by Peter Lewis
Attached to the Cabinet proposal for a stage-managed inquiry to promote Reith's US-style labour market deregulation agenda that was leaked this week, is private research by Mark Textor's Australasian Research Strategies.
Textor, the Government's pollster in the 1996 and 1998 federal election campaigns, conducted the "values" research into worker attitudes to the workplace, government, unions and workplace reform.
Key findings from the survey included:
- both young and older workers were "largely supportive of unions" with favourable attitudes driven by the need for security and self-esteem
- the single biggest perceived benefit of government involvement in the workplace is "the organisation and stability perceived to be inherent in the setting of guidelines and standards". Of course these are the standards that are fast disappearing via award stripping.
- workers don't like governments who blatantly take sides on industrial relations, because they fear unfair outcomes.
- a majority of workers under the age of 34 say they do not enjoy their job (55 per cent)
While the research is based on qualitative research, there is a clear contradiction in its message to a government preparing to cut the centralised wage-fixing system to the core in a bid to import US-style job creation.
Interestingly, not a word is spent on the US-style social problems which would be expected to accompany such a "reform", except more work-for-the-dole schemes.
Copies of the Cabinet-In-Confidence document prepared by Reith's office have been floating around everywhere for the past week, including the Workers Online office.
At first glance it looks for all the world like a PR document dressed up as a Cabinet leak. Lines like: "500,000 Australians are today deprived of the opportunity and dignity of work" are straight out of the slime manual of labour market deregulation spin.
There's also the predictable deference to the Des Moore slash and burn document placed in the public sphere early this year, which most commentators agreed was too extreme even for Reith.
It's only when you get into the substance of the document that you realise these guys are for real.
- limiting the powers of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission by changing the objects of the Act to include broader employment repercussions. This would give economists the avenue to stymie local pay rises with hokum long-term projections.
- encouraging big firms to use corporations law to bypass the award system.
- the creation of an opt-out stream from the industrial relations system for employers "which meet best practise standards
- and a discounted wage for the long term unemployed, to run outside the regular system, effectively creating a two-tiered labour market where your time in the dole queue becomes a job asset.
There is also an interesting discussion of release tactics, floating a high-profile inquiry of the type Wallis conducted into the finance sector, except this one would be purely for show:
"The object here would not be to find out new and clever ways to solve the unemployment problem - because I think there is a substantial body of evidence to show us how to do this. Instead we would be looking to such a high profile inquiry to be an important part of the plan to advance the case of reform...
Intriguingly, the document also castes both the Senate and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission as the potential spoilers of reform.
It deals with the Senate by advocating reforms to the Senate that would make it more difficult to for minor parties to win power. As to the power of the AIRC, it is the policy program itself that will ensure it ceased to be a player in the main game.
So what to expect in the short term? Here are the concluding words before Reith's sign-off, under the sub-heading: Next Steps in the Advancing the Employment Strategy:
I am sure you will be considering a discussion of these issues in the Cabinet Committee on Employment and Infrastructure. If we were to proceed with the Strategy, I would then see advantage in establishing a high-level Task Force, led by the Secretary of my Department and with senior representatives across relevant Commonwealth organisations. This Task Force would have the responsibility to support us in the detailed development, implementation and assessment of our Employment Strategy.
Workers Online will watch developments with interest
by Tony Maher, CFMEU Mining Division
Gordonstone miners are fighting for the right to work following Rio Tinto's takeover of the mine and its attempt to replace the illegally sacked unionised workforce with non-union labour.
Rio Tinto finalised its purchase of the Gordonstone mine on 10 February from another notorious anti-union multinational, ARCO.
Rio used a $2 shelf company to secretly recruit 22 non-union workers and register a sub-standard non-union agreement, which the company would impose on all future workers at the mine.
Rio's attempt to reopen the mine is designed to deny the 312 CFMEU members illegally sacked by ARCO on 1 October 1997, the right to work there.
Just months before the miners were sacked, the company had erected a statue to the workforce describing Gordonstone as "the home of the best miners" after they had broken a succession of international production records.
In the 17-months since their sacking, the Gordonstone miners and their families have mounted a Picket Line at the mine.
As news broke on 11 February of Rio's attempt to reopen the mine, miners' supporters flocked to the Gordonstone Picket Line. Some 60 police reinforcements were drafted into Emerald, leaving communities throughout Central Queensland short of police on the beat.
When the non-union workforce attempted to come out on the first day at the pit, I was among 250 on the Picket Line who had gathered to meet them. I was arrested. So too was General Vice-President Reg Coates, Queensland Vice-President Doug Bloxsom and 19 other protesters.
Reporting the standoff the following day, the Australian Financial Review wrote of the stakes involved at Gordonstone: "Rio Tinto's legal strategy provides a model for union-busting in the coal industry", it said.
On the second day, Friday, Rio Tinto chartered a plane to fly most of its workers out of the mine, but it was a stunt that the company couldn't afford to keep repeating.
On the Monday morning (15 Feb), rank and file delegates from all over Queensland met at the Gordonstone Picket Line and pledged their full support for the campaign.
The following day the dispute further escalated with the arrest of another 53 protesters on the Picket Line. Among them were Queensland Labor MP Jim Pearce, MUA Southern Queensland Secretary Mick Carr and 19 other members of the MUA and miners from all over Central Queensland as well as three retired mineworkers.
Despite the massive police presence, the non-union workers were unable to get through the Picket Line that night and they spent the night at the mine.
As we go to press, mineworkers and supporters from other regions throughout Queensland continue to join the Gordonstone protest.
On Monday (22 Feb) a busload of NSW Northern District mineworkers arrived to spend a week on the Picket Line in solidarity with their Queensland comrades. The following day, there were a further 60 arrests on the Picket Line.
On 27 February, CFMEU members from all Divisions are to be joined by union representatives from all over Australia to take part in a Union Family Festival Day for the Gordonstone mineworkers and their families.
Since the Gordonstone miners were illegally sacked 17-months ago, our Union has won case after case before the Industrial Commission which ordered that if the mine reopens then the retrenched Gordonstone mineworkers should be re-employed on the basis of seniority.
ARCO eventually won an appeal to this order late last year in a 2-1 majority of the Commission's Full Bench. However, this is being appealed by our Union in the Federal Court.
Although Rio Tinto claims it has nothing to do with the appeal issue, the Court has ruled that it has a case to answer and this hearing is due to commence shortly.
by Peter Lewis
They are concerned that the attack on student unions, following fast on the changes to copyright laws which have exposed the industry to cheap foreign imports and pirates, will sound the death knell for many local acts.
That's because union-funded activity officers would be among the first positions to go if legislation, introduced into Parliament this week by Education Minister David Kemp, passes through the Senate.
This would mean no campus venues, no concerts and no band comps, leaving a massive hole in the local industry and putting a massive downer on university life.
Bands like The Whitlams, the Hoodoo Gurus, You Am I and Frenzl Rhomb would never had got a start if it weren't for a vibrant college circuit, Independent Managers Forum director Michael McMartin told Workers Online.
"The universities are a source of education and a culture -- the government taking away funding for activities, not just rock n' roll but all activities is a major blow for developing artists.
"To cut off their principle source of funding flies in the face of the national desire for a diverse and rich culture. It suggests that the members of government pursuing this course either had a very bad time at university or had such a good time they are suffering from collective memory loss." (ED: as if)
The change will also make it harder for emerging bands to develop a following, particularly as many off-campus venues are closing down or falling prey to the pokie machine.
"The band I managed (the Hoodoo Gurus) built their market on national campus tours," McMartin says.
"Universities, along with JJJ, define the alternative market. It looks like the government is going after both.
"At a time when the recording industry is under such attack by the federal government and we thought they couldn't do anything more to harm us, boy, have they found a way. This could well be the coup de-grace.
Whitlams manager Kim Thomas, agrees the college circuit is vital for young bands trying to establish a career.
"Over 50 per cent of the entire Whitlams shows prior to their breaking last year was on university campuses and over 70 per cent of their entire revenue was from the campuses,"
"Without the commitment of the university activity officers towards breaking new talent The Whitlams would still be playing the Sando -- except that's closed too."
Sydney University Union general manager Tom O'Sullivan said the government was acting at a time when many campuses were improving their facilities - a new space has recently opened at Macquarie, the Roundhouse is being developed at UNSW and Manning is about to rebuilt at Sydney.
O'Sullivan said the first thing to go would be these types of extensions, followed quickly by the activity officers who make things happen there.
"For universities, it is not a commercial proposition to put on events like the band comp -- which is free for students.
"We have been committed to these types of cultural activities, but VSU would change the rules: an economic rationalist would never put on a band comp.
O'Sullivan said the Australasian Campuses Union Managers Association, of which he is a member, is already lobbying against the changes and have met with Brian Harradine, the Democrats and the Greens.
by Peter Lewis
As the Employment Advocate put on a ritzy lunch this week at a trendy Sydney cafe to celebrate its 50,000th individual contract, it confirmed that the rights of trade union members was not on its menu.
Since being established by the Howard Government, the Advocate has failed to launch a single prosecution on behalf of a union member despite promises before the 1996 that it would be the new champion for ordinary workers.
To date the Employment Advocate has launched just three prosecutions -- two unsuccessful actions against trade unions and one against an employer who discriminated against an employee for contacting the Advocate, itself.
When asked for statistics on its operations, an Employment Advocate spokeswoman released the following information:
- 50 employers have been refused AWAs, not because they failed the no disadvantage test, but for procedural reasons.
- the Advocate had received 135 complaints about the process of making AWA out of 1,010 compliance complaints in total. Most of these were freedom association issues -- about 500 complaints in all.
- and 65 per cent of freedom of association complaints had been made by employees, 30 per cent by employers and five per cent by trade unions.
Confirming that none of the complaints by trade unions had led to legal action, the spokeswoman said the Advocate preferred to mediate complaints.
But unions believe the lack of adequate enforcement by the Employment Advocate is giving the green light to employers seeking to de-unionise their workforce.
They are also concerned that the State Coalition plans raising a similar model as part of their hardline industrial relations agenda that they will take to the upcoming election.
Labor Council secretary Michael Costa said the failure to prosecute was surprising, given some of the examples of discrimination against union members which have come to light over the past two years.
The Transport Workers Union, for example, had raised the case of Russell Jeffreiss, an Orange truck driver who was sacked for refusing to sign an AWA.
"How this type of incident can be settled by mediation defies belief," Costa told Workers Online.
"Australian Workplace Agreements are being used as a tool by employers and their highly-paid advisers who want to de-unionise their workforce.
"With an inactive Employment Advocate and a disempowered Industrial Relations Commission, workers are really exposed to bullying employers."
by HT Lee, CFMEU Construction Division
Ten stonemasons working for a subcontractor on the $60 million George Street upgrade in Sydney's CBD have recovered more than $60,000 in wages, overtime and superannuation as a result of the intervention.
The building union was notified after State MLA John Watkins spotted the ten working without safety equipment. When he approached them, Watkins realised they were unable to speak English and called the union in.
CFMEU State Secretary Andrew Ferguson called in a Chinese-speaking member of the union to quiz the workers on their pay and conditions and found gross breaches of the award rates.
The union immediately closed the site and sought talks with the principle contractors who agreed to take over the job from the subcontractor, who ceased trading when the concerns came to light.
Ferguson says the use of workers without the English language skills to understand their rights was a major concern to the union.
"Migrant workers are often exploited by unscrupulous bosses who put the workers and the general public at risk," he said.
"This not only rips off the actual workers, it also undercuts the honest sub-contractors who are doing the right thing by their workers."
By publicising this case, particularly in the Chinese-language press, the CFMEU hopes to raise awareness of industrial rights amongst migrant workers.
by Troy Burton, TUTA Organiser
Two months ago workers at the Oxford Koala Hotel in Kings Cross were on the edge of despair.
Wages were being paid increasingly late and were frequently wrong, an aggressive management style was intimidating workers, workloads seemed to be ever-increasing, and many workers had begun to despise having to go to work.
Over the Christmas period, workers felt that they were being exploited on public holidays. They were not happy with the way they were paid (despite management reassurances prior to working), and they were faced with enormous, unrealistic workloads when they did work.
During this period a number of workers decided that enough was enough. Having seen the results of individuals who complained or stood up to management, they realised that the only way you make any real changes was to get everyone to stick together. In cooperation with organisers from the LHMU they began to organise their workplaces.
Whilst everyone agreed that things were bad and needed to change, there was a lot of fear about management reprisals, which made people reluctant to act or become involved.
Active members started to encourage others to join the union and attend meetings, while the union organisers talked to workers away from work, and assisted the activists develop ways of communicating with all the workers. Through organising the workplace and making sure everyone was kept informed and listened to, workers at the Oxford Koala were able to build confidence in each other and their ability to act collectively, and support each other in the face of hostile managers.
As initial effort to stand up to management by setting limits to workloads proved difficult to sustain, as individual workers were left open to intimidation. During discussions about these difficulties, members decided that future actions would have to be designed to ensure that no individual could be left exposed to management.
With the Australia Day holiday approaching, it was decided that in the absence of specific written guarantees from management about the payments for, and the workloads on, the public holiday, that would all refuse to work the day.
When management was unwilling to give these guarantees, the workers made good their promise and enjoyed Australia Day with their family and friends. Management was forced, at considerable expense, to rely on contractors to staff the hotel. As a result, management has now entered into discussions to avoid the situation arising in the future.
Despite the initial intimidation and fears, workers at the Oxford Koala are glad they had the courage to stand up to unreasonable conditions. As one Oxford Koala LHMU member said:
"We still have a lot of work to do, and there are things that we are still unhappy and concerned about, but at least now we are standing together and working to improve things.
"Management still doesn't like listening to us, but now they know they have to."
by Peter Lewis
The Brisbane Institute will be funded by an intriguingly diverse group of interests including the Beattie Government, Queensland Newspapers and the University of Queensland.
Botsman says the Institute will have an "open" brief, focussed on positioning Brisbane as "a more mature voice in Australian politics." It is also a response to the success of the Hanson forces and the hangover from the Bjielke-Peterson era.
He says there is a dynamic atmosphere under the Beattie Government with a commitment to progressive ideas which shines in comparison to Sydney "a fickle town where intellectuals play second fiddle to the talkback radio kings" and Melbourne, which is "constipated from its preoccupation with its own inner workings."
Long a figurehead of the intellectual left, Botsman says he has now developed respect for Mark Latham's "Third Way" and will dedicate his efforts to "shifting the public debate into a new arena", where community outcomes carry greater weight than the traditional left-right debates.
"I come from the Left, Mark Latham comes from the Right, but we agree on a whole range of things, particularly the crisis in the welfare state..
"For example, with power privatisation; we need to change the question from one of public versus private, to one which asks: what is the best way to half the power bill for average families,"
Botsman will leave his chair in Public Health at the University of Western Sydney to take up the chair in Public Policy at Queensland University, from where he will be seconded to the new Institute.
He says his two years based in Sydney's west had been the catalyst for his political metamorphosis, particularly his move away from a belief in state-based solution to all social problems.
"I expected people in the public sector to be part of the solution, but often they're part of the problem -- the bureaucracy, the inflexibility, the fact that they put processes above people," Botsman says.
"In the health service alone, three quarters of a billion dollars are spent in south-west Sydney and a lot is spent on the wrong things because people have built their own empires."
"At the same time youl have a mother of a child with an intellectual disability working four jobs to help pay for a private occupational therapist to look after the child, because they don't have confidence in the system.
"This is a horrible contradiction that needs to be addressed, regardless of where you come from politcally."
When the Brisbane Institute gets its webpage up, we'll be linking it to Workers Online, Before then you can contact Botsman on 07 32202198
by Desmond Beazley
Particularly liked the anti Piers section.
it is about time that disgusting blimp,was exposed for his biased, racist, anti ABC attitude,not to mention his attitude to the the Labor movement,was he trained in South Africa?
Trust that this paper,will remain anti bias and report with an impartial attitude
Best of luck in Cyberspace
by Rohan McKenzie
I was excited to hear of this publication and the possibilities it offers for encouraging more and widespread participation in the labour movement. I have now read and enjoyed your first issue,particularly Long's article, the interview with Costa and the article about the NSW Alliance, of whom I was unaware.
I am motivated by that in submitting a letter, but also in order to make a suggestion. I believe that part of the opportunity represented by this publication is in reaching workers who do not have a traditional affiliation with labour politics, and that in order to encourage an affiliation Workers Online needs to expose those casually perusing your page to the arguments and beliefs that underlie labour politics.
I suspect that many of those who will hit this page will be doing so out of curiosity about a political movement based on a categorisation which they've always known has claimed to represent them, but with which they've never identified. Instead many may have fallen for the anti-union sentiment prevalent in the "hostile mainstream media", and assumed that by being familiar with Labor politics/arguments they are thereby familiar with labour politics/arguments, without realising that labour is not necessarily faithfully subsumed by Labor. For me, the basis of labour politics is the distinction between employer and employee which justifies their separation into those two categories, and of course the conflicts that occcur in the pursuit by each of their interests.
With exposure only to either the negotiated policy compromises of the ALP which operates in the mainstream of politics and to marginalised hard-core activist movements, some workers may not have come across a relevant articulation of the labour movement's arguments. Such an articulation starting from first principles could convince those as of yet unfamiliar of the need for workers' representation.
One example provided by your first issue in the campaign diary article is the issue of secret ballots before strike action. Here is an opportunity to appeal to people with argument rather than with the dogmatic 'any enemy of my enemy is a friend' tactic which immediately closes the mind of the listener. How would you express your opposition to secret ballots? By making a case for open ballots it would seem inevitable that references to the fundamental beliefs of labour politics would be required; such an article would not only be an argument but an exposition of labour politics' goals. A reference to solidarity, for example, could remain just another use of that catch-cry, a word that immediately brings with it familiarity and inattention. Or it could be expanded upon to show that the relationship between employers and employees rests on a balance of power, where the power for the employees lies in collective and coordinated action. If an 'uninitiated' worker absorbs this and feels an intuitive fraternity with their neighbour they are converted to your cause; the words that allude to these arguments only do so to one who is already acquainted with not only the conclusion but the path to it and the mental realisation of it.
While Workers Online is a great opportunity for those interested in labour politics to be kept up to date with relevant issues, it would be a failure to exploit the advantages of the medium if it merely preached to the converted. I hope you'll succeed in a pitch to the casual surfer, not in the familiar glib language of gainsayers on televised politics, but by virtue of the clearly argued merits of your cause.
by Gaye Carson
EMILY's List is celebrating International Women's Day with a fundraiser to support Alison Macgarity campaign in the state seat of Menai.
It will be held at Casula Power House on the evening of Friday March 5.
For details contact Gaye Carson (see below address)
Visit EMILY's List website at http://www.labor.net.au/emilyslist/
by Peter Lewis
John Spellar is a junior defence minister in the Blair Government and one of the few trade union officials to hold a portfolio. On a recent trip to Australia he spoke to Workers Online
The changes the Blair Government are proposing under the Fairness At Work Bill have been cast as setting Britain on the path to a US-style industrial relations system, where unions must win a ballot before the can represent workers. It seems a strange piece of legislation for a Labour Government, doesn't it?
Not at all. You've got to understand that the legislation is filling a void left from the Tory era. Unions had no legal recognition and now they do. The Fairness At Work Bill gives the unions the ability to obtain ballots for union recognition and alternatively the rights of recognition were a union gets 50 per cent of the workplace. Now, not only is that an enormous improvement on what unions had under previous conservative administrations, I actually think it provides a huge opportunity for the union in terms of rebuilding trade union membership, but also the rights of unions at work.
Having come out the Accord process in Australia, I'd be interested to know what degree of input the unions had in coming up with this legislation?
Considerable. The TUC and also the major unions affiliated to the Labour Party had regular discussions, not only with the departmental ministers but also the Prime Minister and his office. The unions would have preferred some minor amendments, but all them see this as a big advance for the trade union movement and a big advance for working people.
In terms of the unification of Western Europe, what opportunities is that opening up for British trade unions?
One is the issue of common minimum standards across Europe, for example the Transfer of Undertakings Provision which protects the position of individuals or groups who are transferred from the public sector as a result of contracting out in the private sector. That's been a major protection for members and we've actually built on that as a Labour Government and provided even stronger protection. That's not just protection for the union members, it's also protection for good employers who don't wish to be undercut on terms and conditions by cowboy employers. For example in the Ministry of Defence, we've managed to get a code of practise drawn up between the major employers in the industry and the unions and the Department, precisely because we're all interested in having a workforce which delivers productivity and also getting properly paid for that. There's a much better atmosphere of partnership -- with industry as well as unions. In contrast, the previous government was just telling people what to do and trying to get them to adjust to the theory, rather than look at how things really work. Transfer of Undertakings originally came out of European regulations and has been of considerable benefit.
Trade unions in Europe are also working together in company councils and also in making representations to the European union and those links and definitely developing between the major trade unions. In addition, all the major Socialist parties in Europe will be campaigning on a common program particularly dedicated to improving growth and improving employment in the European Union. You can't do that just in one country and therefore, a common program across Europe is the right way to go.
A big issue for Australian unions at the moment is working hours and working time What activity is going on around those issues?
It is a major issue and it's not one that we, frankly, have an easy answer to any more than I thin the trade unions have either. There is the Working Time Directive, which is starting to impact in some areas.
How does that work?
The Working Time Directive is looking at a restriction of a maximum of 48 hours except by local agreement, because in some cases there will be the necessity for working longer hours, particularly if you are in a seasonal industry.
Is this a Europe wide initiative?
Yes, it is currently a proposal , although I must say it is meeting some resistance from some countries and there are a lot of difficulties to be ironed out.
Who's driving it?
There's a number of countries, particularly German industry and the new German Government are looking at the current regulations they have there. After all, the overall thrust is to ensure that within Europe, countries are not competing on the basis of lesser terms and conditions, so that is an area which is obviously of considerable interest. We also need to ensure that we can deal with some of the difficulties that may arise -- junior hospital doctors are another example, they tend to work long hours during their training period and if that was restricted too soon it could present problems for the health system. There's also a broader issue of increasing the workforce's level of skills in the unemployed workforce, so that they can fill the gap that would open if working hours were to be limited.
What areas are you talking about here?
Right across the board. Even at relatively slow rates of growth in the economy, we are suffering skills shortages, largely because the Conservatives never accepted that the government has a role in skills training. They undermined apprenticeship schemes, a lot of industry was cut back and that industry that remains is relying on older workers. We have to replace those skills -- and that can't happen overnight.
A lot is being said about the "Third Way" at the moment. What does it mean to you and do you buy it?
The key area to look at is that we have had a long period with a Conservative Government who believed that the private sector was, by definition, better. Equally, previously a section of the Labour Party believed that everything would be done better in the public sector. The reality is that different areas of work are more appropriate for different sectors and also that this changes over time as technology changes. What we really need to have happen is taking the most appropriate areas for each sector and ensuring we are keeping abreast of technological developments in both the public and private sector. So in many ways, the difference that this Labour Government has brought, and the reason why I believe it is still running better in the polls now than when it was elected, is we are actually dealing with issues on a pragmatic basis. we are asking what work, what doesn't, we are more interested in delivering the service than implementing some model of service-delivery. This has been a tangible move on Labour's part from looking at outputs to looking at inputs. rather than saying how much money did we spend in an area, saying for example how many patients did we treat and what were the service levels like. That's a big change and its that sort of pragmatism which I think defines the Third Way of politics.
Does that leave British Labour with any philosophy or is it a pure pragmatism?
I think whatever your philosophy, deciding what works and what delivers the service that you want are the most important questions. You need to ask yourself what you want out of a system and then you do not come in with a doctrinaire approach to how you will achieve it ...
But surely you need a philosophy to tell you where you want to be ...
But that's simple - it's about making the lives of working people this year a bit better than they were last year. That is not an ignoble objective.
It's not a bad political one either...
I look at too many political parties in society which went for some great leap forward to a final policy whereas it is those societies that actually moved forward step by step and actually did good by degrees who actually ended up doing an awful lot better for normal working people in their countries. And that's not a bad objective, that's what I've fought for in politicos all my life. I think it's the best way to go and I think we're proving it in government.
by Michael Crosby
The NSW Labor Council last week held a Work/Time/Life conference to develop strategies for reconciling the increasing disparities between the work-rich and the work-poor and the problems each group face.
These are well-documented. Those who have work are being forced to put in increasingly long hours, often with large amounts of unpaid overtime. In the finance sector, for instance, an estimated one million hours of overtime are being worked every week.
At the same time, the number of people seeking longer hours, whether part-time, casuals or the unemployed, is growing. The official unemployment statistics hide the fact that many people officially in work want more of it.
The Conference was addressed by John Buchanan, deputy director of the Australian Centre for Industrial relations Research and Training and ACTU assistant secretary Greg Combet.
They outlined the breadth of the issue, sending the message that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
For example, Buchanan presented statistics showing that only one third of the workforce works the traditional working week, therefore there is no point in coming up with the old Monday to Friday notion of work
Instead individual unions need to find out what workers in their sector needs -- it could be permanency, it could be portability of entitlements or it could be higher base rates of pay so that they are not forced to work excessive overtime.
The plan is to develop a universal campaign over the next 12 months which has a range of different local solutions. This campaign would be fought on three fronts:
- Political - lobbying government to legislate on issues like portable entitlements for casual workers.
- Industrial - running test cases on job security. The NSW Labor Council has proposed such a case to redefine the notion of casual work to ensure that casual employment is not abused at the expense of permanent jobs; ensure a proper balance between full-time and part-time/casual workers; control the explosion of unpaid overtime and regulate labour hire firms
- Community - building broader alliances with community and religious groups to highlight the social impact of working hours.
As Michael Costa said on the day: test cases will have no impact unless we campaign around the issues.
The conference then broke into smaller groups to discuss what is going on at the shop floor in a bid to develop these specific campaigns.
In group after group, workers and officials described human beings caught in a situation of constant pressure, insufficient resources, fear of losing employment and an overwhelming sense of loss of control over working life.
The public sector group described just what it meant for workers and the community when the resources no longer exist to provide a good public service. In child protection services, when the phone rings and every officer is already too busy to answer it immediately, the potential exists that a child will suffer the consequences. In schools, overworked teachers watch as students requiring additional help fall through the cracks. In health, nurses take unpaid overtime and understaffing as an inevitable given.
Blue collar workers and officials had a similar story. In workplace after workplace, casual employment and the inevitable precariousness of employment that went with it was used as a means of subduing the workforce. Time and again, the meeting was told of cuts and more cuts to the number of workers employed without any let up in the output requested. Agency workers are used as a ready made and compliant workforce. The result is that antagonism builds up between workers rather than sheeting home the blame where it truly belongs.
It is a similar story in the services and white collar sectors. In large hotels, cleaning staff have their numbers cut and the number of rooms to be cleaned per person rises from, say, 13 to 15. No additional paid time is provided - the cleaner just has to stay until her quota is complete. Complain and she is given a warning of dismissal.
The next stage of the campaign is to deepen our understanding as a Movement of these problems. Workers need to share their experience of the pressures being placed on them They are entitled to be angry about the way that, once again, in exactly the same way as happened in the 19th Century, they are becoming cogs in an impersonal market driven machine.
Union organisers will be taking a survey to workplaces around the country in an effort to measure the level of concern amongst members and potential members. Our aim is to get a significant section of the workforce involved in mapping what is happening to them.
Once we have done that, the aim will be to work out what action can be taken by workers to protect themselves from the uninhibited pressure of an increasingly unregulated market.
The delegates made it clear that there was little possibility of coming up with one solution to what is in fact a set of different but related problems.
What we should be able to do is to get workers active in their own defence taking different kinds of action under the overall umbrella of a campaign around the theme of better standards for workers.
by Dr Lucy Taksa
The Eveleigh railway workshops were built between 1880 and 1886 and they continued to operate until 1989, an unusually long period of continued use for the same industrial purpose, by Australian standards.
Despite this, few of the thousands of Sydney commuters who pass by the remaining workshops buildings, on a daily basis, know anything about the site's history or the important role its employees played in our State's economic, political and social life.
As Terry Irving commented in his article on the Labor Press, the established popular media contributes to the collective amnesia of labour's traditions. To overcome this state of affairs we need to become more aware of the industrial and labour heritage that has been passed down to us and to fight for its preservation. Only in this way will we be able to explain to our children why the labour movement emerged and how it has improved our working conditions and rights.
In a somewhat perverse way Eveleigh can be likened to a bed of roses, for out of the humus there emerged a strong, yet thorny, tradition of activism that provided an important foundation for the State's labour history. What was work like there? Most people recall the noise, the dirt, the poor amenities and serious accidents.
But perhaps the best picture is drawn by Stan Jones, the Secretary of the Eveleigh Sub-Branch of the Australian Railways Union, who had followed his grandfather, father, uncles and cousins into Eveleigh during the 1920s, and who described this workplace in the following poignant terms in 1939:
Row upon row of drab smoke-grimed buildings, housing a throbbing energy which pulses forth to the accompaniment of the thump, thump, thump of giant presses torturing white-hot steel into servitude. That is Eveleigh workshops, the heart of the State's transport system. There is a steady drone of high-powered machinery, drilling, boring and turning in every possible fashion; the clatter of overhead cranes, hurrying and scurrying, fetching and carrying, and the staccato noise of the boilermakers' rattler. All is somehow resolved into a unity of sound, disturbed only by an occasional burst of excessive violence from any one part.
Seemingly submerged in this medley is the human element - 2,600 individuals, the strongest of them but puny weaklings besides the machines they control. Yet they make it all possible. Without them the roaring giant would be but a whispering ghost. 'Eveleigh - The Heart Of The Transport System', Daily News: Feature for Transport Workers, 19 January, 1939
Today, the heart pumps no more. The roaring giant has been silenced and the ghosts of the thousands who breathed life into the NSW transport system have been left to wander in a few corners of the various buildings that have escaped demolition as a result of adaptive re-use. Besides Eveleigh's built fabric and the machinery that remains in Bays 1 and 2 of the Loco workshops building, little evidence can be found of their social history. And yet the legacy of these railway workers lives on in many ways.
Railway workers generally and those who were employed at Eveleigh, more specifically, played a critical role in our State's development. Not only did they provide transport infrastructure and services for commuters and primary resources, they also produced masks during the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 and built baby clinic cars which were later converted for the use of the Far West Children's Scheme.
Besides their industrial activism, they came to terms with politics very early because, as Ray Markey put it in his book The Making of the Labor Party, the 'concentrations of railway labour, including navvies, in particular electorates' became 'an important consideration in the formation of governments and their maintenance of parliamentary support', during the 1880s.
Their industrial and political activism, particularly through their unions and the Labor Council, was critical in influencing the NSW government's decision to manufacture locomotives at Eveleigh between 1906 and the mid-1920s.
An important figure in this outcome was J.S.T. McGowan, a devoted trade unionist whilst employed as a boilermaker at the railway workshops between 1875 and 1891, during which time he helped to gain a closed shop for boilermakers. After being a member of the Labor Council's executive and the President of the Eight Hour Day Demonstration Committee between 1888 and 1891, he became the only official Labor Electoral League (ALP) candidate for a Redfern seat, which he won in 1891.
McGowan actively opposed the introduction of piecework and bonus systems and spoke on behalf of public sector engineering workers before a Royal Commission which inquired into the possibility of public sector manufacturing in 1904. Later as the first Labor Premier of NSW he supported railway workers in numerous other ways. William McKell and J.J. Cahill, who also worked at Eveleigh, subsequently followed in his footsteps to become Labor Premiers of NSW.
This tradition of activism was carried on by others. Mary Lions, who began working at Eveleigh as the senior industrial nurse in 1947 and stayed until 1968, was to play a prominent role in promoting the interests of the State's nurses. In January 1946 she became one of the founders of the Industrial Nurses Group of the NSW Nurses Association, becoming its Honorary Secretary and subsequently President until she resigned in the early 1950s. In her Curriculum Vitae she placed great weight on having been the employee representative on the Conciliation Committee which inaugurated the first award for Industrial Nurses.
As a result of her efforts the first course of studies for Industrial Nurses in NSW was inaugurated in January 1949, at which time she became one of the founding members of the NSW College of Nursing. A year later she was elected President of the College, a position she held for a number of years. In 1954 she became a member of the Committee on Nursing which was established to advise the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and she was also a member of a committee which assisted the Cahill Labor Government to re-draft the Nurses Registration Act. Finally, on 1 January 1960 she was conferred the award of a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for 'services to nursing' [information courtesy of the NSW College of Nursing Archives].
The part played by these prominent people in furthering the interests of workers was immense. It's worthwhile remembering, however, that it built on the activities of rank-and-file employees and other institutions of the labour movement.
Dr. Lucy Taksa, Secretary of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Associate Editor of Labour History and member of the History Council of NSW Committee of Management is currently working on a large research project investigating the history of the Eveleigh railway workshops. She is very interested in hearing from anyone who worked there or whose family members worked there.
by Mark Lennon, NSW Labor Council
As the title suggests, Tanner argues that Australia needs to continue to open itself to the world. As a nation, we have to acknowledge that globalisation is a reality to be confronted, but that there is scope to negotiate the nature of the changes occurring so to lessen the negative impacts upon various sections of the community.
Accept globalisation but not on an unqualified basis.
In supporting this theme, Tanner is prepared to break with some of the Labor's ideals of the past. For instance, he argues that productive foreign investment does not supplant Australian investment but adds to it. At the same time he calls for curbs on speculative investment.
He also calls for a new approach to economic intervention discussing the call for a return to the tariff barriers and subsidies of the past and arguing that governments have to concentrate on helping companies in the areas of research and development, skills formulation and innovation.
The book goes beyond economics and considered other areas of society in need of reform. He calls for the abolition of the States is arguing that the State boundaries are artificial colonial constructs that have led to absurd outcomes and unnecessary complexities developing in our legal system.
In their place Tanner believes appropriately sized regional and local governments should be established.
Two proposals for reform need further consideration. He argues that Governments should play a strong role in promoting and fostering community institutions. This is a noble endeavour. There is no doubt the need for a greater sense of community. The question is whether Governments can play an effective role in this area.
A remedy for the Labor Party is that branches could be formed around specific policy areas or community interests rather than simply geographic regions. Where reform of Labor branch structure is probably a necessity, one could envisage that with Tanner's proposal, sectional interest groups could establish branches in order to capture the party's policy agenda for their own ends.
A point on which all would agree is where Tanner argues that fundamental to Australia becoming an open nation is, for us to establish a national identity. We have, he argues traditionally defined ourselves in reference to others whether as a British colony or a US Cold War Ally, the time has come for us to define ourselves.
Tanner's book is a very lucid account of the challenges facing Australia and some answers. For a nation who for its survival must harness the globalisation case, Tanner provides some interesting perspectives on how to enhance the positives and lessen the negatives.
The book is recommended reading to all who are serious about the debate on our future.
* Open Australia is published by Pluto Press
by Peter Lewis
When Bob Carr ventured into Trades Hall to launch Workers Online last week, there was tension in the air.
Just days after his private views on the union movement were pasted across the Bulletin magazine, the Premier outlined his credentials as a Labor leader to an audience more loyal to the Party than the man.
While Carr handled a couple of isolated heckles with humour, his reception was restrained, indicative of an Administration that has been characterised by mutual arms-length dealings.
For the Labor Government, the relationship with the unions is inherently difficult, trying to hang onto the mainstream while recognising the debt owed to the trade union movement in any election campaign.
For Carr, this has been fuelled by policy differences over a range of issues, from police dismissals to health budgets, education policy to management of DOCS.
It climaxed in Treasurer Michael Egan's failure to win support for power privatisation at the 1997 State Conference, ensuring it would be the Coalition who would carry that electoral millstone to the polls.
That Carr's private frustrations with the union movement have come to light in the Bulletin profile is not surprising. As Carr himself admitted at the Workers Online launch -- "they only quoted the mild terms".
But the public and private friction should not overshadow the achievements in the trade union movement's core area of interest, industrial relations, for these have been significant.
Through Jeff Shaw, Carr has managed to secure an Industrial Relations Act that sets the standard in labour market re-regulation. Remember, the Carr Government inherited an ideological experiment that was just not working.
It has replaced it with a system which both employers and employees have confidence in, which delivers quick access to awards and agreements, and has given the Commission the power to carry out significant social inquiries, such as that into Gender Pay Equity.
There has also been a swathe of laws setting benchmarks -- both nationally and internationally -- particularly in the areas of video surveillance in the workplace and compensation for dust diseases.
Add to that Carr's own principled stand during the waterfront dispute, including his refusal to allow the Daily Telegraph to set policy and bully him into breaking the picket and there is much to commend the government for.
Yet, the feeling remains that this has been a government distant from the trade unions. With some notable exceptions, many officials complain of the difficulty in getting access to their relevant Ministers.
One explanation could be that these are the natural tensions that exist between a professional political office managing the day by day crises and an active union movement trying to push the envelope for the workers.
At the end of the day, the movements' two arms have different objectives. The political arm must succeed electorally, while the industrial arm must represent its members.
Where that balance falls is a question of ongoing and necessary debate. While some would see the union movement's disproportionate influence at State Conference as a shackle on the political wing, others would see this as a necessary means to ensure the Party does not lose its way into populism.
Most thinking members of the movement, regardless of their factional allegiances, would agree that these issues need to be resolved.
But that can only occur after the election, after the two wings have worked together to ensure that the significant advances won for working people over the past four years are not wound back.
by The Australian's Sid Marris
The shift marks a move to the highly contentious policy of allowing lower wages so as to create jobs for the unemployed. It makes a further change to the nature of awards - hinted at but not specifically articulated during the election campaign - replacing them with one single benchmark against which to measure agreements. It involves another whittling away of the powers and the primacy of the Industrial Relations Commission.
That word was "existing". By adding it to the 1996 election promise that no worker would be worse off compared with the relevant award when negotiating an agreement, the promise was significantly qualified. New workers, first time workers - the young and the unemployed - were no longer covered.
The changes are outlined in a letter to the Prime Minister from the Employment Workplace Relations and Small Business Minister, Peter Reith, and the key sentence is in John Howard's reply. The Government was forced to release them last week after Opposition Employment spokesman Martin Ferguson obtained an earlier draft of Mr Reith's plans and ambushed him in question time.
Mr Reith describes his ideas as a "midpoint" between the Coalition's 1998 election promises and a "fully deregulated labour market". The proposals include the potential for compulsory work for the dole programs for all unemployed adults after six months; discounted wages for the long-term unemployed; exemptions from award conditions for all small businesses or companies employing the unemployed replacing it with a single set of conditions; and taming the IRC by insisting it no longer hear claims for across the board award pay rises themselves but rather form a panel with the Reserve Bank, Productivity Commission and the Treasury.
Not so much a "second wave" as a second front.
The letter is riddled with contradictory messages.
Mr Reith insists his approach is a bold plan to beat unemployment, but in the same breath suggests ways of fiddling the figures to make unemployment rates look lower. He praises the need for tougher rules against unions but acknowledges that higher productivity is undermining the job creation that might have been expected in the present good economic environment. This last point alone reinforces how in a global economy suggestions of a trade-off between wage rates and jobs is simplistic.
Beyond all of this more fundamental questions remain: If wages are dropped will jobs be created? What sort of jobs would they be? Will they serve as a stepping stone back into the workforce and towards a better higher paid job later, or only reinforce the low self-esteem that comes with long periods of unemployment.
Mr Reith's proposals, by his own admission are designed to be provocative, in part so extreme that the Senate will inevitably reject them. This will in turn, says Reith, provide political capital for changes to the Senate. One Liberal Senator has already floated the idea that a Senate cannot be elected if they did not get a certain percentage of primary votes before preferences are distributed - thus making it harder for the minor parties and independents to be elected and possibly hold the balance of power.
There is no doubt too, that Peter Reith wants to be seen to be active to re-invigorate his stocks after the self-induced trauma of the waterfront dispute.
Labor is also looking at harder policies than before. During the election campaign Kim Beazley committed the party to a 5 per cent unemployment target. There was little detail explaining how this would be done. Now Shadow Treasurer, Simon Crean, has said he is discussing options with a group known as the "five economists" who hit the headlines after the election suggesting a system of tax credits - Labor's policy to help the transition for the unemployed into lower paid jobs by essentially giving them a discount on their tax - and more controversially a wages freeze. Mr Crean insists Labor is not advocating cuts in wages and that the link between lower wages and job creation is inconclusive. But he is talking about a variation to hold down employment costs that will ensure rising disposable income for the low paid.
So with the tax debate still unresolved, the employment issue is warming up.
The debate should be furious. But if both parties start singing a similar tune, it might not.
Sid Marris is a former industrial reporter who now covers federal politics for The Australian
by Peter Lewis
We must observe the workers when the ground is at full capacity. The fact that this involves getting access to the Members Stand while the Australians battle England is something that none of us can avoid.
We meet a WorkCover inspector, a members of the SCG Trust's management, a staff representative and MEAA organiser Lindsay Varcoe as Adam Gilchrist takes to the Poms's opening attack.
The issue is a serious one. The 240 ushers and security staff who are required to stand for long periods have requested WorkCover and the Labor Council investigate appropriate seating in some areas.
Think about it. Try standing in the one place for up to four hours.
We circle the ground, inspecting the various work stations as top order wickets fall; through the members stand, private boxes, into the Brewongle and even then commentary box where a surprisingly fit looking Ian Botham squeezes past.
WorkCover inspector Roger Fairfax notes the seating provided as Varoce and Labor Council's OHS officer Mary Yaager quiz workers about their shift cycles.
SCG Trust events manager Tom Packer leads the group around, offering suggestions about how each post could be improved. "I want a fair outcome", he insists.
Rotating shifts within defined work teams is one way the Trust ensures workers aren't stranded for long periods in places where they must stand.
At most posts, commonsense prevails. Fold-down chairs are suggested, to ensure that the ushers are always in a position to get up quickly to deal with patrons.
By the time Bevan is rescuing the Australians with a customary knock, the group have reached broad agreement on most of the issues.
Which means there's little to do but retire to the Members Bar and talk to Varcoe about organising.
The SCG is not your average workplace. For a start there's a big circle of grass in the centre of the office where household names write sporting history.
Its also a workplace where all the staff are casual employees, who work long hours at high intensity on match days.
And most suprisingly, it is a casual workplace with high levels of union membership -- an estimated 70 per cent membership -- and an active workplace consultative committee.
There is a strong commitment to the union amongst the ushers, many are semi-retiredworkers who spent their working lives as members.
Up in the Brewongle stand there's John, who was a member of the AMWU before taking redundancy, and says he works at the SCG "for beer money".
He worries that not all the ushers are members but says the MEAA's high profile is making inroads.
Varcoe says he attends as many events as he can get to, walking around and talking to the ushers and letting them know he's the union representative.
"You may not get people to sign up the first time, but as you become more familiar your chances of recruiting improve," he says.
He also says the changes to federal laws which have made life more difficult for trade unions, have, perversely, been a great bargaining chip for him.
"One of things Reith did was to outlaw union rules that forced members to give three months notice before they resigned.
"Now I tell prospective members to give us a try, they've got nothing to lose and if they don't like the product it's easy for them to pull out."
MEAA and other unions are building on their recruitment in sporting arenas through their involvement in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
With big job opportunities on the horizon, they believe there is a big opportunity to promote union membership during this period.
If that means attending more big sporting events they can bank on Workers Online's ongoing support.
by Peter Lewis
Young officials and delegates set up stalls at HomeBake, Survival Day and Sydney's Big Day Out, distributing information about unions, workers rights and other issue that affect young people.
Unions represented at the festivals included the Eletrical Trade Union, the Maritime Union, the Australian Workers Union, the CFMEU the Public Service Association, the Fire Brigade union and the Misos (LHMU).
Labor Council's Peter Zangari says the reaction to the union presence was good with punters particularly interested in what unions are doing about youth wages.
"A lot of the people at HomeBake and the Big Day out have the type of jobs where they feel the effects of junior rates," Zangari says. These include jobs in the restaurants, hotels and shops who are paid according to their age up to 21 years.
More than 1,000 signatures were collected for a petition opposing junior rates which will be submitted to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's inquiry into the retention of junior rates.
The Howard Government wants to renege on the timetable established by the Keating Government to eliminate age-based discrimination from industrial awards. But unions argue employers should be more interested in a worker's skill than their age when setting wages.
"The petition is one way that young people can make their views known to the Commission," Zangari said.
More importantly, the stalls have established a foothold for unions in youth culture, which Zanagari believes should be consolidated upon.
Ideas for future festivals include a competition for a trade union song, CD giveaways on the day and personal appearances at the stall by supportive rock stars.
Statistics show many young people are staying away from trade unions, often because they are in casual and part-time work. But Zangari says a good union can be of value to these types of workers too.
"What we're discovering is that, regardless of the type of work you do, people do want someone standing beside them in the workplace," he says.
"When you are in your first job, you don't know what your rights are and, even if you do, it is pretty difficult to take the boss on.
"Our message is that being a member of a union means you have someone you can turn to who knows the score and will make sure you are not on your own if things turn nasty."
The union presence at the festivals builds on the fledgling alliance between progressive politics and the music industry which was forged during the federal election.
More than 200 bands including big names like the Whitlams, Superjesus, Regurgitator and the Cruel Sea signed up for the Howard's End campaign, playing anti-Howard gigs in the lead-up to the October ballot.
Piers' piece would make compulsory reading for any Peace Studies student as a case study in the type of ingrained hostility that lies at the heart of all protracted conflict.
While most media interviews rightly focussed on how the Republicans and Unionists were working towards greater understanding, Piers dusted off his persona as the Cold War warrior who can't understand why the guns have stopped firing. Only this time its the Hibernians under the bed.
He grills Adams on his past IRA links, he dismisses his visit as a fundraising exercise for Sinn Fein and he takes swipes at the likes of Thomas Kenneally ("carping about the place like stage Irish leprechauns") before asserting that Australia is becoming a source of funds for "foreign political groups with dubious connections".
In doing so, he not only ignores the important work done by both sides in the Northern Ireland peace process, he actually reinforces the divisions that lie at the heart of the Troubles.
Three of the landmark geopolitical conflicts of the 20th Century -- Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, South Africa -- are inching towards resolution because both sides decided to ignore history for a moment and look to the future.
Yasser Afarat sat down with the Isrealis, Nelson Mandela worked with his former torturers and the two sides in Northern Ireland have joined with the Blair Government in inventing a new future.
But here's Akerman, still taking sides, picking victims and playing the public bully.
The problem with Piers is he's actually quite naive. He doesn't seem to understand the process of moving towards peace requires goodwill, understanding and a suspension of prejudice.
To place the weight of history on Gerry Adams's shoulders, misunderstands not only Adams, but Northern Ireland itself.
In terms of his actual allegations, there are some sizable holes in his argument.
Piers' alleges the IRA uses drug money to buy guns. Workers Online's Northern Ireland expert assures us that the IRA has never participated in the drug trade.
If anything, the Republican movement has been criticised for being too tough on the use of recreational drugs within the communities the IRA has traditionally policed. Those who have dealt in drugs in these communities have been harshly dealt with.
Piers also slips up when he delves into Irish history with his expose on the Irish groupings. He claims the Casement Group, one of three Australian organisations supporting Sinn Fein, is named after hero Roger Casement.
In fact, the Group draws its name from Casement Park in Belfast, the scene of an ugly incident in 1988 which led to the arrest of more than a dozen Republicans.
Pedantic? Sure, but little facts are the building blocks of a world view.
Piers concludes his piece by advocating tourism to Northern Ireland over listening to the likes of Adams "an avowedly partisan politician"
If you did go to Belfast, you'd find a statelet where Catholics are twice as likely to be unemployed as Protestants, with a police force which is 94 per cent Protestant in a population that is 42 per cent Catholic.
And you'd find a statelet of people who are not only sick of war, but aware that they still have to work through a peace process.
Piers appears to be advocating we all become diplomats roving the world stage, taking snapshots from our secure hotels rather than listening to people with a story to tell.
It is worth noting that previous British Governments legislated to censor the Sinn Fein story - throughout the 1980s, the British electronic media were barred from carrying Adams' voice. Some television channels resorted to running footage of Adams speaking with an actor lip synching the Republican leader's words.
During his Australian tour, Adams himself puts the case for an Australian contribution to the peace process.
"I don't know of a conflict resolution process that was successfully brought to a conclusion that didn't have international support," he said.
"We want peace in the East Timor, we want peace in the Middle East and we are glad to see peace in South Africa but we want peace in Ireland as well. That's where I think people like yourselves (Irish-Australians) have a role.
In a piece published next to Akerman's, Miranda Divine (not known for her revolutionary world view), holds a light to Piers' own diplomatic skills at the Adams interview.
She recounts how Akerman shoves a jug across the table when Adams asks for a glass of water and then proceeds to grill him on whether or not he was ever a member of the IRA.
What shines through all of this is that Piers totally misses the point about selling peace.
Peace is about breaking stereotypes, not reinforcing them; about looking at the bad guys in a different light; about listening for a change, instead of just mouthing the old slogans of conflict.
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/2/print_index.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005