NSW Industrial Relations Minister Jeff Shaw opened the shop, which will house legal and workers compensation advice, free internet access for union members, merchandise including a range of books from Pluto Press and a recruiting centre for the Olympic Games.
Labor Council secretary Michael Costa says it's a symbolic move from the tenth floor of Sussex Street to ground level and will provide a public face for the union movement.
Costa says the Shop will become a nerve centre in organising campaigns as well as a point where members can get information about their rights.
Organiser of the Year
To mark the opening the Labor Council has announced it will sponsor a $2000 Organiser of the Year competition.
The award will be given to the best story about workplace organising submitted to Workers Online over the next 12 months.
Union officials, organisers, delegates and rank and file members from anywhere in Australia will be eligible for the prize, which will go towards air travel expenses to work with a trade union overseas.
To enter, submit your article on workplace organising via email to: [email protected].
Compo and Industrial Advice
Labour Law firms have backed the Shop and will mount a major advertising campaign to encourage workers to use it as a reference point for industrial and compensation advice.
The move follows the explosion of compo cowboys who have been undercutting reputable firms with promises of massive payouts to injured workers.
Labor Council safety watchdog Mary Yaager says the Union Shop should become synonymous with competent and experienced legal representation for workers.
"If you are unlucky enough to get injured at work, the last thing you need is the legal runaround," she says. "This service should ensure all workers get decent advice when they need it."
Olympic Placement Service
The Shop will also become the home of Unions 2000, a major initiative by the Labor Council to help place union members and their families in work for the Olympics.
Labor Council's Chris Christodolou says Unions 2000 will work with labour hire firms to find workers to fill the estimated 50,000 short term jobs for the Games period.
For a small fee, workers would secure representation through Unions 2000 which would operate with the support of unions that cover the relevant industries.
The project will target workers whose businesses close down for the Games, family members of existing union members and young unemployed people.
Rejecting tourism industry claims that more than 8,000 workers will need to be imported for the Games, Christodolou says the industry has a responsible to train Australians to ensure they benefit from the event.
The Labor Council this week unanimously adopted the resolution, which stresses the importance of union control of information and membership lists. It also demands that all content on the site should be consistent with trade union values.
The Council has also decided to engage Sean Kidney from Social Change Media as a consultant to assist in assessing the proposal.
The full text of the resolution reads:
Resolution on the ACTU's Internet Proposal
The Labor Council notes that the ACTU is currently negotiating an internet-related proposal with Steve Vizard's Virtual Communities.
The Council itself has a long history of innovation in this area through its LaborNet proposal, and welcomes internet initiatives that will improve the organising effectiveness of unions and will benefit members. Council looks forward to the opportunity to consider the proposed proposal.
In assessing any proposals related to the internet, Council will use the following criteria:
1. That the proposal extends the labour movement's capacity to represent the interests of existing members and organise new members;
2. That the proposal will enable union delegates and union organisers to become more effective in the critical union activities such as organising;
3. Given that the vehicle for communication with members (eg a portal) will be the most critical channel of service delivery, that any content must be consistent with labour movement values, and any union related information must be controlled by unions;
4. That any commercial proposal that depends on access to union membership recognises the full value of such access;
5. That any net profits earned are re-invested in union organising;
6. That any commercial agreements signed with outside parties allow for the labour movement to, in any event, retain control of:
- any union membership information held by the outside party
- any union-generated information and content held by the outside party.
7. It is fundamental to any internet proposal that outside parties unequivocally acknowledge that union members participating in any commercial activities remain first and foremost union members and their respective unions will determine the nature of access/content offered;
8. That outside parties will acknowledge that in the event of termination of any commercial arrangements, whether mutual or not, direct commercial contact by the outside party will cease and membership data will be returned to the member's union and no further use be made of this information.
9. That any outside parties dealt with ensure that appropriate union industrial agreements are in place including support for union membership.
That the Labor Council of New South Wales believes it needs to draw on specialist expertise in assessing the ACTU's internet-related proposals. Accordingly, the Council proposes engaging Sean Kidney of Social Change Online as a consultant to provide such advice.
ASU Administrative and Clerical Branch state secretary Michael Want says the NSW IRC should look into whether employers are matching the flexibility they demand from their workers.
And he wants union members to be aware of the company's attitude and that of its parent company Goodman Fielder when purchasing goods at the supermarket.
The call follows outrage over Steggles decision to threaten mother of three Kym Wood with disciplinary procedures if she did not start work at 6.30am despite having reached agreement with workmates to facilitate a later start.
Ms Wood had been unable to find early morning childcare in her area when the company moved forward the starting time for its telemarketting staff.
In a meeting with Labor Council and ASU officials this week, the company agreed to allow Ms Wood to start work at 7.30am until an on-site meeting is held this week to discuss flexible work practices.
Steggles has also offered to provide Ms Wood an in-house child minder each morning for the cost of $8 per hour - well below the minimum award rate of pay for child care workers.
Reporting back to Labor Council delegates this week, Want said Ms Wood had been inundated with support from around the country.
"The thing that management has refused to acknowledge through the dispute is that their employees are people," he told delegates. "They're treating their workers the same way that they treat their chooks."
Rail Bus and Tram Union state secretary Nick Lewocki has called on State Labor backbenchers to intervene in Caucus to roll Transport Minister Carl Scully or face the withdrawal of union support at future preselections.
The blue centres around plans by CountryLink to outsource customer service jobs to the lowest bidder to save a measly $3 million.
Lewocki says he's been informed that a private consultant has benchmarked labour costs against workers in South Australia, where workers were forced to sign individual workplace agreements that reduced their wage rates and conditions of employment by 40 per cent.
He says it's an outrage that a Labor Government was using Liberal states as the benchmark for its workers, when the low rates are the result of anti-worker industrial relations policies they purport to oppose.
And even there, Lewocki says the Kennett Government's privatisation of public transport in Victoria provided for the protection of railworkers' conditions of employment as part of the privatisation.
The RBTU has resolved to campaign against these anti-worker proposals both industrially and politically - including using October's state conference to call Carr and key Ministers to account.
Backing Australian Workers Union state secretary Russ Collison's call for Labor MPs to be forced to commit themselves to the labour movement before receiving any further support, Lewocki says it's time for all Labor MPs to stand up to the economic rationalists running this government.
"It's time for a backbench revolt," he says. "It's time for Labor MPs who rely on our vote to realise that it's now their jobs that are in jeopardy."
But Labor Council secretary Michael Costa has cautioned that the "devil would be in the detail" of any proposal and that it was too early for workers to celebrate victory yet.
And he's warned the government that a grassroots campaign in support of workers like the Oakdale miners would continue if it squibbed on genuine reform.
Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith issued a media release this week, stating he had discussed the issue of workers entitlements, and specifically an insurance fund, with the Australian Democrats.
He was quoted on ABC radio as saying: "The government does, as a general view, think that something needs to be done, that we do need to have a fair system."
"The reports that the government is considering an insurance or trust fund shows that it can no longer deny the basic question of justice at the heart of the issue.
Mr Costa said he hoped the Australian Democrats' constructive involvement in the issue of workers entitlements would set the standard for their approach to negotiations over Reith's second wave.
"Workers should remember that under his Second Wave, Mr Reith would take away a lot more than he is purporting to give them with respect to worker entitlements."
Federal Labor's industrial relations spokesman says the moves by Reith come too late for the Oakdale miners who were thrown out of work owed millions of dollars.
Bevis says the Labor Party has had legislation before the Parliament since March 1998 to address the issues that Minister Reith is only now talking about.
"For the last 18 months this Government has refused to allow these to be debated," Bevis says.
Labor Council is planning a major rally against Reith's second wave for August 24. See next week's issue for more details
FSU state secretary says Geoff Derrick says there are concerns about the attitude to NRMA staff by Members First, the team headed by Nick Whitlam, which is backing demutualisation.
The union commissioned the survey to get an indication how its members working within the organisation would be effected - particularly on the crucial issues of job security, permanent employment, customer service levels and support for collective agreements and awards.
With the competing teams in the NRMA ballot all courting trade union endorsement, Derrick says it's important that these issues are clearly on the table before any team gets the stamp of approval.
"Members First may have some great Labor names like Whitlam and Keating on its ticket, but before anybody is endorsed by union members we must be certain about their commitment to NRMA workers,' he says.
Ballot papers will arrive at NRMA members homes this week. Derrick has asked all members to hold on to the ballot papers until the outstanding issues are clarified.
As the dispute enters its second week, rank and file members have been receiving daily updates on the progress of negotiations from the Fire Brigade Employees' Union home page.
With senior officials caught in the Industrial Relations Commission most days, the new modes of communications has allowed them to maintain contact with members, trade unions and the media.
When the union agreed to suspend industrial bans, the information - and reasons behind the decision - were broadcast over the Net. When talks broke down, the bans were reimposed, again by a virtual order.
The FBEU has pioneered the use of Internet communications, with most fire stations having net access and members being comfortable with the technology.
As the dispute loomed, the union placed relevant background material such as comparisons between firefighters income protection and that enjoyed by state politicians on the net, for both members and the media to refer to.
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Mark Robinson, who has been covering the dispute, says the use of the Internet has been a revelation.
"It's another source of information - it means you don't have to constantly call union officials for updates at difficult times, particularly during a big dispute."
A mass meeting of fire fighters today rejected a state government offer and have reimposed bans of the weekend, meaning that firefighters employed since 1985 will not answer emergency calls. At press time, the Union and the government were before the Industrial Relations Commission.
by Zoe Reynolds
Until the investigation is complete, we can not say. But the Maritime Union is concerned this system of exploitation, even on an otherwise new and national flagged vessel and the resulting disaster, may be an oracle the Howard Government chooses to ignore.
At this stage rather than blame the workers (Italian officers and Filipino ratings), or jump on the Shell bandwagon and spread rumours of sabotage, the MUA has chosen to point the finger at Canberra, where the Government has for some time been thinking of emulating the Laura D'amata model. Yes, the Howard Government wants to allow shipowners to employ foreign labour on our ships, tugs, ferries and oil facilities. As well they would also allow ship's crew to replace Australian wharfies, loading and unloading vessels in our ports - legislation largely drafted by Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith. And while waiting to push the legislation through parliament they have been withholding funding to the Australian shipping industry so that one by one Australian ships are undercut by substandard operators and sold off to flags of convenience.
Indeed the oil spill in Sydney Harbour was both predictable (as the MUA has illustrated for the past three years) and inevitable, given the Federal Government policy of promoting foreign flag shipping at the expense of Australian shipping.
"The Laura D'amato was a shipping and environmental disaster in the making - a foreign flag vessel, with a third world crew of convenience. It was about as Italian as fried noodles," said MUA Deputy National Secretary Paddy Crumlin. "Last night's debacle is just another example of how cheap, cost-cutting measures can backfire."
Before the decline in Australian shipping, brought about by the vacuum in government funding, Australian harbours were largely insulated from maritime disasters. Indeed before the election of the Howard Government Australian shipping policy had been bipartisan and in the national interest - whether economic, environmental or social. "Now we have a government that has suspended all funding to the industry and is advocating abolishing cabotage which restricts foreign vessels carrying our domestic coastal trade," said Mr Crumlin.
This is despite a recent international study by Cardiff University in Wales which put Australian seafarers as the most highly trained and skilled in the world - even out-ranking European crews. It is also despite two government sponsored reports recommending reinvestment in the Australian shipping industry and US research which shows that fraudelant certification in the developing countries is rampant.
In his speech at the Whitlam Lecture Series in August 1997 Captain Bill Bolitho former head of ANL, the once government owned Australian shipping line, cited Professor David Moresby of the Institute of Marine Studies at the University of Plymouth, as demonstrating "that for $US300 it is possible to purchase a master's certificate perfect in every detail, except that the name is left blank for you to fill in. Mr Bolitho said approximately 20 per cent of the world's seafarers are now from the Philippines and ...90 per cent of them are sailing on worthless papers..."
Sadly until the government comes to its senses and reverses its policy of sabotaging Australian shipping and seafaring we will continue to see our coastlines, our harbours and our communities threatened by third world standards in shipping. It is ultimately Canberra's responsibility.
Seems Carlton was shown the door after beginning an interview with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the pretence of being open-minded, then preceded to launch an aggressive and insulting attack on the TM movement.
The TM hysteria has been whipped up by the self-styled Friends of Currawong, who mask personal interest in maintaining the Pittwater retreat as their private playground with allegations against the TM organisation.
The well-connected friends have sponsored hostile articles in the Sydney Morning Herald (via Strewth magazine's winner of the Most Earnest Bastard of the Year Award, Adele Horin, the Daily Telegraph's "workers' advocate" Piers Akerman, the Financial Review's Julie Macken and 2UE's legend in his own drive time, Mike Carlton.
Interestingly, all of these journalists have had a personal interest in the issue, being either Currawong users (Horin) or Pittwater residents (Macken, Carlton and Akerman).
So now for Sixty minutes. And no prizes for guessing one of the chief Currawong opponents has openly boasted about her ability to generate negative media with her mates at the Nine Network.
At the end of the day none of these elite advocates has been able to explain why the Labor Council should not use its assets to promote training and organisation to revive the floundering union movement.
Instead they have attacked the Council's proposed business partners, attempting to scare them off their private playground. Worse, they have employed the sort of intolerant attitudes and rhetoric to difference that progressive movements have always decried.
by Deirdre Mahoney
The Standing Committee on Social Issues, led by Labor MLC Jan Burnswoods, is inquiring into whether all NSW laws should be changed so that wherever "de facto" appears, the definition will include same-sex, as well as opposite sex, partners.
This would clear up confusion over matters like work entitlements and leave, and would hopefully lead to reform on superannuation. Even the Anti-Discrimination Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of homosexuality, doesn't define same-sex relationships within "marital status". This means that cases where same-sex partners who work in the same workplace ask to be rostered onto a married shift, as in the case of two Qantas stewards a few years ago who wanted to be posted on overseas runs together so they could see each other, but were refused because they weren't seen as married, are strictly legal because the phrasing of the law neglects to protect the employee.
The witnesses stressed the insidious nature of the discrimination. The male union member told the committee how his promotions had suddenly dried up when he began bringing his partner to work functions. The fact that this was due to homophobia and not work performance was obvious because he continued receiving bonuses of $4000-$5000 each year.
The woman told of new colleagues being warned against associating with her, because "it wouldn't be good for their careers for them to be seen talking to me". Both had been left out of functions like morning teas and lunches, and their sexuality had been discussed by others while they were absent.
But the male rep told stories of hope as well. When a former Cardinal of Sydney forbade any Sydney Catholic priest from giving communion to gay and lesbian parishioners, a priest flew in weekly from Goulburn. The union rep and his partner of 21 years had their relationship blessed by a Catholic priest more than 20 years ago.
The Government recently passed the Property (Relationships) Legislation Amendment Bill 1999, which clears up a limited number of issues, mainly in relation to property.
by Janet Parker
Dita's arrest in July 1996 resulted from her leading a demonstration of some 20,000 workers from 10 different factories in Surabaya, East Java. She was charged with "disturbing public order and security".
Dita is already well-known among some Australian trade unionists as a result of her address to the 1994 Indian Ocean Trade Union Conference as President of the Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggle (PPBI).
This time, Dita will be representing a new worker confederation, the Indonesian National Front for Worker Struggle (FNPBI) which held its inaugural congress in May, electing Dita as its president. Also on tour during August is Romawaty Sinaga, head of the International Relations Department of the FNPBI.
The FNPBI has adopted a number of national campaigns. They are: 100% wage rise, the lowering of prices, an end to all sackings, heavy penalties for offending employers, freedom for all political prisoners, an end to the political role of armed forces, an end to violence in politics, establish a transitional government, an end to violence and oppression in Aceh and a free and fair referendum for the East Timorese.
Dita believes that her early release was related to a military attack on a peaceful protest outside the General Election Commission in Jakarta on July 1 in which seventy-six people were badly injured, many of them hospitalised. Following extensive international and national media coverage of the Indonesian military's brutality, the regime needed to try a face-saving gesture.
The Labor Council of NSW will host a reception for Dita Sari at 4.30pm on Monday, August 16 and Dita will address a public meeting at 7pm that same day at the Trades Hall Auditorium, 4 Goulburn St, Sydney.
by David Chin
The perversely titled Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (More Jobs, Better Pay) Bill 1999 has excited opposition from groups as disparate as pensioners and students, lawyers and academics, doctors and unions.
This groundswell of opposition signals a growing fatigue from the broader national and international community with the Howard Government's continued assault on the unions and workers rights in this country.
The Australian National Committee of the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) is building on the ILO's recent finding that the Workplace Relations Act is in breach of international labour standards.
ICTUR is preparing for the coming Senate Inquiry into the Bill and will draw upon the expertise of Professor Keith Ewing from the University of London, who is currently visiting Australia. Professor Ewing was a key architect of the post-Thatcher labour relations reforms introduced by the Blair Government in the UK.
"Having the assistance of people like Professor Ewing and John Hendy QC of the London and Sydney bar will be a great advantage in our efforts to persuade the Senate that it must not let this obnoxious piece of legislation get through. We are determined not to let Australia become more of an international outlaw than it already is, courtesy of Minister Reith" said David Chin, Secretary of ICTUR.*
Also, the Community Action Group (CAG) was originally formed to oppose the introduction of a GST and has now turned its attention to the Reith Bill. Composed of members from the pensioner's association, students, retired trade unionists and others the CAG is mobilising to oppose this further attempt to disable unions.
The CAG has organised a public forum on this issue to be held on Tuesday 10 August 1999, at 6.00pm, at the Government Transport Social Club, Regent Street, Chippendale. At this forum, entitled "Defend Our Unions - Defend Our Services", there will be speakers from the Parents & Citizens Federation of NSW, ACOSS (Michael Raper), the Doctor's Reform Society (Con Costa), and the CFMEU (John Sutton).
Lawyers based in Sydney are also working on detailed submissions for the Senate Inquiry into the Reith Bill later this year.
Jim Nolan, a Sydney barrister, said "A group of concerned lawyers are getting together to prepare arguments against the Bill to amend the Workplace Relations Act, focussing on breaches of basic Human Rights standards."
* ICTUR will have its Annual General Meeting in Melbourne on Thursday, 12 August 1999, followed by a dinner at which Professor Ewing and Dita Sari will speak. Dita Sari is a leading Indonesian trade unionist recently released from prison, having served 3 years of a 5 year sentence for inciting Indonesian workers to strike for better pay and conditions. For details contact David Chin by email at: mailto:[email protected]
Hi Workers On-Line
This letter is regarding the new Country Labor scheme. Does anyone in the city know what we in the country who have been members of the Australian Labor party for years, really want. We want to be treated equally not differently. We aren't mushroom who thrive on bullshit or like to be kept in the dark.
We don't appreciate being patronized on one side by Sussex Street, with this high prifile new Country Labor crap. While on the other we have the state Labor Government stab us in the back with this new Centralizing of services policy. It will see small country towns stripped of government based jobs, National parks and Wildlife etc. to boost the larger regional centres.
Why bother boosting the populations of Queanbeyans & Wagga Waggas of this world at the expense of such equally deserving, just smaller communities. In my own electorate, Eden, Bomballa and Jindabyne to name just three are being pushed to the wall as it is with the rural decline. Now we have Mr Carr's Government, a government that we in the country branches busted our guts to retain in power. This same govenment is stripping the country of needed positions and personnel. They are instituting a policy to drain those communities of Government employees to be relocated to Canberras little sister Queanbeyan, why why why.
Stuffed if I know, all the lip service in the world, and face it Country Labor is just that, wont change the way we are treated. Country labor is to be run by Sussex Street for the benefit of Sussex Street, and we in the country won't be treated any better.
If you think it will show me how, show the ALP members in Jindabyne. Show them why they should bother when they have to explain to the locals why our State Government treats them with such disdain.
ALP member in Cooma NSW.
"The only teachers with anything to fear are child abusers- a response from the NSW Ombudsman."
It is alarming the NSW Teachers Federation has chosen to generate a climate of anxiety and mistrust amongst the majority of teachers who have nothing to fear from the new child protection legislation. The Federation could have taken a responsible approach to assist teachers understand their responsibility to deal with allegations of child abuse. I refer to the article submitted by the NSW Teachers Federation in Workers Online: News:1990-Issue 20: Child Laws Cause School Camp, Sport Chaos.
The "oppressive" child abuse notification procedures, referred to in the article, have been developed by this Office to assist employees of designated agencies to understand my responsibilities and the new reporting requirements of employees under the Act. They are an interpretation of the Ombudsman Amendment (Child Protection and Community Services) Act, 1998.
The new reporting requirement of the Act is the Parliament's response to the recommendations of the Wood Royal Commission. The commencement of the Act on the 7th May 1999 followed a period of extensive community consultation, which included the Federation. The Royal Commission called for a significant overhaul of the child protection system which was clearly not working. It found evidence of maladministration, corruption and systemic failure to detect and remove from agencies, paedophiles who had access to vulnerable children.
My Office has been given certain responsibilities to reverse this appalling picture and make sure that services, used by children, also protect them. This is what the community expects.
My staff will oversight all investigations by relevant employers, such as DET, of allegations of child abuse against their employees. Our aim is to ensure they are conducted properly and to ensure employees, the subject of allegations, are afforded natural justice.
One of the tests of whether an investigation has been conducted properly is whether procedural fairness has been afforded to all relevant parties, including the accused. Ensuring employees, the subject of allegations, are afforded natural justice, will be a key consideration in monitoring investigations.
The NSW Ombudsman is here to protect the innocent, be they child or teacher, or, for that matter, anybody else who works with children. We have done our best to be fair and reasonable to all concerned for the last 25 years and see no reason why we would change now.
Teachers who act in accordance with acceptable community standards of behaviour, their own professional standards as well as Departmental Codes of Conduct and procedures need fear nothing from the Legislation. The only teachers who should have anything to fear are child abusers.
The definition of child abuse includes assault (including sexual assault), ill treatment or neglect, or exposing or subjecting a child to behaviour that psychologically harms the child. In this last situation, actual harm following the misconduct of an employee would need to be identified, before the matter could be considered an allegation of child abuse.
Any teacher with commonsense would know that the absurd scenario posed by the Federation of the boy not being chosen for inclusion "in the first XV rugby team", on its own, would not constitute an allegation of child abuse.
The Legislation also enables the Ombudsman to investigate complaints from anyone, including employees, the subject of an investigation, regarding the conduct of the investigation. Rather than feel anxious about the role of the Ombudsman in child protection matters, employees should feel reassured that all complaints to the Ombudsman will be dealt with fairly and impartially.
A recent meeting with the NSW Teachers Federation and the NSW Ombudsman clarified a number of the issues of concern to them. The possibility of certain kinds of allegations being exempted in the future from notification was discussed. The NSW Ombudsman expects that, together with the Federation, the rights of children to be protected from child abusers and the rights of employees to natural justice can be achieved.
Irene Moss, AO
12th July, 1999
Dear "Workers Online".
I have been Call Center Agent for the Citibank Telecenter in Bochum, Germany for about 6 years. I have been member of the worker`s council for about 5 years - until Citibank decided to close 6 Call Centers in Germany with about 1200 workers in June 1999.
Since August 1998, when we learned about the consequences of the merger Citibank/Travelers (possible thanks to a change of the "Glass Steagall Act" as far as we are informed) that include the rationalization of about 10500 jobs worldwide, we kept alive resistance against Citibank-policy in public and put hard stress on the fact, that the local ongoings are symptomatic for global strategies of "global players".
Even after the closure of the Telecenters we kept resistance alive. We´re planning an international image campaign against Citibank-policy (and - by the way - projects like MAI and orgabisations like BILDERBERGERs, TRILATERAL COMMISSION, CfR etc.)and are looking for persons and insitutions world-wide, who would like to participate.
This campaign is co-organized by German Union hbv, whose President is Margret Mönig-Raane, 1. Vice-President of FIET. Any contact to people, unions, private persons, that would like to contribute to our campaign with informations about outcontracting or destruction of working-places in Citicorps blue universe are welcome!
Thanks in forward,
P.S.: visit the homepage of our self-founded service-center TEKOMEDIA GmbH (http://www.tekomedia.de). As a reaction on the loss of our old company we founded a new one - we`d love to carry out services for unions, for UNI especially.
WorkCover general manager John Grayson's response to the workers comp crisis is a typical 'Sir Humprhy' reply.
In his interview last week he tried to blame workers for the financial blow-out. Workers are 'staying off work longer, in fact twice as long now,' he claimed.
This is far from the truth. The crisis we have now is a direct result of decades of mismanagement.
Employers are ripping off the system by not paying their proper share of workers comp premiums and WorkCover has not been able or willing to make them comply.
In just a block around the WorkCover Office in Kent Street, there are at least 20 builders--most of them were not paying their proper share of workers comp premiums until the unions intervened. WorkCover had it been doing its job should have make sure there was compliance.
It is easy for Grayson to blame the workers. But the fact of the matter is WorkCover has failed to do its job.
Workers in the building industry do not want to stay on compo any longer than they have to. Workers on compo for the first 26 weeks get only their EBA rates without allowances or overtime. After 26 weeks if the employer cannot find a 'suitable job' for the worker, the rate drops to 80% of the EBA. for a further 52 weeks.
After that the worker gets a statutory rate. This works out to be $272.60 per week gross for a single person. The rate goes up to $395 per week gross for a worker with a dependent spouse and child.
A building worker working overtime including Saturdays will get a minimum of $700 take home pay a week. Is Grayson trying to say a worker will forgo $300-400 per week cash to stay on compo?
Failure to make workplace safe
By taking OH&S seriously in the workplace accidents will be minimised.
However, workplace accidents have increased lately especially in the building industry because projects have been rushed through at the expense of safety.
WorkCover has failed to make sure builders comply with the OH&S Act. One of the main reasons for the failure is the lack of 'inspectors' on the ground.
Grayson did not explain why a worker might be staying off work longer. The answer could very well be the rehabilitation system is not providing the proper training for injured workers.
The rehab budget has blown-out from $10million to $50million (contributing to the $1.7 billion debt in the workers comp scheme). But there are hardly any evidence of workers benefiting from it. The bulk of the money seems to end up with the rehab providers.
The only exception is industry-based rehab providers such as the building industry's MEND where injured workers get proper training to get back to work.
Another contributing factor to the increasing debt is the medical bill--taking up about 40% of the premium dollar. Doctors treating injured workers on compo are charging three times the normal Medicare fee.
Advisory Council a farce
Grayson also gives the impression the setting up of the Advisory Council is the best thing to happen since 'slice bread.' The truth of this is the Advisory Council is nothing more than a 'white elephant.'
The Council works on consensus. Premier Carr has stated there will be no reforms without the consensus of the employers. With Carr's backing the employers have repeatedly vetoed the unions' reasonable reforms on the Council making the whole exercise a farce.
It's time for WorkCover to act
NSW has the best OH&S Act in Australia. The problem is the enforcing of the Act--WorkCover has not got the guts nor the will to fully enforce it. Had it done so there will be fewer workplace accidents and therefore less workers comp payout.
WorkCover has also failed to make employers comply with their workers comp premiums.
Grayson knows the only way to get compliance is to throw the book at the employers. This can be achieved by adopting the CFMEU's industry based workers comp proposals.
by Peter Lewis
What's going on in terms of policy formulation at the moment - particularly within your area of industrial relations?
The shadow ministry has established a series of committes that quite rightly have pretty broad terms of reference. For example, the committee that deals with industrial relations and living standards also deals with economic matters, Treasury matters, education and training questions, social security questions and regional development because they are all inter-related. Getting one right doesn't mean necessarily that what you get at the end of the process works. You actually do have to have all those policy arms working together. So there's a development process within the Ministry and the Caucus. We've now established the Party's policy committees and they'll be gearing up to meet towards the end of this year with the National Conference in the middle of next year. So I'm working on the basis of having a document available very early next year for those in the Party and those with an interest in industrial relations.
The notion of integrating IR into these broader areas reflects a shift in itself away from the monolithic system that's been an article of faith for labour. Is this a sign that Labor won't be turning back the clock to the sort of system we had at the beginning of this decade?
I think the important principles which have always underpinned our approach to industrial relations remain the same. What this new policy structure does is recognise that increasingly the world is more complex. It doesn't matter whether we are talking about industrial relations, or industry policy or social security, none of those are able to stand alone in the complex society in which we are operating now. So the fundamental principles we have held to in industrial relations remain important, the challenge for all of us in the labour movement is to ensure that those policies are translated into workable models that do actually deal with the challenges in the 21st century. As with any other policy, to pretend you can address the needs of 2008 by looking at 1998 is a pretty poor effort and isn't going to work. I've been involved in industrial relations directly since the mid-70s and I grew up with industrial relations through the sixties - my father was secretaty of the Transport Workers Union for 20 years - so I have had a pretty close observation of the way IR has behaved and it's gone through a whole lot of transformations and it will go through a lot more in the coming decades.
And has your personal view shifted over that time?
Well, it has in a number of ways, I guess. In some of things that stand in my mind also go to my experiences as a union official. I can well remember going to a TUTA course in 1977 and at that time there had been a big dispute in the newspapers. One of the guest lecturers was one of the PKIU union officials, so we were pretty revved up to hear the wisdom this guy who had just come form the battle, He actually left a significant mark on my thinking of how these things were done. We did a role playing exercise - half union, half employers negotiating the issue out. When we sat down and realised what we had done on the union side - we realised we had cost them a fortune which would take years to recover in lost salary and other problems. The company negotiators would be lucky to have a company left. And the notion of sitting back and looking what you had actually achieved after going through the process left a big impression on me. Things like that changed my attitude.
When I started as a union official in 1977, the standard process for wage determination was the National Wage Case. There were wage leaders and in some cases it was the metals, in others transport. I've been through that, I've been through the trade-offs, I've been through the Accord stuff and each of those models had a benefit for the times. But we're kidding ourselves if we think we can develop a model for 2010 by trying to resurrect the models I entered as a union official in the 1970s.
The orthodoxy is that the clever country that Kim Beazley pushes with education and training, also requires a free and footloose labour market. That's really the challenge to meet this argument that was started by the HR Nicholls Society in the 1980s. Your role is to challenge that, but how can you wrap it into a message that resonates?
I don't agree with the premise that the development of skills which is critically important for our nation requires a footloose, deregulated environment. increasingly people, not just in politics but in business are coming to the opinion that that's not the way you get results. It's interesting to see someone like George Soros, who's one of the richest people in the world and who Mahatir blamed for the Asian crisis, who for the past three years has been writing articles that in the post Cold War era the greatest threat to free and open society is capitalism. He is now a strong advocate of regulation and tempering the forces of the market with social and justice considerations. So there's a recognition amongst some people at the highest levels of the corporate world that the laissez fare approach that the Liberal party here continues to foster as the only solution to economic growth is simply wrong. Worse than wrong it's actually destructive to the fabric of our society. critical issues like job security mean that each year goes by and job security gets worse.
And now we have the compounded problem that people are not only worried about their job security, they're worried that if they lose their job they might not even get their entitlements,. You have Oakdale situation to which this Prime Minister has responded on a number of occasions, that that's OK because it's money that is used for investment. The Liberal Party seems to think that workers entitlements in these situations are some sort of interest free unsecured loan. So there's a lot of areas where there is a need for regulation. And one of things that gets under my skin when I hear people in the business community run the laissez faire line in relation to workers is that they have a totally different view in relation to their own companies. If small business have a problem, or when politicians in the Liberal Party think a big corporation is doing the wrong thing they're the first people to run off the ACCC or somewhere else to gain protection for these small operators.
But that's a fundamental point that Howard and conservatives run. That is you make it harder for investment you end up hurting the workers. So any initiatives to protect workers rights in the short term actually hurt them in the long run . How do you argue with that?
Winning investment for Australian business and particularly new venture capital is a major problem, but you don't solve it by stealing workers money. Because that's actually what is happening, this is money that is the workers' legal entitlements, And if John Howard is so worried about that, why doesn't he let them take the group tax payments - instead of taking the group tax of their employee let them play with that as an interest free loan. He doesn't do that and the Tax Office doesn't do that, no other creditors allow their money to be dealt with like that. And workers are entitled to their payments. That is a totally bogus argument. The need for investment capital is important but you don't steal workers' money to get it.
That leads into the broader question of to what degree must government pander to big business in the name of creating more jobs? How for, instance should a Labor Government deal with an anti-union firm like Rio Tinto?
Obviously companies like that who have an unacceptable attitude to industrial relations are not going to be banned. But as incidents arise, such as the Hunter Valley mine dispute, the government was actually a player in that process. But they were a player for negative outcomes rather than positive ones. Where you will see a difference from the Labor Government is both directly and openly in Commission hearings, directly in the way we structure our industrial relations legislation and directly in the approach we take with corporations as to how the government sees these events being properly conducted. There would be a very different message going to the company. Whether at the end of the day the company chose to adopt that view would be a matter for them, but they would be operating under a different legislative regime. It was an absolute disgrace that the Hunter Valley dispute dragged on so long and we had a full bench of the Industrial Relations Commission saying "sorry folks, keep fighting till there's no-one left standing because Peter Reith's laws don't allow us to do anything". Thankfully, the Federal Court told the Commission they had it wrong and some commonsense prevailed. But that was done directly as a result of this government's laws and with the encouragement and support of the government at the time.
Speaking about the Reith laws, we're about to kick off the Second Wave campaign. What's your simple message to the punters about why this is a bad thing?
This second wave, even more than the first wave, is designed to achieve four objectives. It's designed to destroy the Industrial Commission so it's no longer relevant. It's designed to sideline unions so they can't participate in securing or advancing workers' conditions. It's designed to put people on individual contracts - one on one negotiations of AWAs. And the combination of all that is the aim to reduce the award safety net. Peter Reith's on the record in his letter to the Prime Minister as saying minimum wages have been "too generous".
All this is about leaving workers unsupported with a reduced minimum standard at the mercy of employers' good will. There's only one answer you can give to that - you throw it out and you make sure governments like that don't get into the Treasury benches again to perpetrate that sort of disgraceful legislation. We are already in breach of ILO Conventions, the 1996 legislation has been criticised by the ILO, this Second Wave is going to put us in the Third World basket. One of the really things for Australia is that if you look through the post WWII period, whether we had a Liberal or a Labor Government our standing in the ILO has always been high. We've been regarded as one of the nations with a very good record. That has gone now in the space of three short years. The Reith legislation has put us at the bottom of the international list.
They're not bad spin doctors though, calling it More Jobs, Better Pay. How can you match that rhetoric?
You've got to hand it to them, this government's got hide. After the Patricks dispute and all the rest, Peter Reith gets up and refers to the dispute as one of the great victories from his period as Minister. So calling black white is not a new thing for Peter Reith. The simple message is about job security and basic rights. Australians are entitled to some decency in the workplace, they're entitled to a government that provides balance and fairness. They have none of that now and with this Minister they have someone who is ideologically committed to reducing what are basic rights. Have a look at the things he wants to take out of awards - long service leave, he's having a second go at superannuation, he's even proposed to remove things like paid jury service. The idea of a jury with 12 of your peers judging you is a fundamental part of our society. We're now looking at entering an era where you'll be judged by 12 of your peers as long as they're rich enough to give up their job for a while. This is really insidious stuff. The simple way of characterising it, I think, is an attack on security, an attack on entitlements and an attack on basic fairness in the system. And what we need to do is restore a bit of decency to the system.
Finally, let's look into the crystal ball. Labor wins the next election, Arch Bevis is industrial relations minister. Ten years down the track, what will our industrial relations system look like?
A few things you would see as a result of that. You would see restored a genuine respect and authority for collective processes in industrial relations; that is, the right of workers to collectively organise and negotiate their conditions and seek advancement. you would see restored an independence for the Commission which it has largely lost and which the Second Wave would totally destroy. You would see the government get out of this business of political policeman in industrial relations. The Office of Employment Advocate would be abolished very early, we would not have the OEA running around building sites and other places trying to inflict a political ideology on workers and companies. One of the entertaining things, if this Second Wave goes through, is the closed shop arrangements; because if Peter Reith is going to implement his laws one of the first people he'll to send his pretend policemen to go in and knock over will be the Federal Police - the real police because they have in excess of 60 per cent membership. Then they'll have to go into all the school where those terribly seditious left-wing teachers are being cajoled into joining unions in numbers above 90 per cent. This is a circus.
The other thing you'd see a significant shift in is a role I don't think government has picked up in the past and is ignoring totally at the moment - the need to foster a better knowledge base and understanding within the industrial relations community. There are always going to be disagreements between people. That's the nature of human beings and it's what democracy is about. But we should make sure that disagreements are informed disagreements, that people know what's going on. Too many times, and I can say this having spent 13 years as a union official, there are disputes where people don't have a good enough understanding of their own constituency, let alone the attitudes of other people around the negotiating table. very often they don't have an appreciation of how the actions they are taking relate to other things that are important social and political goals and vice versa - they don't understand how outside influences impact on them. I predict government has an important role in fostering the development of that understanding and better knowledge. It doesn't happen by accident. Some unions and some comapnies have got a good record in that area, many of them don't. And it's not good enough to leave it to individuals, government needs to take a role. One of the by-products of that would be you would have far fewer disputes.
But you would still have an "industrial relations" community?
Definitely. I don't shy away from that. there are people running around saying that we shouldn't' talk about industrial relations. Peter Reith has tried to change the language to workplace relations instead - that it's just what goes on in the workplace, between the that employer and this employee. He's dead wrong. Industrial relations is much more than that - and it's more than the tripartite thing of the unions, the employer and the government. The implications of industrial relations goes into the home of every Australian worker. I'm an unashamed for the maintenance of an industrial relations community and an industrial relations science. And it dovetails into training and skills development, it links in with social security, it is an important part of how the whole economy operates. What I want to see is an industrial relations community that has an understanding about its place in the world - not just it's own constituency, but the broader consideration. We talk about the smart nation and being a clever country. It's not something that happens at the CSIRO. It has to happen with all of us and IR is part of that.
by Kursty McKenzie
For the past year Alex Warner has spent her working life playing the "what if" game. What if the millenium bug strikes our health services? What if older computers read the two-digit 00 date as 1900 instead of 2000 and causes them to malfunction or crash? What if power goes off, the water supply is cut, the lifts stop, phones fail...
As the Year 2000 Project Coordinator for South-Eastern Sydney Area Health Service, Alex is responsible for contingency and disaster recovery planning for 11 hospitals and a full-time staff equivalent of 12,000 people. The trained nurse, who moved into nursing and staff education then accreditation and quality improvement coordinating before taking on the Y2K project says that once you accept the unknowns, it's just a matter of preparing for anything and everything.
"We've had two parallel processes operating across the area," she explains. "One is the testing and rectification of all equipment to ensure Y2K compliance. In that area we're reliant on vendors and suppliers for upgrades and installation. We had hoped to be ready by the end of June, and although there are some delays, there's nothing to cause great concern. The other area is my responsibility - looking at dependency on essential services in every department in every hospital, working out what effect the loss of those services would have and what coping procedures we can put in place."
Services demanding the closest scrutiny are electricity, telecommunications, medical gases, town gas, water, information management systems and essential supplies. Based on dependency, every department is preparing a plan to be put into action in the event of the loss of any or all of the services. "Not every department has to address every service," Alex explains. "The area-wide food service, for example is dependent on town gas, but they don't have to worry about the loss of medical gas. The wards, however, don't have to address the impact of the loss of town gas, as that reliance is further up the food chain."
To settle the obvious anxieties, Alex points out that all hospitals have back up generators. During the past year, the main power has been turned off in each hospital and all these generators have been tested to full capacity on weekdays. "It has been a tremendously useful exercise," Alex says. "The emergency power operates from red power points. So staff have not only identified what is critical equipment, but they've also tested that equipment on the red power points so they know that everything will still work. Of course it would be on a reduced capacity so while the ventilators in ICU would still be working, we wouldn't necessarily have a photocopier. Most of the biomedical equipment of course has battery back-up, so it would operate even if the emergency power failed."
Other contingencies the planning has addressed include use of miners' head lamps as hands-free lighting for nursing staff in the event of a blackout, two-way radios to compensate for telecommunications problems, prioritising the distribution of water stored in the hospitals' rooftop holding tanks - operating suites, ICU and haemodialysis would take preference over areas where water is not so critical.
"We are priority customers," Alex adds. "Sydney Water would have tankers outside in hours if such a thing were to occur. In the process of this exercise, some suggestions have been knocked on the head. Storing water in sinks and baths in the wards is, for instance, not necessary as the tanks will cover us. The idea of placing medications in Eskies was also dismissed because the advice from pharmacy is that many drugs don't need refrigeration. If they do, it would be better to keep them in the fridge and reduce opening the doors than put them in an Esky where the melting ice would subject them to changing temperature."
NSW Health points out that similar programmes are underway in every Area Health Service across the state. They are collaborating with health services in other states and New Zealand to ensure patient protection in every health care organisation. "The Y2K planning has really served as a focus for preparing for all sorts of disasters - wild storms, bushfires, earthquakes and water contamination," a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Health says. "We've some experiences over the past few years to highlight the potential problems. The Victorian gas explosion, for instance, emphasised the problems of running hospitals and nursing homes in the middle of winter without environmental and water heating, or gas for cooking. Even if nothing happens from Y2K, it will have been a very useful exercise in terms of disaster preparation."
This article is listed from The Lamp, the journal of the NSW Nurses Associtaion
There is so much to say about the changing nature of our world with phrases like digital convergence, the information economy and the age of learning each seeking to express the magnitude of the transformation we are experiencing.
What are the motivators for such change? The concept of technological determinism features strongly in my policy considerations. I ask to what extent are governments capable of being effective agents of change in a world where the pace of technical and scientific innovation has become exponential? Far from viewing the role of the nation state in the globalised economy as being weakened, I have been inspired by the words of Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye. In a recent article titled 'Power and Interdependence in the Information Age' they assert that 'politics will affect the information revolution as much as vice versa'. They argue that far from the conventional wisdom that the information revolution will have a levelling effect: 'some aspects of the information revolution help the small, but some help the already large and powerful.'
To ensure that Australia has equitable access to the social, cultural and economic benefits available to our citizens through the information revolution, then policy makers in Australia would be wise to keep this thought at the forefront of their considerations.
In saying this, I am making a series of assumptions that I should share with you because they are not necessarily representative of all political parties. The first assumption is that Government accepts social responsibility with respect to the people that elect them. Secondly, that this social responsibility leads the government to use the tools of economic, industry and cultural policy to improve the quality of life of the people they represent, and of future generations. Thirdly, that to be an effective agent of change, Government must act with credibility, accountability and in the interest of the public.
My motivation is simple and can expressed very plainly: social equity, sustainable future. To me, the information age brings with it a veritable universe of opportunity in pursuing these outcomes. The changes that are occurring in the information society are too radical and the implications to great for Governments to be complacent, expedient or shallow in their approach. Forward looking, comprehensive and cohesive policies are required to build the social and economic foundations of the twenty-first century. To neglect this challenge is to relegate this country to a digital ghetto in the next millennium.
There are five critical elements:
The importance of ensuring our society is not divided into information haves and have nots must necessarily shape our policies relating to access to affordable bandwidth, the ultimate enabler. Access is the key to participation.
Opportunities in education are essential if everyone is to exercise their right to participate in the information society. Achieving high levels of participation in the information society also puts Australia in the strongest position to take advantage of the known economic benefits of a highly educated and technologically proficient workforce. This means jobs for Australians.
The information age invites economic recognition of the value of our human resource. It codifies this human capital into intellectual property, or IP. The key to harnessing the economic clout behind human capital is a system that recognises and manages ownership of IP for the purposes of reward and distribution, particularly in the digital environment where traditional property and copyright rights have no relevancy.
Creativityis one of Australia's greatest strengths: we must foster the production of digital content and software. For the first time, the internet demolishes the geographical trade barrier that has existed for physical exports and allows Australia access to a global market in digital products and services: the mega-commodities of the information economy.
If the Australian IT industry is to grow, we must utilise all our strengths whilst removing barriers to growth. How this industry develops and grows in Australia is critical to our future economic health. The imperative is a ballooning IT&T trade deficit. This indicator alone demands a political response in the form of policies designed to grow the Australian IT industry. Other industries too, are directly affected. Information technology enables our services sector, which represents 84% (ABS) of the Australian economy, to be efficient, innovative and competitive.
A Global Perspective
So far I have focussed my comments on Australia. However, as with all matters regarding 'what comes next', it is impossible and unwise to approach in a purely parochial manner. In leading up to my conclusion, I would like to have take on a more global perspective.
In the recently released Human Development Report 1998, published for the United Nations Development Program, global consumption trends including information technology usage are cross referenced with human development indicators for each nation. In the 'Action Agenda' for creating sustainable futures, pragmatic recommendations to address the entrenched inequities on a global scale are proffered:
"Privately produced public goods, such as technological innovations, need support from the state plus dynamism in the private sector to ensure that "poor people's technology" and environmentally friendly technology are produced and marketed."
It is the intelligent application of technology that can facilitate the de-linking of economic growth with finite natural resources.
I will conclude by completing the quote from Mr Naidoo at the OECD Ministerial Forum:
"So as we discuss this momentous advance of our civilisation and the emergence of a digital world economy, let us consider that this connectivity is, in fact, the greatest equaliser in the world.
But in this very world that we live in, half of humanity has never used a telephone. Yet, that access could catapult, could leapfrog the remotest rural community of this world into the leading edge of this new economy."
It is the potential for equity and a sustainable future that exists within technological progression that must be harnessed by political leaders. This is the challenge for the new millennium.
Kate will chat live with Workers Online this Tuesday at 7pm in the yap chatroom. Click below to get there
On 20 November 1998, Lufthansa Skychefs sacked 270 T&G members after six hours of a lawful, official one-day strike. Even people on sick leave or on holiday were sacked, black, Asian and white, men and women.
Lufthansa Skychefs is the world's largest airline catering company. Its parent company is Lufthansa Airlines. After T&G campaigning targeted Lufthansa, the German management accepted its moral responsibility to resolve the dispute.
Lufthansa assured the T&G that it would instruct Skychefs' London management to negotiate a settlement. But after months of delay, their only offer was to invite the 270 sacked strikers to apply for six vacancies.
'The T&G, supported by the Trades Union Congress, has launched its 'Don't fly Lufthansa' campaign. The T&G persuaded Lufthansa to talk to us in April 1999 and we'll do it again. We call for your support to win justice for our courageous members at Lufthansa Skychefs.' Bill Morris, T&G general secretary
Fairness at work
These employees were dismissed using laws introduced by the 1980s Tory government: laws in breach of International Labour Organisation conventions and widely seen as oppressive. The Labour government is changing the law to prevent the arbitrary dismissal of those on strike, in line with the rest of Europe. Lufthansa could not have sacked these employees in Germany, thanks to the strong protection German workers enjoy.
Throughout the dispute, the T&G and its members have acted legally, morally and honourably. The company has exploited unjust laws, broken promises and treated loyal employees with contempt.
Our aim is simple: to win the right of all the Skychefs workers, who have been so harshly treated, to return to their jobs.
How the dispute began
The dispute arose following a break-down in negotiations on flexible working practices. Lufthansa Skychefs refused to honour the negotiating procedure. They rejected an offer to involve ACAS, the government's conciliation service.
As a last resort the union held a ballot for a one-day strike, in full compliance with the law. An overwhelming majority voted in favour of action, but members were sacked within hours of starting their strike.
How you can help
- Send off for a Lufthansa campaign pack and join our supporter network to get regular information on activities
- Visit the T&G picket lines
- Write to Lufthansa Airlines and tell them that you are joining our 'Don't fly Lufthansa' campaign
- Booking a flight? Ask who provides the food. If it is Lufthansa Skychefs, book with another airline
- Make a donation to the T&G Hardship fund, and if you are a member of a trade union, the Labour Party or community organisation, ask them to send a donation
The T&G has received great international support from the International Transport Workers' Federation and unions in Germany, France, the USA and Spain.
Financial support is provided by T&G dispute benefit, but the strikers also rely on donations from individuals and branches. Financial support is desperately needed.
Visit the Cyber-Picket at http://www.tgwu.org.uk/news/support_skychefs.htm
The Carr government will review its policy on released prisoners in response to public outcry after the discovery that the current lax regulations allow prisoners the luxury of living in a house after their release.
Sources in the Parole Office admitted that it was common practice for prisoners to move into some form of accommodation after they are freed, although not always a house. The policy is, under review, as many critics have suggested accommodating released prisoners in jails.
The move was slammed by Kerry Chikarovski, who pointed out that little Nicole couldn't live in a house any more and therefore neither should Lewthwaite. Friends of the victim's family joined the community outcry. "Melissa used to love houses, especially corridors, bathrooms and staircases. The thought that she can no longer enjoy them is very sad, and the thought of that monster living in a house is just sickening."
Kerry Chikarovski also pointed out that Lewthwaite committed the crime in a house and that being surrounded by one again may cause him to repeat his crime. A spokesperson for the opposition leader said "If Kerry was here today she would have said that such surroundings may undo any rehabilitation that he may have accidentally received in the NSW jail system."
But Carr immediately called Chikarovski's possible statement just another example of the Opposition Leader's ignorance. "If Kerry knew anything about this state, she would know that there was no chance rehabilitation in its jail system," he said.
by Grant Michelson
Review of David Peetz, Unions in a Contrary World: The Future of the Australian Trade Union Movement, Cambridge University Press, 1998, (pbk), $34.95.
During the 1980s and 1990s the Australian union movement experienced a substantial decline in union density. The decline was significant, both in historical terms and when compared with other industrialised nations.
David Peetz, one of Australiaís leading academic commentators on contemporary union membership issues, sets out to unravel the causes for the decline, paying particular attention to such matters as changing structural features of the labour market, inimical government laws which have witnessed the erosion of collective bargaining and the concomitant ascendancy of individual bargaining arrangements, the role of the Accord, and more aggressive employer strategies. Peetz regards a change in employer and federal/state governments strategies as the most critical, precipitating what he labels a ëparadigm shiftí or "institutional break" in the determinants of Australian union membership.
This development is not to suggest, however, that the explanation for the decline in union density is simply external to trade union organisations. Rather, and here he pulls no punches, Peetz believes that in some cases union under-performance has contributed to the problem. For instance, where unions have failed to prevent the implementation of employer strategies. We are now in a position to introduce the central thesis of the book: that union membership is determined by changes in the environment and/or strategies of the major players (employers, governments, unions) and by the way in which these players (including unions) respond to such changes. In other words, union decline is by no means inevitable. This ëchange-responseí model of union membership is portrayed graphically on page 18. While the model includes a comprehensive range of macro, meso and micro factors to illustrate the range of forces affecting union membership, the model is far too convoluted, almost to the point of making it meaningless. Many for whom the book would be of real interest (union officers) will, like the reviewer, find the model equally difficult to access.
Notwithstanding the impressive level of research undertaken, Peetz constantly moves between different data sources throughout Unions in a Contrary World making it difficult for the reader to ëkeep upí. In addition, the presentation of figures containing statistical information seemed to be excessive. This reviewer confesses to periods of boredom while reading the book.
Problems with the general presentation and the quantitative quagmire in the book (for example, Chapter 2 entitled "Joining and Leaving Unions") should not detract from the many positives it does offer. There is a particularly interesting chapter on unions within the workplace (Chapter 6). Some important findings are that unions can arrest declining memberships by having workplace delegates, by unions rather than workers engaging in bargaining with managements and through successful cases of industrial action where this course of action was deemed necessary. In addition, factors that appear to explain effective recruitment efforts in non-union workplaces are discussed. On union amalgamations the authorís conclusion is unlikely to satisfy either proponents or opponents of the recent restructuring policy: "overall it probably has not had a great deal of impact one way or the other".
Chapter 7 presents one of the best analyses of the Accord and Post-Accord periods that I have come across. It was insightful and provides a substantial contribution to the on-going debate about the role played by such corporatist ventures for the Australian labour movement. If anything, it was spoiled by a digression into an account of the labour situation in New Zealand. Drawing a number of threads together, the concluding chapter entitled "The Future for Australian Unions" was also very good and raises a number of important issues for consideration by union officers. For example, it throws doubt on the benefit of non-traditional union services in the membership recovery process - something that many unions have (unfortunately?) embraced.
As a note of encouragement, the chapter also notes sympathy towards unions has been increasing.
Overall, this is an important book which seeks to understand the membership problems facing Australian unions. It is contemporary in content and offers a number of useful ideas for scholars, policy makers, and union officers to ponder and further distil.
Social thought? But Einstein was a scientist, wasn't he? Obviously. But he understood his work in the context of the society in which he lived. And he was deeply critical of that society.
Einstein was a socialist, but not a Stalinist.
Like many others, Einstein's politics are conveniently forgotten or hidden. The time has come to reclaim Einstein for the socialist tradition.
50 years ago in May, Einstein published Why Socialism? in a left-wing magazine in the US called Monthly Review. In a world today of war and economic crisis, his arguments are worth revisiting.
What follows is an edited version of his longish article. The full text can be found at http://www.westegg.com/einstein/
Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society-in his physical, intellectual and emotional existence-that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is "society" which provides man with food, home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labour and the accomplishments of many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word "society".
It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished -just as with ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human beings which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions and organisations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art.
The time- which, looking back, seems so idyllic- is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption. The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. The means of production-that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods-may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals. I shall call "workers" all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production.
The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labour power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. What the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists' requirements for labour power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product. Capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labour encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of the smaller ones.
The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital, the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organised political society. The members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists. Moreover, under existing conditions private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education).
Workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the "free labour contract" for certain categories of workers. But, taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from "pure" capitalism. Production is carried on for profit, not for use.
There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an "army of unemployed" almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers' goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all.
The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for instability in the accumulation and utilisation of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labour and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before. This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism.
Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilised in a planned fashion.
A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual.
The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult sociopolitical problems. How is it possible, in view of the far reaching centralisation of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?
Einstein raised these questions in the context of a world which in general regarded the USSR as socialist. The lack of workers' democracy - an essential element in socialism - indicates that Einstein was asking the wrong question. The democratic control of society, in particular the means of production, can prevent the rise of a bureaucracy.
But this an issue for another day.
Einstein. Just one of the many whose socialism our rulers hide.
John Passant is a Canberra-based writer
So said George Foreman, former heavyweight champion of the world, Ali fall guy and of late, amiable barbecue salesman.
Boxing is easy to bag. The medical evidence against it is unchallengeable. Most women hate it for its violence and its lurid voyeurism. The sport is regularly dogged by corruption. For its critics it is senseless. Just mad.
I love it. I gave it a miss for a few years after it was hijacked at its highest level by the dodgy Don King.
But earlier this year, in Auckland, I tuned into a fight between David Tua and a classy, young, American fighter. The winner would become the number one challenger for the world heavyweight crown against the winner of the Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield bout.
In classic, boxing theatre the compere announced the contenders. In the blue corner, from SOUTH Auckland, New Zeeeeeeeeland, Daaaaavid Tua.
David Tua might be a thug. But if he is, he's OUR thug.
South Auckland is Once Were Warriors country. Each year when I go back there, it looks more like an LA ghetto. State services have folded, unemployment is endemic, gangs are rife, and wealth is relentlessly redistributed from poor to rich - supervised by a nasty, heartless government. And for everyone living there David Tua's mum is a neighbour.
For the first eight rounds Tua, a one dimensional fighter with one punch - a big right - was totally outclassed by a more complete opponent. At the end of the eighth round - dead on the bell - The American dropped his hands and Tua creamed him with his big right.
The American wobbled back to his corner and when he came back for the ninth - still in cuckoo land - Tua finished him with an avalanche.
David hooked me as well.
Boxing and class
Irish featherweight champion Barry McGuigan was once asked: Why are you a boxer?
'I can't be a poet. I can't tell stories...' he replied.
Jack Dempsey to the same question:
'When you're fighting you're fighting for one thing: money.'
And Larry Holmes:
'It's hard being black. You ever been black? I was black once - when I was poor.'
After Michael Spinks won an Olympic gold medal he quit boxing and went to work scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets in a St Louis chemical factory. But the conditions in the factory were so bad he had to return to boxing.
'Heck, breathing those chemicals, I could have died faster there than in the ring,' he said.
Boxing as violence
Boxing is a high stakes sport. Death is always a possibility.
The novelist George Garrett, also an amateur boxer, had this to say about the risks and the men he met who took them:
'People went into this brutal and often self destructive activity for a rich variety of reasons most of them bitterly antisocial and verging on the psychotic. Most of the fighters I knew of were wounded people who felt a deep powerful urge to wound others at real risk to themselves. In the beginning what happened was that almost in every case there was so much self discipline required and craft involved so much else besides one's original motivations to concentrate on, that these motivations became at least cloudy and vague and were often forgotten, lost completely. Many good and experienced fighters become gentle and kind people ... They have the habit of leaving their fight in the ring. And even there, in the ring, it is dangerous to invoke too much anger. It can be a stimulant, but it is very expensive of energy. It is impractical to get mad most of the time.'
George Foreman is living testimony to this analysis. The surly, malevolent, young George from the Rumble in the Jungle was transformed by the experience of that loss into a likeable, sociable and - in his own words - a better person.
Boxing and literature
In the rich history of literature about boxing there is one writer who for me stands out - Joyce Carol Oates.
An aficionado since her childhood her 'On Boxing' is a beautiful, intelligent and insightful look at the sport:
'There are boxers who perform skilfully, but mechanically, who cannot improvise in response to another's alteration of strategy; there are boxers performing at the peak of their talent who come to realise, mid-fight, that it won't be enough; there are boxers - including great champions - whose careers end abruptly, and irrevocably as we watch.'
'(Boxing) is not just about violence but also about intelligence, cunning and strategy. It invites pain, humiliation, loss, chaos.'
'Men and women with no personal or class reason for anger are inclined to dismiss the emotion, if not piously condemn it in others. Why such discontent? Why such unrest? why so strident? Yet this world is conceived in anger - and in hatred, and in hunger - no less than it is conceived in love: that is one of the things that boxing is all about.'
Boxing and humour
'He went to school ; he's no fool. I predict that he will go in eight to prove that I'm great; and if he wants to go to heaven, I'll get him in seven. He'll be in a worse fix if I cut it to six. And if he keeps talking jive, I'll cut it to five. And if he makes me sore , he'll go like Archie Moore, in four. And if that don't do, I'll cut it to two. And if he run, he'll go in one. And if he don't want to fight, he should keep his ugly head home that night.' - Muhammud Ali.
'I was never knocked out. I've been unconscious, but it's always been on my feet. - Floyd Patterson.
'If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove. That's all I am. I live it.' - Marvin Hagler.
So, you got a problem with boxing.
Well I'll fight you sucker. I'll fight you anywhere. I don't care how big the ring is. I'd fight a chump like you in a telephone booth ....
The party marks the 30th anniversary of the 1969 case, where ACTU advocate Bob Hawke was successful in getting equal pay for equal work. He was helped by activists like Zelda d'Aprano, who chained herself to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to get her point across. Unfortunately, however, very few women did the same jobs as men, so that decision was only the first in a long march.
Probably the most landmark decision was that taken in 1972, where union advocate Ralph Willis won a new case, guaranteeing equal pay for work of equal value. However, the full bench didn't make a general ruling on how that principle was to be implemented, so it was up to individual unions to run their own cases.
The third federal decision, taken in 1985, was a disappointment. It followed a fantastic campaign, with women boarding Melbourne buses and trams bound for the Commission and paying only 67 cents of the $1 fare, because they were only making 67% of the male wage. The conductors (the Rail, Bus and Tram Union was one of the first to pay women and men equal wages) accepted the two-thirds fare! The campaigning women also followed activist d'Aprano's 1969 lead and chained themselves to the Commission.
In this third case, the ACTU used the nurses as the test for comparable worth (what is now called pay equity). It was a blow for advocate Jenny Acton and all her supporters when the Commission affirmed the 1972 equal pay for work of equal value principles, but rejected the idea of comparable worth (comparing nurses' work and working conditions with traditionally male-dominated workplaces like fire fighters and ambulance officers).
It took another 13 years before a similar case happened again, this time in the NSW IRC, instigated by IR Minister Jeff Shaw and run under Justice Leone Glynn. The inquiry worked as the ACTU's 1985 case did, by comparing the work value of traditionally female-dominated occupations like hairdressers, nurses and childcare workers with male-dominated workplaces like geology and mining. Its report, released just before Christmas, found that parties should work towards legislative change and come up with principles to ensure equal remuneration (pay plus other entitlements) for work of equal or comparable worth.
Wednesday night's celebrations will include IR Minister Jeff Shaw, Neville Wran QC who was the advocate on the first State Case to follow the 1972 decision (using the NSW Clerks Award), and Betty Spears, then deputy-president of the FCU and head of the Labor Council's equal pay committee at the time. Zelda d'Aprano and Bob Hawke are unable to attend but have sent messages of congratulations.
The event is a cocktail party, running from 6-8pm. Guests can wander through the Sydney Eccentrics and Ivor Hele exhibitions, and look at posters and film of the fight for equal pay, as well as mix with all their comrades on the fight.
Enquiries re tickets ($35 each, food and drinks from 6-8pm) to Ros Aldridge, 02-9286 1611, no later than midday, Monday, 9 August (cut-off is set by caterers).
Was the trip abroad so mood altering that the life has gone out of the old dog? Or is just that our constant scrutiny is starting to take its toll.
Of course we have a vested interest here. Having built a profile for Workers Online around Piers' excesses, we will soon become irrelevant if he mellows into just another comfortable lifestyle columnist.
Take this week's offerings. Tuesday's predictable attack on Republicans did not once mention the terms "Chardonnay set", "chattering classes" or "Paul Keating".
And his attempt to put the boot into junkies was equally as half-hearted. Sure he parroted the Premier's lines about "selfish" addicts, but where was the vitriol? Compared to his normal rantings, it was a considered piece.
Thursday was even more woeful. Bland mutterings about how cold it is in the morning when he walks the dog -- this could just as easily be the work of Adele Horin!
Or rabbiting on about how a kid who's crazy enough to be a round the world yachtsman is a role model for youth - this is the sort of stuff you'd expect from Sandra Lee, maybe even Miranda Divine. But you Piers? Please say it isn't so.
And the silly screed about over-servicing in medicine seemed more satire than comment - the thesis that bomb raids will stop people going to the doctor is good enough sport. But who is there to hate?
Like a footy legend nearing the end of his career, he's lost his impact. Where once he went for the big hits, he now appears content to brush his foes with a feather duster.
And with no-one to hate, he just ends up reading like a Mike Carleton Saturday column without the condescending sneer. For a right-wing commentator who loses his edge is nothing more than another bar-room jibberer.
Faced with the great Piers bland-out Workers Online make this public call - BRING BACK THE OLD PIERS. bring back the prejudice, bring back the hate.
Bring back the gratuitous attacks on trade unions. Bring back the prejudice against the yogi. Bring back the attacks on homosexual high Court judges. Bring back regurgitation of Howard press releases. Even lay into Frank Sartor if you have to. Just get angry.
Until you do, Pierswatch resolves to take a holiday. And if you don't change your colours quickly, we might head off for Amsterdam too. And if we go there, we will not be returning.
Pierswatch T-shirts are availble at The Union Shop - 377 Sussex Street, Sydney. Only $20
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005