You'd have to feel sorry for whatsisname - the leader of the gang of misfits masquerading as an opposition in NSW at the moment.
Indeed, Peter Denton's job runs as the second least coveted behind coaching the "Sydney" Roosters.
It's the political equivalent of having chronic halitosis; every time you open your mouth, people start backing away.
But it's even worse when your only claim to fame is being mistaken for Prince Charles once while buying a cucumber croissant at the deli in Double Bay.
Struggling for public recognition, Denson has tried everything to lift his profile.
We've had it all - racisim, pulling the plug on services, threatening to block out the sun.
None of it has cut through, but this time Dengate has pulled a PR manoeuvre so daring that it can't fail.
Decklan has caught wind that bad bosses are a hit in the media these days, so when the Industrial Relations Commission ruled he had to give his staff a payrise, he said no.
Well, he said no to everyone except for his top four advisors, who were given pay rises of up to 50 per cent.
You see, the bonnie prince does not believe in this socialism nonsense.
"We pay on performance," Denison decreed to the Telegraph.
The Toolshed can only speculate this is an elaborate media stunt, because the truth is, if people were paid on performance, Peter Durham would be living in a cardboard box in Hyde Park.
Nobody knows his name and his idea of providing more services is to sack the people performing the services.
And now we know how he will treat public servants he doesn't sack, as well as the rest of the NSW workforce.
That's one thing we won't forget.
Defending WorkChoices, Howard revealed Heinemann Electrics' refusal to pay 54 employees for a week's completed work, stemmed from law changes he made a decade ago.
"I would make the point that this in no way arises from the operation of WorkChoices because there's been a prohibition on the payment of strike pay in the Australian law for 10 years," Howard told Parliament.
But employees of the South African company hadn't been on strike. They had each worked full 38-hour weeks but barred overtime as part of their WorkChoices-sanctioned campaign for a collective agreement.
Acting on the advice of anti-worker law firm Freehills, used by the Government to help draft WorkChoices, Heinemann Electrics, refused to pay for the completed.
It says it was advised that to pay its employees would have been illegal because they had engaged in industrial action.
General manager, Richard Ross, told the Sydney Morning Herald because the action blocked overtime at any hour, it could legally be seen as a continuous ban.
ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, challenged John Howard to stop playing "word games" and answer three straight questions.:
"Is Mr Howard saying that as far as he and his IR laws are concerned the 38 hours work these workers have completed was a 'strike' and therefore they should not be paid?
"Is Mr Howard saying he can wipe his hands of this injustice because the laws under which the company claims to be acting were passed by him in 1996 and not 2006?
"Is he denying he introduced new provisions in the 2006 WorkChoices laws that require workers to be docked a minimum of four hours pay for any industrial action - even if it only lasts for 15 minutes?"
At the time of publication, Howard had not answered of the questions.
Electrical Trades Union Victorian secretary said Dean Mighell said the company's actions meant only two forms of industrial action were left - indefinite strikes and lockouts by employers.
Unions will make a decision this week on challenging Heinemann's actions in the Federal Court.
State-owned Hunan Industrial Equipment Installations has 50 guest workers at a Weatherill Park site that lay idle for a fortnight, after attracting 40 health and safety violations.
Workers Online understands Vanstone's department has green-lighted another batch of visas for a labour hire company that operates outside the reach of Australian OH&S, labour and commercial law.
AMWU NSW secretary, Paul Bastian, says Vanstone's Department knows Hunan is not registered.
"It is a condition of these visas that employers obey our laws but it is nothing more than an honour system," Bastian says.
"Because Hunan is not registered in Australia penalties cannot be applied under Australian law.
"It is disgraceful to bring vulnerable people into our country, pay them below going rates, and provide no enforceable sanctions on people who might rip them off.
"The only possible sanction is visa cancellation and that depends on monitoring which, clearly, is not being done."
Numerous examples of blatant 457 rip-offs have been drawn to public and government attention, usually by unions or publications like Workers Online.
None of them has been uncovered by supposed regulators in Vanstone's department.
Workers Online has been exposing 457 exploitation since 2002. Examples have included:
- Manly eatery Ribs and Rumps underpaying three Black South African chefs to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars each. The men took their cases to the Chief Industrial Magistrate's Court, won sizeable settlements, and were promptly deported by DIMIA. On the eve of his forced departure, Reevis Khumalo, said: "It is a bad thing, my friend. We didn't break any laws but we are being forced out while the person who did breach the law is allowed to stay and prosper".
- A guest worker being whipped out of Wagga Wagga base hospital and flown back to South Africa before authorities could speak to him in the wake of a workplace accident that claimed two lives.
- Another three African chefs, from separate Sydney restaurants, filing massive underpayment claims in December, 2002. They disappeared and nothing further was heard of their actions.
- A company, associated with the Western Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, importing 30 tradesmen - boilermakers, pipe fitters and welders - and paying them less than the half the rates of Australians working alongside them. The men were charged $5000 upfront, to get their 457 visas, then slugged 144 percent interest on their loans. They were farmed out to industrial sites across WA. When the AMWU blew the whistle, their employer demanded written indemnities against backpay claims, and threatened individuals with deportation.
- Korean tradesmen in WA alleging they were conned into entering Australia. They said rates were grossly inferior to what had been promised, they were forced to buy cars, for $21,00 a shot on arrival, and worked up to 60 hours a week without overtime. Two Koreans claimed to have been sacked for comparing wages with Aussie workmates and a number were threatened with deportation.
- Senator Kate Lundy told Parliament that 15 Filipinos in the ACT hospitality industry had been bullied, underpaid, victimised and treated like slaves. She named three high-profile Canberra establishments, drawing fire from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry which rejected all allegations. With protection from the LHMU, several Filipinos laid official complaints, and prosecutions resulted.
- Last week's AMWU revelation that a Melbourne print firm had extracted $10,000 from a Chinese guest worker's wages. He had also been charged $10,000 for his visa. After working 60 hours a week, for a year, the company sacked him and tried to have him deported.
Bastian said the inability of imported Chinese to read, write or understand English had presented serious safety problems on the ABC job at Weatherill Park.
One Aussie employee said he had been stunned to see a guest worker make a non-compliant Chinese tool fit a power socket by stripping the cord and inserting naked wires into a plug.
Other Australians workers say their Chinese counterparts are, at best, semi-skilled and their work could be done by unemployed locals.
Vanstone mounted an aggressive defence of her Section 457 scheme on national television, last week.
Earlier this year she confirmed the four-year guest labour arrangements had been introduced to hold down Australian wage rates.
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson says that with community focus on politician's super, after the Prime Minister's decision to renege on his decision to cut benefits, a broader review is now required.
"I am proposing that any MP that wants to enjoy the exorbitant benefits of the old scheme should retire at or before the next federal election," Robertson says.
Under the pan, MPs who decide to stay would have their benefits re-calculated at the PM's new level of 15 per cent - a standard that should then be extended to the entire community.
"Apart from achieving parity with the community it would allow Parliament to clean out the dead wood and time servers who dominate our Parliament," Robertson says.
"Anyone who thinks a package of $120,000 with free petrol and air travel is totally out of touch with reality.
"In my experience it has never been a problem finding people wanting a seat in Parliament - the problem is with the current packages it is such a prize that often the wrong people are motivated to position themselves.
"Arguments about competing with the business community just don't wash - we want community leaders who reflect the morality of our society not high-fliers who are driven by the bottom line.
"If my proposal were adopted we would not only get a fair super scheme for our politicians, we would get an injection of fresh blood into an institution that desperately needs it."
Western Australian-based Alinta has celebrated a $6.8 billion takeover of AGL by announcing plans to shed 200 South Australian positions and up to 800 in NSW, but it won't let workers on the secret.
AWU official, James Day, says the union has been asking for information since the merger plans were floated six months ago.
"We have sought information so we can brief the people affected but heard nothing. Other than the outsourcing of IT arrangements, they haven't provided us with one piece of paper." Day said.
The union has taken its concerns to the NSW government.
It wants the Iemma administration to examine the takeover in the light of AGL's importance to the state.
"We have grave fears they will embark on a slash and burn exercise," Day said. "We are talking about an essential service for NSW industry and residents."
Day says technical staff at AGL are already stretched. Many are on standby for up to 26 weeks of the year, unable to drink or move more than 90 minutes from their homes.
Alinta has brought up most of Victoria's gas operations where, critics say, it replaced experienced technical staff with cheaper, unskilled operators.
AGL service arm, Agility, is responsible for the maintenance of NSW's gas network.
Botany Cranes boss Anne Bradstreet gave Barry Hemsworth his marching orders after he objected to the company shifting OH&S responsibilities to its staff.
Bradsteet, named top tog at the Crane Owners Association barely two months ago, used WorkChoices to avoid unfair dismissal repercussions.
A meeting of over 75 percent of his workmates, last week, gave Hemsworth a unanimous vote of confidence but Howard's building industry specific laws prevent them acting in his defence.
Howard's Building Industry Commission has dragged 107 construction workers before the federal court after they struck in support of a sacked delegate on the Perth-Mandurah rail project. It is seeking $28,000 fines against every individual.
Hemsley has erected a shed outside Botany Cranes Bandsmeadow gates and says he is going nowhere.
"They can't get rid of me that easily," he told Workers Online.
"I am going to make the public aware of how some companies are using this legislation. During my 10 years as delegate we hadn't had a single stoppage at Botany Cranes but I opposed their move to make workers draw up their own risk analysis statements.
"It was trying to move its OH&S obligations onto workers. We accept that workers have their own responsibilities but that doesn't mean employers can evade their duty of care.'
Hemsworth was in the process of bringing industry players - unions, employers, WorkCover and peak bodies - together to thrash out policy for the sector.
The CFMEU is calling for community support, urging Sydneysiders to visit Hemsworth at Exell St, Banksmeadow, or contact the company.
Botany Cranes can be contacted by phone on (02) 9666 6366 or by email at: [email protected]
Workers Online understands CFMEU lawyers are considering avenues to contest Hemsworth's axing under WorkChoices laws that bar unjustified dismissal actions to people from jobs with less than 100 staff.
In the past eight years, with Hemsworth as delegate, Botany Cranes, has gone from nine to 15 cranes, and staff has jumped from 15 to 36 operators.
The 2007 edition of Doing Business, prepared by the Bank's private sector development department, has declared the Marshall Islands to be the world's “Best Performer” for their almost total absence of labour regulation, displacing last year's champion, Palau.
The Marshall Islands and Palau are tiny Pacific island nations that have no labour codes and are not members of the ILO.
Both states were recently granted "independence" from the US but are largely funded from Washington.
The Australian government's AusAid website, says this about the Marshall Islands. "The living standards of the population are poor, the infant mortality rate is high and school enrolments are low."
The World Bank's online Doing Business database explains it is a labour market star because, among other features, it allows workers to be forced to work up to 24 hours per day and up to seven days a week, and requires no holidays or advance notice for dismissals.
Not being among the 179 member countries of the ILO, the Marshall Islands and Palau, population 20,000 across eight inhabited islands, are among a handful of countries not obliged to abide by the core labour standards (elimination of forced labour, child labour and discrimination, and respect for freedom of association and right to collective bargaining) required of ILO members.
World Bank presidents say the core standards are consistent with the Bank's development mission.
ICFTU general secretary, Guy Ryder, said it was ironic that the World Bank's most highly-promoted annual publication holds up countries that offer almost no protection for their workers as star performers on labour standards, while another division of the bank, the International Finance Corporation, stipulates it will not lend to firms that do not apply core labour standards.
"The World Bank should get its message straight. If the Bank truly believes that the ILO's core labour standards are good for development, it can't turn around and praise countries that don't join the ILO and don't respect the core standards," he said.
Ryder noted that earlier editions of Doing Business have been used in World Bank and IMF country-level strategy documents to force countries to do away with various kinds of workers' protection.
In South Africa, the IMF recommended in a recent policy report, that the government improve its Doing Business indicators by "streamlining" its hiring and dismissal procedures.
The changes would have required doing away with affirmative action rules that post-apartheid governments put in place in order to correct the legacy of several decades of racial discrimination.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister announced base pay rates for politicians would jump by a massive 7.1%, with his own salary increasing by $20,000 to $309,270.
Base salaries for politicians will rise by $7,800 to $118,950, more than double the yearly income of an average Australian worker, currently $54,236.
The pay hike is a 'no-strings-attached' increase - not subject to trade-offs such as longer working hours or productivity increases - in contrast to cost of wage rises for most workers.
Opposition leader Kim Beazley, who stands to trouser an extra $18,000, has indicated that the ALP will support the Government's decision.
The hand-outs continued two days later with Howard raising new MP's super to 15.4 per cent, reversing his 2004 decision to cut employer contributions to 9% when challenged by then Labor leader Latham.
There's a golden handshake to match the bigger nest egg with all MPs elected after 2001 due to receive a redundancy payment of $29,750 if they incur the wrath of voters and lose office.
Howard trotted out the 'pay peanuts, get monkeys' theory, claiming that failing to offer attractive pay and conditions would "further reduce the quality of the gene pool."
Unnamed senior Government figures muttered that if pay and super did not increase, politicians would be vulnerable to corruption.
Beazley again fell in with the PM, telling the media with an apparently straight face that the increase in super to 15.4% was "in line with community standards."
The gravy train rolled on with increases to MP travel allowances. Senior ministers will pocket an extra $78 for overnight travel and the Prime Minister will now have $505 a night to play with when he's on the road.
But wait, there's more. This week the Senate passed controversial legislation increasing annual printing allowances for MPs to $125,000.
With unspent allowance able to be rolled over to the next year, sitting MPs potentially have over $200,000 of taxpayers funds to spend on advertising during the election year. All coming soon to a mailbox near you.
This week staff in Centrelink were warned that they faced disciplinary action if they distributed information from the Save Medibank alliance.
According to a Centrelink management e-mail, staff who "...circulate comments of a political nature...such as sending comments criticising government policy...would be in breach of the Australian Public Service code of conduct."
The code, which carries a maximum penalty of termination, can also result in fines and demotions.
The heavy handed move to silence staff follows a parliamentary report last week that questioned the legal basis of the sale.
The report questioned whether the Government was legally entitled to sell Medibank at all, claiming a case could be made that the health insurer actually belonged its three million members.
Talkback host Alan Jones joined a growing chorus of media critics describing the treatment of policy holders as "financially unjust."
"Why are we privatising?" he asked.
Community opposition to the sale is growing, according to CPSU National Secretary and Save Medibank spokesperson Stephen Jones.
"More than a thousand people have completed our survey about the Medibank sale in the past week and the results indicate there is deep opposition to privatisation and real anger about the lack of consultation," Jones said.
"96% of people we have surveyed no not think the Government has not made an adequate case for the selling of Medibank," he said.
The final litmus test could come at the ballot box, Jones predicted. "So far 84% of respondents say that any sale of Medibank would affect their vote in a Federal election."
Find out more on the campaign to save Medibank by visiting http://www.savemedibank.net.au
Radio Rentals in Prospect, South Australia, has locked out 16 technicians for a month, after took industrial action in support of a collective agreement.
A Radio Rentals statement said the lockout had nothing to do with WorkChoices.
But AMWU SA secretary John Camillo said the Howard Government's industrial relations laws denied the opportunity to seek resolution through the Industrial Relations Commission.
"Unfortunately under the Howard anti-worker legislation these people have got no other options now and there's nothing we can do," Camillo said.
Radio Rentals technicians voted in favour of industrial action, after management started pushing AWA individual contracts.
One technician said the collective agreement offered a one per cent pay increase, with another 2.5 per cent conditional on an "impossible" production target.
Camillo said: "These men and their families are being deprived of an income for a month because they want a collective agreement and they refused AWAs."
Under the Howard Government's industrial relations laws, the Industrial Relations Commission can only hear matters if it is agreed to by both the employer and the employees.
In May, Jin Woog Kim had all five fingers from one hand ripped off in an unsafe machine at Rexma, a plastics factory in the Sydney suburb of Revesby.
After the accident his employer, who had been paying him a flat rate of $10 an hour with no sick or holiday pay, overtime or superannuation, reported him to the Immigration Department as an illegal immigrant.
CFMEU state secretary Andrew Ferguson said the union - which was contacted by Mr Kim two weeks ago - had already won him a $13,000 workers compensation payment and was working on a lump sum payment for the loss of use of his dominant hand, as well as a claim for underpayment of wages and non-payment of entitlements.
"The boss has just advertised the factory for sale. He's doing a cut and run, he'll have the company go bust so he doesn't have to pay," Ferguson said.
According to the CFMEU, a number of illegal workers have been employed by Rexma under appalling conditions and threatened with deportation if they complain.
The use of illegal immigrants as cheap labour is a growing trend, with employers able to dispose of them at will by having them arrested and deported, Ferguson said.
Yet the federal government hasn't responded to extensive lobbying by the CFMEU to introduce effective penalties against these employers, he said.
Under current law, employers must admit knowingly employing an illegal immigrant before facing prosecution. They never do.
"Under this liberal government, not one employer has been punished for exploiting illegal workers," he said.
The briefing was called after it was revealed the Liberal leader had pooled the four per cent increase, negotiated by the union, and then distributed among just four of his 14 staff.
PSA industrial organiser Maria Cirillo said she briefed the staff and explained that the annual four per cent wages raises were identified to be shared among all workers.
"The leaders were more concerned about where we got the information then how much they were being paid, although you could see some of the quieter ones doing the sums in their heads and working out that they were getting a raw deal."
"They basically vented at us; we stood our ground and left membership forms for anyone who was interested in joining when the zealots were not in the room."
When questioned by the media on his approach to collective bargaining, Debnam labelled the increase "socialist", raising questions about his general attitude to public sector wages.
NSW Public Service Association general secretary John Cahill says this was never the intention of the union-negotiated wages deal.
"Unions negotiate pay rises to be shared by all workers, the idea of taking that benefit and passing it on to the select few is against everything we stand for," Mr Cahill said.
"This decision is an insult to the Opposition leader's workforce and an insult to the PSA members across the public sector who fought hard for this collective agreement."
The PSA has written to Mr Debnam seeking responses to the following questions.
- Was the right to a four per cent pay rise communicated to his staff?
- Was the question of distribution of the pay rise discussed with your staff prior to your decision to deny them increases?
- What criteria was applied in determining who should benefit from the pay rise?
- And is this the approach he intends spreading across the public sector should you win power in March 2007?
The PSA is also looking at launching legal action to force the Opposition leader to review the salary deal and share the increase equally.
Global giant ISS has signed up to the LHMU's 'Clean Start' principles, meaning it won't allow its contractors use WorkChoices to drive down wages and conditions.
Contract cleaning is seen as one of the industries most vulnerable to a WorkChoices assault and the LHMU's strategy of targeting property managers is part of a global strategy being driven by the US-based SEIU.
" This is a wonderful step forward," LHMU national secretary Jeff Lawrence says.
"ISS is the market leader in Australia and is showing the way by honouring the Clean Start: Fair Deal for Cleaners principles for high cleaning standards, collective bargaining and decent work for cleaners in Australia."
Among the beneficiaries of the deal are cleaners from 34 nations working in the 41 storey Renzo Piano building in the Sydney CBD.
But Danny Nemer, born in Lebanon, and his 33 other colleagues from Nepal, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Thailand, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Brazil and many other countries, are just happy that this agreement defends their $16 an hour wage from further erosion and gives them real opportunities to campaign for better and safer jobs.
" We think we should have the same rights to a fair go and the good life as many of the people who work on the floors above us," Danny explains as he talks about the successes of the Clean Start: Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign.
Danny has just got back from Lebanon having escaped the Hizbollah-Israel war with his family in a dangerous overland trip to Damascus.
Job security delivers new opportunity for young immigrant family
" That was really scary. That was insecurity," Danny Nemer explains to his workmates.
" But I tell you I was extremely happy to come back to work and find out that all our campaigning has resulted in a win which delivers job security for me and my young family."
The Clean Start: Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign was launched last April.
For more details go to http://www.lhmu.org.au/lhmu/campaigns/Clean_Start/
NSW Police are calling on the state and federal governments to pass the 15 per cent standard on to frontline emergency workers, after Howard ditched a promise to limit politicians' super to the community standard of nine per cent after just 18 months.
"Now they have awarded 15 percent to themselves, we don't see how they can deny the same payment to workers who put their lives on the line protecting the community," said NSW Police Association Secretary, Peter Remfrey.
Police should also be able to claim their super on retirement, rather than waiting until they're 60, he said.
"The majority of police officers retire prematurely, many due to the stresses and dangers inherent in protecting the community," said Remfrey.
NSW firefighters want all the state's workers to benefit from higher levels of super.
"If increased retirement funds are good enough for the pollies they are good enough for the rest of us," said Simon Flynn, NSW Secretary of the NSW Fire Brigade Employees Union.
"Retirement needs do not only affect politicians. Nurses, teachers, factory workers and firefighters all need to be financially secure when they finish work," Flynn said.
"Over the coming months I look forward to shaming pollies into improving superannuation contributions for the rest of us."
Be an Extra
The ABC Television Network is producing a new mini-series called "Bastard Boys". The mini-series is about the 1998 Patrick dispute.
The producers want to recreate the Port Botany Picket Line and need volunteers to shoot the re-enactment on Saturday, 16 September from 1.30pm onwards.
Lunch and drinks will be provided
Make Life Fair Everywhere
September 20, Wednesday,
Union-Aid Abroad APHEDA Annual Dinner
6.30pm for 7pm start
Petersham RSL (7 Regent St)
More info: 02 9264 6343 or [email protected]
Rekindling the Flames of Discontent: How the Labour and Folk Movements Work Together
A Conference - Dinner - Concert
The Brisbane Labour History Association is holding a Conference/Dinner/Concert on Saturday 23 September. This event will explore the historical relationship between the labour movement and the folk movement in Australia with a particular emphasis on Queensland.
Why? To celebrate the history of the interaction between the Folk and Labour movements, and promote its longevity.
When? Saturday 23 September. Conference from 1pm. Concert from 7pm.
Where? East Brisbane Bowls Club, Lytton Rd, East Brisbane, Next to Mowbray Park
It is still in the formative stages, but to date the following are confirmed:
1-5pm CONFERENCE (will include music with the presentations):
Doug Eaton on John Manifold & the Communist Arts Group in Brisbane, Brisbane Realists
Bob & Margaret Fagan on Sydney Realist Writers
Mark Gregory on trade union & labour songs/music, nationally/internationally
Lachlan & Sue on international perspectives
5 - 7pm Drinks followed by DINNER
7 - 11pm CONCERT
Combined Unions Choir
Bob and Margaret Fagan
Pope Talks IR
Monday 25 September 2006.
Brisbane Work and Industry Futures QUT, and the Department of Industrial Relations Griffith University are convening a one-day conference that explores Work, Industrial Relations and Popular Culture.
David Pope, the cartoonist behind the Heinrich Hinze cartoons will be Keynote Speaker with his presentation - "Is the pen mightier than s356? Cartoons and Work" (www.scratch.com.au)
We welcome any paper that explores the manner in which popular culture is used by unions, management or policy makers or alternatively, how work and industrial relations is represented within popular culture.
Sub-themes for the conference include: - Policy, Influence and Modern Mediums - Which is Reality, Work or TV? - Popular Music: Is it the End of the Working Class Man? - Working in the Movies: What do we see? - Popular Culture as a Teaching Tool. Call for Papers. Abstracts are due 14 July 2006 Full papers are due 11 September 2006 Location; Southbank, Brisbane.
The convenors would welcome participants to submit proposed titles earlier to assist in preparations. For further information please contact Keith Townsend ([email protected]) or David Peetz ([email protected])
I am totally appalled that a non-govt Mental Health 'Support group' in the South West of Western Australia, known as 'Bunbury Pathways '92' is ripping off Mentally ill clients by paying them less than $5 an hour to do landscaping and coastal regeneration work that they (the support group) are being contracted to do by corporate and govt interests.
The poor sods are being ripped off blind working their arses off to feather the nest and create a 'nice' public profile for the 'powers that be' at 'Bunbury pathways'. All the clients are being told how 'lucky' they are to be getting 'such good money'.
It seems that this sad state of affairs is what John Howard's IR 'reform' and 'work for the disability pension' is really all about.
I hope that by raising this issue that this exploitation will be brought to an end and that those responsible will be held to account and prosecuted.
Jean-Luc deVere, WA
A youtube vid showing how Howard sides with Big Business elites over average aussies' economic interests every chance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3guJvtbRJBg
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