||Issue No. 331||03 November 2006|
From Green House to Glass House
Interview: Common Ground
Industrial: A Low Act
Unions: The Number of the Least
Politics: The Smoking Gun
Economics: Microcredit, Compulsory Superannuation and Inequality
Environment: Low Voltage
History: The Art of Social Justice
Review: Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Culture: A Forgotten Poet
Lies, Damned Lies and the Shirkin' Gherkin
Advocate, Peter McIlwain, stunned Senate Estimates this week when he said his office would no longer make that information available to legislators.
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson said McIlwain's extraordinary decision ripped the "last shred of credibility" away from an agency that has been accused of partisan political activism since its creation.
"The Employment Advocate has decided to deny Australians the data they need to make informed decisions about WorkChoices," Robertson said.
"Information already released shows John Howard misled the public and that union criticisms were on the money.
"What McIlwain and his masters need to understand is that refusing to tell the truth doesn't mean it no longer exists.
"The federal government's defence of WorkChoices has been based on a mixture of lies, damned lies and statistics. All this does is take statistics out of its equation."
McIlwain refused to update Senators on admissions made last May that every single AWA analysed by his Office removed at least one of the conditions John Howard had promised to "protect by law".
He said 16 percent of AWAs excluded all five conditions at the heart of the Prime Minister's $60 million advertising campaign and that employers were within their rights to cut them.
McIlwain revealed 64 percent of AWAs cut leave loadings; 63 percent eliminated penalty rates, and that 52 percent cut shift loadings.
On May 29 he told senators his office would continue to collect the information.
But this week he dogged on that assurance.
He said the information was no longer available because "sometime in June" he developed "serious concerns" about his office's methodology.
The Office of the Employment Advocate was created by the Howard Government to promote its industrial relations agenda.
Former Advocate, Jonathan Hamberger, carried out an aggressive campaign against the CFMEU and inspired the discredited Cole Royal Commission with an 11-page report that contained lurid accusations that have not been substantiated to this day.
Hamberger was appointed to the position after carving out a reputation as an aggressive, ideological employer representative.
OEA insiders have dubbed McIlwain "The Gherkin - the piece of the hamburger you throw away".
It has become a point of contention, that under his leadership, the OEA greenlights AWA individual contracts, on lodgement, without checking, but holds up collective union, negotiated agreements for months at a time, checking for anything the federal government might take exception to.
His office doubles as cheerleader for AWAs and has arranged media stunts to celebrate the 750,000th and, more recently, the millionth AWA since they were introduced in 1996.
But again, its stats are rubbery, at best.
Two months before fanfare for the 750,000th last year the Office conceded it had no idea how many AWAs were in operation.
Press flak, Bonnie Laxton-Blinkhorn told Workers Online the OEA didn't record that information and "if we don't nobody else would".
Robertson said the decision to deny Australians information on how AWAs undermined protected award conditions, "gelled" with last year's ABS refusal to continue the long-standing practice of comparing agreements.
Hard ABS data released in 2004 comprehensively refuted claims by the Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister that Australians on individual contracts earned more than those on collective contracts.
Then, last October, the ABS announced the pay fixing component of its annual review had been shelved, ensuring there would be no statistical review of comparative wage trends under WorkChoices, before Australians cast their ballots in the next federal election.
The ABS is a federal government agency that comes under the control of Treasurer, Peter Costello.
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