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Issue No. 218 30 April 2004  
E D I T O R I A L

End of the Casual Affair
The Secure Employment Test Case that kicks off in the coming week in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission will be an important test of how far down the path of labour market deregulation we have travelled.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Terror Australis
The Howard Government has just discovered the nation's ports are a terrorist target. The International Transport Federation's Dean Summers has been warning them for years.

Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Hidden in the Australian Workers Union Sydney office is a mild-mannered industrial officer who once strutted the international cricket stage, writes Jim Marr.

Industrial: The Hell of Troy
On the basis of a couple of hours in the witness box, Building Industry Royal Commissioner Terence Cole described Troy Stratti as "credible". Six men who, together, have known the company director for the best part of 50 years beg to differ.

Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Traditional unions are rediscovering the power of grassroots organising. Paddy Gorman reports from the coal face.

Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
Evan Jones argues that economic policy making has been narrowed and rendered mechanistic and antiseptic.

History: Vicious Old Lady
Despite its Liberal leanings, the Sydney Morning Herald has never been shy of bashing unions, writes Neale Towart.

International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Thailand must end its crackdown on Burmese fleeing rights abuses in their military-ruled homeland, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Review: War Unfogged
Want to go to war but not sure where to start? Look no further than Errol Morris' latest doco-drama for the definitive 11-step lesson plan, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: TAFE
A TAFE student struggling under the weight of fees shares his wordly wisdom

N E W S

 WA Bosses Duck for Cover

 Static Hits Digital Revolution

 Rising Sun Sets on Costello

 Terror Telegraphs New Era

 Dust Storm Greets Hardie

 Psych Nurses Seek Safety

 Work Bad for Your Health

 Govt Lays Death Track

 Howard Slugs Battlers

 APHEDA Wins Award

 Feds: Freedom Is Slavery

 Free Trade Fun Day

 Activists Whatís On!

C O L U M N S

Postcard
A Voice for Peace
Palestinian trade union leader calls on militants to lay down their arms while the ICFTU protests harassment of Palestinian union leader.

The Soapbox
The Double Standard Bearers
Nicholas Way argues that when it comes to collective action, the Howard Government has different views depending on whether you are a unionist or a small business.

The Locker Room
The Fine Print
While the result mightnít be everything, it does make the back of the newspaper more interesting, as Phil Doyle reports.

Politics
The Westie Wing
Ian West crunches the numbers in Macquarie Street and finds virtue in deficit.

L E T T E R S
 Tom is UN-Amazed
 Organís Manslaughter Pics
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

End of the Casual Affair


The Secure Employment Test Case that kicks off in the coming week in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission will be an important test of how far down the path of labour market deregulation we have travelled.

In many ways the growth in casual work has been the high water mark of this process - the creation of a class of workers without security of employment and its related basket of rights.

It is true that the 'flexibility' of the modern labour market has been positive for some - for students and working mums juggling varying commitments, the expansion in jobs that do not require a life long commitment works.

But for every foot loose worker there are many others trapped in the cycle of tenuous employment, working multiple casual gigs to make ends meet; without access to holidays, to sick leave or regular hours of work.

Many also find it hard to get loans for cars and homes: although some banks have recognised the sham for what it is - lending to casuals who have can show regular income for 12 months - notwithstanding the threat of instant dismissal!

So what is the union movement seeking? Three simple principles that we believe will give casuals some basic rights while recognising the need for labour market flexibility:

(i) the right for casual workers to be offered permanent employment when they have worked regularly for more than six months.

(ii) the right for labour hire workers to be paid the same rates of pay as workers employed by the host employer.

(iii) employers contracting work out must offer existing workers alternative employment with the contractor - at the same rate of pay.

The aim of all these measures is to ensure that shifts from permanent jobs are for genuine productivity reasons and not crude cost-cutting measures.

And the response of the bosses? Rather than argue the merits they have attempted to filibuster the case - 200 plus affidavits designed to give the Test Case the sort of permanency they won't give their workers.

The employers strategy of snowing the case shows their fear of this it and is a tacit admission of their reliance on casuals and contracting out to reduce wages costs.

They know that a decision that delivers some form of security to workers will effect their bottom line - proving the union argument that casual work is no longer about peaks and troughs in the labour market but about profit maximisation.

The fact the Carr Government is siding with employers on some of the key arguments is disappointing, but shows that it too has been seduced by crude economics that puts budgets ahead of the lives of workers.

What should give all casual workers some comfort is that the strident opposition shows just how effective - and ground-breaking - the measures the union movement is seeking are.

Yes, Federal Labor has promised a similar plan to allow casuals to convert to permanency nationally, but only through giving unions the power to negotiate such arrangements through the award system.

This case goes further - it will endeavour to establish some firm principles around employees rights to permanence and build some rigour into the process of contracting out.

As such it will be an important statement of our preparedness to put money ahead of people's lives or whether we have, in the NSW IRC, an institution that has the vision to build a more humane workplace for the 21st century.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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