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Issue No. 323 08 September 2006  
E D I T O R I A L

Double Jeopardy
As more examples of the human misery that is WorkChoices comes to light, the Howard Government is constructing a devious defence strategy that further erodes the independence of the public service.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
The ACCC is the latest state agency to turn its guns on the construction union. National official, Dave Noonan, discusses the implications.

Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
With new laws looming for “independent contractors”, Foxtel subbies have had the carpet pulled from under their feet, writes Nathan Brown.

Unions: Industrial Wasteland
A group of inner-Sydney veterans appear to be working to strip their families of retirement incomes. Jim Marr records their desperation.

International: Two Bob's Worth
German and British workers are participating in business decisions while WorkChoices locks Australians out of the conversation, writes Anthony Forsyth.

Economics: National Interest
John Howard claimed that interest rates would always be lower under a Coalition government than under Labor, Neale Towart crunchess the numbers.

Environment: The Real Dinosaur
Economic ignorance remains at the top and the critics are oblivious says Sol Power

History: Only In Spain?
The experiences of self management during the Civil War have been the one positive factor to come from that tragic event, and the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation thrives today.

Review: Clerk Off
Nathan Brown draws solace from some fellow social misfits.

N E W S

 All Work and No Pay

 Peking Ducks Safety Regs

 MPs Face Super Clean-Out

 Gas Man Won't Say What's Cooking

 Crane Boss Lifts Her Profile

 World Bank Hollers for Marshalls

 Pork Choices

 Medibank Sale Looking Crook

 Radio Rentals Off Air

 Finger Man Gives For Sale Sign

 Libs: Lay Off Our Oppressor

 Cleaners Mop Up a Big One

 15 Percent All Round - Super!

 Activist's What's On!

C O L U M N S

Legends
Westie Wing
MLC Ian West ventures beyond Macquarie St and into the desert of the eco rats.

The Soapbox
Testing Times
Former RLPA secretary and Newcastle Knights prop, Tony Butterfield, fires up over dawn raids.

Obituary
Dare to Win
The union movement has lost an inspirational leader of working men and women, writes Jeana Vithoulkas

Fiction
Tommy's Apprentice
Chapter Two - Tommy’s Tale.

L E T T E R S
 Wicked Ways
 Catch a Tube
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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Editorial

Double Jeopardy


As more examples of the human misery that is WorkChoices comes to light, the Howard Government is constructing a devious defence strategy that further erodes the independence of the public service.

It's called the Office of Workplace Services and it is emerging as a cross between a media monitoring service and a damage control spin unit, publicly funded but with a sharp partisan political focus.

First a little bit of history. There once was an independent judicial body with real powers that set wages and conditions and ensured workers were treated legally. It was called the Australian industrial Relations Commission but, with WorkChoices, John Howard realised a 20-year dream to 'put a sword through its heart'.

No longer can the Commission determine unfair dismissals for most employees, force employers to the bargaining table or assist parties avoid industrial action. Today, it is a sad shell of its former self, its remaining powers lay in stripping conditions out of awards and threatening massive penalties on workers who take action now deemed illegal.

In its place, the government has established its Office of Workplace Services, with a budget of more than $32 million. The actual role of this body has never been clearly defined, although government bills it as its industrial watchdog.

In fact, more than a month after being promised answers to three simple questions about its role by an agency press officer, Workers Online is still waiting for the information.

What we do know is OWS's job is to enforce WorkChoices, which is a misnomer, in that the laws take away most rights for workers and replaces them with a regime of penalties bosses can use to drive workers from unions.

The real use OWS has been put to is in the field of damage control. From day one, when Cowra Abattoir sackings became news, OWS officers were sent to follow the news.

What emerged was the company decision to take workers head on was deferred until the heat died down, a later OWS ruling confirmed the employer's action in sacking staff and rehiring them at lower rates, was legal under WorkChoices,

The OWS allowed the government to deflect attention, buy time, then greenlight the controversial tactics as "perfectly legal".

Over recent months, the OWS has continued this modus operandi.

An example close to home. Workers Online posted a story about a Korean worker threatened with deportation after having his fingers chopped off. First thing Monday, the OWS was on the line asking for details it could follow-up.

Another example this week. A Chinese guest worker on slave wages and conditions - paying an immigration agent $10,000 of his salary - makes multiple complaints to the OWS. No joy, until unions break the story in the media.

It continues this week: workers are fined a week's salary for placing overtime bans - on the legal advice of the firm that actually wrote the law -the OWS is investigating; workers locked out for refusing to sign individual contracts - the OWS will have a look.

So what good an OWS investigation? Well on the evidence to date, the OWS goes and talks to the employer, gets their side of the story, and then briefs the Minister - who bodgies the briefings into 'investigations' and leaks them to the media.

In this way the wheels of workplace justice may be spinning, but they are not delivering anything other than damage control for a Minister who continues to deny the new ground rules of the Australian workplace.

It is a short term strategy straight out of Orwell. Create a public bureau that looks like a legal enforcement body, use it for political purposes and hide behind it when the going gets tough.

As for the OWS investigators, we look forward to your call on Monday

Peter Lewis

Editor


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