Ahhh, the Star Wars Program, how's that for a bit of nostalgia?
When the most dangerous US President in living memory starts gasbagging on about putting man on the moon again you can be sure that their conga-line allies here are also searching for a decent distraction from a deteriorating electoral situation.
In a week that has seen new ALP leader Mark Latham show a lot of go, the Federal Government has been desperately scrambling around trying to find a wedge to portray Mark as being 'soft on terrorism'.
Given that the Star Wars Program is allegedly able to protect us from inter-continental ballistic missiles, exactly what relevance it has in protecting us from car bombs is immediately unclear.
Nevertheless the government has released Senate attack puppy, Robert Hill, to save us all from whatever the latest peril is this week.
The rather inappropriately named Defence Minister let the cat out of the bag by admitting that there isn't really a threat after all.
So what is Robert Hill doing spending taxpayers dosh looking in a dark room for a black cat that isn't there?
I think most Australians can safely assume that the Federal cabinet has collectively lost its marbles and that Hill is no exception. Either that or our defence priorities are decided by some flunkey in Rumsfeld's office, as no other nation is queuing up to get on board this pie in the sky project.
Luckily though the technology is incredibly suspect, and the election of a Democrat US president will pull the pin on this nice little earner for the arms industry, and see a move towards far more trivial priorities such as health care, education, the environment and living standards.
In the meantime though Hill is happy to shovel money at this Emperor's New Clothes project despite the fact that there is no current credible threat. Hill is fond to bang on about security but our Tool of the Week seems to think this equates with his own party's electoral fortunes.
It should come as no surprise that all this should emanate from a man who views those Australian's who put their lives on the line for this country as a nice photo opportunity. Bobby Hill is no Napoleon, more of a General Custer, with his latest no-brainer highlighting how out of his depth this man is. One use he could put his position to is finding out what from the Navy what are the appropriate procedures when on a sinking ship.
Our Tool of the Week will have to take a break from the conga-line for a while and find his security under the protection of the sturdy Tool Shed roof.
If Robert Hill had a scrap of honesty left he would paraphrase Jack Kennedy: "We do not choose to do these things because they are easy, but rather, we choose to do these things because they are good wedge politics."
NSW Labor Council made the extraordinary claims to the IRC this week, submitting the actions of both Western Sydney Health Services and Websters Security should be referred to authorities for prosecution under the Workplace Video Surveillance Act.
Labor Council representative, Nancy Carl, said all nine workers - security guards employed between Blacktown and Mt Druitt Hospitals - had been followed and filmed without a warrant for three weeks.
Western Sydney Health Services had applied for warrants, she said, claiming to suspect the guards were involved in vandalism, and the theft of money from vending machines. It hired Websters Security to trail and record their activities, prior to warrants being issued, and at the end of three weeks claimed they had breached policy by stopping at Dominos and a local Chinese restaurant.
Carl told Workers Online it was "obvious" the covert surveillance had borne out none of the employer's stated suspicions.
"All these people were videoed, photographed and secretly followed around western Sydney for three weeks. Then they were called in and summarily dismissed for leaving hospital premises," she said.
"They worked 12 hour shifts between the two hospitals. What they would do, was call into Dominos or the local Chinese for takeaways when they were driving between between Blacktown and Mt Druitt."
Each of the security guards is claiming to have been unjustifiably dismissed. All are seeking to be reinstated to positions they lost in September, 2002.
Seven of the nine are being represented by the HSU (Health Services Union). The Labor Council sought leave to appear because of the significance of what Carl described as " the blatant abuse of workplace surveillance".
Final submissions are expected to be heard by NSW IRC deputy president Sams next Wednesday.
In a landmark decision, the IRC full bench has rejected an employer bid to strike down a clause in the ETU’s building industry pattern agreement that binds sub-contractors to wages and conditions in the principal agreement.
"It's a huge decision," Electrical Trades Union secretary, Bernie Riordan said. "It strikes at the heart of bringing third parties onto the job. In future, labour costs will be the same, you won't be able to contract out just to undercut negotiated wages and conditions.
"Effectively, it removes labour costs from the contracting equation."
The full bench ruling sets a precedent across the economy, enabling unions to bind any employer whose agreement is registered in NSW to pass on negotiated rates to contractor or labour hire employees.
It is a slap in the face for former Workplace Relations Minister, Tony Abbott, who maintained such agreements were unlawful because they breached competition policy.
The NSW IRC found that binding third parties was an industrial matter under the Workplace Relations Act and, as such, could be included in registered enterprise agreements.
In its decision, it accepted the core union view that such mechanisms protected members by ensuring a level playing field so that " the cost of labour was not used by any company as a commercial advantage".
The Commission also green-lighted the ETU's contentious claim for the right to insert a bargaining fee in the agreement, ruling, it also, was an industrial matter.
The decision is expected to give a major boost to NSW Labor Council's Secure Employment Test case, which will be heard in the same jurisdiction next year.
A key engineer on the project, who lives on the Northern Beaches, is questioning whether or not he can make the move to Wallgrove, near Eastern Creek, which lacks public transport and is hours away from most workers – some of whom commute from the Central Coast and Wollongong.
Transgrid has refused a request for a Risk Assessment on its new headquarters, with management adopting a 'take it or leave it' approach to hundred of head office employees.
"They said 'we're going to Wallgrove, come if you want'." says PSA member Ho Yam Yeow.
"The move makes no sense unless there is a hidden agenda to downsize," says Paul Barrett, who works at Transgrid's Elizabeth Street headquarters in the city. "The proposal has caused a lot of hardship. People's fears and anxieties have been heightened."
"For some people they just cannot go to Eastern Creek."
Big Impact On Families
Ho Yam Yeow is concerned about the impact of the move as he has a sick wife and two children under seven.
"How am I supposed to get home in an emergency?" asks Yeow. "This is having a big impact on my family."
"Unless you've got a helicopter there's no way I could do it."
Another worker is looking at his family having to sacrifice one income to sustain the move.
"My wife will have to quit her job," he said. "Given the impact I would expect some consultation."
"It's unacceptable and upsetting."
The decision by Transgrid is likely to see a 'brain drain' from the organisation - especially from specialised and qualified engineers who are in demand.
"They'll lose key people," says one Transgrid insider. "They'll have trouble replacing these engineers."
The Public Service Association of NSW and the NSW Labor Council are backing the workers and will be seeking a meeting with the Minister to resolve the issue.
Hundreds of Foxtel and broadband installation technicians have flocked to join the CEPU (Communications, Elecrical and Plumbing Union) since Telstra signed cut-rate installation deals with contractors, Siemens-Theiss and ABB.
They have refused to sign on with the new contractors, effectively striking for the past week in Sydney and Melbourne, where around 90 contractors today used their vehicles to blockade Telstra's headquarters.
"Five years ago, Foxtel installers got around $300 for each installation, under the new proposal that figure would be $177," CEPU official Shane Murphy said, "that's a cut of almost 50 percent over that period.
"At the end of the day, it is typical Telstra, that's the way they operate, slashing the earnings of ordinary Australians in all parts of their workforce to ensure ever-increasing profits.
"In this instance, it negotiated with five different contracting companies. It had them in four or five times and finally locked in the two that would deliver another 20 percent cut in these workers' incomes.
"It's a ridiculous way of running Australia's largest business and it has to stop. In the meantime, individual contractors are flocking to join the union. We are well on our way to becoming the industry union again, covering not only employees of the carriers but sub-contractors as well."
Telstra, which has just signed a new four-year agreement with its chief executive that includes possible bonuses of $7 million a year, has used every device placed at its disposal by Federal workplace relations laws to slash worker incomes.
It was Australia's largest company that dialled up TeleTech to run call centres that would slash operator incomes by more than $6000 a year. It contracted regional call centres in places like Wollongong to Stellar who paid workers around $10,000 a year less than they would have earned on existing negotiated agreements.
Both Stellar and the US giant TeleTech used non-negotiable AWAs to force employees onto the lower rates, and ran aggressive campaigns to try and keep unions out of their workplaces. Both refused to recognised trade unions even after staff had joined up and asked them to represent their interests.
The Federal Government had proposed tying over $400 million in funding for higher education to forcing universities to offer individual contracts. Academics feared the move would weaken working conditions at Australia’s universities.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) believes that the final package still contains a number of problems including;
- increases in student fees,
- academic freedom, and
- A lack of adequate funding indexation.
"This is a recognition that the Government's requirements had nothing to do with the sustainability and quality of higher education but were driven purely by its ideological industrial relations agenda," says Dr Carolyn Allport, National President of the NTEU.
"The Senate's decision is a major loss for the industrial hard liners in the Howard cabinet but represents a major win for universities and their staff who will now be able to negotiate collective agreements without the threat of losing Government funding."
The amended package still gives universities the ability to increase student fees for government supported places by up to 25% and expand the number of full fee paying places to 35% of all enrolments.
Allport described the fee increases as "a particular threat to the affordability of a quality university education".
The NTEU also believes that a failure to include indexation for funding means that cost and prices will eventually erode any future funding. The union is also alarmed at the Federal Education Minister's 'Big Brother' approach to university courses.
"The fact that the Minister still retains considerable discretion over which courses will attract government funding threatens both institutional autonomy and academic freedom."
The NTEU also slammed the move by employers at Australia's universities, the Australian Vice Chancellors Committee (AVCC), to back the reforms proposed by Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson.
"We are extremely disappointed with the AVCC who capitulated to Government pressure and failed to support amendments that would have removed these flaws and enshrined the principles of institutional autonomy and academic freedom into legislation."
The winner will be announced at the Labor Council’s executive dinner on Friday December 12 and will join last year’s winner Australia Post on a perpetual trophy depicting the former Minister for Workplace Relations in his traditional cassock.
Labor Council of NSW Secretary John Robertson said all nominees had exhibited the sort of disdain for workers and their right to organise that Tony Abbott had championed during his time as Minister.
"We believe it is appropriate that we recognise acts of bastardy and put on record our appreciation for the organising opportunities these employers have provided the union movement," Mr Robertson said.
"The common theme in all the nominations is a mean-spirited attitude to workers, who are regarded as units of labour rather than human beings."
The shortlist for this year's Tony Award for Australia's worst boss is:
- Morris McMahon owner Judith Beswick - for locking her workforce out of the premises for 17 weeks.
- Sydney City Council - for training up a team of garbo strike-breakers to force down wages and conditions of its full-time workforce.
- Building firm PTV - for forcing workers to labour in raw sewage
- Global call centre operator TeleTech - for frogmarching a safety representative off the rpemises for raising OHS concerns.
- Byron Bay's Sunnybrand Chickens - for denying employees holidays, long service, sick leave, and super in a bid to beat its workers comp obligations.
- Metro Shelf owners Paul, Craig and Jason Caughlan - who couldn't pay their employees $9 million, but walked away with luxury cars and boats.
In what is seen as a model for regional unionism, the NSW Labor Council will formally recognise the South Coast Labor Council as a regional branch council and inject significant financial resources into the region.
While the SCLC will retain it sown affiliation and political autonomy, campaigning activity will be better integrated with the rest of the NSW movement.
Under the partnership, SCLC secretary Arthur Rorris will take a seat on the NSW Labor Council executive where he will take on responsibility for coordinating campaigns all the way to the Victorian border.
Rorris says the partnership meets the SCLC's financial challenges and positions the Council to help grow the movement.
"There is an urgency now across all sections of the movement to improve cooperation at regional, state and national peak councils to address the crisis over continuing membership," Rorris told the Illawarra Mercury this week.
NSW Labor Council secretary John Robertson says the SCLC's strong community links and history of grassroots campaign represented a significant contribution to the broader movement.
"The reality is we are struggling in regional NSW and branch councils are required to coordinate union activity and make sure workers don't fall through the cracks," Robertson says.
"Branch council can become the mechanism to campaign for rural workers' interests and allow affiliates to share resources to better service their members.
"It is my hope that at the end of this process, every single worker in regional NSW will have access to union assistance in the area they work. "
Robertson says he intends to commence discussions in other areas based on the South Coast model.
Jerry Gambacorta vowed to continue fighting for his colleagues after being presented with a Safety Achievement Award for ongoing commitment to the safety of fellow workers.
Gambacorta raised concerns about the health and safety effects of new shift rosters at TeleTech's Pennant Hills contract call centre. As a result, he was marched off the premises on November 21.
Gambacorta was re-instated and returned to work on the following Thursday, after his union indicated it would put his dismissal before the IRC for resolution.
"I was quite honoured," says Gambacorta of his Safety Achievement Award. "It's a bit of a slap in the face for TeleTech's policies."
Gambacorta's message to any other safety representatives suffering harassment is to "go for it".
"If there's things that need to be raised, persist with it," he said. "I'm going to follow it through,' says the call centre worker.
Both corporates have been asked to sign up to the ACT's ground-breaking Code of Best Employment Practices to ensure their cleaning contracts aren't let to racketeers.
LHMU spokesman, Gil Anderson, said letters were sent to the both companies last week but, so far, nothing has been heard back.
The Canberra initiative is part of nationwide LHMU push to force clients to take responsibility for contractors who usually win work on the basis of lowest tender prices.
The Australian newspaper recently blew the lid on companies paying cleaners as little as $8 an hour when award minimums are $13.02 for full-timers and $16.90 for part-timers.
It identified Sydney's huge Market City complex, in Chinatown, as a site where part-time commercial cleaners earn only $10 an hour.
NSW MLC Ian West says building owners and managers, who know the award rates but consistently take lowest tenders, are the real problem.
The Australian pointed out rampant underpayment and the widespread use of either illegal immigrants, or vulnerably newcomers desperate for money.
Industry watchers say the problem is getting worse as big property owners, like Woolworths, Coles Meyer, Westfields and the like target every area of their operations for cost savings.
"If the union isn't aggressive in policing it (the award), $10 an hour will become the norm," LHMU Victorian official, Terry Breheny warns.
"Diane Beamer reflects the attitude of the Carr state government - they don't care about public education and the children of New South Wales," says Bonnie Laker, a teacher at Blackwell Public School, St Clair.
The news comes as teachers across the state voted in favour of a 2-day strike on the 11 and 12 February next year.
"It is outrageous that our local member will not meet with us over the issues of teacher salaries and support for our students," says Laker. "She is meant to be our local member, listening to our concerns and advocating for us to the government."
"We face a situation in our school and across the state where support to schools and our students is being cut. Our local member refuses to speak with us about it."
Teachers have been calling for a new award with pay increases to be available from 1 January 2004.
The Teacher's Federation called on the Carr Government to ensure that the decision of the Industrial Relations Commission is fully funded from Treasury; this is to protect the already-diminished public education budget.
Teachers were hoping that the conduct of the Government's case in the Industrial Relations Commission did not denigrate the profession or undermine the value of teachers' work.
"These three demands are within the purview of the Carr Government not the Industrial Relations Commission. Government's agreement to these requests would ensure that Government provided a fair assessment of teachers' work," says Ms. Maree O'Halloran, President of the NSW Teachers Federation
"The Premier has refused to meet with the Federation to discuss these requests and the Government has continued to threaten the funding of public education including TAFE, denigrate the public education teaching profession and delay the decision."
Catholic Education Employers have come to an agreement with the Independent Education Union in the Industrial Relations Commission about the significant changes and value of teachers' work over the last decade.
"The Carr Government, by contrast, has sought by every means to lower the potential salaries award," says O'Halloran. "It has taken this course of action despite a healthy surplus of $619 million and pre-election promises not to denigrate the profession and to have a new award in place by 1 January 2004 when the current award expires."
"If the Carr Government is successful in its course of action, then the community will inevitably face larger class sizes or unqualified people in our classrooms. The Government's action has forced a greater industrial response from teachers," says O'Halloran.
The code, part of the Behind The Label strategy, currently works as a voluntary option for retailers and sets out to ensure that retailers do not stock clothing made by exploited outworkers.
Five of the six stakeholders represented on the Ethical Clothing Trades Council (ECTC), including a peak retailer's body, supported the move to a mandatory code. The one objector was Australian Business Limited, who does not represent retailers, but had ideological objections to the introduction of any regulation.
The chair of the Ethical Clothing Trades Council, Mr Joe Riordan, believes that more time is needed to measure the effectiveness of the Voluntary Code.
Currently only 40 out of 1690 retailers are signatories to the voluntary code that makes available details of their suppliers, turnaround times and price structure to outworker's representatives.
"The Textile Clothing & footwear union of NSW (TCFUA) disagrees with the chair's reasons,' says Barry Tubner, Secretary of the TCFUA. "At this point in time there is not one outworker who is better off today than they were 12 months ago."
The ECTC had proposed that a mandatory code be introduced after a designated period, allowing signatories to the Voluntary code to remain on the less stringent voluntary code while non-signatories would be bound by the stricter mandatory code. If voluntary signatories broke the code they would be compelled to fall under the authority of the mandatory code.
Tubner, whose union is represented on the ECTC, believes the move to a mix of voluntary and mandatory regulation is a way of rewarding those retailers that do the right thing.
The move towards a mandatory code is a world first and other jurisdictions in Australia are watching developments in NSW closely.
"The minister should support the position of the retailers,' says Tubner. "Any government that doesn't move to protect outworkers isn't doing what people elect them to do."
"The vote took place four months ago and I haven't had one of those stakeholders call me up and say they've made a mistake. They have been watching closely what the minister will do."
With only a handful of retailers signatories to the voluntary code the lack of mandatory regulation remains a problem for outworkers.
"Retailers haven't formed a conga-line to sign up to be ethical," says Tubner.
The TCFUA also rejected the relevance of statistics that the 40 signatories to the voluntary code represented approximately 70% of retail clothing trade - as much of their clothing was imported and the code only applied to clothing made in Australia.
Clothing made by Australian outworkers was more represented in women's fashion retailers, many of whom were not signatories to the voluntary code.
Licensed aircraft engineers employed by the Qantas regional stopped work yesterday to discuss the dismissals, described by union officials as "clear abuses" of aviation incident investigation procedures.
The Brisbane-based workers called on their union to walk away from "no blame" investigations, used by the industry to speedily identify and correct maintenance faults, if the Sunstate sackings stand. The proposal will go before the ALAEA (Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association) national executive on Wednesday.
"First and foremost, this is a safety issue," ALAEA (Industrial Manager, Chris Ryan, said. "The industry uses no-blame procedures to ensure problems are brought into the open and rectified without engineers worrying they might be hanging themselves.
"That is industry practice, accepted by Qantas. Unfortunately, the actions of this regional operator threaten a system that works in the best interests of everybody, including the travelling public.
"If Sunstate stands by this approach, it will lead to a situation where
aviation workers might think twice before disclosing possible errors."
Ryan said maintenance incidents at Australian airlines were usually investigated under a procedure called MEDA (Maintenance Error Detection Aid) that is specifically "no blame".
The term refers to a generic Boeing program but MEDA-style procedures are used throughout the industry.
Ryan said one of the two men sacked by Sunstate, using statements made in a MEDA investigation, was a supervisor with an unblemished 16-year record of service.
Among the winners were Sgt Mark Conway, who has been making the streets safer for police through his involvement in new equipment; defensive tactics and firearms training initiatives as well as uniform issues.
He is currently seeking to resolve the growing incidence of back injury through the introduction of a new equipment belt.
Other winners included:
The Brian Miller Lifetime Safety Achievement Award was bestowed upon Terry Hannan from the NSW Public Service Association (PSA). For 19 years he has been the OH&S 'guru' for the public servants across the state, making public workplaces safer. Hannan, who has seen amny changes over the years, believes that OHS is an investment from which there is always a return.
UnionSafe, the safety arm of the NSW Labor Council, launched its new joint Sun Safety policy with the NSW Cancer Council.
The conference also heard presentations on worker's rights under the new WorkCover laws, safety consultation at work and the role of WorkCover inspectors.
The NSW Labor Council's Guide for Hazards in the Workplace was also launched at the conference.
Labor Council of NSW secretary John Robertson said the annual safety conference had become a major event on the union calendar.
"The awards recognise the contribution of everyday workers in reducing the number of workers killed and injured in the workplace," Mr Robertson said.
"It is also an important opportunity for workers from across the workforce to share information and experience on dealing with workplace safety issues."
More than 3000 rallied in Sydney, this week, accusing the state Labor government of ratting on pre-election assurances that their would be forced local body amalgamations.
Speakers claimed Government representatives had promised both the USU (United Services Union) and the Local Government industry that employment protections would be enacted and claimed that, with mergers on the horizon, no legislative action had been forthcoming.
The local government workers protest was backed by councillors from rural and regional NSW, along with representatives of parties as diverse as the Greens and Christian Democrats.
State Opposition leader, John Brogden, addressed the rally, pledging the support of the Liberal Party.
The protest focused on job security, particularly in rural areas of the state, and Labor Government moves that speakers claimed would actually worsen the plight of affected local government employees.
Currently, displaced state government employees attract salary maintenance until finding new positions. The USU says under proposed NSW legislation transferred workers would only be protected for three years and there would be no guarantees for existing staff.
Much of the concern is being driven by the recent release of proposals for the establishment of two mega-councils on the southern region of the state that would swallow up a number or rural entities.
Australian Writers' Muster
Check out the latest additions to our illustrious list of speakers and panellists:
SUE WOOLFE author of the enthusiastically reviewed "The Secret Cure" (and previously "Leaning Towards Infinity") is joining PETER GOLDSWORTHY on the
Arts & Science = Great Leaps of the Imagination panel.
TONY McNAMARA playwright ("The Virgin Mim", "The Unlikely Prospect of
Happiness" which is in the 2004 STC Season) and screenwriter ("The Rage in
Placid Lake") is taking the Playwrights' Master class and is a panellist on the Global/Local discussion.
TIM PYE Deputy Commissioning Editor ABC TV Drama 1999-2001, Executive
Producer "Changi" and whose credits include "White Collar Blue", "Water Rats", "Wildside", "Seachange" to name a few and winner of a handful of AFI,
AWGIE and LOGIE awards joins the Pushing the Envelope panel.
Actor AARON PEDERSEN (Water Rats, Wildside, Floodhouse) who has played an active role in pushing writers and producers to create story-lines that more accurately reflect our times (especially issues of urban aborigines) also joins the Pushing the Envelope panel.
Due to the length of the film 'MASTER AND COMMANDER - The Far Side of the
World' this session will now start at 6.30pm which means the previous session 'Billy Sind - a Week on West Wing' will now start 30 minutes earlier at 4.30pm Saturday, 6 December.
DON'T FORGET TO KEEP CHECKING THE WEB-SITE: MUSTER PROGRAM UPDATED REGULARLY.
To register go to www.awg.com.au to download a brochure or call us at the national office on (02) 9281 1554.
ARM CHRISTMAS DRINKS
With Special Guest Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, Australian Democrats'
Spokesperson on the Republic
Date: Friday 12 December 2003
Venue: The Glover Cottages
Address: 124 Kent Street Sydney
Tickets: $15 / $10 concession (finger food provided; drinks to be purchased on day)
RSVP: Friday 5 December 2003
Further details and booking form at Christmas drinks
FAIR TRADE COFFEE WEEK
13th-20th December 2003
Make Trade Fair this Christmas
It's that time of year when we're all meeting friends over a coffee, or stocking up the cupboards for Christmas. So while you're having fun, make the effort this week to choose great tasting Fair Trade goods.
To celebrate the growth of Fair Trade coffee roasters in Sydney, and the new Australian Fair Trade accreditation logo, we're hosting Fair Trade Coffee Week from 13th-20th December.
IT'S EASY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
* Choose Fair Trade cups of coffee & tea in your local cafe
* Buy Fair Trade chocolate for presents
* Stock up on Fair Trade coffee beans for the Christmas season
* Encourage your university, workplace, or coffee shop to serve fair trade coffee
* See if your local deli or supermarket stocks fair trade tea, coffee and chocolate - and tell us if they do.
LOOK FOR FAIR TRADE SUPPLIERS
This time last year, there were very few Fair Trade suppliers. Thanks to your efforts and the Make Trade Fair campaign, there are now a number of great coffee roasters in Sydney supporting Fair Trade. Look out for:
* Tobys Estate - look for their and their distinctive black label at cafes throughout Sydney and the Toby's Estate Roastery and Espresso Bar at 129 Cathedral St (cnr Palmer St), Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
* Single Origin Coffee at 60-64 Resevoir Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010, tel: 02 9211 0665 or email: Single Origin Coffee
* Tradewinds - Tradewinds is an alternative trading organisation that has been importing fairly traded tea and coffee for over twenty years. They supply great teas and coffees - look in your local delis, the Oxfam CAA shops or purchase online at Tradewinds
* Oxfam Community Aid Abroad Shops
Check out our 2 shops, one in the city and the new shop in Miranda
- Sydney at Shop C20, Centrepoint, 100 Market Street, Sydney 2000, Phone:
02 9231 4016
- Miranda at Shop 2036C, (Outside the Kingsway Entrance), Westfield Miranda,
600 The Kingsway, Miranda NSW 2228, Phone: 02 9524 8053
* And if you supply coffee, get involved with the Fair trade push by the
AustralAsian Speciality Coffee Association. (AASCA)
It's never been easier to make a difference. Have a very Merry Christmas and choose Fair Trade for the New Year.
The Federal Government‚s Building and Construction Improvement Bills are certain to result in more deaths and serious injuries on and near building sites, writes the Australian Greens Federal Member for Cunningham, Michael Organ.
To the surprise of no-one, the new Federal Minister for Workplace Relations Kevin Andrews has shown he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, Tony Abbott and Peter Reith in ignoring the genuine and desperate concerns of workers. Not to be outdone, the debate on the Building and Construction Improvement Bills in the House of Representatives this week will show that Mr Andrews can eclipse all of the Government‚s previous attempts at controlling industrial relations outcomes - to the detriment of workplace safety. Each year more people will continue to die or be injured at or because of their jobs than the entire national road toll, yet Minister Andrews does not intervene to protect the lives of workers. Instead, he introduces a package of laws designed to stifle the influence of construction unions.
If these Bills become law, the construction industry will be transformed into one where workers cannot protect and advance their interests without first scaling legal and administrative mountains in a workplace where managerial discretion will rule the day. This legislative straight jacket is certain to make it harder for workers and their unions to campaign against unsafe work practices that affect individual building sites as well as the industry as a whole. As a result, workers and the community who work, drive or walk, on, under or near building sites remain at risk.
Why? Because it will be illegal for a worker to take industrial action about safety issues unless they can satisfy a Court that the action is „based on a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to his or her health or safety.‰ That‚s right, real and tragically accurate predictions about the safety of others including colleagues, pedestrians, inexperienced workers and even Government officials are not and cannot be the business of workers. Worse still if employees are guided by their conscience and take action to protect the lives of others, they would be liable for fines of up to $22,000 each and $110,000 for their Unions.
Consider the recent tragic death of Sydney teenager Joel Exner, who fell to his death at work. Under the Government‚s scenario workers who demanded Joel be given appropriate safety training and equipment and took action to make sure it happened would be liable for prosecution because they would be unable to show that Joel‚s safety constituted an imminent risk to themselves. Surely, even the most passionate anti-union ideologue would think the Government should ditch its proposal in the interests of protecting the community, families and citizens.
To counter the Howard Governments proposals I will be introducing my Workplace Death and Serious Injury Private Member‚s Bill into the House of Representatives as an amendment to these manifestly unsafe proposed building and construction industry laws. My approach offers a far more even handed, realistic and appropriate response to the critical issue of workplace safety, not just in the construction industry, but in all industries Australia wide. An obvious outcome of my Bill is that employers will no longer be able to negligently kill and seriously injure workers without criminal sanction. In turn my Bill will promote industrial peace and goodwill in the long term between workers, their unions and employers, which will only benefit the broader community. Surely that is not too much to ask?
My Bill amends the Commonwealth Criminal Code by creating an offence of Industrial Manslaughter that would provide for gaol terms of up to 25 years for employers that negligently kill their workers and 10 years in cases of serious injury. Additionally, fines of up to $50 Million could be served upon negligent Corporations in the same circumstances. These gaol terms merely mirror the current provisions for manslaughter in existing NSW criminal law.
Currently, there is a ground swell of support for Industrial Manslaughter legislation in Australia and Internationally. Close to home and in an event of historical significance the ACT passed its own Industrial Manslaughter legislation last week, whilst the United Kingdom is also responding to the demands of its citizens through clear and effective „corporate killing‰ proposals. Canada, a country with many similarities to Australia, has also passed an Industrial Manslaughter law this year in response to the 26 miners that died at work in the Westray mine disaster of 1992. Given this groundswell, it is only a matter of time and continuing protests until Industrial Manslaughter legislation becomes a reality Australia wide. Tragically though, the Federal Government has missed the point again and wasted yet another opportunity to protect the lives of workers and their families in the Building and Construction Industry, even though it could reduce this wholly unnecessary carnage in a blink of the eye. The question remains: how many more people must die at work before the Government addresses the most serious and overdue issue facing the workplaces of the nation?
Socialists in Australia should decide their tactics, in the run-up to the elections to be held sometime next year, with an eye to the immediate circumstances, and to the evolving demographics, considered in the context of Australian electoral and demographic history.
THE AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL SYSTEM, AND ITS HISTORY
The most striking feature of the Australian electoral set-up, is that it is one of the most democratic bourgeois electoral systems in the world. It evolved radical bourgeois democratic aspects earlier than most countries, and many of these aspects still don't exist in other ostensible bourgeois democracies such as the United States.
Australia developed manhood suffrage earlier than most countries and votes for women earlier than most countries. Preferential voting in one round of elections was adopted in the first half of the 20th century, and it is such an unusual feature of any electoral system, that preferential voting was for many years known as the „Australian Ballot.‰
THE CURRENT AUSTRALIAN ELECTORAL SYSTEM
The third tier of government, municipal councils, has an electoral system which varies from state to state. In some states the municipal electoral system is first past the post, which is essentially undemocratic. In NSW, the largest state, councilors in municipal councils are elected by proportional representation, usually three councilors to a ward.
In a few a municipal councils there are wards of four, with proportional representation, which is an extremely democratic arrangement, because this dictates a quota of one-fifth of the number of voters. This often allows Greens as well as Laborites to be elected. Socialists should strenuously defend this four-representatives per ward model.
At the second level of government, the six states and the two territories, there are single-member electorates in lower houses, with one vote-one-value in most states, although in WA there is still an undemocratic weighting in favour of rural electorates in the lower house. An attempt by the Labor government to introduce one-vote-one-value has just been blocked by the WA Supreme Court, because the vote in the parliament in favour of one-vote-one-value did not get an absolute majority of parliamentarians entitled to vote, although it got a simple majority.
The two exceptions are the state of Tasmania, where the lower house is elected by a Hare-Clark proportional representation system, and the ACT, which has a one-house system elected by proportional representation. The two territories and the state of Queensland have only one-house parliaments. The five other states have lower houses, with individual electorates, and upper houses, which began life as reactionary nominee relics of the British colonial system, but have been democratised over time, largely by Labor governments. They are now all elected by proportional representation, even the Victorian upper house, which was the last conservative hold-out, and the change to proportional representation there is in process now.
The Labor Party is in electoral control of all houses of all state and territory parliaments for the first time in Australian history, although in several states it relies on the support of independents, Democrats and Greens to govern.
At the federal level, the Commonwealth Parliament consists of two houses, the lower house elected on a one-vote-one-value basis, state-by-state, and the Senate elected on proportional representation, with half the senators retiring at each election, so that they serve eight-year terms.
The Senate has one extremely undemocratic aspect, which is that the smallest state, Tasmania, with a population of about 500,000 has the same representation as the largest state, NSW, with about 6.5 million.
In practice, however, this doesn't have a dramatic effect on Australian politics because the political configurations are similar in each state, i.e. Labor gets about 40 per cent, the conservative parties get a similar vote, the Greens get about 10 per cent, and independents get about 10 per cent. So, despite the imbalance in the representation of the states, the net pattern of voting in the Senate, still reflects the general political trend in the country at large.
In addition to this, the proportional representation aspect of voting for the Senate leaves the way open for some minority representation, including radical minorities, and the main feature of the Senate in recent times has been the rise of the Greens on the left to the magic 10 per cent, which usually ensures at least one Senator in each state in each round of elections, and the rise on the right of the xenophobic One Nation party.
The net effect of proportional representation in the Senate is that the reactionary Howard Liberal government, elected in the lower house, chronically lacks a majority in the Senate for much of its reactionary legislation, and this has led the Howard Government to flag the idea of „reforming‰ the Senate, to give reactionary governments greater power.
It goes without saying that socialists should strenuously oppose such „reforms‰. Australia's evolved Senate set-up is useful, in immediate circumstances, from a socialist point of view. (Introducing proportional representation in the Senate, which was the personal baby of later Labor leader Arthur Calwell, was the last act of the Chifley Labor Government before its
electoral defeat in 1949.)
It has to be stressed that the institution of preferential voting (the „Australian Ballot‰) is central to the electoral system at all levels. Minority parties and independents call for a vote for themselves and then express a numerical preferences, although in some houses, in some states, this is optional. Unsuccessful candidates are eliminated from the bottom up, and their preferences are distributed according to the voters' indication.
This is an excellent system for radicals who want to challenge the less radical in elections but don't want to support the most conservative candidates. It eliminates the agonising choice faced by voters in the US, Britain and France, for instance, who in choosing to vote for radical candidates often take votes from moderate candidates, with the result that the worst reactionaries are elected.
In practice, the combination of preferential voting and single seats in lower houses, which tends to accentuate the broad class division between Liberal and Labor, and the combined preferential proportional representation system in upper houses, which allows scope for radical minorities, is a quite useful electoral system from the point of view of socialists, which should be used strategically, from a Marxist point of view.
THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF AUSTRALIAN VOTING
Australians become entitled to vote on turning 18. This is the one area in which the Australian electoral office, which is a pretty useful and effective institution overall, hasn't quite got it together yet. It takes a while for people turning 18 to be picked up by the electoral office, and in practice people turning 18 are the only cohort of Australian voters whose registration to vote tends to be slightly lower than average.
In every other aspect, the federal and state electoral offices are very effective democratic mechanisms. They do systematic sweeps everywhere, spaced over time to ensure that everyone eligible is on the roll, and this is very effective, although obviously people who for one reason or another wish to evade the system still do so.
Australia is an immigrant country, and these days nudging 50 per cent of the population have some non-English-speaking background. Recent NESB migrants are a high proportion of the population. Recent immigration to Australia has been extremely rapid, and a very high proportion of migrants take up Australian citizenship as soon as it's available, after two years permanent residency. (The only exception seems to be British migrants, who have a somewhat lower take-up of Australian citizenship.)
The net result of all this is that about 90 per cent of Australian residents older than 18 are on the electoral roll, which is, for instance, dramatically more democratic than the situation in the USA.
To cap all the other other features, Australia is one of the few countries where voting is compulsory. When this was introduced in the late 1920s, the proportion voting rose dramatically from about 65 per cent to about 95 percent.
The fine for not voting is nominal and rarely enforced, but the psychological impact of the legal requirement produces a 90-95 percent return in all elections.
Polls in Australia are almost always held on a Saturday from 8am to 6pm.
In other countries, such as the US and Britain, the energies of parties contesting elections are largely thrown into the process of getting out the vote. In Australia, this is replaced by a process of campaigning for people's votes, with the general assumption that most people will vote. This throws the electoral focus partly into intense campaigning at the booth on election day.
I have discussed other aspects of the evolution and demographics of Australian politics in three articles which are available on Ozleft: The Republic Referendum, a View from the Left http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Referendum.html, The Real Story About the „New Class‰: Three Cheers for the Australian Bureau of Census and Statistics http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Newclass.html and The People's Choice: Electoral Politics in 20th Century NSW http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Peopleschoice.html
TROTSKYISTS, COMMUNISTS AND AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS
Australian Trotskyists mainly adopted an open party tactic from their emergence in 1932, up to 1940. In 1941 they entered the Labor Party and conducted much of their activity in that framework until the early 1970s. For the old Australian Trotskyists, from the 1940s to the 1970s the electoral framework was pretty simple, working hard, from within the ALP for the election of Labor candidates, preferably left-wingers.
The Communist Party had a more complex relationship with Laborism. It went through a few spasms of ŒThird Periodism‚, when it denounced Labor politicians, and Labor supporters, and all their works, but it recovered rapidly from these sectarian episodes. For most of its existence it ran in elections under its own banner in some seats, but it generally practised a united front electoral strategy, epitomised by the slogan the CP often used, „kick the Liberals out‰, accompanied by a call to vote for CP candidates and give second preferences to Labor. During the Second World War, some Communist candidates got large votes, and one Communist, Fred Paterson, was elected as a state Member of Parliament, for a North Queensland seat. A number of Communists were elected to municipal councils. Jim Healy, the charismatic wharfies leader, got over 100,000 votes for the Senate one year, and twenty years later, Jack Mundey, the similarly charismatic leader of the Builder‚s Laborers Federatio!
n, performed the same feat, also in NSW.
The CP went through various episodes of more agressively trying to „show the face of the party‰ in elections, in which it ran quite a lot of candidates, but this was usually in the framework of „kick the Liberal out‰.
This was particularly the position adopted by the CPA in elections at moments of crisis in the country or the Labor movement, the split elections in the 1950s, the 1966 and 1969 elections dominated by the Vietnam crisis, the 1972 and the 1975 elections, the latter dominated by the removal of the Whitlam government. This „kick the Liberals out‰ slogan has the capital value that it intersects with the mood of the overwhelming majority of the class-conscious working class, and sections of the radical middle class, who tend to close ranks around Labor, as the alternative party of government to the reactionary Liberals, at moments of social crisis.
At such moments of crisis, class-conscious workers and radical middle-class people generally don't respond at all well to simple-minded exposure of Laborism. They're generally more preoccupied with getting rid of the Liberals.
The Trotskyist organisation, the Socialist Labour League, adopted a similar „kick the Liberals out‰ strategy when it was of some significance in the 1970s and the early 1980s, as also did the DSP up to the time of its eccentric turning away from the united front with Labor in 1984-85.
The coming federal elections are clearly going to be crisis elections of the highest order. The reactionary Liberals are clearly going to attempt to unleash every primitive, reactionary, racist passion that they can arouse for electoral purposes. In this they will have the vociferous support of the reactionary wing of the media, particularly the Murdoch media, and we are getting a foretaste of this reactionary blizzard from the Murdoch press in the past few days on the Kurdish asylum seekers, and the conflict in the ALP over tax cuts that the The venom expressed by DSP Leaders, Boyle and Co, towards Carmen Lawrence, is only matched anywhere by the venom of the Murdoch press towards Lawrence, driven by the danger that the Murdoch press obviously think Lawrence might represent, from the point of view of the bourgeoisie.
In these conditions, a dopey, hysterical exposure strategy of the sort that is currently being directed at the Laborites, particularly by the DSP leadership, is the opposite of what is required. The electoral strategy adopted by socialists in the run-up to these elections should be the old leftist slogan, particularly crafted by the CPA in its saner moments, „kick the Liberals out‰.
For Marxists and other serious socialists, elections, although they are important parts of political life, aren't the real centre of politics. For socialists the centre of political life is mass agitation in working class communities, trade unions, etc.
Nevertheless, elections are important, because the political consciousness of the masses is heightened and sharpened during elections. Slogans directed at the masses during elections should be consistent with the overall activity of socialists in society at large.
Socialists operating in the Labor Party have, in my view, the following responsibilities in elections. They should campaign very hard inside the ALP for the following preference arrangements, first preference to the ALP, second preferences to the Greens, third preference to socialist groups, fourth preference to any progressive independents and fifth preference to the Democrats. Socialists in the ALP should also fight to put all the reactionary parties last. It goes almost without saying that socialists in the ALP should work hard for Labor on the booths on election day. A reasonable days work on the booths for the ALP, makes up for a variety of other Œsins‚, committed by socialists in the course of their necessary political agitation, in the community at large and in the ALP.
A small but important current issue for socialists in the ALP is that they should vigorously oppose the vindictive move to reduce the number of aldermen from four to three in each ward in the Marrickville municipality. This move is directed, clearly, at the Greens. It's an essentially undemocratic proposition, and it's pretty dangerous for the ALP nationally at this time, when all the skills of the ALP parliamentary operators should be directed at making the necessary preference deals with the Greens.
Socialists operating in the Greens should fight hard, obviously, for second preferences to Labor, third preference to socialist groups, fourth preference to progressive independents and fifth preference to the Democrats, again putting the reactionary parties last.
Socialists operating in the small socialist groups running in the elections, such as the Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Party and the Progressive Labour Party, should campaign for second or third preference to the Greens or Labor, fourth preference progressive independents and fifth preference to the Democrats, with the reactionary parties last.
There are obviously all kinds of difficulties in the path of such a united front electoral strategy by socialists in the coming elections.
For a start, there's an unpleasant tradition in the ALP of Machiavellian behaviour in relation to preferences, and not preferencing radicals such as the Greens.
Despite this past Labor behaviour, however, the Greens have broken through both in the Senate electoral process (towards the magic 10 per cent), and even to the lower house in Cunningham. Unless Labor preferences the Greens in the Senate, there is a real danger of handing Senate control to the Liberals, which, apart from matters of general principle, is a powerful reason for the ALP electoral managers to make the appropriate Senate preference deal with the Greens, and even in realpolitik terms, this should flow over into making a sensible deal with the Greens in lower house seats.
The same principle applies to preference arrangements with the small socialist groups, although they are of vastly less practical importance because of the tiny votes the small groups will get.
The problem for socialists operating in the Greens is a certain Green sectarianism arising from the bad behaviour of Labor on many important political questions and a perception in Green circles that the Greens on the way up and they may stand to gain by not preferencing Labor.
Nevertheless, the overriding consideration that should be stressed by socialists in the Green camp is the absolute necessity of removing the Liberal government in these elections, as a step towards achieving the progressive reforms that the Greens favour.
When you get to the small socialist groups, two of them ˆ the DSP leadership and the leadership of the much smaller Socialist Party in Victoria, have been engaged in a politically eccentric ŒThird Period‚, ŒExpose Labor‚ strategy and rhetoric for some years.
Persistence with this strategy and rhetoric in these elections, will isolate those socialists even further from the overwhelming majority of the organised working class, migrant communities and progressive forces in the new social layers, who vote Labor and Green, in a defensive way, in crisis elections.
That the small socialist groups, like the DSP, and the Socialist Party, should adopt a sane, united front strategy toward Labor in these elections is much more an issue for their own political training and the political health of their memberships, than it is an issue that has much to do with the outcome of the election (Peter Boyle‚s self-styled Œgnats‚ be warned).
Those socialists who spend election day ˆ the moment of greatest political interest ˆ in simple-minded exposure of the Laborites, and to a lesser extent the Greens, will deepen their isolation and their appearance of bloody-minded eccentricity. If these socialist groups could find it in their minds and hearts to make a turn to a united front strategy in these elections, they would increase their audience in the working class and the radicalised middle class.
What is required most of all by socialists campaigning in this election situation, whatever their tactical orientation is (to the ALP, the Greens or to independent socialist electoral activity), is a sense of proportion.
The central slogan for serious socialists in these coming crisis elections must be „kick the Liberals out‰, with the necessary tactical adaptations that flow from this slogan.
In presenting the electoral tasks in this way, I look back to other crisis elections in which socialists subordinated their other differences to this kind of slogan, and working on that basis in those elections was an exhilarating experience, because it intersected in a real way with the political consciousness with the leftist side of Australian society.
Without doubt this is a bold decision to move to a new generation of leadership, to a man with few formal ties to the trade union movement, who has built his reputation on framing a 'Third Way' political roadmap, that sometimes smacks of a cross between the Fourth Dimension and the Second Coming.
Workers Online readers should be no stranger to Latham. We've interviewed him, argued with him and stuck him in the Tool Shed, but we've always found him frank, fearless and prepared to have a go.
For those who are fast to paint Mark Latham as right-wing and anti-union it is worth flicking through our interviews with him in Issues 10 and 96.
What these conversations show is that Latham is committed to an ongoing role for unions, one of the few working examples of the mutuality that he sees as the engine room of a functioning society.
He advocates unions operating closer to the workplace, rather than as big, monolithic institutions - a position totally consistent with the approach a large number of unions have adopted.
He believes the amalgamations of the late nineties were the 'wrong call' - an opinion that is increasingly being seen as mainstream within the union movement.
And his disdain for the factional system within the ALP and his desire to cut through outmoded ideological lines would gain growing support amongst unions, sick of cancelling out each others power for their factional masters.
In the Latham world view, government should be seeking partnerships with organised communities, who drive the agenda from the grassroots, rather than simply an institutional provider of services.
It is a model that fits well with modern unionism, empowering and resourcing groups of workers to make their lives better, rather than delivering centralised one size fits all approaches from on high.
Workers Online has never been shy to bag a Labor MP, indeed it is an important part of our brief in creating a voice for unions within the movement and the broader community.
But it is rarer that we give the ALP a wrap. So here it is. Federal Labor with Mark Latham in charge, the hard-hitting Craig Emerson in IR, and the likes of Julia Gillard, Lindsay Tanner and Kevin Rudd in the engine room is beginning to look like a team worth barracking for.
Yes, there will be debate and disagreement about policy, but the sense that the seven-year period of political hibernation is at last coming to an end is worth celebrating.
Our call to the union movement is to re-embrace Labor, after all, we have nothing to lose but the Howard Government.
This will be the last regular Workers Online for the year. Our Holiday Special will be posted in the week before Christmas.
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