||Issue No. 264||20 May 2005|
Interview: Fortress NSW
Unions: Fashions Afield
Industrial: Pay Dirt
Politics: Infrastructure Blues
History: Big Day Out
International: Making History
Economics: The Fear Factor
Review: The Robots Revolt
Poetry: The Corporation's Power
The Locker Room
This was the Tory mantra for close to a decade as rampant labour market deregulation edged its way from the netherworld of the HR Nichols Society into the mainstream of Australian politics.
This principle held that a fundamental freedom was the right for a company to deal directly with its workers - or in some cases on it's workers - without the intervention of any external players, that is, a union.
It was a principle underpinned by a fiction, that workers and employers are equal parties at the bargaining table, notwithstanding the fact the employer may be a global conglomerate and the worker may be an individual with a couple of kids and a mortgage that had grown a third head.
To get around this, the theory went, the worker was somehow 'empowered' by the very act of sitting down one on one with their employer; a position famously described during the landmark Weipa dispute by comeback advocate RJ Hawke as 'psycho-babble'.
It is true that this has been a very successful frame for de-unionising large sections of the Australian workforce; offering short-term pay premiums to induce workers to shift to contract.
But equally sizeable sections of the workforce have chosen not to 'empower' themselves in this way, leaving the Tories with the unpalatable reality of a functioning trade union movement.
Their solution? Look no further than construction industry where the government has developed a 'code' that makes it virtually impossible for unions to operate effectively.
While the code has no legal force - it contains restrictions that would never get through the court system - the federal government has begun tying federal money for building projects to state's signing the code.
That push became a shameless shove this week when it was revealed that the Canberra would now withhold funds earmarked for alleviating the water crisis unless states agreed to banish unions from unrelated projects.
And if using drought-stricken farmers as hostages is obnoxious, it is no worse than starving our universities of funds if they don't push academic staff onto AWAs.
Now we learn that Kevin Andrews wants to take it even further - requiring agencies to consider a contractor's prior workplace reform record - that is its union-busting credentials - when putting work out to tender.
Let's be clear, the Federal Government is saying that the tax money we pay will only be distributed if states impose a certain model of workplace relations on employers.
There are a whole set of conservative principles that are being trashed in this power play, 'freedom', 'choice' and, of course, 'liberalism' itself.
And so the circle is complete - the Howard Government is your new third party in the workplace, imposing its will on entire industries to force workers onto contracts - all in the name of removing third parties.
And we wonder why people are cynical about politics.
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