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Issue No. 300 24 March 2006  

Of Milestones and Millstones
Three hundred issues ago, in February 1999, Workers Online published its first edition, with the following promise: “to bring you news and views in the traditions of the workers press of yesteryear, but with our eyes firmly on the future.”


Interview: Organising In Cyberspace
Workers Online speaks to the ACTU's Union Organiser of the Year, Greg Harvey from the RTBU, who has been using cutting edge ways to communicate with a blue-collar workforce spread across five states.

Industrial: How Low Is Low
Neale Towart looks at the much hyped link between minimum wages and employment

Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
The Howard Govwernment has begun rolling out workshops to inform employers on how to use WorkChoices. Sean Ambrose sneaked through the doors for Workers Online.

Unions: Bad Medicine
Nathan Brown reports on how Australia Post’s dodgy Faculty Nominated Doctor system is leaving sick workers feeling worse.

History: Right Turn, Clyde
Bob Gould believes news of Clyde Cameron’s demise may be premature

Economics: Long Division
Kenneth Davidson looks at a successful political strategy

International: Union Proud
A University of California librarian calls for union labels to increase worker visibility

Politics: Howard’s Sick Joke
Phil Doyle looks at an attack on one of the great achievements of the union movement

Indigenous: The year of living dangerously
That mob in parliament house seems to be hopelessly out of touch with Indigenous Australia. So much so, that Graham Ring wonders if the House on the Hill is becoming a ‘cultural museum’.

Review: Lights, Camera, Strike!
Mandrake the Electrician has been down to the video store over the summer and rounded up the Top Ten Union Movies of all time.

Culture: News Front
If the owners are selling off papers, perhaps the unions should buy them says Mark Dobbie.


 Coonan Practises Her ABC

 Mr Andrews Decrees

 Year Zero Set for Monday

 Secret Police Visit Workers

 PacNat Back On Track

 Print Bosses Finger the Bush

 Whinger Draws Fire

 National IT Win

 RailCorp Shtum On Asbestos Stations

 Deaf Bank Pinged $145,000

 Phantom AWA of the Opera

 Crane Company Hooks Workers

 Umpire: Dump Contractors Now

 Lift Companies Promote Falls

 Activists What's On!


The Soapbox
Australian Fascism
Rowan Cahill critiques Gerard Henderson’s unique take on history

Westie Wing
Will Westie's Wings be clipped, or will the Hills Angels repent and deliver?

The Locker Room
The Heart Of The Matter
Phil Doyle rolls up the red carpet and celebrates the death of an old foe

 Bully for Us
 Onya, Pete!
 Blind Johnny
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Mr Andrews Decrees

Self-appointed Workplace Czar, Kevin Andrews, is telling porkies about the minimum wage, according to an experienced IR lawyer.

Andrews has denied claims that a slew of WorkChoices regulations, released under cover of the Commonwealth Games, allow bosses to undercut the minimum wage.

But Sydney workplace barrister, Ian Latham, says any reading of Andrews' handiwork makes it clear that is exactly what is proposed.

"That's (Andrews' statement) wrong," Latham says. "The regulations make it clear you can earn less, over 12 months, than you should have been paid over any part of the 12 months.

"Specifically, they provide for the minimum wage to be averaged out over a year.

"The regulations use the example of fruit picking. Fruit pickers can be forced to sign an AWA that states they will be paid less than the minimum wage for the off-season.

"What happens if that person is dismissed, or leaves, at the end of the off-season when all their wages have been paid at less than the minimum rate?"

Latham says the Andrews defence fails on two counts - the concept of agreement, and the lack of any form of redress.

Nobody at a workplace of less than 100 people will be allowed to contest an unfair dismissal.

And, Latham contends, the worker would have been paid all entitlements, under an AWA written in those terms, anyway.

There is no payment floor, for this situation, contained in Andrews' Act or his regulations.

Latham warns there is a double-whammy for fruit pickers under "averaging out" provisions.

Another AWA, he says, might average earnings to protect the employer from meeting the highest rate over the peak season.

"What about the woman who works right through the high season and leaves, or is dismissed, at the start of the off season? Averaging has seen her paid less than what she should be entitled to for the most productive part of the year?

Latham says the regulations, and the seven-day time frame, before they control workplaces are a recipe for "chaos".

Political control of workplaces is the central them of 400 pages of WorkChoices regulations and explanations.

Andrews will personally monitor the wages and conditions of every Australian on a collective contract.

Under his regulations, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission must report to him, every week, on any workplace that applied to take industrial action and the Office of the Employment Advocate must report every three weeks on every collective agreement concluded.

The regulations confirm rank and file workers, unions and companies will all be liable for thousands of dollars in fines if they agree to anything Andrews decides to "prohibit".

Off limits already are agreed clauses on union recognition, rights of entry, delegate training and job security, including limits on causals and labour hire.

Fines of up to $6000 per worker, and $33,000 for a union official, can be imposed if any agreement contains a mechanism for an employee to contest an unjustified dismissal.

Andrews has also decreed that anything that doesn't apply to "all" persons covered by an agreement is "prohibited". Lawyers have already suggested that might invalidate maternity leave agreements.

Unions NSW secretary, John Robertson, says the reporting provisions are significant.

"They are about direct political intervention in the workplace," he says.

"The clear message is that if agreements deliver better arrangements for workers, he will stop them occurring with the stroke of a pen.

"That is the only reason for including those requirements. He already has the AIRC and the Office of the Employment Advocate.

"This is about Kevin Andrews' determination to Big Brother."


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