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Issue No. 253 25 February 2005  
E D I T O R I A L

And The Battle Begins
After months of skirmishing and waiting for the first shots to be fired, we finally have a picture of the Howard Government’s agenda to tear down 100 years of industrial relations.

F E A T U R E S

Economics: Super Seduction
Sharks are circling your super. From July 1, banks and financial planners will have access to the nesteggs of an extra four million workers.

Interview: Bono and Me
ACTU Sharan Burrow lifts the lid on the rock star lifestyle of an international union leader.

Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Rowan Cahill bucks conventional wisdom to argue the eight-hour day began in Sydney.

Economics: OEC-Who?
The OECD calls for more reform. But, Asks Neale Towart, who is really doing the calling?

Technology: From Widgets to Digits
How can unions grow and continue to successfully represent workers when their traditional structures are rooted in an industry, craft or fixed location?

Education: Dumb and Dumber
Unions are leading the fight against a political agenda that does away with smart jobs.

Health: No Place for the Young
The support of union members is required to help get young people out of nursing homes, writes Mark Robinson

History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
February 17 marks 30-years to the day that sacked coal miners at the NSW Northern District Nymboida Colliery began their historic work-in at the mine.

Review: Dare to Win
The history of the militant and often controversial BLF is as surprising as it is fascinating writes Tim Brunero.

Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
With another change at the helm of the Labor Party, our resident bard, David Peetz, can't help but dreamily drawing on some political history.

N E W S

 Signs of the Times

 Fungal Growth Blights AWA’s

 Andrews Apes Big End

 Telstra Charge Reversed

 Good GEERS Hard to Find

 More Pulp Fiction

 For Sale - Goulburn

 Bosses Admit Pay Too Low

 Yachtie Sinks in Bog

 Albrechtsen Merits Questions

 New Eateries On Menu

 Fungal Growth Blights AWA’s

 Markets Cheer Pattern Bargains

 Mine Managers in Denial

 No Interest In Costello

 Activist’s What’s On

C O L U M N S

Politics
Titanic Forces
There are book reviewers who have not read the book they have just reviewed and there are critics who have criticised films they have not yet seen. I want to review a novel that has not yet been written.

The Soapbox
Labour and Labor
Grant Bellchamber looks at the relationship between both sides organised labour

Postcard
Aussie Unions Help Tsunami Victims
The union movement’s aid agency reports back on its relief effort in Asia.

The Locker Room
Game, Set and Yawn
Phil Doyle asks if tennis is evil or just boring

Parliament
The Westie Wing
As a reshuffle of the State Ministry settles in and the Federal Government throws down the gauntlet, 2005 promises to be a new and vital chapter in the struggle for workers and their families, writes Ian West in Macquarie Street.

L E T T E R S
 Boycott Bunnings
 Just One Thing
 No Dosh For Rupert
 Executions Not Fines
 Howard Needs To Know
 Disability Disgrace
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

And The Battle Begins


After months of skirmishing and waiting for the first shots to be fired, we finally have a picture of the Howard Government’s agenda to tear down 100 years of industrial relations.

Much of what is coming was expected - it is a direct steal from the obnoxious policy paper released by the Business Council of Australia last week.

At its heart is the 'economic imperative' to drive labour costs down so big business can further increase their share of national prosperity at the expense of working families - after all, it's a lot easier than running a business efficiently.

All the 'reform proposals' are to this short-sighted end:

- legalising the rights of employers to sack workers unfairly;

- 'reviewing' the minimum wage to make it harder for low paid workers to get a pay rise;

- promoting union-busting campaigns by neutering the industrial umpire to create a system where employer lock-outs of unionised workers is rife;

- and aggressively spreading individual contracts to make the lives of Australian workers putty in the hands of their managers.

The one proposal that wasn't flagged was the federal government's hostile takeover of state industrial relations systems - an audacious move that may ultimately be more difficult than Howard et al imagines.

The push for a unitary industrial relations system is one of those insidious plays that looks oh so reasonable on paper. After all, surely it would be efficient to have everyone under the one system?

There are two big problems; first the federal industrial relations system is now an industrial relations system in name only, in reality it is a license for big business to liberate their workplaces from the influence of unions.

But more significantly, particularly for workers under the NSW state system, it would do away with a framework of work relations that has evolved over 100 years to deliver one of the great successes of not just the Australian, but also the global economy.

The beauty (and yes, I believe an IR system can be beautiful) of the NSW industrial relations system is that it has been designed to create the sort of society that most Australians (the BCA and Kev Andrews excepted) say they want - based on fairness and equity.

That's why the NSW Industrial Relations Commission has powers:

- to maintain industrial harmony;

- to set wages - not just based on the wishes of employers, but also the value of the work performed;

- to ensure that awards flow across industries, even to those without the resources or wherewithal to make a wage claim.

But it goes further, the NSW IRC is charged with taking a broader view of the way the economy works - in recent years it has reviewed gender pay equity and is currently looking at the plight of casual workers.

In short, the NSW system is an institution that has delivered prosperity and fairness - principles that big business say are mutually exclusive, but have been part of our way of life for 100 years.

The achievements are so ingrained that few even recognise them, they accept them as their way of life.

Most working families would be horrified to think that, over the next few years, they may lose control over their working hours, their leave entitlements, even their job security.

As I have written in recent weeks, our response must start with an exercise in educating working families about what they are going to lose - and showing how boring sounding legal terms and institutions actually make a difference.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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