises remain running sores.
Both of the parties score high on "will do anything to win votes" and poorly on "keeps it promises".
And there's the rub for the bipartisan effort - on either side people are sceptical about the parties and their motivations, creating a public mindset where the sector of "politics" is a problem rather than a solution.
In this context the winding back of civil liberties becomes a hard sell: we are not only dubious about the messenger, we are not disposed to giving them more powers.
In many ways the politicians are reaping what they have sown by spending so long down in the muck. 
The question for both parties is whether the current national security effort is sufficient to put that cynicism to rest, or conversely whether that effort is brought undone by public mistrust. 
The survey was conducted online from September 19-22, 2014 and is based on 1013 respondents.

ACOSS: Negative gearing boosts housing costs, not the economy

24 September 2014

ACOSS Chief Executive Officer Dr Cassandra Goldie has today highlighted the risks posed by negative gearing for housing affordability and economic growth in response to a report released by the Housing Industry Association this week.

"Negative gearing distorts investment activity to favour speculative investment in housing and other assets funded by debt and puts upward pressure on house prices. It must be a high priority for reform in the tax white paper next year," said Dr Goldie.

"Negative gearing adds to the boom and bust cycle in housing when what we need is stable investment to strengthen supply. Together with other distortions in the tax system, it also contributes to the boom and bust cycle in the economy as a whole. The RBA may be forced to use higher interest rates to calm the housing market." said Dr Goldie.

"ACOSS advocates for deductions for expenses relating to passive investments in housing, shares and other similar assets to be quarantined to offset income from those assets only, including capital gains, rather than all personal income as is currently the case. We propose that this change be implemented progressively, with existing investors grandfathered."

"With ambitious economic growth targets to be met, and as we transition from growth led by resource investment, now is the time we need to be channeling activity towards productive investments for broad-based economic growth, not contributing towards inflated housing prices."

The Independent Economics report released this week, commissioned by the Housing Industry Association, concluded that restricting ­access to negative gearing for residential property would reduce ­investment in housing, erode housing affordability and put ­upward pressure on rents. It also argued that stamp duty and developer levies contribute to higher housing costs.

"It is difficult to make sense of HIA's claim that removing the ability for people to negatively gear their investments would reduce housing supply when more than 90% of negatively geared investment is in existing properties, adding heat to the market, but not additional stock," Dr Goldie added.

"Investors cannot on the one hand complain about the barriers to their children entering the housing market, including the stiff competition from investors in the market, while defending the very concessions that create the affordability problem in the first place.

"The tax treatment of housing must be reformed as a package. Negative gearing is just one part of the problem. ACOSS supports HIA's call for the abolition of stamp duty, which distorts housing choices, creates market inefficiencies and contributes to the high cost of housing. One option is to replace stamp duty with a broad based land tax which offers a much more efficient and equitable revenue source.

"While a significant proportion of investors with income of less than $80,000 a year access negative gearing, households in the top income quintile receive ten and a half times the benefits of those in the bottom quintile - $3,800 per year compared to $364 per year respectively.

"The tax treatment of savings should be addressed consistently to close tax avoidance opportunities and remove distortions that channel economic activity towards unproductive assets."

OECD Report - Education at a Glance

The OECD’s “Education at a Glance” Report, released on 10 September, demonstrates the importance of equity in delivering a high-performing education system.

AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos said the report showed that Australian schools are still performing above the OECD average but that there had been a decline during the period 2003 to 2012 - the time when Australia’s schools were funded under the inequitable funding system introduced by the Howard Government.

“This was a time when the greatest increase in funding went to schools that needed it the least including some of the wealthiest private schools in the country,” Mr Gavrielatos said.

“This period saw a drop in the number of Australian students seen as high performers, and a rise in the number of low performers.

“Successive OECD reports highlight that better-performing countries target funding to tackle disadvantage. In doing so they drive improvement in equity and excellence for all students.

“The Abbott Government’s decision to abandon the last two-years of Gonski funding agreements with the States will entrench inequity by cutting two-thirds of the extra funding which would have gone to schools, meaning that not all schools will reach minimum resource standards.

“Another alarming finding is that Australia is the lowest spender on pre-schools in the OECD. It is clear we are failing to invest enough in early childhood education that prepares students for success at school.

“This makes it even more concerning that the Abbott Government has only committed to one more year of funding 15 hours a week of pre-school for all four-year-olds, and that there is no certainty this vital program will continue beyond 2015.

“The report finds that the performance of students across the OECD in private and public schools is the same, once differences in socio-economic status are taken into account.”

CPSU: Public Sector Unions Prepare for Action

Members of public sector unions are poised to take industrial action, including strikes and work bans in support of pay claims following a vote of union leaders last Friday (19 September).

The Community and Public Sector Union's Governing Council voted to include protected industrial action in their campaign against the Federal Government's bargaining position.

The Council was told that after months of negotiation in more than 70 Agencies not one had been able to present an acceptable agreement to its staff.

National Secretary of the CPSU, Nadine Flood said the Government was targeting rights that public sector workers had built up over decades.

''Today we say no. We will not accept cuts to the rights and conditions of 165,000 public sector workers," Ms Flood said.

"We are asking 165,000 government workers to come together to protect their jobs, their rights, their conditions and their future,'' she said.

Possible industrial action likely
"Taking industrial action is a last resort and we would prefer to resolve this issue at the bargaining table. But this Government is refusing to sit down with us to try and find a sensible outcome. Instead it has chosen to attack Public Servants and the CPSU.''

The decision taken by the CPSU Governing Councillors meant industrial action was now more likely.

"This is not a step we have taken lightly but reflects the growing concern among Public Servants because of the Government's hard-line stance," Ms Flood said.

"We remain willing to talk but we have had nothing from this Government.

"Workers have taken an important step and have shown they are prepared to use protected industrial action to make the Government see sense and change their harsh and aggressive bargaining position.''

The CPSU Governing Council voted to endorse ''the use of protected industrial action that is consistent with the provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009, mobilising workers and commencing preparations to allow members to take protected industrial action that is required to protect their rights.''

Ms Flood said the industrial action could take the form of work bans, stoppages, strikes and a range of other campaign activities.

Tas: Upper House opposition to public sector wage freeze grows

Opposition to the Tasmanian Government's bid to freeze public sector wages for a year is growing in the Upper House ahead of a crucial vote this week.

The development comes as unions make a last-ditch effort to persuade the State Government to re-think its pay freeze bill.

Independent MP Adriana Taylor is the latest Upper House member to speak out against the bill.

Ms Taylor said she understood the Government needed to make savings, but said the role of the independent Industrial Commission in setting wages needed to be protected.

"It's really dead foolish to destroy that system by going outside of that," she said.

Unions wrote to Premier Will Hodgman last Friday to demand a meeting to negotiate the pay freeze.

Mr Hodgman's chief of staff, Brad Stansfield, rejected the request, accusing the unions of failing to put forward alternatives.

The bill is not about a wage freeze, it's about changing the industrial relations system in Tasmania forever.

Tom Lynch, Community and Public Sector Union

The Community and Public Sector Union's secretary, Tom Lynch, said the legislation was unnecessary because the one-year pay freeze could be achieved through negotiation.

"What it wouldn't do is trample on the industrial relations system, it wouldn't trample on 100 years of negotiations," he said.

"But clearly the Government don't want to do that because the bill is not about a wage freeze, it's about changing the industrial relations system in Tasmania forever."

The Legislative Council will consider the wage freeze legislation this week.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Health Groups Call for Leadership in Healthcare Funding

ACOSS: Tuesday September 23, 2014

As a new AIHW report showing declining health spending is released, a wide range of health advocacy organisations have joined together today to call on the Government and Parliament to show leadership in relation to health funding, and ensure that decisions take into account the health of everyone in the community, particularly the most vulnerable.

A wide range of health advocacy organisations have joined together today to call on the Government and Parliament to show leadership in relation to health funding, and ensure that decisions take into account the health of everyone in the community, particularly the most vulnerable.

"Good health is a fundamental building block to the well-being of individuals, communities and the economy. There is a need for considered and evidence based approaches to healthcare funding and services," CEO of ACOSS, Dr Cassandra Goldie said today while launching the statement.

"Community organisations with a deep interest in health are growing increasingly alarmed about the significant changes that are being proposed in the area of health, without significant community discussion about the implications, particularly on those who are most vulnerable and most likely to be impacted by changes such as the proposed GP co-payment.

"Organisations who have signed up to today's statement remain opposed to any form of GP co-payment, even one with exemptions as this does not go far enough to ensure that those who most need healthcare are not faced with cost barriers.

"Any changes in healthcare funding needs to protect those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Current proposals on the table do not adequately address the impacts on groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those with chronic illness, and older members of our community. We also know that those who are poorer are more likely to be sick. So, it is those who are least likely to be able to afford it who are going to be most impacted by measures such as new or increased co-payments.

"In addition to proposals such as the GP co-payment, and increases to the co-payment for PBS medicines, there are other adverse changes being made through the budget, such as the reduction of funding to health promotion and preventative health. It's hard to see how this will help improve people's health and take off pressure in the health system.

"There is strong evidence that supports investing in preventive health as the most long-term, cost effective and ethical approach to maintaining and improving Australia's universal health care system. Investing in a healthy Australia takes strong leadership and a vision for a better future for all people and communities in Australia.

"The groups who have come together today stand ready to work with Government to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the health system. We call on the Government and the Parliament to focus on evidence, and not be tempted to introduce short term fixes to expenditure which will only cost more in the long term," Dr Goldie concluded.

A copy of the Joint Community Statement on Health and signatories can be found here

Sign on Organisations Media Contacts:
Australian Association of Social Workers - 0400 613 516
Australian Council of Social Service - 0419 626 155
Australian Federation of Aids Organisations - 0421 040 538
Australian Men's Health Forum - 0437 571 130
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation - 0411 254 390
Catholic Social Services Australia - 0400 576 917
Consumers Health Forum of Australia - 0414 358 091
MS Australia - 0427959972
National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations - 02-6246 9347
Public Health Association of Australia - 0417 249 731

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Huge World Wide Climate Change Demonstrations

'We have the power to change the world': Thousands march in cities from New Delhi to New York demanding action on climate change

40,000 campaigners in London
2,000 events taking place in 150 countries ahead of United Nations climate summit next week
100,000 people expected to get involved in demonstration in summit's location of New York
Thousands take part in marches in Sydney and Melbourne, and in India, Turkey and Belgium

40,000 London
30,000 in Melbourne
Climate activists have taken to the streets in Australia's capital cities as part of an international movement pushing for action on climate change.

The marches on Sunday were part of a series of events across the world that will culminate in what is expected to be a massive march in New York City where the United Nations climate summit is being held.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who is hosting the summit, is expected to join the New York rally.

"Climate change is the defining issue of our time. The longer we delay our action, the more we will have to pay," he said.

"That is why I need everybody on deck - governments, business communities and civil societies."

About 2,000 marches were expected to take place in the lead up to the UN summit, which is to be attended by more than 100 world leaders. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is not attending the event.

Locally, more than 30,000 people took to the streets in Melbourne and about 1,500 in Brisbane, with many more attending events in other capital cities.

Greens leader Christine Milne delivered a speech at the event in Melbourne, urging protesters to think about those living in climate change-affected places like Kiribati and Tuvalu in the Pacific.

"They are living the impacts of climate change right now and that's why the absolute message for today is actions not words," she said.

"We don't just need to start a conversation about what we need to do, we need to take action, that's what we need to do."

A focus on increasing renewable energy in Australia and setting climate change targets were some of the key issues raised by protesters.

Demonstrators carried banners reading: "Tony Abbott: Climate Change is on my agenda."

Labor's environment spokesman Mark Butler said the Prime Minister should take note of the message and include climate change issues on the agenda at the G20 finance meeting that is underway in Cairns.

"All responsible players around the world have indicated as much this is an economic, a social and an environmental challenge," he said.

"A very serious series of meetings without addressing climate change is simply missing out on that opportunity and that challenge."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

RTBU: Christmas Newcastle Rail Closure Must Be Stopped

Sep 18, 2014 NEWS

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union has backed calls for the Baird Government to halt its plans to dismantle the Newcastle rail line.

RTBU Secretary Alex Claassens said he welcomed the Opposition and Greens party leaders’ calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue to be held, and for work to rip up the line to be stopped.

“It beggars belief that the Baird Government is still proposing to push ahead with its plans to rip up the rail line into Newcastle,” Mr Claassens said.

“The plan was flawed from the very beginning, but the recent revelations of serious corruption coming out of ICAC have cast an even greater shadow over the Government’s project.

“If there was ever a time not to rush a project through, surely it is now.

Mr Claassens said he is hopeful a parliamentary inquiry will shine a light on the planning process behind the Newcastle decision.

“It’s critical that the people of NSW, particularly those in Newcastle, have an opportunity see exactly how these key planning decisions that will impact on the region as a whole for many years to come have been reached.

“The travelling public deserve to know that any major planning decisions are being made in their best interests, and not the interests of a few developers.”

Newstart Payments Fall Further Behind

Joint media release, ACOSS and National Welfare Rights Network, 20 September 2014

A new analysis of social security payments reveals that the single Newstart Allowance paid to over half a million Australians continued to fall in value when compared with both the minimum wage and the pension.  Two leading national community welfare groups today warned that the declining relative value of some payments means increased poverty and social division. In a joint statement today Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and Maree O’Halloran, President of the National Welfare Rights Network (NWRN) said that: “Addressing the $170 a week gap between pensions and allowances is the most critical task that the Government’s Welfare Review Taskforce must address.

“Employment goals around people with disabilities will not be achieved until the Government addresses structural problems with the payments system. These problems are at the heart of legitimate fears held by people with a disability that if a new job does not work out that they will be shunted onto the Newstart Allowance, which is now currently $8,800 a year less than the pension.

“Reports that the Government may consider up-front investments to assist young people facing complex health and personal issues are welcome but people also need an adequate income here and now.

“While today brings good news for around 3.7 million pensioners who will receive an extra $10.70 a fortnight from an indexation increase (from September 20); it is not so good for people struggling to keep their head above water on the $37 a day Newstart payment.

“Because pensions and allowances are indexed differently, people on Newstart, widow, sickness, partner and parenting payment partnered allowances will only receive a $5.10 a fortnight indexation increase in their payment from today.

“There are currently 695,000 people on the Newstart Allowance. Three in four are single, and are struggling to meet their weekly daily expenses on the maximum rate of just $257.80 per week (from today).

“These new rates of income support payments this quarter highlight deepening fault lines in Australia’s social security arrangements.

“The rate of the Newstart Allowance relative to the minimum wage is near its lowest level since 1990. The Newstart Allowance has fallen from 54 per cent in 1996 to 40.2 per cent of the National Minimum Wage, which now stands at $640.90 per week.

“This means that people relying on allowances are falling behind community living standards, and underlies the importance of indexing payments to wages. Current proposals to index pensions to prices would inevitably see pensions falling behind community living standards over time and should be opposed.

 “The maximum payments for a single pensioner is now $854.30 a fortnight ($22,212 per year).  Unemployed people on the single Newstart Allowance receive much less, at $257.80 per week, or 40% less than the pension.

“But unemployed people aren’t the only people being short-changed by today’s indexation changes. Young people on Youth Allowance and Austudy get nothing, and their even lower payments are indexed only once a year, while pensions and allowances are indexed every six months. The 114,700 single parents raising children on the maximum Newstart Allowance will receive a small increase of a mere $2.75 a week. Being pushed onto Newstart means that these families are now $81.20 a week or over $4,222 a year worse off, compared to Parenting Payment Single.

“The artificial divide between pensions and allowances must be addressed by increasing the rate of allowance payments and indexing payments consistently to wages to prevent more people falling further and further behind the rest of the community. Anything less is not the genuine welfare reform that this country needs.”

Politics in the Pub – Going Viral – 27 September

Is social media a nasty infection or a shot in the arm for journalism?

Speakers at Politics in the Pub – Going Viral, a free event hosted by the Blue Mountains Unions Council, are well qualified to explore the relationship between social media and journalism and discuss it with audience members in a Q&A session.

Family Hotel, 
15 Parke St, Katoomba 
2.30pm to 4.30pm 
Saturday 27th September, 2014

Jenna Price is one of the co-founders and El Gibbs is a former administrator of the social media feminist action group, Destroy the Joint which held Alan Jones and 2GB accountable for on air sexism, costing them over $1 million in lost advertising revenue. Warren Ross uses the website Katoomba Waltz to share our local history, events and issues of concern to Blue Mountains locals. El Gibbs is an administrator of the Facebook group Blue Mountains Firewatch, a valuable source of information relevant to the Blue Mountains community during and since the October 2013 fires.

Jenna Price is a UTS academic, columnist for the Canberra Times and one of the co-creators of feminist action group Destroy the Joint.

El Gibbs is a freelance writer and blogger, with a focus on social issues including disability. She’s an Administrator for the Blue Mountains Firewatch Facebook Group. El's work has been published in the Guardian, Crikey, The King's Tribune, New Matilda and ABC RampUp.

Warren Ross is an active user of social media. He’s been involved in the Winter Magic Festival, Blue Mountains Community Gardens, Local Exchange Trading System, Katoomba Planning Charrette and the local "Your Rights at Work” campaign. More recently he’s been Tournament organiser of Midnight Basketball and designer and builder of the Katoomba Waltz community website. Has Warren ever metadata he didn’t like?

Politics in the Pub -“Going Viral – Social Media and Journalism” Admission is free. 

Authorised by K Cooke, President, Blue Mountains Unions Council Inc
Further information • (02) 4787 1401 •
(Presented under the auspices of Mountains Community Resource Network)

Friday, September 19, 2014

NSW: Unanimous Recommendation for Restoration Of Workers Comp Benefits

Lifetime medical benefits and legal representation need to be restored to injured workers, including amputees and those needing hearing aids, a review of the NSW workers compensation scheme has found.

A joint parliamentary committee, including three government MPs, reviewed the WorkCover scheme and unanimously recommended the reversal of government changes that slashed medical benefits in 2012.

WorkCover has also been criticised for failing to regulate phoenix companies - those that go into liquidation only to reform under a new name to escape paying unpaid liabilities.

The parliamentary committee has recommended tighter regulation of insurers offering workers compensation cover to ensure they have not been placed into administration or receivership in the past five years.

The committee has also called a separation in the WorkCover authority's conflicting roles as regulator and insurer.

Under the state government's 2012 changes, an amputated foot is not considered serious enough to qualify for lifetime benefits.

The committee has urged the government restore lifetime medical benefits for prostheses, hearing aids, home and car modificiations.

WorkCover actuary Michael Playford from PricewaterhouseCoopers told the committee it would cost about $20 million a year to restore those benefits.

The committee has recommended restoration of all lost medical benefits because the scheme is heading towards $6 billion by 2019.

In 2011, the government argued it needed to slash benefits to rein in a $4 billion deficit in the WorkCover scheme. The scheme has since recorded a surplus of more than $1 billion.

But a report by Mr Playford tabled to the NSW Parliament earlier this year revealed that, without the 2012 changes, the deficit was projected to fall to $2 billion next month and to $500 million in June 2018.

PwC documents have shown that, by 2019, changes to the WorkCover scheme will leave it holding 55 per cent more in assets than it needs to meet its liabilities.

In its report, the committee notes that evidence from the scheme's actuary suggests there are enough resources in the scheme to improve protection for injured workers.

In his report, Mr Playford said the scheme could have approached "full funding by 2021" without the 2012 changes.

The 2011 prediction of a $4 billion deficit was largely based on a temporary low point in returns from yields as a result of the global financial crisis.

The committee also said lawyers acting for injured workers should no longer be prevented from seeking legal advice and lawyers should be able to recover a reasonable fee for their work.
The committee heard injured workers had difficulty understanding their rights and responsibilities under the WorkCover scheme.

NSW Greens MP and Industrial relations spokesman David Shoebridge said there was "no doubt the scheme can afford to return all medical benefits to injured workers to make sure that people who are injured at work receive reasonable and necessary medical treatment for life"."It is just plain wrong that a worker can have an injury as severe as an amputated foot and, after a short period on benefits, be denied benefit and left to pay for their own prostheses, surgery and other treatment," he said.

"Since the 2012 reforms, many seriously injured workers have struggled to get their payments reinstated without help from lawyers, while the insurance companies have teams of well paid in-house lawyers to defend claims.

"The absence of legal assistance for injured workers is grossly unfair and the scheme must urgently be amended to restore the right to legal representation for all injured workers."

Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said the parliamentary committee's report "reinforces what we said in 2012, that the cuts to workers compensation were cruel and over the top".

"While we welcome the recommendation to restore some rights and entitlements, it doesn't go far enough," he said.
"Sick and injured workers are among the most vulnerable people in our community."

Read more:

WA: Higher Rate for Mesothelioma

West Australians are being diagnosed with mesothelioma at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country, with two out of every three victims likely to have contracted the deadly disease at work.

Last year 95 West Australians were among the 465 men and 110 women who were told the shattering news they had contracted the terminal disease as a result of exposure to the deadly fibres.

Twenty per cent of those diagnosed were younger than 65 and included home renovators or "third wave" victims after miners and manufacturers, or "first wave", then tradesmen.

WA recorded a diagnosis rate of 3.9 people per capita [100,000 people], double that of Victoria and New South Wales with 1.8 people per capita diagnosed.The national rate of newly diagnosed cases in 2013 was 2.2, with Queensland and South Australia recording 2.6 and 2.5 people respectively.

The sobering figures from the Australian Mesothelioma Registry were compiled for Mesothelioma in Australia 2013, a report organised and funded by Safe Work Australia and Comcare.

The national figures come amid news white asbestos was found outside bungalows on Rottnest Island, one of WA's most popular holiday destinations.

White asbestos is used to manufacture brake pads, linings, blocks, clutch plates and gaskets. It was previously used in insulation, cement materials, vinyl flooring, piping, sealants before it was banned.
Lawyer Simon Millman from Slater and Gordon said younger sufferers of asbestos-related diseases were being diagnosed.

"With a 30 to 40-year lag between exposure and diagnosis, it was predictable that the majority of new cases identified in this report were in the 65 and over age bracket, but regrettably nearly 20 per cent of new cases were people under 65," he said.

"Clearly, asbestos is still a significant issue for our community as we are now seeing a third wave of victims, consisting mainly of home renovators and also people being exposed as children.

"The first wave was largely manufacturers and miners and the second wave was tradies and construction workers who were exposed to asbestos fibres in building materials.

"While it is encouraging to see in the report that the number of mesothelioma diagnoses had dropped from 652 in 2012 to 575 in 2013, it doesn't mean we can rest on our laurels.

"The Wittenoom mine may have closed down nearly five decades ago, but the legacy of its deadly dust is still affecting us to this very day and it will continue to be a danger as long as it remains in our homes and workplaces."

UnionsWA secretary Meredith Hammat said findings that two in three people diagnosed with mesothelioma since 2010 had likely been exposed to asbestos in a work situation was alarming.

 "The research has shown that occupational asbestos exposure was the likely cause of mesothelioma for nearly 61 per cent of 350 sufferers profiled since 2010," she said.

"As the recent incident on Rottnest Island highlights, we have an abundance of asbestos used in schools and homes throughout Western Australia.

"The deadly risk of this being unleashed by renovations or accidents puts lives at risk.

"Asbestos was mined in Western Australia for over 20 years, with much of the product going into West Australian houses and buildings."

Read more:


SEP 19, 2014

Public sector union leaders have voted unanimously to escalate their campaign against the Abbott Government’s harsh bargaining position to include protected industrial action.

Public servants are increasingly worried and angry at the Government’s hostile and negative bargaining position which the union argues is threatening jobs, pay, rights and conditions.

After months of negotiation in more than 70 agencies not one government agency has been able to present an acceptable agreement to its staff, the Community and Public Sector Union’s Governing Council was told.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “The Government is targeting important rights that public sector workers have built up over decades including superannuation, fair wages and decent conditions. Today we say no. We will not accept cuts to the rights and conditions of 165,000 public sector workers.”

“We are asking 165,000 government workers to come together to protect their jobs, their rights, their conditions and their future. Taking industrial action is a last resort and we would prefer to resolve this issue at the bargaining table. But this Government is refusing to sit down with us to try and find a sensible outcome. Instead it has chosen to attack public servants and the CPSU.

According to the union, the decision taken by CPSU Governing Councillors today means industrial action is now more likely.

“This is not a step we have taken lightly but reflects the growing concern among  public servants because of the Government’s hard-line stance,” Ms Flood said.

“We remain willing to talk but we have had nothing from this Government and Minister Abetz is refusing to meet. Today workers have taken an important step and have shown they are prepared to use protected industrial action to make the Government see sense and change their harsh and aggressive bargaining position.

“We didn’t pick this fight, but it is a fight we will have, and it is a fight we will win,” Ms Flood said.

The CPSU Governing Council voted  to endorse ‘the use of protected industrial action that is consistent with the provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009, mobilising workers and commencing preparations to allow members to take protected industrial action that is required to protect their rights.’

The industrial action could take the form of work bans, stoppages, strikes and a range of other campaign activities.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NSWTF: President's Council Discussion

By NSW Teachers Federation 17 September 2014

President Maurie Mulheron talks with Media and Communications Officer, Sally Edsall, about decisions made at September Council. The discussion covers:

  • The latest attack on the architecture of Gonski needs based funding by federal minister, Christopher Pyne
  • Breaches in the provisions of the staffing agreement limiting the effectiveness of the transfer system in schools
  • Promoting and protecting high standards of professional teaching practice
  • The Federation’s campaign priorities for the March 2015 state election : TAFE, salaries, school staffing and infrastructure and facilities.