||Issue No. 302||07 April 2006|
The Cowra Clause
Interview: Head On
Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
Industrial: Vital Signs
Economics: Taxing Times
Environment: It Ainít Necessarily So
History: Melbourneís Hours
Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
Review: Pollie Fiction
Poetry: The Cabal
The Locker Room
Belly Spreads The Word
Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
The Cowra Clause
Behind the sackings, spin and hand-wringing from the federal government was WorkChoices in all its naked glory - embodied in the treatment of the abattoir workers.
Think about it, workers sacked so they could be rehired on lower rates of pay, losing their rights to challenge the fairness of the dismissal on the grounds that the sackings were for 'operational reasons'.
While the combined pressure of unions, media and a very twitchy government convinced the company to back down, the weight of legal opinion is that the sackings would have held up in court; that the only thing the employer did wrong was to pull the trigger too quickly.
What will now go down in industrial lore as the 'Cowra Clause' goes to the very heart of WorkChoices by placing an operational override on the provision of workplace rights.
Think about that logic - an employer must treat workers fairly unless there is a business case to act to the contrary. That business case need not even be dominant reason, just a factor in the decision-making process.
The question that any employer could rightly put is: when is business not a factor in a decision?
This question has been around since the inceptions of trade unions - accepting that workers rights are a business cost that the employer will not willingly pay. By their very nature, workers rights, are a restriction of free market forces.
That's why workers banded together to place pressure for rights to be respected first at the workplace, and then universally through legislation.
They were so successful in mobilising democratically that these rights became part of the social contract - until free market fundamentalists began applying theories that quantified these rights and then made a business case for their elimination.
Which brings us back to WorkChoices and the operational over-ride, the end point of the logic of looking at labour costs as just another budget line item, rather than the social parameters that businesses choose to operate under.
Within the short-term, market paradigm, the Cowra Clause is not a loophole to be fixed, but the very reason for WorkChoices.
The challenge for working people is to lift the debate out of this sterile, academic world and show the human costs of treating people like numbers.
For this reason alone the Cowra workers were great ambassadors; that they got their jobs back is a bonus that can only be attributed to the fact they were the first to feel the sting in the WorkChoice tail.
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