||Issue No. 312||23 June 2006|
Striking Out Rights
Interview: Rock Solid
Industrial: Eight Simple Rules for Employing My Teenage Daughter
Politics: The Johnnie Code
Energy: Fission Fantasies
History: All The Way With Clarrie O'Shea
International: Closer to Home
Economics: Taking the Fizz
Unions: Stronger Together
Review: Montezuma's Revenge
Poetry: Fair Go Gone
The Locker Room
Striking Out Rights
Some of the less scrutinised clauses in WorkChoices relate to industrial action, and the severe restrictions that now apply.
Employers now have no option but to dock workers who attend rallies this week four hours pay. In the construction industry, it goes even further, where workers face criminal charges under the government's special laws for the building industry.
Some employees, emboldend by the new powers are going further - Australia Post, for example, is threatening to take formal disciplinary action against workers who march.
These threats will keep some works away, but they also turn those who to attend into heroes, prepared to put their own well being on the line.
It is just the pointy end of an all-out assault on the right to strike - with costly secret ballots now required before workers can with hold their labour.
At the same time the government has handed itself unprecedented power to rule any strike unlawful, exposing unions and individual workers to any economic loss incurred.
But if you think this creates an even bargaining filed, think again. The ability of employers to launch their own form of industrial action - the lock-pout (incidentally the only form of industrial action that is on the rise) has been enhanced by WorkChoices.
In fact, employers are no longer required to negotiate with their workers and have the legal right to stone-wall enterprise bargains till an agreement expires, at which point all conditions about the five minimum standards are stripped away.
And if the employer wants to sack the workforce and rehire them on AWAs at inferior conditions, the Office of Workplace Relations says go right ahead.
If the rules are so loaded against industrial action, what about using your political power as economic citizens, you may ask?
Here again, business has written the laws to protect their interests; the Trade Practices Act renders it illegal to call for consumer boycotts against companies that abuse their workers.
So while we can this week say that we will not be drinking any Tooheys after the shameful way the brewery has treated its contractors and we can encourage to think about the beverage you imbibe, we can not call for a boycott without risking the attention of the ACCC.
If all else fails, one could hope that the Federal Parliament would scrutinise the new laws; but here again the Howard Government has tightened the screws, winding back the Senate Committee system; softening the laws around political donations while making it harder for young people to register to vote.
The test of a vibrant democracy has always been its capacity of its citizens to critique their government - think suffragettes, think civil rights, think Vietnam.
Now we are moving backward, the legal right to raise questions and take action is being wound back under the guise of labour market flexibility in a way that should mobilise all Australian workers this week. No matter the threats.
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