Over the year the idiot factory in Canberra has thrown up some extraordinary Tools.
But none have surpassed the efforts of Charles Wilson Tuckey, a man who has for decades demonstrated consistency, dedication and application in being what can only be described as a Tool's Tool.
He began his career early as a publican in the Carnarvon where his contribution to reconciliation came at the end of a piece of steel cable, which he applied to one of his patrons during one of his notorious acts of affection.
The man who makes Bob Katter sound like an intellectual took this caring sharing attitude into public life, inflicting himself on the rest of the country using a brain that was as empty as the great sprawling Westralian plains he represents.
When the colourful Western Australian racing identity was not trying to get a family member off a traffic offence by using Commonwealth letterhead, he was railing against the South Australian government for being a bunch of dope addled hippies. Either that or he'd be off in the corner, gibbering like a crazed Howler Monkey, about how environmentalists and commos were bringing about the end of the world.
Even Dear Leader Howard had to punt Tuckey after a cabinet shuffle.
Maybe he's finally been in the sun too long or decided to change medication, but whatever it was Wilson "Iron Bar" Tuckey decided to turn 2004 into his year of Tool Virtuosity.
Wilson began the year by attacking wheelchair bound Labor MP Graham Edwards, who had both legs blown off in Vietnam.
Tuckey, a national serviceman who had too much to offer the country to actually engage in war himself, was convinced that Edwards was milking the public purse in much the same way Tuckey himself would - given the chance.
Even Howard was embarrassed by Tuckey's jealousy, which is saying something.
Embarrassment, or even reason, is not Tuckey's strong suit.
Tuckey kept up the vitriol, despite everyone else's discomfort, succeeding only in destroying the Federal Governments ham fisted attempt to do a U-turn on Veteran's policy.
While the phrase "barking mad" came to mind, the best was yet to come.
After fulminating on the rights of people to hunt down environmentalists and kill then in their sleep Tuckey got back on his feet long enough to defend poor old James Hardie.
Hardies, according to Iron Bar, had been vilified merely for lying about the fatal nature of a product they willingly marketed. For Wilson progress demands sacrifice, and if a few hundred thousand people get killed along the way in the pursuit of profit then that's the price we have to pay.
For Wilson, killing off people who are obviously members of the working classes is obviously something to be applauded - and if the death is a slow painful one by asphyxiation then all the better.
Even the Tories guts churned at the thought of defending the indefensible.
While many think that death by slow strangulation would be rather appropriate for a bottom feeder like Tuckey as luck would have it he continues to steal oxygen from his fellow human beings.
Most of us mere mortals would think it was hard to top the James Hardie effort, but not Iron Bar.
He'd just removed his foot from his mouth for long enough to take in much needed oxygen when he announced that dear Leader Howard, now that he's passed Bob Hawke's record, would now go on to pass Robert Menzies 16 year reign.
With the support of such wonderful examples of humanity as Wilson "Iron Bar" Tuckey, how could it be otherwise?
Their campaign - rallying workers, asbestos victims, councils, state governments and plaintiff lawyers - saw the building materials giant agree, this week, to open-ended funding of Australian asbestos compensation claims for at least 50 years.
The heads of agreement sets out the mechanics of how claims will be funded, starting with an upfront $250 million "cash buffer", and commits the parties to completing, and implementing, a legally-binding document by June.
Signatories to the heads of agreement are JHINV, the ACTU, Unions NSW, Bernie Banton representing victims, and the NSW Government.
The signing marked a stunning about-face from a company that, earlier this year, was telling victims it had no legal or moral obligations to them.
The man who made that statement, CEO Peter Macdonald, was replaced after a commission of inquiry found evidence he had broken laws in reconstituting the company outside Australian legal jurisdiction.
"We have a commitment by the Dutch-registered company to fund compensation claims for personal injury victims in Australia," ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, announced.
"It is an open-ended commitment and that is significant because nobody knows how many victims of James Hardie products there will eventually be.
"It's a fantastic result from a strong union campaign and a great outcome for the Australian community."
Combet has been lead negotiator over a wearying period that has seen JHINV slowly shift ground in response to community pressure.
Initially, it insisted on a statutory scheme that would have restricted victims' rights and compensation payments. By last month, it was still holding out for conditionality and substantial discounts.
The circuit breaker appears to have been state government agreement to hold an inquiry into how administrative and legal costs can be limited within the compensation process.
Combet said the heads of agreement dealt with the core concerns of victims and unions - open-ended funding to compensate current and future victims; protection of victims rights in the compensation process; and maintaining the commercial viability of the JHINV Group so it can deliver.
He said this was no time to traverse the rights and wrongs of Hardie's behaviour in the lead-up.
"We have said plenty about James Hardie and it's all on the record. Now it's time to move on," Combet said. "This is a significant step in undoing any wrong they might have done.
"The whole thing depends on the viability of James Hardie into the future and that's something we are aware of."
The agreement vindicates a number of people who were on Hardie's case years before it became a cause celebre, most notably the AMWU's Paul Bastian and former MUA official, Barry Robson.
Bastian's union drove the story into the public domain where it was picked up by the CFMEU and co-ordinated by Unions NSW.
It wasn't until businessmen in charge of James Hardie's original trust fund confirmed Bastian's core accusation they been left grossly-underfunded that NSW Premier Bob Carr put in place the inquiry that blew the lid off the corporate shenanigans.
The net present value of JHINV's funding commitment, according to financial modelling, is $1.9 billion. Actuaries KPMG estimate the present value of its asbestos liabilities at $1.5 billion.
Key elements of this week's heads of agreement include
- an open-ended funding commitment
- a buffer payment of three years, upfront, estimated at $250 million
- establishment of a special purpose fund to hold the buffer, receive JHINV payments, manage claims and pay victims
- JHINV will top the fund up yearly, based on annual actuarial assessments of its liability
- Those payments will be capped at 35 percent of free cash flow, with any shortfalls to be made up from the buffer or previous contributions. In the first year that cap will be around $70 million but it is expected to top $140 million by 2014
- There will be a minimum annual payment, set at 10 percent of free cash flow
- From 2012, there will be flexibility to enable the cap to move down, and back up, with reference to actual claims experienced and the percentage of cash flow being drawn
- The minimum term of the funding arrangement is 40 years. Then, by mutual agreement, outstanding liabilities maybe covered off by a lump sum payment. If there is no agreement at that time, between JHINV and the NSW Government, the term shall extend for another 10 years, with provision for indefinite extension if no termination agreement can be reached
- Various releases from civil liabilities for the company, its directors and officers, have been agreed
- JHINV will fund an asbestos awareness program and contribute to medical research
- The binding principal agreement will contain remedies in the event of JHINV defaulting on its obligations. It will also deal with the position of asbestos compensation liabilities in the event of insolvency
To become legally enforceable, the agreement must be endorsed by James Hardie shareholders.
The Taskforce filed writs after efforts to get its hands on the personal bank accounts of employees at Melbourne’s Concept Blue site were rejected by Justice Marshall, in the Federal Court, as "foreign to the workplace relations of civilised societies, as distinct from undemocratic authoritarian states."
Individual Multiplex employees face fines of up to $12,000 on charges of accepting payments for periods of "industrial action" and breaching disputes resolution procedures, under draconian penalties introduced by the Howard Government.
Nigel Hadgkiss' Taskforce has levelled the same charges against the CFMEU which could be fined $66,000 for backing a practice that sees sites closed for safety audits after building industry deaths.
The writs were filed less than a year after Hadgkiss told a Senate Estimates hearing his organisation did not prosecute employers for award breaches.
"These writs confirm the bias of the federal government and its taskforce," Victorian CFMEU representative, Jesse Madisson, said. "They don't prosecute employers for award breaches but they don't hesitate to go after us or our members."
State secretary, Martin Kingham, called Hadgkiss' manoeuvre a "gross abuse of power".
"I have been around a long time and seen many things but I am shocked at how far they have gone this time," Kingham said. "Effectively, they are taking individuals to court for having a meeting to organise a collection for the widow of a fellow worker."
Kingham said Melbourne practice drew attention to workplace safety, allowed workmates to pay their respects, and provided support to bereaved partners and dependents.
He said following the most recent Victorian fatality, in St Kilda Rd, the CFMEU set up a trust fund for the infant child of the dead man. That fund, and immediate assistance, was supported by collections at meetings across the city.
Since allegations, in the Senate earlier this year, that Hadgkiss' taskforce was paying teenagers for information and illegally recording conversations, the Howard government has introduced legislation to beef-up its powers.
Meanwhile, the CFMEU is urging the government to take off its blinkers and act against employers who kill its members.
National secretary, John Sutton, pointed to recent safety convictions against Baulderstone Hornibrook, arising from the deaths of building workers in South Australia and Victoria.
The company was fined $55,000 after pleading guilty to two charges arising from the Glenelg death of 26-year-old Lee Alexander. That came just months after the Victorian Magistrate's Court imposed a $375,000 fine over the 2001 death of Fred Smith.
Sutton said, taken together, the two sanctions represented 0.043 percent of Baulderstone Hornibrook's annual turnover.
"Instead of wasting taxpayers' dollars on prosecutions of workers trying to protect their safety, the Howard Government could introduce measures that forced employers to take the issue seriously," Sutton said.
Maree Cunningham was "horrified" when her policeman husband delivered the Greater Building Society’s version of "congratulations" to her bedside.
Amongst cards and good wishes from friends and family were two letters from the insurance company's human resources manager, Tim Hopson - the first confirmed she no longer had a job, and the second demanded that uniforms be returned within four days.
"The whole thing was just bizarre," Cunningham told Workers Online. "It was like going back to the dark ages when females were frightened to have babies in case they lost their jobs.
"I will fight them over this. It's disgraceful. We have to keep on top of our mortgage like everybody else."
The USU confirmed it would seek Cunningham's reinstatement through the IRC after being unable to convince the Greater Building Society its actions were unfair and discriminatory.
It is understood the company has put a gagging order on Cunningham's workmates, ordering them not to discuss her case with anyone outside the organisation.
Cunningham started with the Greater Building Society on March 1 and learned she was pregnant within three months. She knew she was not legally entitled to maternity leave but applied for unpaid leave while she recovered from the caesarean.
She told the company her husband had agreed to take extended leave from the police force to become the infant's primary carer.
Cunningham said the Greater Building Society's corporate secretary had told her he would recommend that her position be held open.
However, when Hopson became involved, her choices narrowed dramatically.
The HR supremo told her she would lose her job, and have to train a replacement.
Cunningham appealed to the general manager before bringing in the union. They have been to the IRC three times to try and get a resolution.
"I wasn't pregnant when I got the job and I didn't mean to get pregnant. It was an accident," she said, "but that's not the point. We have a beautiful baby which is great but I don't believe, in this day and age, that should cost you your job."
Wayne Nicholas threatened 30 Silverlea Community Care employees with the sack if they didn’t agree to become the state’s lowest paid disability workers.
The AWA's would have reduced conditions and removed penalty and weekend rates, taking the workers below the award safety net.
But when the ASU got Nicholas to the Federal Court he had spat the dummy and handed the centre back to the State Government for re-tender.
The Court ruled Nicholas, who had refused to even meet with workers, could not sack staff or reduce wages.
ASU organiser, Col Lynch, says Nicolas still owes staff $60,000 in back pay, because he refused to increase earnings in line with the last two state wage case decisions.
Lynch says workers have also been denied superannuation payments since April. He says client fees had also been increased at the centre to 85 percent of their disability pensions, the highest he had heard of.
The ASU is still prosecuting Nicholas in both the NSW IRC and the Federal Court.
Nicholls also runs disability centres in Bourke, the Riverina and Townsville.
Lynch says the union will be making sure the new provider increases services in line with the expectations of clients and their families.
"This is the first time Nicholas has tried to take the union head on in a small community service," says Lynch.
"All the workers joined the union and refused to sign AWAs, despite the threat of the sack five days before Christmas.
"It does show AWA's can be resisted if workers stick together."
Brett Campbell from the Barrier Industrial Council said the solidarity between disability carers, clients and families, the ASU and the local community allowed Broken Hill to keep the Workplace Relations Act out.
"This is why Broken Hill remains a great place," said Campbell.
All State Electrical Contractors went into voluntary liquidation without paying holiday pay, leaving displaced workers no prospect of being paid at all over the holiday period.
"Because the company is in voluntary liquidation, an administrator has control of all assets," says Electrical Trades Union (ETU) secretary Bernie Riordan. "This means workers will not receive Christmas pay they had been expecting to receive.
"We have been informed that until the financial situation is clarified, no moneys will be outlaid."
All State are primarily engaged in NSW construction work and the ETU has been concerned about the company's viability for some time. It moved some time ago to ensure long-term entitlements have been protected.
In the short term, however, workers have been left high and dry.
"The news is a shattering blow to many of our members, who are wondering how they will be able to afford Christmas presents for their kids," says Riordan. "The ETU has today made representation to the Administrator, Rogers Reiby, to expedite the payment of all entitlements."
Workers handling foul-smelling tax returns in Penrith raised the alarm and at least one Perth has been reported as coughing up blood.
Work on handling the hard copy returns has been abandoned while ATO and CPSU officials organise for scientists to carry out testing of the giant Penrith and Perth processing centres and, significantly, a new, cheaper paper which tax payers filled in for the first time this year.
Inside sources claim the ATO saved $700,000 on its paper bill by moving to a new, el cheapo, supplier.
The ATO has drawn down the cone of silence over its dealings on the paper market and, Workers Online understands, is refusing to divulge the source of its materials.
CPSU spokesman, Michael Tull, confirmed work on the manual returns had ceased while the outbreaks were investigated but said there was ample computer-based work to keep staff occupied.
"Our priority is to get experts in there to do the testing so we can identify the problem and ensure a safe environment," he said.
"It appears, at this stage, the paper is the problem but that is one of the things that has to be thoroughly tested. It is too early to be definitive.
"The ATO has agreed to stop working with the suspect paper until we get to the bottom of what is causing these health problems."
Tull confirmed that a Perth worker had coughed up blood and that eye, skin and other irritations, including rashes and blisters, had been reported from both centres.
Butterfield's efforts in the engine-room of the fledgling Rugby League Players Association were recognised, this month, when fellow workers named him the state's organiser of the year.
After years of wrangling with the NRL and the footy establishment, Butterfield's organisation, has signed off on the code's first collective agreement for players.
Butterfield, with over 300 games for Penrith and Newcastle under his belt, has led the RLPA over three dramatic years which culminated in a player boycott of the NRL's 2003 Dally M awards.
In the process, he has been demonised by newspapers with a vested interest in the NRL.
The Rugby League Player's Association president was amongst three finalists recognised at the Unions NSW annual dinner for outstanding contributions to workers rights.
Greg Matthews from the FBEU, and the PSA's Sharon Vassar provided tough competition for award judges.
In the last four years, Matthews has increased membership of the union in his area by 80 percent, from 1600 to 2500.
The FBEU now has a presence in every one of the 300 part time regional fire stations in the state.
Vassar was another rank and file activist who came to work at the union after organising successes in the Department of Education and Training.
This year Vassar led a membership campaign that outed "horrific" levels of bullying in the public service.
Her efforts were instrumental in the Unions NSW campaign to have employers and government departments sign up to the "Dignity and Respect in the Workplace" Charter.
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson said Butterfield did unionism the same way he played football - hard, up front and no nonsense - but with skills opponents sometimes underestimated.
"For those of us in the union movement, none of his playing day exploits can match his achievement in building a union where those before him failed," said Robertson.
"He did so, with a disparate membership and an extremely hostile employer."
"Just last week the Rugby League Players Association celebrated a comprehensive victory in securing their collective agreement."
During his acceptance speech Butterfield thanked Unions NSW's Chris Christodoulou and John Robertson for two years of invaluable assistance.
He said the agreement would never have been finalised without active support from the wider union movement.
Farrell rejected company claims his ETU hard hat presented visibility problems, arguing management spotted him from 100 metres when it called him in for a head-to-head about hats.
"Originally we had white hard hats and different groups like fire crews, security or visitors would have distinctive coloured hats," Farrell said. "Then they changed the general helmets from white to what they called 'melon', but, well, everyone could see it was pink.
"I continued to wear my white helmet until it expired and then wore the black one with the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), logo."
Management told Farrell the black hat had to go, despite the fact he had reflective stickers on it. It had even used photographs ot the man, in black, for safety promotional photos.
Farrell was told he could not return to work unless he wore a management-approved colour.
Management said it was an "equal opportunity" issue, as a staff member felt intimidated by the hat. Despite Farrell expressing concern that such an allegation must reflect upon him personally, he was assured, no, it was the hat.
"They were clutching at straws," he said.
When Bluescope tried to evict Farrell he could not be found. Later, because it had switched off his swipe card. The locked out employee had, in fact, been locked in for the night.
The ETU workplace rep says that his black hard hat is a communications tool.
"Anyone that had concerns knew I had a sympathetic ear," he said. "I could even point non-members towards their appropriate union."
Bluescope's fashionistas have extended their regime to include shirts.
"I think this place has lost the plot. If their number one priority is safety they should be encouraging people to be seen. As long as the personal protective equipment people are wearing complies with the regulations then that should be it," Farrell said.
"It's not a fashion show."
The LHMU warns nearly one-in-five airport security workers are about to lose their jobs because the sub-contractor, providing guards to Sydney Airports' main security contractor, SNP Security, has gone into liquidation.
LHMU spokesman Mark Boyd says qualified airport security personnel will be extremely hard to find at this time of year.
" Our union has campaigned for a long time against the security arrangements entered into by the major Sydney Airport security contractor SNP," Boyd says.
" We've been concerned for some time about the pyramid contracting of these important airport security jobs to an outfit who have been labelled in the media as ' Franks Boys'.
The LHMU says many of the airport security guards working at Sydney Airport, though dressed in SNP uniforms, were actually employed, in a pyramid arrangement, by All Events Security under the direction of owner Moffid Farid Sada.
" All Events Security has now gone into liquidation. Very few of All Events guards have the same protection and working conditions as our members," Boyd says.
" Our union members have raised the issue of this company's credentials and our problems with pyramid sub-contracting with SNP, the security contractor, with SACL, the airport authority and with Qantas but all of them have taken a hands-off attitude.
The LHMU Airport Security Union has suggested the potential crisis can be resolved if SNP Security directly employs any of the guards who are properly qualified, and about to lose their jobs.
Workers claimed they were bullied and blocked from joining the union before they walked out and picketed the Victorian rice cracker manufacturer for 10 days.
Sakata workers also said they had been forced to work without pay after being injured at work.
"They have a right to an EBA, they have a right to feel safe at work, and they have a right to be represented by their union, and this agreement gives them all of those things," says National Union of Workers (NUW) state secretary Martin Pakula.
"I said all along that this dispute was about justice - justice for this workforce consisting largely of migrant women - and I think we have achieved that."
It took months to drag a reluctant management to the negotiating table but the negotiated agreement tackles safety concerns, labour hire and casualisation, with casuals to be offered permanency after 12 months.
Labour hire workers will be covered by special site rates.
News of the dispute at Sakata's Laverton North plant spread as far as Japan where unionists conveyed concerns to senior Sakata bosses in Japan.
"Our members really have shown that you can only push people so far before they react," says Pakula. "They have been waiting three years for this EBA, and once they had made up their mind to stand up and fight, there was no turning back.
"The past 10 days have been extremely difficult for everyone on the picket line, but there was never any suggestion that these workers would back down."
The NUW slammed the Howard government for a system that forced the workers to strike as a last-ditch effort to get the company to negotiate in good faith.
"It is ludicrous that we have an industrial relations system which forces workers to take industrial action if companies refuse steadfastly to negotiate agreements," Pakula said.
The AMWU is alleging supervisors and managers at SPC Ardmona's Shepparton and Mooroopna operations discriminated against union members on the basis of race, gender and family status.
It claims a supervisor referred to one of its organisers as a "black bastard" and went on to state that "black bastards" at the cannery thought they were protected but he would get them, one at a time.
It says the same HR guru turned down an application for a permanent job from a woman who had already worked at the cannery because she was a "single mother".
During the job interview, the mother of 10 and 11 year old children was told by another SPC Ardmona representative, "her children needed her more than the factory".
Another supervisor, AMWU papers claim, told a woman of Fijian ethnicity, that he was German and had "destroyed her kind" during the war.
Union members rallied outside the company's corporate headquarters in Melbourne, earlier this month, to protest against ongoing discrimination at the canneries.
AMWU spokesperson, Bronwyn Halfpenny, said legal action had been instituted after repeated failures by SPC Ardmona to deal with the issues.
She said Aboriginal and Pacific Island employees had been subjected to four years of bullying and racism and it had to stop.
Lawyers for the parties agreed, on December 17, to mediation on a string of award and Workplace Relations Act breaches, alleged by the union.
Beazley accused the Howard Government of playing politics with the country's security.
He told Parliament ships carrying up to 10,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were entering Australian ports without adequate security checks.
Al-Queda has used the explosive in at least four previous attacks, including the 1993 strike on the World Trade Centre and on three African embassies.
Beazley said intelligence showed terrorist organisations had increased interest in the Asia-Pacific region and were crewing flag-of-convenience vessels.
Beazley believes the way to stop the risk of such an attack is to ban the use of single voyage permits that allow foreign-crewed flag-of-convenience ships to travel between Australian ports.
The Howard Government outlawed the control of domestic shipping by Australian crewed and registered vessels in an attempt to weaken maritime unions.
Single voyage permits flag of convenience ships with low-paid foreign crews to undercut Australian vessels.
One recent Monrovian-registered vessel to visit Australia, the Henry Oldendorf, carried 10,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, and was crewed by Egyptians, Turks, Ghanaians, Moldavians, Indonesians, Indians and Philippinos.
Beazley pleaded with the government to give up 'past hatreds' and put security ahead of politics.
He said America had never permitted dangerous cargoes to be transported around its coast by flag of convenience ships.
Beazley told Parliament a ship carrying only 2300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had exploded in an American port in the 1940's killing over 200 people.
An Aboriginal leader has labeled "absolutely disgusting" the Government's announcement it will set aside $15 million to compensate Aborigines who had wages stolen by the state early last century.
Cabinet minutes from earlier this year show accounting firm Ernst & Young estimated the 11,000 aborigines could be eligible for a total payout of up to $70 million.
A government committee recommended a three member panel be set up to take evidence and determine payments which were likely to average about $3000.
From 1900 to 1968 many Aborigines were forced to put wages, pensions, family endowments, inheritances and lump-sum compensation payments into trust funds administered by successive NSW state governments.
Many were farm servants and members of the stolen generation.
Marjorie Woodrow, who was stolen, worked on a rural property for five years from the age of 16 washing clothes, mustering sheep and cleaning the house.
She undertook the work in the late 1930's and early 1940's.
The Aboriginal leader lived in a tent for seven years with her husband and family while waiting for wages that were meant to be returned to her when she turned 21.
Now in her 80's Woodrow estimates she is owed $250,000 for her 18 hour days worked seven days a week.
Woodrow has vowed not to accept anything less than the true value of her stolen wages.
"I promised six of my best friends, as a last dying wish, to see their wages were paid to their children as a legacy," said Woodrow.
"Now they want to meet up with me and my lawyer on the 30th and make me an offer to shut me up.
"I want to see them pay all the money up.
"After Christmas is we don't get the wages we will march in every state and show we mean business."
Burrow is excited by the move to build a "new international" with the proposed amalgamation of the ICFTU with another major international union federation, the World Confederation of Labour (WCL).
"We will build a new international on the foundation stone of our strengths, which is our history," says Burrow. "We will build an inclusive movement that includes women as well as men and be representatives of all cultures."
Global bargaining tables and a commitment to organising and collective bargaining are features of a re-invigorated international union movement, according to Burrow.
"We will be organising locally and globally," says Burrow. "This is the only way unions can facilitate the recognition and implementation of their rights.
"The main priorities of the ICFTU are to secure fundamental rights for working people across the world, develop international labour standards, improve gender equality, help end workplace discrimination and tackle instances of exploitation by multinationals.
Burrow put the prominent role of Australian trade unionists in international union federations down to international recognition of Australia's commitment to fairness.
"Unfortunately this is being eroded by the current government and the international corporates," says Burrow, who has been congratulated on her new appointment by national and international leaders but not by Prime Minister Howard.
"Maybe nobody has told him yet," jokes Burrow.
The ACTU President has already worked with Dutch and US unions on the James Hardie campaign.
The ICFTU is also working with government for a global ban on products.
The ICFTU was established in 1949 and represents 23 affiliated union organisations from more than 150 countries with more than 150 million individual members. The ICFTU cooperates closely with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and has a consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
State governments are wrestling with their federal counterparts over companies opting for Canberra's Comcare workers' compensation scheme
"The problem with big companies opting out is that it will put a lot of pressure on small business," says NSW Labor Council Occupational Health and Safety officer Mary Yaager. "Following the collapse of HIH workers should be very wary of moves by big companies to self-insure."
The move to 'opt-out' of state based schemes could impact on their financial viability.
NSW Industrial Relations Minister John Della Bosca is also concerned about the impact of such moves on small businesses.
Della-Bosca pointed out that any company leaving the NSW WorkCover scheme would continue to have responsibility for its current and future cost of claims.
Administration costs have been cited by some large companies as a reason to move away from state based schemes.
"It is not necessarily a cheaper option," says Actuary David Zaman. "Underlying administration costs for state based schemes are small compared moving to a national scheme."
The Victorian WorkCover Authority is moving to block Optus from signing up to the Federal government scheme saying that losing businesses like Optus pushes up premiums for those businesses that remain.
The Victorian government has taken its asking the Federal Court to rule its constitutional right to determine its insurance arrangements.
The case will be closely watched by the states running their own workers compensation schemes.
Visit by Comrade Claus
December 25, everywhere (if you've been good).
I am happy to pay more to use the bus.
I am happy to pay more tax to ensure we have the infrastructure we need as a state.
But I object to paying more for a service that is substandard.
Every day when I go to work, up to four or five buses whiz past me at my Sydney Uni bus stop and unload passengers 30 metres down the way because they are so packed they can't take on any passengers.
When I used to catch trains from Parramattta they were already bursting when they got to us, ensuring a 30 minute ride standing up to the city.
Costa, I don't mind paying more but I want to be able to firstly get on a public convenance and secondly get a seat so I don't have to stand for half an hour.
As the government comes under more pressure to meet community expectations in servicing core functions, it is looking to limit its commitments in what it sees as non-essential business. One result is the current rush to amalgamate these "non-essential" departments. These amalgamations, in turn, help to facilitate redundancies thus reducing the government's major long-term financial burden - permanent salaries.
Temporaries, some externally funded are replacing more and more of these permanents, others funded from consolidated revenue or quasi-commercial government operations. They are seen as a more flexible and cost-effective alternative. But these temporaries do not enjoy the same benefits as their permanent workmates and furthermore are not compensated for this discrepancy. A recent example at my workplace in the newly formed DPI highlights the problem. Two employees working in the same section recently left after similar years of service. One was a permanent officer who wanted to leave. He saw the redundancies coming so applied for and was granted leave without pay. Subsequently he was offered a redundancy, which he accepted. The other employee was a temporary filling a vacated permanent position. She was informed, with minimum notice, that the position she was filling would not be extended and she was dismissed.
Over the years I've seen temporary employees struggle with similar inequities in the workplace. In fact we have "temporary" employees who have been on the full-time payroll for 15 years. Because they are externally or commercially funded they cannot expect permanency or the resultant benefits of this status. I have attended recent restructure meetings where aggrieved permanents have been attempting to avoid or deal with forced transfers.
Little attention has been paid to the long-term temporaries attending the meeting whose positions seem forever in limbo. Some have expressed the opinion (to me) that they would much prefer to have the problem that the permanents are dealing with. Generally the temporaries end up resentful of this two-tiered employment situation and obviously this does not lend itself to a happy work environment. I'm sure my workplace is not unique.
I believe a future public service will see a workplace dominated by temporaries. Permanents will still perform regulatory, management and core functions but they will probably be in the minority. Management's response to me regarding the inherent inequity in this developing two-tiered employment structure is that it's the way of the world and there's nothing they can do about it. My response is that you cannot expect the beneficiaries of change to remedy its deficiencies. And management do benefit, even at the local level. It is much easier to have a temporary workforce whose future employment is heavily reliant on management approval.
I want my union to be about fairness and equity. This sometimes means looking beyond the level playing field and being prepared to make allowance for obvious disadvantage. The first step as far as the union is concerned is to recognise that temporary employment is not a temporary phenomenon. It is here to stay. One approach then might be to build in to our awards some compensation for temporary employees. As a permanent officer I believe it is going to be up to us to bring about change. It may not be an easy issue but its one that is not going to go away and its one that our union needs to be seen to be addressing.
PSA Member No 8831
After reading James Goodwin's article Has China entered a post revolutionary stage? I thought his paper was espousing Trotsky's thinking or like many Marxists' a thinking which cannot countenance the possibility that the Chinese may have found a pathway to deal with the obvious power of corporate capital in an constructive and beneficial way. This necessarily increasing the living standards of all it may not be perfect but what great transformations in history have been.
Yes I too have read many articles about differences in income distribution over the last few years. The huge transformation from an agrarian state in 1949 into a developed country of 1.2 billion and finally to a world power is an epic task. This epic task does mean dislocation of people moving from rural areas to large towns. In another 2 generations the majority of people in China may not be farming they may be in high tech manufacturing and government service sectors such as health and education. This transformation has already begun and involved farming people increasing there overall wealth and living conditions markedly since the reforms began in the late 1970's. To pass judgement now because China is using capitalist tools to engineer a leading economy which is not at behest of corporate capital is both premature and dogmatic. Australia task is to link our economy more to
China and Asia and to allow for the maximum benefit for all Australians. We should look for joint ventures that allow our economy to develop and not to be mired in a economy described by one as a banana republic.
Well done on your excellent editorial "Moral Majority". The ALP leadership has completely betrayed, through incompetence and group wrong-think, those who would describe themselves as progressive in Australia. The ALP, or indeed any democratic progressive party, exists to give a voice to those who have none. To do this it must persuade those with affluence and status to care enough to support policies that may be to the detriment of the individual hip pocket, but to the benefit of a wider publicly-held equity.
Even with inspired leadership and policies that actually mean something, to build such a public realm is difficult - but if you don't know what you're for in the first place, the task is utterly impossible.
It may be possible to snatch the odd election without building this sort of consensus - but I can't imagine why you'd bother unless your objective is simply the mindless acquisition of power.
When people see the cold, dead eyes and hear the flat, managerial voices of many ALP leaders they respond as they would to the board of any other unloved corporation.
We're writing to ask your help in defending an inspiring and courageous workers' struggle in Argentina.
The Zanon ceramic tile factory, a democratic, worker-run factory in Patagonia, is facing a serious threat of eviction, and the workers have asked us to gather international support for their struggle.
To sign the petition, please click here:
For those of you who have seen our documentary, The Take, the Zanon factory, and Argentina's wider movement of worker-run companies will be very familiar.
For those of you who haven't, this new movement of some 15,000 workers in almost 200 democratic workplaces is building hope and a concrete economic alternative in the rubble of Argentina's disastrous experiment with orthodox neoliberalism in the 1990s.
Recovered companies are run by assembly: one worker, one vote. In most of them, workers have decided that everyone should receive the same salary.
They are proving the viability of an economy run on an entirely different value system, and they are growing.
In the past year, Zanon has increased its workforce from 300 to 450: a 50% increase. What multinational corporation or national government could boast of such a dramatic rise in decent-paying employment in the middle of an economic crisis?
And Zanon has cultivated a deep and mutual relationship with the surrounding community. For 20 years, the poor neighbourhood of Nueva Espańa, across the highway from the factory, has been asking the provincial government for a health clinic. Zanon workers took a vote earlier this year, and in 3 months built and opened a brand new community health facility.
But now the provincial government is threatening to send in the Gendarmeria to remove Zanon's precious machines. This is an illegal order, since this force is Federal, intended to police Argentina's borders. On a second front, the Federal judge presiding over the bankruptcy of the former owner is refusing to recognize the Zanon workers' co-operative (called FaSinPat - short for 'Fabricas Sin Patrones', Factories Without Bosses.)
The former owner received millions in public subsidies, and still amassed a huge debt and bankruptcy: he has since been removed from his own board of directors for "accounting irregularities". The workers' co-operative, on the other hand, is a major success: it is now producing 380,000 square meters of ceramic tiles a month - a level of production higher than when the former owner closed the factory - and the workers do it without the huge public subsidies (300,000 pesos per month) that he used to receive.
The Zanon workers have told us that a massive international petition in support of their struggle could make a key difference with the various levels of courts and governments.
Zanon's highly successful combination of direct action and direct democracy is a precious example of that other world that is possible, that is growing before our very eyes.
We urge you to sign the petition
http://www.PetitionOnline.com/zanon/petition.html and do everything you can to encourage others to do the same.
Thank you for your time and support!
Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein
Oh how mono-cultural you lot at Workers Online are!!!!
Under activists section you write this week:
Visit by Comrade Claus
December 25, everywhere.
Just ask Comrade Christodolou in his house, as for all Orthodox Christians, Claus won't come till January 6-7.
And Comrade Claus probablly won't come to Muslim workers households, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews.
Tut tut Workers Online. Lift your eyes up beyond the Old Irish Catholic workers traditions
What a strange couple of days it has been in the media! Mr Costello and Mr Howard are preaching ...All you and your children need is LOVE..not credit card debt. "We are very concerned about credit card debt, spend less, love more", they say...as they charge ever closer to IR reforms that could in turn send many ordinary folk to the wall financially. "All children need is more love", they say. "Just leave the economy and your jobs up to us and spend more time loving our children..."
Lord hear our prayer...
Teachers and children are under attack in many of our schools, whilst paedophiles move in for the kill, whilst we spend ever increasing time at work trying to provide for our kids...who in turn, seem to becoming more belligerent and unruly with each passing day.
Lord hear our prayer...
I think it's time to take my children to the local church this CHRISTMAS AND INTRODUCE THEM TO THE TEACHING OF OUR LORD JESUS....But wait ...what is that on page two "CATHOLIC PARISH PRIEST GUILTY OF SEX ATTACKS ON YOUNG BOY.
I might by-pass praying this year!!!
Merry Christmas and a happy, safe, and prosperous NEW YEAR.
My New Year's Resolution for next year will be...
Dare to Care - If and After I can find a job first!!!
To become conservative is one of the most fatal sins that the Labor Party can commit. Almost anything else it can be, and still preserve its ideological foundations. It may on occasions go to great lengths in any direction and suffer the consequences of its failure, disaster awaits us along the conservative path.
Conservatism is what we in the party should guard against. Political power is the rationale of our existence. This prime objective has tended to cloud our ability to critically analysis our political opportunities and ourselves and more importantly our support base within the Australian Community.
We hear expressed the view that the Party should denounce critical analysis as to extreme as it takes the party away form the sympathies of middle Australia or to use the more modern term our "aspirational" voters.
During the formative years of both the labour movement and the Parliamentary Party conservatives looked upon us with dread. For we were a virile, glowing movement, alive with ideas and throbbing with passionate dreams and high resolve. We spoke from the heart without calculation, acted on impulse and insightful theories.
Our success, our original spirit grows faint as the Party and the movement become regarded as respectable. We no longer do things because they are right, we campion no noble causes. Every word and action is designed to win votes. The Spin Doctors, Market Researchers, Social Psychologists. Pollsters and our Parliamentary Plodders cry „hush‰ we will lose seats if we don‚t take care. So our leaders become silent, calculated, moderate when they should be saying what shall the Party gain if we win government but lose our soul.
Mouth of the Hunter
Two months after its election defeat, the Australian Labor Party is still preoccupied with navel-gazing, back-stabbing and factional infighting.
Disgruntled parliamentary members - still unable to accept the reality - have now even got Mark Latham believing that the defeat was all his own fault.
It's great stuff for the media, but extremely destructive to the party. This great party, older than Federation itself, seems determined to make itself irrelevant and unappealing to the electorate at large.
There have been some good articles on this website suggesting what Labor should do to restore its appeal to its traditional support base - workers and trade union members. Unfortunately this traditional support base no longer exists. With so many families having two incomes, what used to be the working class is now the nouveau middle class.
The Labor Party has to reinvent itself. But first it has to achieve strong unity within the ranks. Much as I detest John Howard and all he stands for, his parliamentary party members are unified and supportive of him, which I think continues to greatly contribute to his success.
Unity and co-operation are the first goals that Labor must seek.
If Labor can‚t get its act together in the very near future, its traditional supporters will abandon it en masse. I have just about had a gutful of this party to which I have devoted my loyalty for more than three decades. Labor needn't worry about the 2007 election - that is already lost as far as I can see. But Labor might look towards the 2010 election by which time it may have squabbled and muddled itself out of any relevance to Australian Federal politics.
Will the Greens or perhaps a coalition of Greens and Family First replace it some day as the second major party?
It will be pushing uphill to get MY vote in 2007.
I hope Unions NSW's new alliance with the Religious Right to protect families and communities can hold on to a definition of 'family' that reflects the way many of us live today.
That is, not simply John Howard's 'traditional' husband/wife model, but families of single parents, with two mothers or two fathers, families with aunties, uncles, grandparents -- all playing significant roles.
To accept any lesser definition, would do a great disservice to our young people who grow up, live and mix in such modern families with ease and enjoyment.
I enjoyed Tom Bramble's article on the contradictions in Howard's economic miracle, however I think he is overly optimistic regarding his claims of a major shift towards the left politically.
As much as I would love to see it happen, I don't think it is happening. You can drive a truck through some of the examples he uses. For instance his claim of people preferring greater services rather than tax cuts. This has been a polling phenomenon for the last decade, but it has never been translated into electoral reality. This may be because no major party has ever actually campaigned on it, but I don't think that is the sole answer.
It is a similar argument to the constant prediction of the rise of environmental issues as a decisive election issue. This happens every 3 years (especially with the so called 'rise' of the greens), but it is not true. This election we saw the major parties put forward significantly divergent environmental policies. There is no evidence that the ALP's 'progressive' stance on water and forestry issues won votes. If anything we lost two seats in Tasmania, lost a lot of votes in regional Victoria and NSW in return for a slight increase on the North Shore. Does this mean we should not pursue these policies? No not necessarily, but they can't be the be all and end all of campaigning.
His claims of the "...rise of the Greens (now polling 20-30 per cent in inner city Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne) is similarly inaccurate. The whole third force movement is a furphy. In no seat did the greens get close to 30 percent. In the seat they were most favoured to win, Melbourne, they got 19%. They got around 20% in Sydney, Grayndler and Cunningham where they had the resources of a sitting member). In Brisbane they got around 9%. They also failed to meet their predictions of the Senate vote (only winning 2 additional spots instead of the 6 claimed by brown).
Their actual performance is mediocre at best. They basically cannibalised votes from the democrats. The combined democrat/green vote was 8.43% (Greens 7.19%) which was far less than 2001 (10.37), just above 1998 (7.27) and roughly the same as 1996 (8.5%). They are not the third force, just a rehash of the democrats.
As for the popularity of Michael Moore and John Pilger, they are preaching to the converted. They are enormously popular with the left, but how effective are they in persuading normally apathetic or conservative citizens?
The anti-war rallies were incredible. But can anyone claim that they were a big feature of the campaign?
We had John Howard firmly committed to our involvement in Iraq and closely identified with Bush. We had Latham who had abused Bush and stated that he would bring the troops home. Yet this did not translate in the campaign. Look at Andrew Wilkie's failure in Bennelong.
So I think Howard is facing huge economic questions over the next three years, but I don't quite see a huge resurgence in the left. That is up to us and other comrades to try and change.
True, John Howard may be celebrating the fact that he has now held power for longer than Bob Hawke by drawing up plans for a legislative assault on the union movement.
Granted, the federal ALP appears to have lost the plot and is given its best impression of a blind man seeking refuge up his own fundamental orifice.
And, yes, the Bush Empire's second instalment does threaten the world on some many levels, from geo-political to environmental meltdown of which Australia will be a willing accomplice.
But as a movement we seem to be kicking goals across the paddock.
As we go to print, the ink is drying on a deal to finally force James Hardie to meet its moral obligation to victims of its asbestos products, who would have been left exposed to financial ruin, alongside certain death, had it succeeded in its morally repugnant ploy to skip town.
This is an heroic victory anmd full credit to ACTU secretary Greg Combet and the AMWU NSW branch which kept the issue on the boil until the full extent of the outrage was appreciated.
Meanwhile, NSW rail workers are nutting out the final aspects of a wages deal that secures them decent wages and conditions, having headed off a calculated attempt to smash their union.
And we enter summer consigning the 'NSW Labor Council' to history, to return in the New Year under the 'Unions NSW' banner, sending a clear message to both our members and the general public that we are an independent body putting unions first.
The common thread running through these and others advances is that they have been achieved through the mobilisation of public pressure rather than the more traditional arena of industrial law and disputation.
Indeed, the triumph of the ACTU's campaign against James Hardie is that the corporation has been forced to go beyond its straight legal responsibility to answer public demands for a moral outcome - a remarkable achievement for all concerned.
Likewise, NSW rail workers won their campaign without needing to strike, instead aligning themselves with commuters in their demands for better service and showing the extent to which the government needs the goodwill of its workforce to maintain a working rail system.
Meanwhile, more and more unions are using research and market testing to develop new ways of projecting themselves in the public domain, something behind the re-branding of the Labor Council
Do these moves equate to a trend? It's probably too early to call. What is clear is that the legal industrial relations framework, while important, is not the be all and end all of an effective union movement.
Organised workplaces, empowered delegates, smart public campaigning are all elements that can place real pressure on employers and provide an impregnable beachhead for the movement.
The battles for fair workplace laws must be - and will be - fought in 2005, but not as an end in itself; they have only ever been a vehicle to allow working people to strike a fair bargain.
One thing is for sure; if John Howard thinks that changing the law will wipe out the union movement, then he will be expending a lot of time, effort and political capital for nothing.
Hubris? I fear the man is too savvy to go down this path. But if he's not, I say: bring it on!
For Workers Online this is a particularly auspicious issue, our 250th edition.
That's about 3,000 news stories, more than 1,000 features and 250 streams of consciousness, archived over the web, in the past six years of this august journal.
Thanks to all those who have contributed, and particularly to our Workers Online editorial team of Jim Marr, Tim Brunero, Phil Doyle and Tara de Boehmler who join me in chugging out the journal week in week out.
Thanks also to our regular contributors including Neale Towart, Andrew Casey, Frank Stilwell, Rowan Cahill and Ian West.
We'll take our annual break, recharge our batteries and look forward to returning in the New Year to take up the only real battle that matters - the rebuilding of the Australian trade union movement's base, the condition precedent for all the other wonderful things we are capable of achieving.
And finally, if you want to give us a little Christmas present - just click here and give us your vote as international labour website of the year - http://www.labourstart.org/lwsoty/