||Issue No. 274||29 July 2005|
The Heart of the Matter
Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
Poetry in motion
Losing the faith
The Heart of the Matter
But, with respect, it is only quibbling.
Why, from a family-friendly viewpoint, you would arc up over individual statutory holidays and let plans to rip out two full weeks of guaranteed annual leave go through to the keeper, is not immediately clear.
Howard's Workplace Relations spokesman, Kevin Andrews, has made it crystal clear he wants employers and employees to be able to "trade away" a fortnight of existing four-week entitlements.
It is part of a broad-ranging rewrite of workplace laws that seeks to strengthen the hand of business at the expense of working people and their families.
Business pressure groups, like the BCA and Chamber of Commerce and Industry, must view John Howard as the closest thing to Santa Claus that has ever crawled out of Bennelong.
He has given them everything they wished for and a few unexpected bonuses, for good measure.
Just where the proposal to scrap unfair dismissal rights for everyone at a workplace with less than 101 people came from, is still a mystery. Even the business lobby was only agitating for the right to discriminate against Australians with less than 20 workmates.
The scope of the proposed changes is so broad and fundamental that criticism was inevitable.
Much media, and for that matter, union attention has centred on annual holidays and unjustified dismissals.
Yet, like Christmas and Good Friday, they are merely icing on business' cake.
The active ingredient in this recipe is individual workplace agreements - secret deals that will be used to undermine collective bargaining and the core conditions it has delivered.
Howard and Andrews are arguing, vociferously, that they won't strip anything away from anybody and, technically, they may have a point.
What they are proposing, essentially, is enabling legislation.
Their laws will enable employers to slash wage rates, eliminate overtime payments, do away with weekend rates, and over-rule established conditions and holiday entitlements.
It is on individual contracts, that their plan to Americanise Australian society will stand or fall.
Business understands that and so do its champions.
International law-makers also understood it and that's why they wrote the right to collectively bargain into International Labour Organisation standards that Australia has signed.
Australia, prior to Howard and Andrews, accepted it was a fundamental human right.
What these people also understood was that, for all its apparent sleepiness, the only thing standing between them and the elimination of collective bargaining was the trade union movement.
That's why they have engaged in a decade-long orgy of union vilification. They have used dogs and mercenaries; a travesty of a Royal Commission; and special legislation to deny building workers basic legal protections.
Conservatively, they have spent more than $100 million taxpayer dollars to denigrate unions and union members.
All this, at a time when, to the outside observer anyway, unions had become victims of their own successes, unable to convince large numbers of workers that there was a clear and present need for their services.
The game-plan, clearly, was that, when it came time to rip away the safety net of collective bargaining it could be shrouded in anti-union camouflage.
Well, that time is here and Howard and Andrews are playing their trump for all it is worth.
Their problem is that the attack has been so sharp it has thrown a lot of old truisms back into focus - the sort of things our fathers and grandmothers would have accepted without question.
One of them is that collective bargaining is the central prop for our families' living standards and, another is, that we won't keep it unless we can strengthen our unions.
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