||Issue No. 291||25 November 2005|
Interview: Public Defender
Legal: Craig's Story
Unions: Wrong Way, Go Back
Politics: Queue Jumping
History: Iron Heel
Economics: Waging War
International: Under Pressure
Poetry: Billy Negotiates An AWA
Review: A Pertinent Proposition
The Locker Room
Name and Shame
Unite and Fight
The Worker's Best Friend
Stop the Corporate Rot
As the execution by Singapore of an Australian drug courier approaches, there has been an increasingly desperate public clamour to have an appeal heard by the International Court of Justice.
It has spoken to an almost quaint faith that when one nation's legal system leaves us unsatisfied, surely there must be something we can appeal to, some higher authority to enforce justice.
At the same time as we are looking for salvation from the hangman, a ruling this week by the United Nation's International Labour Organisation that the Howard Government's construction laws breach international treaties has been all but ignored.
The ILO's Governing Body ruled the laws, which can lead to workers being jailed for refusing to disclose the contents of union meetings, were a breach of core labour standards as laid out in ILO Conventions 87 and 98, both of which have been ratified by Australia.
The government and media have shrugged off the concerns of the ILO as if they come from some cell group of Trotskyists, rather than the world's longest standing international body, established after WWI to erect a system of basic work rights.
It won't be the end of the issue either - the ILO has also put the government on notice that WorkChoices will also breach the treaties guaranteeing Freedom of Association and the Right to Bargain Collectively.
These rulings confirm what unions and church leaders have been arguing, these laws place Australian workers outside the international, turning them into a sort of neo-con experiment in labour market deregulation.
And the breaches of ILO standards are not just academic, as labour lawyers from ICTUR warned the Senate, Australia faces the prospect of being kicked off the ILO's governing body.
Apart from undermining our ability to pressure governments like Burma over their abuses of workers, this expulsion could also harm Australian businesses seeking to operate in the global economy.
One of the less notable international stories of recent years has been UN secretary-general Kofi Annan's efforts to forge a global compact that would incorporate human rights and labour rights into the global trading framework.
Under the Annan model companies from nations in breach of these principles would face barriers to trading with countries that did comply.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks in this project has been the attitude of the USA, with the Bush Administration's UN appointment John Bolton seen as being on a mission to sidetrack the Compact all together.
On many levels the Compact is a challenge for developed nations that attempt to flex their muscles and play politics with global issues - because it is actually an attempt to give some consequence to breaches of treaties
But it is a worthwhile project, the disastrous invasion of Iraq is just the most obvious example of the pitfalls of unilateralism in such an inter-dependent world.
For Australia, which blindly followed the Bush Administration into Iraq, the broader implications of thumbing our noses at international law should be one of the things a Senate inquiry, with a responsibility to scrutinise the actions of the executive, would be expected to consider.
Of course it hasn't; it's merely fiddled around the edges and let the Howard Government walk all over its international obligations. After all, when we thumbed our noses at the Tampa and all we got was another Howard Government.
Breaching ILO standards, in itself, won't create any immediate pain. But as long as we stand outside the international legal system, we should not expect it to work for us when we want it to.
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