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Issue No. 330 27 October 2006  
E D I T O R I A L

Fair Weather Friends
This week’s decision by the Orwellian Fair Pay Commission may have surprised some with its seemingly generous quantum, but in doing so it also reinforced the union movement’s central criticism of the new wage fixing structure.

F E A T U R E S

Interview: Cowboys and Indians
Finance Sector Union national secretary Paul Schroder is standing between the big banks and a bucket of money.

Industrial: Seven Deadly Sins
Chris Christodoulou gives seven reasons why WorkChoices is bad for business

Unions: The IT Factor
The future of Australian IT looks grim as big companies lead the rush to India and China, writes Jackie Woods.

Politics: Bargain Basement
Simple principles of democracy underpin the ACTU's collective bargaining proposal, insists ACTU Secrteary Greg Combet.

Environment: An Inconvenient Hoax
Al Gore may be warning of climate breakdown, but what hope the truth when he's up against such a well-oiled machine? asks Paul Sheridan

Corporate: Two Sides
Bilateral trade agreements are a good idea – just ask the US multinationals. The rest of us should strongly disagree says Pat Ranald

International: Unfair Dismissals
Nearly 10,000 workers were fired for their trade union activities in 2005, an annual trade union survey shows.

History: A Stitch in Time
Neale Towart takes some lessons from female textile workers while considering the case for recognition ballots.

Review: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
A film charting the turmoil of the Irish war for independence against British occupation during the 1920s might seem an odd choice for top honours at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.

N E W S

 Unhappy Campers in Court

 Gran Backs Beazley

 Aunty Strikes at Lakemba Mosque

 Boeing Clause Flies

 Rissole Burns Joint Venture

 US Workers Bush Whacked

 Community Volunteers for Heavy Lifting

 Gong Sounds for Rogue Uni

 ANZ Banks on India

 Hollow Victory for Low Paid

 Life Education for Apprentices

 Activists

C O L U M N S

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Ian West takes a walk around the backyard with the Prime Minister…

The Soapbox
Rise Up
Hugo Chavez's explosive address to the United Nations

Culture
The Fear Factor
A new analysis of the history of fear takes us from the war on terror all the way to the modern workplace.

L E T T E R S
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Editorial

Fair Weather Friends


This week’s decision by the Orwellian Fair Pay Commission may have surprised some with its seemingly generous quantum, but in doing so it also reinforced the union movement’s central criticism of the new wage fixing structure.

Yes employers are crying poor and the government is claiming the union has been crying wolf, after its team of part-time appointees handed down a ruling at the high end of expectations.

But the fact that this body, charged with wide-ranging powers in gathering information that is by its nature subjective, felt compelled to hit high is totally consistent with the core concerns that this body is too open to political influence.

In this case, that influence took the form of the union Rights at Work campaign, backed by a phalanx of religious leaders putting government on notice that a decline in the minimum wage would draw them into the political domain in a way rarely seen in this country.

It was positive influence, but an influence nonetheless, that highlights the fact that the Fair Pay Commission is a totally different beast from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission it replaces.

The AIRC exercised judicial powers underpinned by the constitution; it heard evidence under oath, judicial procedures prevailed and its findings, by their nature were robust and based on an objective analysis of evidence.

In contrast the FPC appoints 'experts' - predominantly free market economists, who collect academic papers, conduct focus groups and get PR consultants to run community consultations on their behalf,

They are laden with political appointees, with a keen political eye. They know their long term task is to drive the minimum wage down in real terms, but they know too that to move too quickly would spell disaster for their political masters.

Like the major corporations holding back from using WorkChoices to de-unionise their workplaces, they know it is in their long-term interests to sit back until after the next federal election and make themselves a small target until they are more deeply entrenched in the system.

The employers knew this and their outrage this week was just too cute; the PM was positively gushing - the first time he has ever endorsed a pay rise that hadn't been awarded to himself, using the term 'genius'.

The danger for unions is that the religious leaders who have spoken out, now reading the headline figure and convincing themselves there is really nothing to worry about. In a modern take on Catch-22, this mindset would ease the pressure to ensure the original fears are realised.

As for the low paid, dig behind the headline figure and it looks a little less special:

- as it's the first pay increase in 18 months - in that time interest rates have risen three times and petrol prices have sky-rocketed.

- It represents a decrease in real wages. $30 was required to maintain wages for the low paid.

- It also means federal workers will fall behind those employed under NSW awards who have received regular increases in line with or above the CPI determined by an independent umpire.

And don't forget the key difference, under the old system a pay rise was guaranteed every year - now will only occur with the government and their appointees deign it.

This breaking of this nexus will inevitably drive real wages down. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.

Peter Lewis

Editor


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