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Issue No. 302 07 April 2006  

The Cowra Clause
The plight of the Cowra meatworkers is a fitting illustration of the way the new industrial laws will fundamentally shift the balance of relations in the Australian workplace.


Interview: Head On
John Buchanan has been warning that WorkChoices would be a car crash. Now he surveys the damage.

Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
CFMEU Mining national secretary Tony Maher lets fly at the new industrial laws.

Industrial: Vital Signs
In his new book, Craig Emerson argues that destroying unionism will not be in Australia's long term interests.

Economics: Taxing Times
Frank Stilwell argues that there are progressive alternatives to the slash and burn approach to tax reform.

Environment: It Ainít Necessarily So
Don't let anyone tell you that jobs and the environment are opposities, argues Neale Towart.

History: Melbourneís Hours
Neale Towart reluctantly pays homage to Victoria's celebration of the eight hour day.

Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
John Howard is deciding more and more foreign workers should come into this country - without the rights of citizenship, writes John Sutton,

Review: Pollie Fiction
For someone barely 25 years Sarah Doyle has an enviable track record in theatre behind her.

Poetry: The Cabal
Poetry returns to Workers Online with this rollicking ode to employer power.


 Abattoir Boss Slaughters Andrews

 More Slaughter in South Australia

 Pickets Won't Face Cannon

 Teens Win Thousands

 Praise the Laws

 Where The Bloody Hell Is Our Contract?

 Building Crusade Raids Pockets

 Workers Shows Its Hand

 It's All Yellow, Mine Barons

 Lismore Nine Breaks Ranks

 Uber Bosses Clean Up

 Howard's Skills Solution: Sack Apprentices

 Spineless Companies Block Safety

 Boxall in Sickie Backflip

 Activist's What's On!


Democracy in Action
Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's speech to commemorate 150 years of responsible government.

The Westie Wing
There has been activity aplenty in the NSW Parliament this month, reports Ian West.

The Soapbox
From Chaver to Cobber
John Robertson, Unions NSW Secretary, hosting Passover at Sydney Trades Hall discovers the first comrades followed a bloke called Moses.

Postcard from New Orleans
Mark Brenner surveys the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on the regions workers.

The Locker Room
My Country Right Or In Lane Five
Phil Doyle observes the golden shower at the recent Commonwealth Games, and asks what it means for the last great unpredictable drama.

Vale Bill Hartley
Unlike some of his comrades, Bill Hartley never departed from his position as a radical nor did he die rich in assets, writes Bob Scates.

 Crap TV
 Social Action
 French revolution
 Fan Mail
 Belly Spreads The Word
 All Out!
 Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
 Help Wanted
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The Cowra Clause

The plight of the Cowra meatworkers is a fitting illustration of the way the new industrial laws will fundamentally shift the balance of relations in the Australian workplace.

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.

Peter Lewis



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