||Issue No. 190||08 August 2003|
Interview: The New Deal
Unions: In the Line of Hire
Culture: Too Cool for the Collective?
International: The Domino Effect
Industrial: A Spanner in the Works
National Focus: Gathering of the Tribes
History: The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Bad Boss: Domm, Domm Turn Around
Poetry: Just Move On.
Review: Reality Bites
The Locker Room
The Fifth Column
This is the case of the Australian seafarers who barricaded themselves on board the CSL Yarra, a ship running freight between Australian ports, when their Canadian owners re-flagged the ship to the Bahamas and announced it would replace its workforce with Ukranians who would be paid Third World wages.
The High Court this week ruled that workers, employed directly and exclusively to service Australia, should have the benefit of Australian award wages and conditions.
In doing so, the High Court has blown the whistle on the creep of free trade, which has seen the jobs of Australian factory workers, clothing workers, IT workers and even call centre workers exported to nations where the absence of an award safety net makes their wages significantly lower.
If the maritime unions had lost this case, how long would it have been before hotels, building developments and resource companies were also seeking exemptions?
The decision should not be overstated but it is significant for a few things: (i) our highest court has found there are limits to the global labour market and (ii) our national government argued vehemently that this shouldn't be the case.
To those of us who were sickened by the base wedge politics of the last federal election it is a bitter irony that the Howard Government is such a champion of economic globalisation.
Indeed, in bilateral talks with the US it has been Howard who has been blocking the Bush Administration's albeit reluctant push for the incorporation of global labour standards.
During the last federal election campaign, the MUA ran some newspaper advertisements that asked the simple question: "why does John Howard want to keep one boat out and let all the others in?"
Like so much of that campaign, the message was swamped by the mass hysteria induced by the Howard Government's campaign to 'secure our borders'.
He illegally blockaded the Tampa, fabricated the children overboard affair and lay doggo while more than 300 asylum seekers drowned.
But the words ring true long after the panic of northern invasion from terrorists evaporated into the whiff of political rhetoric that it always was.
The fraud of John Howard is that while he makes great play of keeping our borders protected from foreigners, he actively supports companies that want to export our jobs offshore.
He knows that the Australian people want a government to stand up against the global tide for them. He's just tricked them into thinking the enemy is couple of thousand desperate refugees and not the corporate order that now rules the global markets.
While the debate over the benefits of free trade has its pros and cons, one thing is clear: core global labour standards need to be incorporated into all trade agreements. That is, only companies that do not use child labour, do not use slave labour and give their workers the basic right to organise should be allowed to trade with Australia.
It should not be contentious; that it is highlights the triumph of the Right in deifying the market.
It is this debate, more than any other, that could define the upcoming triennial ACTU Conference. It will be interesting to see how far the union movement is prepared to push labour's political wing to create a set of trade rules that give Australian workers what the High Court seems to recognise they deserve: a fighting chance.
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