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Issue No. 226 25 June 2004  

US Forces
The concerted and increasingly personal campaign by the Howard Government to portray Mark Latham as anti-American is built on some dodgy premises.


Interview: The New Democrat
Canadian activist Judy Rebick explains how she's using lessons from Brazil to rebuild the labour movement.

Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Prime Minister John Howard is in California spruiking the "merits" of this month’s Bad Boss nomination …

Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
International capital demands guest labour – legal or illegal – as a way of beating down wages and conditions and, as Jim Marr discovers, the Australian Government seems happy to oblige.

Industrial: National Focus
Noel Hester reports on another workplace death (we-will-not-RIP NOHSC), heartburn for the Canberra consensus and all the action from around the states in our national wrap.

History: A Class Act
The problem of forgetting the primacy of class in favour of other ideas of community is highlighted in a new book, writes Neale Towart

International: Across the Ditch
NZ Nurses Union leader, Laila Harré, is in Sydney this week, comparing notes with the Australian Nurses Federation and seeking transTasman support for New Zealand’s highest profile industrial campaign.

Economics: Home Truths
Sydney University's Frank Stilwell argues that tax policy is driving the housing boom.

Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
The Day After Tomorrow is one part Grim Reaper of the environmental movement and two parts fictitious fable dramatically window dressed with extreme special effects, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Silent Note
Resident Bard David Peetz uncovers the current public service motto – "Don't tell the Minister!".


 Hadgkiss Sinks Boot into Safety

 Put a Job in Your Trolley

 Della Puts Cleaners Through Schools

 Freespirit Severs "Slavery" Link

 Luna Fringe Targets Fun

 Labour Warriors Fall

 Canberra Six in Dock

 Lobbyists Look for ALP Spine

 Tree Plan Faces Axe

 Sydney Water to Drip Feed Public

 Safety Nosedives At JetStar

 Irritable Desks on March

 Howard Backs Union Model

 Activists What’s On!


The Soapbox
The Pursuit of Happiness Part I
The Australia Institute's Clive Hamilton questions the assumptions underlying a society that defines happiness in dollar terms.

The Soapbox
The Pursuit of Happiness Part II
Clive Hamilton concludes his analysis, looking at how more and more Australians are pulling back from a marketplace that is no longer providing the goods.

The Locker Room
Sack ‘Em All!
Phil Doyle puts his job on the line, but doesn’t everyone these days?

The Westie Wing
The NSW Government has an agenda on the table but the test is finding innovative ways to finance it, writes Ian West

 Lest We Forget
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Freespirit Severs "Slavery" Link

Months of AMWU pressure have convinced the WA "slave labour" rort company to cut ties with programs organised by the state’s powerful Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"The company only entered into this area on the invitation of the CCIWA (Chamber of Commerce and Industry, WA). Freespirit will not get involved with any of these programs again," managing director, Paul Rigby, pledged this week.

The decision followed AMWU claims that 29 skilled tradesmen had been imported from South Africa and paid effective rates as low as $8.60 an hour.

The pipe fitters, welders and boilermakers walked off sites around WA two months ago to protest their treatment.

One boilermaker said he was earning $13 an hour at Port Hedland, after deductions, alongside Australians on $44 an hour.

He likened his situation to "slavery".

The AMWU has been urging Freespirit to cease "exploitation" which secretary Jock Ferguson said "undermined every agreement and every worker in Australia".

Rigby signalled his agreement, through public relations agency RHK, as lawyers for the labour hire outfit granted the union access to wage records.

But neither Rigby, nor anyone else from Freespirit, was available to defend claims the eight paragraph press release was so full of inaccuracies it cast doubt on the company's real motivation.

AMWU organiser Steve McCartney took issue with the following Freespirit assertions ...

- "his company had attempted to be open and negotiate in good faith ..."

The truth, McCartney says, is that for more than a month Freespirit refused to negotiate at all. It hired a law firm and a spin doctor and conducted all discussions through those agencies. It categorically refused to deal with the South Africans as a group.

- "An audit has been conducted which found that the company had done nothing wrong."

McCartney says an internal examination resulted in Freespirt offering individuals settlements of between $900 and $4000 a head. It has subsequently demanded that every South African sign a new contract that seeks to indemnify Freespirit from any action arising from their employment in Australia.

- "A number of tradesmen have been offered jobs with other people in Australia but none of them want to leave us - so we can't be doing too much wrong," Mr Rigby said.

McCartney says South Africans are hamstrung by immigration regulations that prevent them working for a minimum of 28 days while alternative sponsorships are processed. Even so, at least two of their number - Ronald Oliveira and Ian Potzeiter - have already accepted alternative sponsorships.

- "Mr Rigby said Freespirit would honour all its obligations to the South African tradesmen ..."

South Africans have told Workers Online they were promised their wives and children would be able to join them once they began employment in Australia. McCartney says Freespirit is now tying applications for family visas to signing new contracts, including indemnities, with a wholly-owned Freespirit subsidiary.

Workers Online wanted to put each of those claims to Rigby but was told he would be unavailable. The person we spoke to at Freespirit also refused to supply a mobile phone number, or contact details for the company's Perth-based pr company.


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