Tuesday, February 28, 2017

MUA – Global Protests Target Madagascan Government

Global protests target Madagascan Government in campaign to reinstate sacked dock workers

Posted by MUA February 28, 2017

The Government of Madagascar is the target of a global campaign launched today (28th February) to defend dockworkers at the ICTSI operated Port of Toamasina in Madagascar. The campaign by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) will see protests outside of Madagascan embassies across three continents.

The Government of Madagascar is the target of a global campaign launched today (28th February) to defend dockworkers at the ICTSI operated Port of Toamasina in Madagascar. The campaign by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) will see protests outside of Madagascan embassies across three continents.

Steve Cotton, ITF General Secretary said this was the first action in an ongoing campaign to get 43 dock workers reinstated after they were sacked for being members of a union.

  • “These workers were sacked for fighting for better wages and against dangerous conditions. After joining their union, they faced intimidation and retaliation from management – who gave them two options: leave the union or lose their jobs.
  • “The workers refused and were sacked, contravening their rights to freedom of association. Most are struggling to survive. The Court of Madagascar recognised that SYGMMA had the right to organise at the Port of Toamasina. To date, none of the 43 workers who were dismissed for union activity have been reinstated,” Mr Cotton said.

Paddy Crumlin, ITF President said the Government of Madagascar is on notice that the global union movement are standing with the Toamasina port workers.

“We will not rest until these workers get justice. These actions today will send a clear message – these workers must be allowed go back to work,” Mr Crumlin said.

The ITF protests are happening outside of the Madagascan embassies in Sydney, Washington, Brussels, Rotterdam, Paris, Istanbul and Helsinki. The campaign is calling on people to email the Government of Madagascar to show their support for the 43 workers. For more information on the campaign go to www.justicefordockers.org

The ICTSI operated Port of Toamasina is the main gateway for $360 million worth of textile products exported to Europe, $100 million to South Africa, and $60 million to the USA. Major international brands source clothing in Madagascar – including Levi Strauss.

About the ITF

ITF is the international union federation representing around 700 transport unions, and more than 4.5 million transport workers from 150 countries.

ITF is working with the local union (SYGMMA) at the Toamasina port to improve conditions for workers.

The workers on the Toamasina port work for MICTSL (subsidiary of Philippine container terminal operator ICTSI) and SMMC (MDG government owned company who provides casual labour to MICTSL).

Workers joined SYGMMA to fight for better wages and conditions at the Port of Toamasina. They quickly faced intimidation and retaliation from management – who gave them to option to leave the union or lose their jobs. The workers did not give in, and 43 workers were unfairly dismissed.

None of the 43 workers who were dismissed for union activity have been reinstated. Most have struggled to find regular work, and subsist from traditional fishing, driving rickshaws, helping their wives sell vegetables at the markets, and intermittent work as gardeners and cleaners. Despite back-breaking labour and long hours, they often can’t afford to eat.

The unfair dismissal of these workers has significantly impacted their families, particularly on their wives who have had to intensify their own work to make up for their husband’s lost income. The wife of one of the dockers states: I work every day. Every single day. Each night, when I sleep, I feel very tired. I ache all over my body. […] Some days, we don’t have anything to eat. No lunch, no dinner. We don’t have enough money, even though I wash clothes every day.


Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. In 2009, there was a coup in the country. This resulted in the US putting sanctions on the country that weren’t lifted until 2014.

The maximum a casual worker for SMMC can earn per day is USD $9.24 on piece rate – but this is dependent on whether there are any containers on that day. Even though they have a set roster, casual workers are only paid when there are containers to unload. They cannot take other work due to the roster – but they may not get any money for that shift. On average, a casual worker will take home USD $40/month. This works out to only USD $1.33.

Some workers have been working for over 11 years on a casual piece rate. The union took the company to court arguing that under article 9 of the Madagascan labour law, these workers should be made permanent. The union won the case, but the workers still haven’t been made permanent.

- See more at:

Timor Sea Justice Campaign: Letter from CFMEU


The following letter was sent from CFMEU National Secretary to Australia's Foreign Minister, in support of the Timor Sea Justice Campaign.

Dear Foreign Minister,

We are a group of Australians from diverse faiths and backgrounds who have come together to urge you to finalise a permanent maritime boundary halfway between the coasts of Australia and Timor Leste in accordance with international law.

The Timorese people have long held a special place in Australian hearts. We campaigned to send troops there to support independence in 1999, and many Australians feel a deep connection with Timor's developing national identity.

However, the legacy of goodwill and mateship between Australia and Timor is being undermined by the refusal of prior Foreign Ministers to negotiate permanent maritime boundaries. This refusal means we continue to rob Timor Leste of billions of dollars in resource revenue - revenue that could fund schools, hospitals and essential infrastructure.

Australians expect our Government to be better than this. We refuse to stand by and watch one of our closest neighbours be treated with such a disregard for what is right and fair. For us, this is about treating a neighbour and friend with respect, it's about Australia behaving like a country we can be proud of. For Timor, this is about justice, fairness and their future development as a nation.

With conciliation currently underway at the Hague, now is the time to stand up and do the right thing. We commend your recent decision to terminate the CMATS Treaty, and the steps that have been taken to show that you are willing negotiate a permanent boundary in good faith. We urge you now to finalise these negotiations as soon as possible with a boundary that abides International Law.

You can fix this problem. Negotiate in good faith with Timor and establish a permanent, maritime border along the median line in accordance with international law.

Yours sincerely,

Michael O'Connor
National Secretary

Release of Centrelink recipient's data legally 'debatable'

Privacy commissioner asks Department of Human Services to explain why Andie Fox’s details were publicly released

Tuesday 28 February 2017

Releasing an individual’s Centrelink information to counter their public criticism is legally a “very debatable” move, welfare advocates have said after the public disclosure of welfare recipient Andie Fox’s personal history.

The government has come under fire for releasing Fox’s personal information to Fairfax Media, which used it to counter her public criticism of Centrelink.

The Department of Human Services said it was legally permitted to release such information to correct the public record under social security law but the National Social Security Rights Network questioned the legality of the disclosures.

Ordinarily, a certificate would be required from the secretary of the department to authorise the release of personal information. But the agency has argued it did not need to take this step.

The network’s executive officer, Matthew Butt, said the law only allowed the government to release personal information in “very limited circumstances” and generally only to assist it in administering an individual’s entitlements accurately.

“It is very debatable, in our view, whether this authorisation extends further to using information publicly in the way that occurred yesterday, divorced from this function,” Butt said. “Irrespective of the legal position, we do not think this is appropriate nor does it pass the test of what someone would reasonably expect when they disclose personal information to Centrelink.”

Butt said there was some misinformation in the debate about the government’s automated debt recovery system. However, he said releasing personal information was not the way to deal with that problem.

“Public debate about the ‘robodebt’ issue is really important and it must include the stories of individuals affected by it,” he said. “Those stories may at times contain inaccuracies but this is normally because they are describing the system as they experienced it. Hearing about individual experiences is the vital to this debate.”

Concerns about the legality of the move are backed by senior lecturer Darren O’Donovan at the La Trobe law school.

In a post published on Tuesday he wrote it was unlikely the organisation could release personal information without the secretary authorising it with a certificate. He said: “It just does not seem to reflect statutory privacy protections existing across Australian law.”

The privacy commissioner, Timothy Pilgrim, has also asked the Department of Human Services to explain why senior officials approved the release of Fox’s personal Centrelink details.

“I am aware of the media reports concerning this issue. My office is making inquiries with the Department of Human Services,” Pilgrim told Guardian Australia. “An agency may only disclose an individual’s personal information in a limited range of circumstances.”

Pilgrim also appeared in Senate estimates on Tuesday, and urged the department to consider the sensitivity of the information they hold and the impact its release could have. He said his inquiries into the release of Fox’s information were only informal in nature at this stage.

“Having seen a report that there were some concerns about how potentially sensitive information had been released, I thought it was necessary for us to make some inquiries to assess what powers Centrelink was using to release the personal information of an individual into the public arena,” he said.

“We’re making general inquiries, I would stress that this is not a formal investigation at this time.”

The release of the information was approved by a deputy secretary, with the assent of the department’s general counsel and head of legal services.

The Labor MP Linda Burney sought to increase pressure on the government in parliament on Tuesday, moving a motion to that demanded an apology for the release of Fox’s information.

Burney said it was a “grave act” to turn the powerful machinery of government on individuals who air public criticism. She said the actions may have breached the privacy act.

“Whether legally permissible or not, these are deeply unethical actions by the minister and the department,” Burney said. “Leaking private information is not something a government should do lightly.”

Tudge said the government was acting within the bounds of the law. “In cases where people have gone to the media, with statements that are incorrect or misleading ... we are able to, under the Social Services Act, release information about the person for the purpose of, as I quote, ‘correcting a mistake of fact, a misleading perception or impression, or a misleading statement’,” Tudge said. “That is what the law allows.”

Greens senator, Rachel Siewert, said she would use a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday to ask questions about the disclosure of Fox’s personal information.

Siewert said it was an extremely concerning decision that had “huge implications” for privacy of those on welfare.

“The effort the government has put into ‘correcting the record’ for media should go to correcting thousands of incorrect debts,” Siewert said. 

“It says a lot that the Department would rather attack the messenger than address the serious issues raised,” she said.

Monday, February 27, 2017

"The Patrick's Dispute" 1998 – MUA Here to Stay !

The Australian waterfront dispute of 1998 or "The Patrick's Dispute" as it's widely known as was a watershed event in Australian industrial relations history, in which the Patrick Corporation undertook an illegal restructuring of their operations for the purpose of increasing the productivity of their workforce.

This dispute involved Patrick Corporation and in particular Patrick CEO Chris Corrigan locking out their workers after the restructuring had taken place, with many of these workers members of the dominant Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). The resulting dismissal and locking out of their unionised workforce was supported and backed by the then Australian Liberal / National Coalition Government.

Major events in the dispute occurred in four major ports, where the Patrick Corporation had significant operations, Melbourne, Brisbane, Fremantle and Sydney. It revolved around attempts by Patrick Corporation and the federal government to improve efficiency on Australia's wharves; primarily by reducing staffing numbers and the power of the Maritime Union of Australia.

The case went before the Federal Court with Justice North finding in favour of the Maritime Union of Australia. He found that the company had deliberately restructured their corporate structure with the sole intent to dismiss their unionised workforce. The company with the support of the government appealed this decision to the full bench of the Federal Court which upheld Justice North's earlier decision. The company appealed to the High Court of Australia with the government's support. The full bench of the High Court found once again in the MUA's favour. 

MUA Here To Stay!

Addendum – Peter Reith, the Minister for Industrial Relations, and one of the architects of the Parick's Dispute became unelectable in his Safe Seat in Melbourne and has not stood for election since.  He had been touted as a likely future liberal Prime Minister of Australia. 

Paul Robeson Speaks – "The Negro People are the Decisive Force" 1949

Paul Robeson Speaks! "The Negro People are the Decisive Force".
Paul Robeson speaks in Harlem, 1949.

Winter is Coming: The Trump Regime & the American Press

Winter is Coming: The Trump Regime & the American Press - Jay Rosen (New York University)
03/08/2017 - 5:00PM LINCOLN HALL 1092

A lecture in our ongoing series, Theory in Critical Times

For a free press as a check on power now is the darkest time in American history since World War I. But this is complex development that goes well beyond Donald Trump's reckless attacks on the news media. It involves failures in journalism, and shifts in the underlying media system, as well as an organized movement to discredit the mainstream press that predates Trump's political career. It is now clear that the man in power intends to lead this movement, intensify it, and make it part of his governing style. Journalists think the right response to that is simply to do their jobs and report the news, but the atmosphere into which those reports emerge is weighted against them. This talk will explain why "just do the job" is not nearly enough. The press is up against something it doesn't understand.

Protection for Workers From Penalty Rate Cuts - Malcolm Turnbull needs to act now.

27 February 2017

Statement from ACTU President Ged Kearney:

There is a clear solution for the almost 1 million workers and their families who face having their penalty rates drastically cut from 1 July. Our politicians can act to protect workers facing a huge pay cut and ensure that no other workers face cuts like it in the future.

We welcome the initiative shown by the ALP and The Greens and also the support from Jackie Lambie. We call on all other political parties to join them in acting to stop penalty rates being cut for all workers.

Malcolm Turnbull has shown he is prepared to overturn the senate and statutory bodies in order to take rights away from workers.

He called an election when the old senate stopped him stripping 1 million building workers of their rights. He rushed through laws to cut wages from truck drivers and safety protections from firefighters. Now he has a chance to act for workers.

This is the most important issue facing Australia’s lowest paid workers, and Malcolm Turnbull has the power to act decisively to address it. 

The ALP, Greens and Jackie Lambie have all said they will act to support Australian workers and their families. We are asking Malcolm Turnbull and all other political parties to do the same.

ACOSS – We can reduce poverty, inequality and the budget deficit

February 27, 2017

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the Turnbull Government to throw out harsh proposals that have repeatedly failed to pass Parliament and adopt budget policies that are fair and sustainable.

“After two years of chasing the ill-conceived 2014 Budget cuts, it’s time the Government recast its Budget strategy and moved on from the one-sided focus on spending cuts, particularly in social security,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“ACOSS proposes a suite of measures that will save $9.4 billion by 2018-19 in addition to putting $4 billion into critical social infrastructure to reduce poverty and inequality in Australia.

“Australia is a low-spending country on social security, spending just 9% of GDP on welfare compared with the OECD average of 12.4%. We are also the sixth lowest taxing country of 34 OECD countries.

“It is clear that governments will not be able to fund the cost of essential services such as health, aged care and NDIS from present tax revenues. Nor is it fair or reasonable to expect people who need to see a doctor, attend hospital or move into aged care to pay more for these essential services.

“Instead, this Government and all political parties must acknowledge that the best way to guarantee funding for health, aged care and the NDIS is through structured tax reform and growing the revenue base fairly, steadily and efficiently.

“In 2012, the major parties agreed to a modest increase in the Medicare Levy to help finance the NDIS. We propose that the Levy be further strengthened to help pay for health, aged care and disability services, by removing the exemption for those holding private health insurance from the Medicare Levy surcharge. We estimate this would raise $4 billion.

“We can improve the effectiveness of health spending by dropping the Private Health Insurance Rebate and investing more in preventive health services instead of waiting until people need to use hospitals. Our proposed tax on sugary drinks and reforms to alcohol taxes should improve public health and help ease future pressures on the health care system.

“We encourage this Government to follow the approach agreed by business, union and community peak bodies at the National Reform Summit in November 2015 for us to identifythe main areas of direct budget spending and tax concessions that are either growing most strongly or are no longer ‘fit for purpose’. We must remove tax concessions that are not effective, as well as close tax avoidance opportunities for both personal taxpayers and businesses. Our nation cannot afford unfunded company tax cuts at this time for large or small business: any company tax cut should be funded through business tax reform.

“A good example of a harmful tax concession we can no longer afford is the 50% discount on taxes for capital gains from property assets and the deductions for such investment using negative gearing. Whilst we welcome the Government’s signal that housing affordability will be front and centre in this Budget, it must take steps to reduce this discount, by at least half, and wind back negative gearing, to reduce speculative investment in rental properties that has helped fuel Australia’s housing affordability crisis.

“We need to develop a national affordable housing strategy in partnership with community, industry and housing policy experts, in negotiation with state and territory governments and the Opposition, and underpinned by specific targets. We are deeply concerned that tax incentives for private investment in housing may be paid for by scrapping the National Affordable Housing Agreement.

“Ultimately budgets are about choices and the priorities and goals we set for our country. This May Budget cannot repeat the mistakes of the past three Budgets, which were widely seen as unfair and rejected by the Parliament and general community.

“ACOSS has shown a preparedness to work with government to ensure our social security system is targeted and efficient. However, billions have been taken out of Family Tax Benefits and crucial community services in recent years. There is simply little left to cut without harming people on the lowest incomes and driving more families and children into poverty.

“To be ‘fair’ the upcoming Budget must prioritise addressing critical problems including unaffordable housing, below poverty level unemployment and family payments, and chronic under-investment in mental and dental health – which have been neglected for decades and impact most strongly people on the lowest incomes.

“In our budget submission, ACOSS has outlined a comprehensive set of proposals which would allow the Government to address areas of urgent reform at the same time as boost the national revenue base, while ensuring much needed investment in vital public infrastructure.”

Sunday, February 26, 2017

AEU – New Report Shows Gonski Gets Results

24 February 2017

A new Australian Education Union report has shown how Gonski funding is delivering real improvement for students in schools which have received it.

The report will be launched at the AEU’s annual federal conference in Melbourne today, along with details of the next phase of the “I Give a Gonski” campaign, which includes a new advertising campaign targeting Malcolm Turnbull’s failure to fund Gonski and support under-resourced schools.

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe said the evidence in Getting Results: Gonski Funding in Australian Schools 2 report clearly demonstrated Malcolm Turnbull had no alternative but to honour the existing signed agreements in full.

“These are fantastic stories of how dedicated teachers and targeted resources can change a child’s life,” Ms Haythorpe said.

“We are seeing improvements in literacy and numeracy, student engagement and Year 12 results, because schools are able to back the work of teachers with the right support.

“These stories are being repeated in thousands of schools across Australia, but if Malcolm Turnbull gets his way, schools won’t get Gonski funding increases after 2017.

“That means schools won’t be able to extend successful programs and many students will miss out on the vital support they need.

The AEU will step up the “I Give A Gonski” campaign next week with national TV, radio and digital advertising along with a bus tour through marginal seats in SA, QLD, NSW and Victoria. The bus tour will finish in Canberra on March 22.

The conference will be addressed by students from Canley Vale High School in NSW, and Kambrya College in Victoria, who have been helped by the funding and whose schools are profiled in the report.

The report featured 24 schools in NSW, Victoria, SA and Queensland which have lifted results for their students. These schools have used their funding in different ways, because each of their school communities is different and has different needs.

Stories in the report include :

Loganlea High School in Brisbane: Loganlea High School has used its Gonski funding to give more one-to-one support and mentoring to older students. As a result 100 per cent of Year 12s are achieving their Queensland Certificate of Education and a Vocational Education certificate – up from 68% a few years ago.

Principal Belinda Tregea says that:“The issues faced by our students included poor rates of attendance, poverty and health issues as well as academic challenges. The ability for us to employ additional specialist staff to support our students has made a tangible difference.

Colac Primary School in regional Victoria: Has focused on lifting literacy through targeted interventions for Grade One students who are more than six months behind. Over 90 per cent of students who got support have experienced more than 12 months growth in the first year.

Principal Shelby Papadopoulos says that: “We were coming from a position of never having had the financial ability to provide the level of support that our students require. It would be heartbreaking if, having had a sense of what can be achieved through our 2016 Gonski funding, we lost the possibility to make that same difference for all our students.”

Sanctuary Point Public School on the NSW south coast: is a low-SES school which has used its funding to lift attendance, increase its literacy and numeracy scores, through speech pathology and Multi Lit and to better engage parents with the school by hiring a support worker. They have also focused on professional development for staff to lift the quality of teaching at the school. Attendance rates are now at the state average, and student achievement has risen accordingly.

Principal Jeff Ward says: At Sanctuary Point the benefits of Gonski funding show that it is more than an investment in education. It is an investment in the community which will have long-term educational and social benefits.

Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump

Labor and Greens – Penalty Rate Cuts Must not Affect Take Home Pay

Labor will push ahead this week with a bill preventing penalty rate cuts that reduce take-home pay. However crossbench senators oppose moves by Labor and the Greens that they say interfere with the independence of the industrial umpire.

Nick Xenophon told Guardian Australia on Sunday that he would consider Labor’s proposal to require benefits to offset cuts to penalty rates but he believed it was a “mistake” to override the independence of the Fair Work Commission.

As politicians prepare for a busy sitting week in Canberra, the government has signalled it will continue to lobby the crossbench to pass its omnibus welfare bill, currently before the lower house and facing opposition from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team in the Senate.

Cut to penalty rates will galvanise the left and send a shiver through Coalition

Senate estimates hearings throughout the week will probe the whole operation of government, with Labor seeking answers on Australia Post executive salaries, pension and welfare cuts and the United States refugee deal.

On Thursday the Fair Work Commission decided to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates by up to 50% in the retail, pharmacy, hospitality, and fast food industries.

On Friday the Greens responded with a bill to lock penalty rates in at 2017 levels, overriding the cut, and on Monday Labor will give notice of its own bill to protect penalty rates.

Labor believes the bill, if legislated before the FWC finalises the transitional arrangements and orders, will effectively prevent the decision from taking effect by requiring that penalty rate cuts cannot result in a cut in take home pay.

On Friday senator Jacqui Lambie bolstered those efforts to protect penalty rates, saying there was “no way” she could support the Sunday penalty rate cut.

“Apart from the fact that the proposed decrease in Sunday penalty rates will hit Tasmanian battlers the hardest … the extra money made by workers on a Sunday through penalty rates very quickly finds its way back into the local economy and small business community,” she said.

Xenophon – who introduced a bill to lower penalty rates for small businesses in 2012 – said that he now recognised that legislating rates was “the wrong approach”.

“I need to see the [Labor] legislation but as a general principle it is a mistake to legislatively override the independence of the Fair Work Commission, given its principles.”

Xenophon said the commission was still considering an adequate phase-in, which could last up to five years, to minimise negative impacts on workers.

AMWU – Fair Work Act bad for workers, business

By Lorraine Cassin
This piece was first published by Print21

Former Liberal Senator from South Australia and Government Relations Director for the Print Industries Association of Australia (PIAA) Mary-Jo Fisher, recently commented on the Fair Work Act and the Fair Work Commission.

My union, the AMWU, does not expect to agree with employers in the industry on what is the best legislative framework for a fair industrial relations system. But we do think there are some things that both parties can agree on.

Currently, the Fair Work Act restricts industry-wide bargaining between employers and workers in individual industries. It’s bad for workers and bad for business. For businesses, it means that wages are always in competition. So a company that will pay employees $30 per hour is forced to compete with a company producing a similar product that pays their employees $25 per hour. It entrenches complacency because it doesn’t force companies to improve productivity or skills development which are the real keys to unlocking Australia’s competitive advantage in the market place.

Rogue employers have been using legal trickery to try to drive down the wages and conditions of workers and bypass the spirit of the Fair Work Act. Last year, workers at the Carlton and United Brewery were forced into a brutal six-month campaign after their employer unilaterally terminated their contract with a labour-hire firm and re-offered them their jobs with 65% less pay. At the Anglo-American coal mine in Collie, WA, workers face the prospect of a 40% wage cut after their employer successfully applied to unilaterally terminate their enterprise agreement and revert back to the Award.

Why should companies who do the right thing be forced to compete with unscrupulous employers who use legal loopholes to exploit their workers and get a competitive advantage on wages?

If we’re really interested in creating a decent industrial relations system that advances the interests of the printing industry, then we need to take legislative action to stop this kind of behavior by bad employers.

Recent scandals also highlight that the enforcement provisions of the Fair Work Act are seriously lacking. The shocking circumstances revealed at 7-11, Dominoes, and Bakers’ Delight demonstrate that there are potentially thousands of workers across the country who aren’t getting even the minimum wage. This is occurring in a climate where we have record low wages growth. It beggars belief that anyone could argue for a system that puts downward pressure on wages in the current economic climate.

We also think that it’s in employers’ interests that the National Employment Standards include ten days paid domestic violence leave. One-in-three women experience violence at the hands of a family member. Domestic violence leave will remove one of the obstacles that often discourage women from getting the help they need. It will give them time to attend court, organise crisis accommodation, attend medical appointments. It will give them the space and time they need to return to work.

It’s worth noting that Minister Michaelia Cash has been strident in her opposition to domestic violence leave. It would be interesting to know if Ms Fisher raised this with her former colleague in their recent meetings in Canberra.

But print workers have a few gripes of their own with the Fair Work Act that are unlikely to be agreed upon by employers and the PIAA.

For example, the provisions around industrial action are far too restrictive. The decision to take industrial action whether in the form of work stoppages, overtime bans, or other work restrictions is always a difficult one for workers. Workers will only use it as a last resort. But it is ridiculous that workers who decide to take industrial action are forced through a process that often takes several weeks to be able to proceed. The imbalance of the system is in full view when you consider that an employer can impose a lock out with just 72-hours notice. We’re experiencing that imbalance right now, as AMWU members at Parmalat in Echuca, Victoria face their fifth week of being locked out after they dared to take a four-hour work stoppage.

I’m not such a blind optimist that I believe that workers and companies in the printing industry will agree on everything. However, our respective members do expect us to approach this debate with maturity and with the best interests of our industry at heart. What they don’t want to see is a febrile debate based on blind ideology like the kind we see in Canberra right now. It’s our responsibility to take this debate outside the corridors of Parliament and into the workplaces of our industry.

So, while Ms Fisher does the hokey pokey around Parliament House, I’ll be talking to workers in their offices and factories about how can we improve this industry for the better.

Fair Work 2017 Penalty Rates Decision Blue Mountains Unions & Community Response

“The Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut the Sunday and public holiday penalty rates of our lowest paid workers, compounding the effects of record low wages growth and growing personal debt, will have a devastating effect on workers and businesses in the Blue Mountains.” warned Kerry Cooke, President of Blue Mountains Unions & Community (formerly Blue Mountains Unions Council Inc).

"Cutting up to $6000 a year from the pay of about one million workers is economic lunacy."

“Australians are already battling to meet their financial commitments. When faced with a choice between paying the increasing costs of a roof above their head and buying a meal or a holiday from the small businesses of the Mountains our local economy and all who depend on it will be the losers.” he said.

“The hardest hit will be workers who are already struggling with insecure work and low income. Household budgets cannot take a $50 to $100 per week hit. The affected industries employ many more women than others and these cuts will further entrench the gendered wage gap.”

BMUC has no reason to believe that a Fair Workaudit of food services in restaurants, caf├ęs and catering companies throughoutAustralia, which found only 42% of employers were compliant with their workplace obligations with almost 20% of underpayments relating to penalty rates, is not a fair estimate of the situation in the Blue Mountains.

BMUC believe that ethical employers in the Mountains already run successful businesses where workers’ legal entitlements and the payment of relevant taxes and super are an expected part of their business plan. Those employers face a bigger obstacle when forced to compete against the illegal activities of employers who underpay their workers and pay cash in hand. He welcomed the news that some employers, like Glenbrook Liquor Store and Springwood's Sweetest Thing Lolly Shop and Gelato Bar and , have chosen not to cut the Sunday penalties of their workers and calls on all Blue Mountains businesses to profit from the good will generated by following their lead.

Mr Cooke took this opportunity to commend former Blue Mountains Mayor Jim Angel for his overview of the impact of unethical employers in his submission to the Senate Inquiry into Corporate Avoidance ofthe Fair Work Act.

Mr Cooke, in speaking for BMUC, maintains that penalty rates compensate those who sacrifice the time they spend on their mental, physical and spiritual health – time with their families, attending church, sport and other social activities – and they are also lost to many voluntary activities which benefit the community.

BMUC rejects the rationale that cutting wages will create jobs, said Mr Cooke. "Businesses open their doors when there are customers to serve and they employ the number of workers they need to get the job done. They don't spend extra cash on workers to stand around and do nothing."

"Customers create jobs and penalty rates create customers. “

"Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition will try and wash their hands of this attack on workers, shifting the blame to an independent Fair Work Commission but they cannot deny they are in full support of these cuts to the lowest paid workers and have been lobbying for them for years,” said Mr Cooke

He said that community support for penalty rates is strong. “At a Winter Magic festival BMUC collected over 1000 signatures on a petition supporting penalty rates in one day. We still had people lining up to sign when festival organisers asked us to pack up our stall. People, voters, are angry about this, worried for themselves, for their children and for the low paid workers in our community.”

“When the union campaign “Save Our Weekend” hits the Coalition where it hurts – in the ballot box – they will look back on the Your Rights @ Work campaign with nostalgia,” he added.

Blue Mountains Unions & Community invites residents to join the fight against this attack on workers via the BMUC webpage http://www.bmucinc.com/member.html or by contacting the Secretary, Deb Smith via email at bmucinc@gmail.com.

“But most importantly, join your Union and become an active member, standing with others to defend and improve your rights at work.” Mr Cooke concluded.

Authorised by D Smith, Secretary, Blue Mountains Unions & Community (Blue Mountains Unions Council Inc)

Friday, February 24, 2017

RBA Governor Philip Lowe Airs Australia's Economic Dirty Laundry

ABC News

The Reserve Bank governor is either venting out of frustration or is a master of strategy.

Yesterday, he aired Australia's economic dirty laundry. He was appearing before former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, but his real audience were those warming the seats in Canberra.

Philip Lowe knew he was due to be grilled by the house committee for economics on Friday. With his commentary, he has ensured he's set the agenda.

The RBA has never been this explicit: people have taken on mountains of debt to ride the property boom and it's now a risk to the economy. Many others have made the observation, but for the RBA to say it, is a big deal.

The RBA knows the economy is still fragile. It needs more stimulation; to drive growth, get wages up and push unemployment down.

But the RBA doesn't want to cut interest rates further because it will just throw more fuel on property prices which are already growing at eye-watering levels in the pacific rim cities — at a time when wages growth is at record lows.

Dr Lowe and his predecessor have repeatedly publicly pleaded with the Government to step up to the plate and stimulate the economy with infrastructure spending. The response has been underwhelming.

Political intransigence in Canberra has managed to tie the hands of the RBA while simultaneously putting them over a barrel.

When posturing politicians push him on why he doesn't cut interest rates further if the economy needs it, he can rightly tell them, "because of you".

The Reserve Bank basically has one crude, simple tool to try to stimulate the economy. It can cut interest rates. It makes the cost of spending now cheaper in the hope that people will borrow money (or save less) and go out and buy.

Following the end of the mining investment boom, the RBA has cut interest rates to the record lows of 1.5 per cent in order to keep the economy ticking over.

The hope was that companies would take advantage of the cheap cash to invest in new capacity. Build new factories, spend money training their staff and look to expand their business.

Australia's household debt a big risk to the economy

The problem is, all that cheap cash has mostly gone into one place: housing.

Australian households are now the third most indebted in the world. They're saddled with more than $2 trillion worth of debt — that's more than 1.2 times how much our country actually produces in a year.

And with so much of that money invested in housing, it's a big structural risk to the economy.

It didn't have to be this way. If the Government had taken steps to make pouring cash into an already-overheated market less attractive, then the RBA might be able to help the economy.

But the truth is, housing investors are being incentivised by the Government to continue to throw more money into bricks and mortar. Negative gearing and preferential capital gains tax concession means putting money into housing is more attractive than other investment options.

The Government's refusal to rein in these "excesses" (Treasurer Scott Morrison's own term) means the dice are loaded against the RBA.

When pushed on whether the huge levels of household debt were "sustainable", Dr Lowe said they'd proven to be sustainable because households had been struggling under a huge debt load for more than a decade.

It should be pointed out Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme was in action for well over a decade before it all came crashing down. A decade without a crash is hardly proof there isn't a crisis brewing.

The governor rightly pointed out that despite record low wage growth in Australia, households were still able to meet their loan repayments with the help of the super-low interest rates currently in play.

But that could all change quickly and it's not just up to the RBA.

RBA has decisions to make

Dr Lowe and his board get to decide the cash rate in Australia but that's not the only thing that affects the interest rate people pay on their loan.

Global interest rates and how much capital banks have to hold are the other two key factors and both of them are on the way up.

Stephen Roberts, chief economist with Altair Asset Management, thinks interest rates could rise between a half and full percentage point over the next year and that's without the Reserve Bank doing anything. For people sailing close to the wind with mortgage repayments, it could be enough to tip them over the edge.

So as the governor sits across from the politicians tomorrow, he could well turn the inquisition around. Push them on how they're going to deal with the economic mess that's been created.

Sadly, convention will force him to bite his tongue. But with his commentary this week, he's at least got the conversation started.

Penalty Rates –Greatest cut to wages since the Great Depression

Full-time and part-time workers in retail will have their Sunday penalty rates dropped from 200 per cent to 150 per cent of their standard hourly rate, while casuals will go from 200 per cent to 175 per cent.

Hospitality employees will face a reduction in Sunday pay from 175 per cent to 150 per cent, while casual hospitality workers' pay will remain unchanged.

Holiday penalty rates for full-time and part-time employees in hospitality and retail will also be slashed from 250 per cent, or "double-time and a half", to 225 per cent.

However, the changes do not extend to restaurants and cafes as industry representatives did not provide enough evidence to convince the workplace umpire of their case. However, restaurant employer groups have the opportunity to try to mount another case.

'Greatest cut to wages since the Great Depression'

The controversial decision to cut has angered Australia's union movement, which has invested heavily in a massive campaign to safeguard weekend penalty rates across the country.

The penalty rates decision will anger Australia's union movement, which has invested heavily in a massive campaign to ...The penalty rates decision will anger Australia's union movement, which has invested heavily in a massive campaign to safeguard weekend penalty rates across the country.

"This is a bad day for working Australians," said Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney. Struggling workers "won't be able to survive on a 25 or 30 per cent pay cut".

"We are on the way to seeing a whole class of working poor in this country," she said. "We are talking about people who do not earn a fortune. The retail industry made a very healthy operating profit last year. They can afford to pay people decently."

Ms Kearney said the cuts to penalty rates "have to be stopped" and urged all political parties to "step up and say they will protect workers' take home pay today".

She said more than a million workers will face a pay cut of more than 20 per cent, or $6000 per year.

"Imagine what that means to someone when they have to pay car registration, they have to pay rent, when they are trying like crazy to get a mortgage" she said.

With rising inflation, falling wage growth and unaffordable house prices, Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari warned the decision would push working families into severe hardship.

"There will be thousands and thousands of families sitting around the dinner table tonight, working out how to make ends meet. Are they going to have to take a second job, or a third job? Are they going to have to do extra shifts?" he said.

Jo-anne Schofield, the national secretary for the union representing hospitality workers, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull could have intervened to prevent cuts to the country's lowest paid workers.

"Let's be clear that this has happened because the big business lobby has made an application to cut the pay of the lowest paid workers in the country. It didn't happen by accident," she said.

Dr Stephen Clibborn from the University of Sydney business school said underpayment of wages and penalty rates is prevalent in retail and hospitality jobs.

"Without effective enforcement of award pay and conditions, today's decision must be viewed to some extent in a bubble, separate from the reality of our labour market," he said.

Adjusting to the 24/7 economy

In the lead-up to the decision, union leaders have argued that Sunday loadings of up to 200 per cent were crucial compensation for low-paid employees who sacrifice weekends and work unsociable hours.

Employer groups have been pushing for years for a reduction to penalty rates on Sundays, which they say are too high, no longer reflect community standards and are forcing businesses to close their doors on weekends and public holidays.

They claim a higher wage for Sunday staff is no longer justified in a 24/7 economy, where workers see no difference in working Sundays compared to Saturdays.

Handing down the decision on Thursday morning, Fair Work Commission president Iain Ross said the existing weekend and public holiday penalty rates did "not achieve the modern awards objective, as they do not provide a fair and relevant minimum safety net".

He said the Fair Work Commission had decided against employers' requests to drop Sunday rates to the same level as Saturdays though because working on Sundays still came at a higher level of inconvenience for employees than on Saturdays, even if it wasn't as pronounced as in the past.

The umpire has spent almost two years weighing evidence from more than 140 witnesses and 6000 written submissions.

The Australian Industry Group welcomed the decision as better aligning penalty rates in the fast food industry to the needs of 21st century workplaces.

Its chief executive Innes Willox said a high proportion of employees in the fast food industry were young people who had study commitments during normal business hours.

"The Commission accepted AI Group's evidence that young people often prefer to work in the evenings and on weekends, and that many prefer to work on Sundays rather than Saturdays," he said.

"In the fast food industry, weekends and evenings are peak times. The Commission has recognised that existing Sunday penalty rates in the fast food industry are not fair for employers and no longer relevant."

'Body blow to hundreds of thousands'

Pressure for a reduction to penalty rates had increased since Australia's Productivity Commission in 2015 recommended cutting Sunday rates in line with Saturdays.

Although Mr Turnbull has previously referred to Sunday penalty rates as an outdated concept, the federal government has left reform on the issue to the independent umpire, the Fair Work Commission.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said the decision was what the Coalition had wanted for years.

"Turnbull and his MPs have been pushing to cut penalty rates for years - and now it's happened," he tweeted.

Earlier this week, he has flagged his party would "never support a decision that sees workers worse off".

"With wages growth at record lows and underemployment at record highs, there could not be a worse time to cut penalty rates," he said then, warning the ruling could set a precedent that could eventually cut weekend penalty rates for other occupations, too, such as nurses or paramedics.

Greens workplace relations spokesman Adam Bandt promised to introduce legislation to protect penalty rates for retail, fast food, hospital and pharmacy workers.

"This is a body blow to the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on penalty rates to make ends meet," he said.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the opposition's scare campaign about an end to Sunday penalty rates had already begun.

"When it comes to the issue of penalty rates, Bill Shorten has a glass jaw," she said. ""He is the person solely responsible for the fact that the Fair Work Commission was reviewing penalty rates, and he needs to once and for all take responsibility for this decision.

"He can say what he likes today about the decision, but he does need acknowledge is his role in it and the fact that it is either an independent commission or it is not."

Creating more jobs?

Citigroup late last year conducted financial analysis which found big retailers including Myer and JB Hi-Fi were likely to deliver any savings from penalty rate cuts to shareholders.

Former ACTU Assistant Secretary Tim Lyons, who is a research fellow at the think tank Per Capita, said the Citigroup report revealed that reductions in penalty rates would not save or create more jobs.

He said a lack of dollars in workers pockets was the problem, not a solution to housing affordability,  sub-trend economic growth and tax revenue shortfalls.

"This is a very poor decision where the unrelenting attacks on penalty rates and the commission from government and employer groups seems to have played a role," he said.

"In reality, there is no evidence that this will result in more jobs or more hours for existing workers. It's just a pay cut for people that can't afford it."

Victorian Trades Hall Council's Mr Hilakari had even starker words to reject the business groups' claims the cuts would create jobs.

"They don't hire extra people out of goodwill," he said. "This money is just going to be pocketed."

Cutting Sunday Penalty Rates – Attack on Young People

AwardFull and part time employees after decisionBefore decisionCasual employees after decisionBefore decision
Hospitality150%175%no changeno change
Fast Food125%150%150%175%
Penalty rates have been part of the labour market for almost 100 years, since the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission ruled in 1919 that additional payment was required for working unsociable hours. This decision remains popular a century later. According to the latest polls, 82% of Australians support this compensation for working outside the usual working week.

The latest Fair Work Commission decision was the result of a full bench of commissioners hearing evidence from 143 witnesses after receiving 5,900 submissions. These submissions were from some of the largest interest groups in our society, such as the The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the Australian Industry Group (AIG), Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), National Retail Association (NRA), as well as submissions from individuals across Australia.

The timing of the release seems to be poor, as the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that wage growth in the private sector is at an all-time low and that the cost of living is at an all-time high. Given this context, it seems ill advised to reduce the wages of a largely casual workforce that already lacks security and stability.

Second class citizens?

The decision to cut wages in industries where the majority of the workforce is under 25, while shocking, should come as no surprise. This undervaluation of the work done by young people is well established by our longstanding junior rates system.

We occupy an unusual position in the global economy as one of only a handful of countries to have lower legal minimum wages for young people, along with Chile, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and the UK. Unfortunately for Australia’s young workers, our country has the lowest youth wage compared to minimum wage, in the world.

There is no evidence to suggest that reducing minimum entitlements like penalty rates will lead to net employment growth. Yet for young people, working these unsociable hours has a real impact on their social lives, ability to engage in family life, and overall health.
While Sunday is certainly not a religious day for most young Australians, research consistently finds that those who work on Sundays are most affected by the negative effects of working non-standard hours. In other words, while it no longer has religious significance, Sunday is still a day of rest.

Community, sporting and social events are also usually held on Sunday. While young people might be able to catch up with some areas of social life outside of the weekend, their parents and older family members are more likely to work in the week, making it difficult to find time to spend together as a family.

The loss of this additional pay will have large ramifications for the retail industry, where one in four young Australians are currently employed. By seeing their Sunday rates drop from A$38.88 an hour to A$29.16, young retail workers will need to pick up an extra hour’s work to make up for the lost Sunday pay, in order to maintain their current wage.

For those who work the minimum three hours on a Sunday, they will now have to work an additional hour. For those who work the maximum nine hour day, they will need to work an extra three hour shift to make up for the loss of penalty rates.

Otherwise, those who regularly work Sunday shifts in retail will be left between A$29.16 and A$86.78 worse off every week.

Living on the edge

The Life Patterns study conducted by the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre has found that work-life balance and cost of living pressures are already creating a stressful transition to adulthood for young Australians.

Participants in this study are less likely to experience major milestones like starting a family, finding a secure job or putting a deposit on a house, due to their prolonged experience of low-paid, insecure work. They are increasingly reporting increased mental health issues and incidences of housing stress.

This study has also found those from Gen Y work consistently on weekends, well into their late 20s.

Ultimately, young people are at the coal face of any change to minimum entitlements, and face the greatest risk of losing out at the hands of this reform.

ANMF – Low Paid Workers ‘Robbed’ of Penalty Rates

Thursday 23rd February, 2017

The country’s largest union, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has condemned a decision by the Fair Work Commission to cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates across three industries, labeling it as a “cruel attack on the some of the country’s lowest-paid, and very often, female workers.”

Federal Secretary Lee Thomas said the ANMF was now concerned its members in aged care and some other health settings would be at risk of being robbed of their vital penalty rates.
  • “This is a disgraceful decision which now threatens our whole IR system,” Ms Thomas said.
  • “The Commission itself acknowledges that ‘many of these employees earned just enough to cover weekly living expenses’ – yet they are the very people being targeted in this cruel attack on some of the country’s lowest-paid workers.
  • “Frontline nurses and midwives rely on penalty rates for a fifth of their income. They may be safe this time around, but for how long? Can the Government guarantee that nurses and carers working in aged care won’t be next?
  • “Today its workers in hospitality, retail and fast food, but this has opened the door for attacks on workers in other sectors, including health. Whether you are a barista working on a Sunday, or a nurse working on a Sunday, or a carer working on a Sunday, it’s still working on a Sunday - and all workers should be paid penalty rates for doing so. Most of these workers are women who are already being stripped of their paid parental leave (PPL) entitlements.
  • “The ANMF will never support the introduction of a two-tiered wage system where some workers are entitled to penalty rates and others are not. We stand in solidarity with other workers in the industries impacted by these cuts.”
Ms Thomas said ANMF surveys showed that 80% of its members would consider abandoning nursing and midwifery if they lost penalty rates.

The ANMF, with over 259,000 members, is the industrial and professional voice for nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing in Australia.

Union NSW: Fair Work Commission – Historic Assault on Wages and Conditions

February 23, 2017

Today’s Fair Work Commission decision to slash penalty rates is a historic assault on wages and conditions that will be met with a fierce campaign from trade unions across NSW.

"This decision represents one of the greatest cuts to the wages of working people in Australian history,” said Mark Morey, Secretary of Unions NSW.

“Penalty rates are not extra, discretionary income. Hundreds of thousands of retail, hospitality and fast food workers rely on Sunday penalty rates to pay their rent, child care and electricity bills.  

"The corporate lobbyists who have pushed for this wage cut have hidden behind a huge myth - that lower wages will mean more jobs. In fact, this decision will do quite the opposite. Cutting the wages of working people will simply make it harder for them to get by, while delivering a windfall to employers.

“This decision is not just unpopular with the workers directly affected. Polling undertaken just last week shows that politicians who support this cut will be punished by the electorate. We will now take our message to voters right across the State.

"Just yesterday, the ABS revealed that wage growth remained at record lows - a trend that has alarmed economists and authorities such as the Reserve Bank. Today’s Fair Work Commission decision is not just unfair it’s also economically unwise.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Prime Minister must act to protect workers from drastic penalty rate and public holiday pay cuts

23 February 2017

The following statement is attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:
  • The Fair Work Commission’s (FWC) decision to radically cut Sunday and public holiday pay will give almost one million Australian workers a huge pay cut.
  • The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) calls on the Turnbull Government and all political parties to immediately act to protect working people from any cuts to their take home pay, as the cuts are due to come into effect on 1 July, 2017.
  • Hospitality, restaurant, fast food, retail and pharmacy workers will have their Sunday penalty rates cut between 25% and 50%. Public holiday pay was also slashed by up to 25%.
  • This is a loss of up to $6,000 per year for some workers. No worker will be better off as a result of this decision.
  • This is a cut Australian workers cannot afford and do not deserve. The decision also comes a day after record low wage growth was reported for the second consecutive quarter. Australians deserve a pay rise, not a pay cut.
  • This decision is a game changer for industrial relations in Australia. The independent umpire makes decisions based on the rules they are given. These rules are contained in our laws. We need the rules to change so penalty rates cannot be cut and our parliament must act now to protect working people.
  • The ACTU will never accept cuts to penalty rates that result in cuts to take home pay and this is exactly what this decision has done.
  • Unless he acts now, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be forever remembered as the prime minister who oversaw the cutting of the take home pay of almost one million of Australia’s lowest paid workers.
  • Retail, fast food, pharmacy and hospitality workers work extraordinary hours and deserve to be compensated for working on weekends and late nights when the vast majority of the Australian workforce does not.
  • Families across Australia rely on penalty rates to put food on the table every week and to keep households afloat in difficult times.
  • This decision now leaves the door open for pay cuts for all Australians who rely on penalty rates and public holiday pay to support themselves and their families, including nurses and all other frontline emergency service workers.

WestConnex Asbestos Safety Breach


The WestCONnex Action Group has slammed the infrastructure project after a “second potentially deadly breach” in the St Peters area.

The breach involved the unsafe demolition of an asbestos infested house on the 14th of February.

Sydney Motorway Corporation reinvestigated the house at 4 Brown Street for any asbestos in early February after repeated community complaints that an earlier clearance in January wasn’t thorough enough.

Demolition crews began removing the contaminated material from the area after finding more asbestos in the house. According to residents a significant amount was left on the site.

Demolition crews potentially released asbestos material into the air when destruction of the site continued on the 14th of February.

Tamara Regan, St Peters resident, said: “I couldn’t believe it. I’d just spoken to the demolition workmen. I’d told them there was still asbestos on the property, because it was the same material as the fibro that had asbestos.”

“I kept telling the workers it was asbestos and they laughed at me. It was only when they realised I was filming that they stopped work, rolled out asbestos tape, and put on protective gear.

“It was a really windy day, but they proceeded to remove the asbestos without sealing off the affected area,” she said.

The incident came less than a week after iron sheeting was blown onto a road from a Westconnex demolition site.

Pauline Lockie, WestCONnex Action Group spokesperson, said she believed it was only a “matter of time before someone gets seriously injured or killed” because of Westconnex safety breaches.

“Residents are regularly witnessing violations of health and safety procedures,” Ms Lockie told City Hub.

“Even now that it looks like a catastrophic error has been made, work hasn’t been shut down, and no one at WestCONnex has been held accountable.”

Despite community complaints, a Sydney Motorway Corporation spokesperson said: “The safety of the community and workers is of the highest importance in the management of material containing asbestos.”

The spokesperson said all asbestos containing material had been identified during the clearing work and the site had been subject to regular inspections from SafeWork NSW and other authorities.

MUA – Newcastle Workers Head To Echuca To Join Locked Out Parmalat Workforce

Posted by Mich-Elle Myers on February 22, 2017

A delegation of Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) workers from Newcastle have driven nearly 1,000km to the northern Victorian city of Echuca this week to deliver thousands of dollars raised for Parmalat workers who have been locked out of their workplace since January 18.

Around 65 workers were locked out indefinitely from the Parmalat dairy processing facility at Echuca after the workers rejected the company’s attempts to impose major cuts to their wages and working conditions.

MUA Newcastle Branch representative Jake Field said he had been closely following the dispute, with many of the workers from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and Electrical Trades Union (ETU) camping on site.

“We’re seeing this more and more – greedy employers trying to cut the pay and conditions of their workforce, refusing to bargain in good faith and then locking them out,” Field said.

“The Parmalat dispute is similar to the recent Carlton & United Breweries dispute where maintenance workers held out for 182 days, eventually walking back inside the gate after originally being told they were sacked and would have to re-apply for their jobs through a new contractor for up to 65 per cent less pay.

“Maritime workers have had to put up with atrocious behaviour from employers at Hutchison, Patrick Stevedores and onboard the CSL Melbourne and MV Portland – workers have had a gutful and we’re here to make ourselves heard.

“We’re also putting our money where our mouth is – with about $3,500 being donated by members across Svitzer linesmen and tugs, Newcastle Stevedores and the Newcastle coal loader, the dredge 'David Allen' and MUA Veterans.”

Field also called on local Federal Nationals MP and former AFL footballer Damian Drum to come down to the picket line and meet with the workers.

“From what we gather, Damian Drum hasn’t been down there yet,” Field said.

“If a bunch of blokes from Newcastle can drive 1,000 km to be there surely he can drive across his electorate to meet with constituents – we’re even bringing a footy so he can teach us a few skills and have a bit of kick to kick.

“This dispute needs to be fixed and the workers need to go back to work on decent pay and conditions so they can pay their mortgages and feed their families.”

- See more at: http://www.mua.org.au/newcastle_workers_head_to_echuca_to_join_locked_out_parmalat_workforce#sthash.SrhPE9Ae.dpuf

ACTU – Insight Latrobe Valley report shows need for Just Transition Authority

Statement from ACTU President Ged Kearney:

22 February 2017

Last night’s Insight report on SBS about the closure of the Hazelwood Power Station in the Latrobe Valley shows the immediate and vast consequences of industries being closed at short notice with no plan in place to protect workers, their families or their communities.

Workers and families in the Latrobe Valley region are now in crisis, in preparation for the full closure of the station that has sustained the area for 50 years.

The community has not been in denial about the future of brown coal and know, as well as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull does, that ‘clean coal’ will not provide a sustainable future for the Valley.

We must do better, which is why the Australian Council of Trade Unions is campaigning for a national, independent Energy Transition  Authority to be established to ensure that further closures in the Latrobe and elsewhere are planned and put workers first.

This Authority would have the power to oversee industry-wide employee pooling programs that would allow re-deployment of workers into equivalent roles in remaining coal-fired power stations.

It would also develop a labour adjustment package that ensures that all workers have access to job placement and support, retraining, financial support and travel and relocation assistance, well in advance of any closures, to give them choices and minimise the stress on them, their families and communities.

The Authority would work with relevant levels of government, agencies and investors to identify opportunities to create new industries and jobs in the area so that workers can transition from employment in coal fired power station to other, quality jobs.

It’s critical that unions, employers, state and federal governments build on current and ongoing negotiations to ensure that future closures are orderly, put the needs of workers first, and do not leave anyone behind.

We call on the Turnbull Government to back our call for the creation of a national Authority that delivers a Just Transition for workers and communities.

ACTU – Record low wage growth a scourge on working Australians’ futures

22 February 2017

Record low wage growth confirms the Turnbull Government is wedded to the fortunes of big corporations not the livelihoods of working Australians.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed the wage price index increased 1.9% for the year to December 2016, the lowest on record.

While real wages have stagnated for many years, corporations have pocketed soaring profits rather than reinvest in their staff.

As a result, we have seen record low wage growth and productivity growth has not been passed on to the workers who generate it.

The average wait for a pay rise has now almost doubled from 12 months to 21 months in just four years.

Quotes attributable to ACTU President Ged Kearney:

  • “Australia’s record low wage growth hurts workers, their families and the economy.”
  • “We have lost our reputation as a fair go society as income inequality has increased and living standards have slipped for too many.”
  • “Even Treasury and the Reserve Bank have stated that low wage growth is a significant brake on economic prosperity.”
  • “While Australian Unions are unrelenting in our efforts to increase pay, the Government bears ultimate responsibility here.”
  • “Inaction on business, overuse of casualisation and short-term contracting, abuse of the labour hire system and the exploitation of migrant workers which place downward pressure on workers' wages cannot be allowed to continue.”
  • “The latest ABS data comes a day before the FWC hands down its decision on whether or not to cut penalty rates, which the Turnbull Government has failed to protect at a time when workers need them most.”
  • “In fact, the Turnbull Government never made a submission to the Commission in favour of a pay rise for a single worker; it has refused to intervene to protect penalty rates, it is trying to make it impossible for unions to represent their members, and it is protecting loopholes in the Fair Work Act that allow corporations to trash wages and conditions.”
  • “Low wage growth is one of the most important issues for many Australian workers, and the Government must to do something about it.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Sydney Gas Price Shock – 10,596 % increase

In the three previous years, that quarter’s heating gas bill for the 105 apartments in one tower of her Sydney CBD unit complex had been $78, $208 and $97 respectively. But that year, in the second quarter of 2015,  it was a stunning $10,377 – a rise over the year before of an astonishing 10,596 per cent.

“It was bewildering,” says Ms Richards, who looks after all the bills of the city centre apartment building Maestri Towers on Sussex and Kent streets. “I knew that couldn’t be right.

“There’d been nothing that had changed in our circumstances or our use of the gas heating for the apartments that could possibly explain such a phenomenal increase in our bill.”

It prompted members of the executive committee to take a much closer look at all their AGL gas bills, uncovering some increases of over 15,000 per cent. The building’s chair Michael Heaney was outraged. “This is the biggest scam in NSW since the bottom-of-the-harbour tax scams of the 1970s,” he says.

“The shocking thing is that this is going on because some buildings don’t know about checking their gas bills, and often they go straight to the strata manager to pay who may have no idea what’s going on. Many, as well, are on automatic payment.

“One contractor we had in said he knows of 60 other buildings now all screaming about their gas bills. It’s a massive scam.”

Certainly, they’re not alone. In Zetland, Tony Zamora, the newly elected treasurer of another apartment building, was checking the previous three years’ financials and found that in 2013, the gas bill for his block was $2000. In 2014, that shot up to $150,000 and in 2015, $170,000 – an 85-fold rise in two years.

“It was absolutely outrageous!” he says. “I knew it couldn’t be right. If it had only gone up a little, we would have ignored it but going up by that much!”

Meanwhile, in nearby Kensington, the chair of a building in apartment complex Raleigh Park was also stupefied by their bills. “We’ve noticed a huge escalation in our bills,” says Norman Dusheiko.

The sudden bill increase prompted members of the executive committee to take a much closer look at all their AGL gas bills.

“I think there’s a huge problem with them. We’ve been trying to get hold of our bills since May last year to check them, but it’s proving very difficult. We don’t know what’s happening. The last bill we even had a big credit, but we’re still trying hard to resolve the situation.”

Read more on SMH

Powerhouse Museum Move Cost Blowout Shambles – 2 Billion Dollars

The cost of moving the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta could blow out to almost $2 billion – 10 times the estimated sale price of the museum's Ultimo site.

Secrecy surrounds the NSW government's controversial plan for the Powerhouse, but a parliamentary inquiry was told last week that construction of a new museum would cost up to $800 million.

Lindsay Sharpe, a former director of the Powerhouse from 1978 to 1988, later told Fairfax Media: "What can safely be said is that there will probably not be much change left from $1.5 billion and it might go as high as $2 billion, in 2024 dollars."

The cost of relocating the Powerhouse also involves the purchase of land on the Parramatta River, which has been valued at $150 million, and moving the museum's vast collection, including its priceless Boulton and Watt steam engine.

Mr Sharpe, said inflation and "brand damage" would also contribute to the project's final cost, which he estimated at almost $2 billion - four times the $450-$500 million price tag suggested to the museum's board of trustees in 2015.

A spokeswoman for Arts Minister Don Harwin did not dispute the $2 billion price tag to move the museum. "[W]e are carefully considering all aspects of moving the new museum, and negotiations are progressing as expected," the spokeswoman said

Architects, accountants and consultants called to the inquiry, chaired by Robert Borsak of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, declined to answer questions about the project, citing secrecy requirements.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NSWTF – Former public education inquiry head Tony Vinson dies

Submitted by New South Wales Teachers Federation 20 February 2017

Chair of the 2002 Independent Inquiry into the Provision of Public Education in NSW, Tony Vinson, died on February 17.

"His life's work whether it be his ground-breaking prison reform or his inquiry into public education has always been underpinned by a commitment to social justice,” Federation President Maurie Mulheron said.

When Mr Vinson was bestowed with Federation Life Membership in 2003, then Federation President Maree O'Halloran wrote: "It is without doubt that the integrity and credibility of Professor Vinson himself ensured that governments, the media and the public accepted that the Inquiry was independent."

The Vinson Inquiry was commissioned and funded by the Teachers Federation and the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations to take stock of the current situation for public education and provide recommendations for the future.

Mr Vinson's inquiry team conducted 28 public hearings, more than 150 schools and TAFE colleges visits and received 770 submissions in one year.

The Inquiry's in-depth report identified where additional funding could be found to improve the public education system over 10 years. Subsequently, education was a major issue at the 2003 state election. The Inquiry's research base became the focus of future campaigning by the Federation and the public education community.

Tony Vinson had a varied career in education, government services, social research and community development, including many projects related to scholarship and young people.

This article is largely an edited version of an article in Federation's 2003 Life membership booklet.

Vanuatu Aims to Ban Junk Food Imports

A market in Port-Vila, the capital of Vanuatu
Experts say a health crisis in Pacific island nations is primarily driven by a shift from traditional diets toward ones high in sugar, refined starch and processed foods. 

Cookies and sugary drinks served at government meetings are about to go away. So are imported noodles and canned fish served in tourist bungalows.

Taking their place? Local coconuts, lobsters and lime juice.

While many governments struggle to ban soda to curb obesity, the tiny Torba Tourism Council in the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu is planning to outlaw all imported food at government functions and tourist establishments across the province’s 13 inhabited islands.

Provincial leaders hope to turn them instead into havens of local organic food. The ban, scheduled to take effect in March, comes as many Pacific island nations struggle with an obesity crisis brought on in part by the overconsumption of imported junk food.

“We want to ban all other junk food from this province,” Luke Dini, the council’s chairman and a retired Anglican priest, said in a telephone interview from Torba. He said the province had about 9,000 residents and got fewer than 1,000 tourists a year, mostly Europeans.

Mr. Dini said the pending ban was an effort to promote local agriculture and a response to an increase in diabetes and other diseases that council members have observed in Vanuatu’s capital, Port-Vila. Passing a more comprehensive ban on junk food imports to Torba could take at least two years, he added, and a final decision on which products to ban would be made by the national government.

Public health experts who study the island nations of the Pacific welcomed the ban, saying that bold measures were necessary for an impoverished and isolated region of 10 million people — one where the cost of sending legions of patients abroad for dialysis treatment or kidney transplants is untenable.

“Imagine if 75 million Americans had diabetes — that’s the scale of the epidemic we’re talking about in Vanuatu,” Roger Magnusson, a professor of health law and governance at Sydney Law School in Australia, said in an email.

“Can anyone seriously say that Vanuatu doesn’t have the right to exercise its health sovereignty in every way possible to protect its population from an epidemic of that scale?” he added.

Experts say the region’s health crisis is primarily driven by a decades-long shift from traditional diets based on root crops toward ones that are high in sugar, refined starch and processed foods.

In a sign of how urgent the crisis is, the World Bank said in a 2014 report that 52 percent of adult men in the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga were estimated to be obese — the highest rate of 188 countries surveyed. It also said that of the seven countries worldwide with female obesity rates of at least 50 percent, four were Pacific island nations: Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia.

A study that year in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice said 10 countries and territories in the region had diabetes rates of between 19 percent and 37 percent. The rate in Vanuatu, which has a population of about 250,000, was nearly 24 percent, the study said, and economic development there was closely linked with consumption of animal proteins and simple carbohydrates.

By contrast, the diabetes rate in the United States in 2014 was 9.3 percent.

“It is so wrong what is being done to exploit these nations by providing a food supply that is not, in the long term, better for health,” said Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand who has studied health problems in the Pacific islands. She described the effect that the health crisis was having on families there as “decimating.”

Experts said in interviews that there was a precedent in the region for policies to restrict imports of unhealthy drinks and other products.

More than half of the 20 Pacific island countries and territories monitored by the World Health Organization, including Vanuatu, have taxes for sugar-sweetened beverages, said Wendy Snowdon, a W.H.O. official based in Suva, the capital of Fiji. Some communities in the region have banned tobacco, she added, and Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand, has banned imports of carbonated soft drinks.

Gerhard Sundborn, an epidemiologist at the University of Auckland, said that sugar-sweetened beverages carried an average tax of between about 7 percent and 15 percent in the Pacific islands, and that governments there typically used the taxes to discourage consumption.