||Issue No. 194||05 September 2003|
Interview: Crowded Lives
Activists: Life With Brian
Industrial: National Focus
Unions: If These Walls Could Talk
Economics: Beating the Bastards
Media: Three Corners
History: The Brisbane Line
Trade: The Dumping Problem
Review: Frankie's Way
The Locker Room
Spicey and Tart
Tony and Pauline
PNG Bags Plastic
Fighting Words Craig Emerson
Aussie Labour Laws Fail US Test
The US Department of Labour has received a key report slamming the Australian IR system as an "imbalanced, inadequate system of labor laws that fails to fully protect workersï¿½ core rights".
The submission tabled this week in Washington follows ACTU warnings about the threat posed by the failure of the Federal Government to guarantee collective bargaining.
"This shows that even the Americans think Australia's federal industrial laws don't meet international standards," said an ACTU spokesperson. "They are now posing a threat to Australia's international economic interests.
In Workers Online 190 the ACTU President Sharan Burrow pointed to support for support for trade and investment based on decent standards.
The AFL-CIO report, released on September 2, addressed Australia's labour laws and its compliance with the core labour standards, including standards on child labour.
"Australia's federal labor laws are far from comprehensive, leaving significant gaps in legal guarantees for workers' rights," says the report, which pointed out that it was vital that any free trade agreement between the countries "address these deficiencies".
The report points out that there are no federal laws in Australia prohibiting forced labour, setting a minimum age for employment, or prohibiting forced or bonded labour by children. It also points out that existing laws have been criticised by the U.S. State Department, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), and the International Labor Organization (ILO) for failing to fully protect workers' freedom of association and their right to organize and bargain collectively.
The report addressed the problems facing Australian workers in exercising freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively, the freedom to choose a union, anti-union discrimination and child labour and forced labour.
"Adequate and reliable data related to the size and scale of the commercial exploitation of children in Australia is not regarded as a priority by any state or federal government," says the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO pointed out that individual Australian Workplace Agreements were privileged over collective bargaining agreements and that, in Australia, a worker can be subject to common law court claims and onerous personal damages for strike activities
"Australia has refused to amend its laws to comply with [international] standards despite repeated ILO recommendations that it do so," says the AFL-CIO. "A mere obligation to enforce existing law will simply not be sufficient to ensure that workers' fundamental rights will be respected under the proposed FTA."
Following the submission the US Department of Labor will provide advice to the US trade negotiating team engaged in developing the Australia-US free trade agreement.
"It is imperative that the Department of Labor develop a comprehensive analysis of Australia's labor laws early enough to inform the content of the FTA negotiations now taking place," says the AFL-CIO.
The AFL-CIO and the ACTU released a joint statement calling for the FTA to include enforceable commitments to core workers' rights outlined in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
It is now likely that US Congressmen will be lobbied directly once any proposed agreement comes before the US legislature.
With the US entering a Presidential campaign in 2004 free trade is expected to be a hot electoral topic after the flight of jobs from the US following the NAFTA agreement.
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