Labor Council of NSW secretary Michael Costa this week fired off a preemptive salvo to employers of the 40,000 workers who are entitled to the bonus.
"Given the number of problems we have had to date on late payment of wages generally, Unions 2000 formally puts on notice that we intend to take an aggressive stand on late bonus payments," Costa says.
Under the Unions 2000 agreement, workers were entitled to a $1.50 per hour bonus, payable in line with their attendance during the Games. Workers who completed 95 per cent of allocated shifts get their full bonus, between 85 per cent and 95 per cent, they receive 75 per cent; between 75 per cent and 85 per cent they get half, while those who completed less than 75 per cent of allocated shifts do not get anything.
Costa says Unions 2000 expects the December 1 deadline to be strictly observed.
"Our position will be as follows," he says. "If members ring after 1 December, 2000 advising that they have not received their bonus payment, we will contact your company.
"If the member does not receive the payment within 24 hours of our contact we will pursue compensation for late payments inn addition to prosecuting for breaches of the award."
Breaching the award would carry fines of up to $1,000 per breach.
Where to Now for Homebush
Meanwhile, the Australian Workers Union, has called for a post-Olympic plan for the Homebush Bay facilities to ensure they remain viable.
AWU state secretary Russ Collison says at the moment the future of some of the venues, along with 2,500 potential long-term jobs, is looking shaky in the absenc eof a long term management plan.
Collison has called on the State Government to secure a role for Homebush Bay Park as a social and recreational focal point, similar to that offered at Darling Harbour.
Labor Council has agreed to work with affiliates to approach the State government to work on such a plan.
The workers pressured the insurer to agree to pay compensation to a worker who was almost killed and left permanently disabled after falling several meters while working on a construction job in Sydney.
The worker who had about $20,000 worth of hospital bills was told by the employer he was not covered by compensation and he should leave the country immediately.
Michael Costa Labor Council Secretary after organising a meeting with the GIO insurance company presented the Korean worker with a cheque for his full compensation entitlements.
The Koreans were so overwhelmed by their victory that they performed a traditional union song and Labor Council delegates jumped to their feet to join there union colleagues celebrate
According to one delegate it was a very stirring moment and it was like a scene from Les Miserables where the students rise again.
Incu Kang a representative from a visiting Korean trade union delegation said " we are very impressed with the outcome of this and the respect and influence the unions have in Australia "
Incu went on to say we very grateful to the Labor Council for their assistance and when I address the Korean community later I will tell them about this experience and the importance of being in a union.
Article By Super Slueth
Work Experience Student
by Zoe Reynolds
Maritime Union of Australia national secretary John Coombs announced the bans on asbestos imports that already apply in other European nations including France, Finland, Italy, Germany and the UK.
Mr Coombs was speaking at National Asbestos Awareness Week, Remembrance Day, held in honour of the thousands of Australians workers killed due to exposure to deadly asbestos fibres.
"The union and its members are not prepared to compromise Health and safety standards by exposure to asbestos dust. The Australian public should be aware that this proven lethal substance is still being imported into the country by the tonne," he said.
"We shut down the mines, but now they are bringing it from overseas." Australia imports 1500 tonnes of raw asbestos and an estimated 1 million products containing asbestos. Most of the raw asbestos goes into the manufacture of brake linings in Melbourne.
But a World Trade Organisation panel of experts concluded in September that asbestos fibres can be substituted with safer materials. The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission has recommended a phase out of asbestos imports over five years.
ACTU executive says this is not good enough. Australia has one of the worlds' highest rates of mesothelioma
Worksafe Australia estimates 16,000 mesothelioma deaths and 40,000 lung cancer deaths between 1987 and 2010. Less than 15 per cent of patients who develop lung cancer will survive five years.
The majority will be dead within 12 months. And as yet there is no cure for mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining caused by asbestos. The union movement has been at the forefront of the battle to outlaw asbestos and win compensation for men and women dying from asbestos disease.
Unions have successfully campaigned for the closure of the asbestos mines at Wittenoom, Barbara and Baryulgil for government bans on blue asbestos and for employees to have the right to stop work if asbestos guidelines are breached.
The MUA, CFMEU and ETU are now lobbying the NSW government for an asbestos disease research institute at Concord Hospital. Unions have also helped win record compensation payouts for workers and their families struck by asbestos disease and death.
Last week wharfie's widow Maureen Crimmins won a marathon legal battle for compensation against the Federal Government. More than 500 claims are to follow.
It is noteworthy that the ACTU executive passed a resolution of October 31, 2000 as follows: The ACTU Executive is appalled at the failure of the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission to recommend prohibition of the use of white asbestos. Executive notes that the NOH&SCC themselves estimate that 40,000 asbestos related deaths will occur in the next 20 years. The failure of government representatives and employers on the Commission to support the prohibition of the use of asbestos is a national disgrace and if not challenged will condemn innocent workers, their families and the general public to unacceptable exposure to a killer dust. ACTU Executive therefore determines to conduct a campaign to ban the use of asbestos and asbestos containing products so that no more Australian contract asbestos related diseases."
Peter Reith's Employment and Workplace Relations department revealed yesterday that secret contracts between the Government and Centrelink reward or penalise the welfare agency according to the number of clients breached for failing to meet mutual obligation commitments.
The Community and Public Sector Union's Mark Gepp said "It is nothing more than blood money for preying on the misfortune of people who are out of work. We don't want any part of it."
Mr Gepp said Centrelink workers have become increasingly frustrated by Government's attempts to claw back welfare payments.
"Our members work in Centrelink because they are committed to helping people. To fund Centrelink on the basis of cutting people off payments is a perversion of what welfare is about. Centrelink workers believe Government's approach is preventing them properly considering the unique circumstances of each person's case."
The union also warned that if Government outsourced or privatised Centrelink clients would receive less support.
"Imagine what would go on if Centrelink services were sold to unregulated private sector providers. Details about how and why people are breached would be lost behind 'commercial-in-confidence' contracts. God help the elderly, the disabled and the jobless in those circumstances" Mr Gepp said.
The leave provisions would apply to casual employees who have 12 months regular and systematic employment with the same employer under the application lodged today with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Melbourne.
"One in three Australian working women is now employed as a casual. Without the right to maternity leave many of these workers have no option but to resign or be sacked if they become pregnant. This test case is about ending that injustice," ACTU President Sharan Burrow says.
Australia's 2.5 million casual workers now make up 27% of the workforce, up from less than 13% at the beginning of the 1980s. Federal laws exclude these workers from accessing unpaid parental leave regardless of how long they have worked with the same employer.
Ms Burrow said it was time to recognise that the nature of casual work in Australia was changing with more casuals being engaged for longer periods with the same employer. Some 60% of casual women workers have worked with the same employer for more than one year.
"Unions won maternity leave rights for women in 1979. But twenty years later, a third of women workers can't access that right because they are employed as casuals. It's time this discrimination was ended."
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has identified significant discrimination against pregnant casual workers. But in a move Ms Burrow describes as heartless and out of touch with community sentiment, the Federal Government rejected the Commission's recommendation that Federal laws be changed to extend unpaid maternity leave to casuals.
The ACTU will use five Federal awards as the vehicle for the test case: The Clerical and Administrative Employee (Victoria) Award '99 (ASU) Totalizator Agency Board of Victoria (Off Course Tote) Award '93 (ASU) Hospitality Industry-Accommodation, Hotels & Gaming Award '98 (LHMU) Vehicle Industry-Repair, Service & Retail Award '00 (SDA) Retail, Wholesale and Distributive Employees (NT) Award '00 (SDA)
A decision on the test case is expected in May 2001. If successful, unions will apply to have 12 months unpaid parental leave for casual workers inserted in all Federal awards.
by Bernadette Moloney
Passing judgement, Justice Marshall stated: "In short Mr Williamson was set up by a highly artificially manufactured device arranged by two people who have a reckless indifference to probity and a propensity to give inconsistent and unacceptable evidence under oath ... The conversation was an orchestrated confrontation engineered by Mr Lyten to deliberately provoke a dispute which would otherwise have, in all likelihood, not occurred."
The Employment Advocate was acting on behalf of John Lyton, who secretly taped a conversation with the shop steward at a Melbourne building site in February 1999. The Advocate claimed that the taped conversation proved the union and the shop steward had breached the Workplace Relations Act's freedom of association provisions and sought fines against the union and the shop steward.
In dismissing the application, Justice Marshall refused to admit the tape into evidence, saying that Lyten and his "co-conspirator" Carson had improperly obtained the tape recording.
The Federal Court also criticised the Office of the Employment Advocate for not foreseeing this might occur after a visit by Mr Lyten and CPC director Mr Carson to the OEA.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it should have been reasonably foreseeable to Mr Hanley that Mr Lyten would attempt to record any conversation with Mr Williamson. As Mr Lyten said, Mr Hanley stressed upon him and Mr Carson Snr the need to have a clear record of what transpired. What better way to do that than to tape the conversation," said Justice Marshall.
The Court also described as "unfortunate" the fact that the Advocate's efforts to obtain an injuction early in 1999 "was made without all known factual issues being disclosed to the Court."
Welcoming the decision, CFMEU Construction Division National Secretary John Sutton said "The Federal Court's decision vindicates the union and its delegate. Workers have a right to discuss union membership without fear of having their conversations taped for use in court hearings."
"In this country it is unacceptable for the government to subsidise people who tell lies, provoke confrontation and use secret recording devices to set up workers. It is a scandal that taxpayers' money has been used to carry out a witch hunt straight out of the McCarthy era," Mr Sutton said.
"Reith should resign and the Employment Advocate's Office should be abolished," said Mr Sutton
Both the NSW Nurses Association and the CFMEU have written to Labor Council this week outlining concerns about changes to the operation, policies and structure of WorkCover NSW.
The CFMEU is organizing a protest outside WorkCover's office next Monday (November 27) to draw attention to proposals to reduce first aid standards, through a new consolidated regulation on occupational health and safety,
The CFMEU's Brian Miller told Labor Council delegates the move would see a return to Third World conditions on building sites by lifting the requirement that a dedicated First Aid room be provided on all major projects.
Among the concerns from the Nurses Association are:
- consultation with unions in the wake of the decision to abolish the OHS Council and the Workers Compensation Advisory Council. The Nurses say WorkCover should be making more effort to use the Industry Reference Groups to talk to stakeholders. The IRGs were established along with the Advisory Council to devolve power to unions and employer representatives.
- selection of union representatives to consultative committees. The Nurses say WorkCover is selecting people to represent employees on committees without consultation with the relevant trade unions.
- loss of expertise within WorkCover as a result of downsizing, restructuring and the proposed move to Gosford. The Nurses say this is affecting WorkCover's ability to give advice to employers and unions and has led to errors in a number of recent prosecutions.
- access to information, following WorkCover's shift to placing information and education materials exclusively on the Internet. Given fewer than 20 per cent of employees currently have access to the Net at work, the Nurses say it is vital to continuting providing these materials in hard copy form.
The Nurses have urged Labor Council to take the issues up with the new Minister for Industrial Relations John Della Bosca. Labor Council secretary Michael Costa says he'll seek a meeting as a matter of urgency.
by Alison Peters
The workers are owed $3.6 million after their employer secretly transferred their employment to a number of shelf companies with no assets.
They rallied outside the National Australia Bank's Sydney Office seeking a meeting with the Bank who is the major secured creditor of STP. The workers were asking that the NAB put aside its preferred status so that they could receive the money owed to them.
FSU State Secretary Geoff Derrick addressed the rally telling Workers that the Bank had just posted a record profit of $3.2 billion and that the CEO Frank Cicutto had had his salary increased by 20% to $1.9 million p.a. FSU members supported the STP workers' campaign to get their entitlements said Geoff who reminded everyone that bank staff were not responsible for decisions taken by Bank management.
NSW IR Minister John Della Bosca told the workers that he supported them getting 100% of their entitlements and that he was going to continue his push to establish a national scheme to protect workers entitlements that wasn't going to let employers off the hook .
A small delegation on behalf of the STP workers then met with Bank senior managers to put their case that the Bank should have a heart and demonstrate that it was a responsible corporate citizen as well as a record profit maker.
AMWU NSW State Secretary Paul Bastian said that the delegation was told by the Bank representatives that it would be difficult to forego their place in the queue due to the precedent that it might set and that in any event it was a matter for the Bank's head office in Melbourne. The delegation also asked the Bank to publicly support changes to corporations laws to outlaw the sort of shonky arrangements that have seen STP workers lose their hard earned entitlements.
Paul said the AMWU and the STP workers would keep the pressure on until the workers got all of the money owed to them.
by Andrew Casey
" It was the decision of Wattyl to lock-out Australians from their workplace. It was the decision of the management to stop our members from doing their jobs," Cheryl Hyde, the LHMU Assistant National Secretary, says. " On Wednesday the company issued the three-day lock out notice - which led to the sit-ins.
" Our members will now proudly front Wattyl gates first shift Monday morning - ready for work.
" When they decided on a lock-out our members met and immediately voted to stay inside the buildings and not be forced out by the company - this spread across the nation.
Earlier in the week, reporting on the Wattyl dispute, The Australian newspaper, quoted Joe Isaac, the former Deputy President of the Industrial Relations Commission, as saying that sit-ins have not been a significant feature of the Australian industrial landscape.
" It is the lock-out which is the new employer style of workplace relations in Australia," Cheryl Hyde said.
" This strategy has spread and infected factories and offices and other workplaces ever since Peter Reith took over the job of Federal IR Minister.
" It is ugly and something that ordinary Australians reject because it is not part of our Fair Go ethos."
Because of the lock out, production of more than 3 million litres of paint - worth an estimated $60 million - was stopped .
If you want to read earlier stories about the Wattyl dispute then first read Wattyl a Sit-In Do For A Pay Rise?
And then read Wattyl We Do For a Pay Rise - sit-ins spread nationally.
If you want more details about what the LHMU paint workers asked for in their negotiations then click here and read about Paint 2000 -Primed To Win.
ACTU secretary Greg Combet says the lower than expected 3.1% annual Wage Cost Index result confirms the economy could sustain a decent pay rise for the low-paid.
"The economy may be doing well but many low-paid workers are being left behind. They missed out under the Government's tax cuts and now face $1 petrol, GST price hikes and climbing interest rates. They need a decent pay rise just to make ends meet," Combet says.
He says the low Wage Cost Index outcome result underlines the fact that last months 6.1% change in Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings (AWOTE) figure did not reflect what was really happening to the wages and salaries of ordinary Australians.
AWOTE is widely recognised as a volatile and inaccurate measure of wage growth as it is subject to composition changes in the workforce and is artificially inflated by big pay rises for high income earners. The Federal Government in its submissions to last year's Living Wage case described the Wage Cost Index as 'a better measure of the underlying trend in wage costs than current measures such as AWOTE.'
"The only real winners from a high AWOTE are the politicians who have linked their pay to increases in AWOTE. Instead of lecturing the low-paid on wage restraint, Peter Costello should offer to give back the automatic $205 a week pay rise he will get if AWOTE remains at its current level," Combet says.
The ACTU launched its Living Wage Claim 2001 earlier this month. The $28 a week claim would increase the Federal minimum wage from $400 a week to $428 and would benefit between 1.5 and 2 million low-paid workers who rely on increases in minimum award rates to maintain their living standards.
"If this Government is serious about sharing the benefits of economic growth then they should now support the ACTU's claim for a fair pay increase for low-paid workers," Combet says.
The award, along with a $500 study prize, is being offered for the second year, and will be judged by Labor Council secretary Michael Costa, President Sam Moaitt and TUTA director Michael Crosby.
Transport Workers Union activist Bruce Penton won the inaugural award last eyar for his working in torganising the private bus industry. He is planning to use his study money to travel to the USA in early 2001 to work with the Teamsters.
Nominations should include and outline of the organizing work and should be addressed to the Secretary, Michael Costa by facsimile 9261 3505 or email mailto:[email protected].
Organising Works Graduates - Ready, set go!
Meanwhile, union officials and the organisers of the future gathered at Poytonz in Carlton this week to mark the graduation of the Organising Works trainees of 2000 and celebrate the trainees' first nine months of working for unions.
Thirty graduates, their mentors and officials of the Organising Works Traineeship, together with ACTU President Sharan Burrow and Secretary Greg Combet, attended the dinner.
Graduates travelled from Western Australia, ACT, Queensland and NSW to attend the dinner, which was held in the same week as their final training. The trainees will now work as organisers for unions around the country.
The trainees said they were proud to have had the privilege of improving working people's lives, and to be part of what had become a close-knit group of friends and colleagues.
Lorin Booth who was selected by the Australian Services Union, Central & Southern Qld Clerical and Administrative Branch, said that the last nine months had enabled her to come into contact with a vast array of workers under different conditions and scenarios.
"I've been visiting workers at universities and hospitals in metropolitan areas as well as regional areas such as Toowoomba and the west. Whenever a demarcation issue erupts it's good to have a network of other organisers to talk to and remind each other that there's another 75 percent of unorganised workers out there."
Harriet Adams, who completed her traineeship with the CPSU ACT branch, organised employees in the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and Medibank Private. Harriet will continue to work at the CPSU and described the challenges she faced in her more recent activities when organising civilians working at the Defence Department.
"Often the civilian members would be working beside Department personnel but under a different award," she said "It takes a lot of diplomacy and sensitivity as well good communication and liaison skills to ensure a successful outcome. The Organising Works training helped me with that."
Eamonn O'Hearne-Large was selected as an ACTU trainee and placed at the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union to assist with the ACTU Organising Unit program. He said he had had a tumultuous year organising hotel workers - the highlight was the high-profile Living Wage rally held earlier in the year.
"It was rewarding to be involved in a campaign where people were organising themselves and supporting each other," he said.
Eamonn is returning to RMIT next year to complete his degree in Industrial Relations and Human Resources. He hopes to work on campaigns on a part-time basis.
The evening was also an opportunity to pay tribute to one of the founders of the Program. In 1993 Mary Stuart led an ACTU delegation to the United States to observe and analyse new recruiting techniques. On its return the delegation recommended that the Organising Works Traineeship be initiated. The first group of trainees was convened the following year.
Mary described her working life with unions, first as a delegate while working as a teacher, then as an organiser and finally as Senior Industrial Officer. She advised the trainees to "remember where they had come from and to be proud of themselves because it takes a lot of heart to make change".
Greg Combet congratulated the trainees for their commitment and completing the program. Sharan Burrow presented the graduates with their certificates and then ... the dancing began.
The members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union want the government to establish the fund, which would levy all developers to provide training for apprentices and ensure a stable skills base in the industry.
Based on the same concept as the successful Long Service Leave fund, which provides mobile long service leave entitlements to building workers, the CFMEU says the fund would ensure that employers already investing in training would not be disadvantaged.
"Currently employers who provide training face considerable costs, while contractors who train no one and have cheaper cost structures are undercutting them," CFMEU state secretary Andrew Ferguson says.
"A levy would ensure all developers contributed and good contractors were not disadvantaged."
Ferguson says after three years discussion with the government nothing has been done. He says the 24-hour strike by workers on the St Vincent could be a sign of things to come.
Health the Worst
Meanwhile, NSW Health has been identified as one of the worst offenders amongst state government departments failing to meet apprenticeship ratios.
Building Trades Group of Unions chief Graham Childs says many of the departments are not pursuing agreed rrations of trandesmen across the classifications.
They;ve called on Labor Council to organise a meeting with the Minister for Health over the issue.
by Andrew Casey
The school's domestic staff are expected, as part of their duties, to serve, cater and clean at the up-market, and school-provided, Deakin home of Canberra Girls Grammar School principal, Alison Groom.
The workers - members of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union - are in dispute with the school over the non-payment of $4000 in over-time.
The school - one of the most privileged in Australia - charges student fees of between $5,000- $9000 a year.
" Our members have not been paid correct overtime since 1998.
" If a school gets top dollar funding from the Federal Government it should be accountable for the fact that it doesn't pay its workforce correctly," Lyndal Ryan, the LHMU assistant branch secretary said today.
One of the members of the school's Board is Peter Boxall, the Secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration.
" This school - the wealthiest in Canberra - has behaved in a miserly way to its employees.
" I appeal to the school principal, Ms Alison Groom, to step in and fix up this on-going sore between the school and the domestic staff.
" Ms Groom knows many of these people.
" They have loyally served, cleaned and catered at her home, as well as at the school, for many, many years."
On Tuesday morning the school's domestic workers handed the school principal, staff and students as they arrived at the school gates, green plastic garbage bags and other domestic implements to highlight the on-going dispute.
" We wanted the staff and students to take the garbage bags and information leaflets home to their families where they could discuss the issue of paying people the wages they are owed - and see it as essentially a social justice question.
" We were told social justice had won out at midday on Tuesday - but our hopes were dashed by Tuesday afternoon."
" After the garbage protest the school quickly promised that all will be fixed up, and that cheques for nearly three years of overtime and backpay will finally start to flow," Lyndal Ryan said.
" But the School broke their word and talks collapsed by close of business on Tuesday as the school disputed how much backpay and overtime they owed to domestic staff," Lyndal said..
" In one instance they owe a cleaner $199 in backpay - but they disputed this figure and said they only owed $2.76. "
It took nearly three years of union campaigning for the school to tell the LHMU they would pay overtime to their domestic staff. That concession came after the union organised a protest which garnered a lot of attention under the glare of local TV cameras.
Once the talks broke down the domestic workers at the school imposed new bans including banning the cleaning of toilets.
You can read an earlier story about this dispute and the union protest outside the school by clicking here.
" Our members are very loyal to the school. They really did not want to humiliate and embarrass the school but after years and years of politely requesting their money they had had enough," Lyndal Ryan said.
" Finally they thought their protest had resulted in justice being done - only to have their hopes dashed."
Searle beat actor John Derum in the ballot of local members for the seat which take sin most of the Blue Mountains region in Sydney's west.
He worked closely with Shaw in the drafting of the 1996 Industrial Relations Act and the long-running attempts to reform the state's workers compensation scheme.
The Case for Fair Trade: a Citizen's Guide to the WTO will be launched by Sharan Burrow, ACTU President Thursday 7 December at 12.30pm in the Waratah Room at Parliament House in Macquarie Street. All are welcome.
The booklet is written by Dr Patricia Ranald of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre for the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, which is a network of forty community organisations. It includes major peak bodies, like the ACTU, the National Council of Churches, the Australian Conservation Foundation the Australian Council of Social Service, as well as state and local organisations from a wide range of areas.
The network supports the development of trading relationships with all countries and recognises the need for regulation of trade through the negotiation of international rules.
The first week of December is the anniversary of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle which was abandoned in the face of massive demonstrations and the refusal of developing country governments to agree to an agenda in which they had had no voice. Since Seattle, there is a growing movement for change but governments have not yet responded.
This booklet explains the WTO, and how its agreements impact on our lives. The WTO sets global rules for trade and investment between countries. It is run by governments that we elect. And yet WTO meetings are held behind closed doors, and often there is no public debate about its policies. There is growing criticism of WTO rules which can define environmental regulation, food safety regulation and local industry development policies as barriers to trade. This booklet contributes to the debate for fair and accountable trade policies, consistent with human rights and conservation of the environment.
Booklets can be ordered from Sarah Mitchell ph 92997833 or email [email protected] $3 for up to 50 copies, $2.50 for 50-100 and $2 for more than 100.
McGuiness will be attending a fundraising dinner at the Harold Park Raceway on the evening of December 2, sponsored by Australia Aid for Ireland.
For tickets call Paddy Gorman on 9267 1035 or 0418 116426
by Peter Lewis
About 12 months ago you were the unions' most wanted man - now, after a successful Olympics things seem to be sweet and light again. What's happened?
Well, the last 12 months certainly showed the vital importance of the unions and consultation. The Olympics I think have rightly been called "the Union Games", and this is certainly true of public transport. But I have to mention I did learn a lot from my brush with the unions in the last year and I have appreciated that a lot can be achieved by consultation. Unions represent the people who know the most about the rail system. They have got to be listened to and while we won't always agree, I do think the relationship now is much, much better than it might have been say, 12 or 18 months ago.
So what happened back there? Were you just taking advice from the experts? What was it that took things off the track?
Well, I think maybe I didn't listen to the unions as much as I should have in terms of what was going on at the ground level; listening to their organizers and some of the staff. I have learned from that brush. I think part of maturing in the political process is that you learn from your experiences, and if I had my time over again I would have approached the unions; their leadership; their organizers; and the staff in a different way. That is what I learned from that brush and I think what is important is the unions have responded. They have seen a change in the way that I deal with them and I consult with them far more heavily now than I might have some time ago.
Do you now accept that rail reform, particularly competitive tendering of track maintenance got out of control for a while there?
I think there are some good things we got out of rail reform and I know the rail unions have acknowledged this. We have learned from the process. But that doesn't mean that it didn't need some attention and in some places fine tuning, and in some places some reversals.
In respect of competitive tendering of track maintenance I was very concerned about it. The unions said as much to me about that. I listened to them, and the Cabinet accepted my recommendation that we should not proceed with the competitive tendering of track maintenance. I did that to make sure we protected jobs and we also ensured that the job was being done better - rather than necessarily having it put out to the private sector.
The legislation currently before Parliament joins together the Rail Access Corporation and RSA maintenance under public control. What is the thinking behind this?
Once you have made the decision that contracting out of track maintenance is not going to be proceeded with, then it doesn't make a lot of sense to have the owner of the track separated from the maintainer of the track. That's the first thing. The second thing is, I found it is much less effective in having the person deciding where the work is going to be done, separate from the person doing the work. You really need them together, to make sure all the people who have got the knowledge of how the track should work and actually does work, are together in the one organisation. Primarily of course, it doesn't really make a great deal of sense if you are not going to continue to competitively tender the work, there is no point in having a separate body.
And how does that wrap up into your idea of what the appropriate private/public split in public transport in general should be?
We are very, very committed to the public ownership of public transport, and certainly where it is currently publicly owned, it will continue to be publicly owned, and where the track is currently publicly maintained, it will continue to be publicly maintained. I have a very, very strong commitment philosophically and politically to the public ownership of our railways and of our STA buses and ferries. And I will continue that commitment. I have made some very strong commitments to the rail unions about that.
The rail industry has more than halved its workforce in the last decade - have we gone as far as we are going to go down this track?
I think the Olympic legacy showed that the Games were successful in part because we had very well staffed railway stations and a very well staffed rail system. And I think the public really appreciated that. What I am concerned about is front line staff really ought not to have any more reductions. That is certainly a message that I have got from the public and I have had a number of discussions with the unions and with the Coordinator General about the need to recognize that front line staff are vital and you really can't keep taking pieces out of them in terms of the number that you need to do the job.
So are you prepared to make some commitment that you are not going to be knocking down that front line?
That's not to say that here or there there may not be a need to review appropriate levels of particular parts of the system, but over all I think we need to make sure that you don't hack into front line staff numbers. That's something that I have learned over the last two or three years and certainly what I learned as a legacy from the Olympics. You really have to protect those numbers but the question as to where they might be best located, I think are legitimate issues that we need to consult and work with the unions over.
It's tough call isn't it? How do you put a productivity line on someone who is basically customer service?
I value highly, as the Coordinator General does, customer service. I think that is worth valuing properly, and I think in the past sometimes senior management hasn't put the value on that that perhaps they should have. So, it is not to say it is not a legitimate question about how many staff members you may need at any particular location at a point in time, but the general question of needing to have adequate staff levels for front line services is very important and valuable to me, and to the travelling public.
Given recent uproar over the rising tolls on private roads and the problems facing the airport link - do you think we are seeing a shift from the philosophy that the private sector necessarily does transport best?
I think there is always a good case for assessing and considering the private financing of public infrastructure and often there is an opportunity for building a road or a rail line or an airport or a busway possibly, with private finance that otherwise might not be available from the public sector because our resources are fully committed. Now the way that you pay for that private finance obviously is with user charges - either with tolls or some other form of user charge. What we have to make sure of is that the deal is good for the taxpayer. It can't be just good for the shareholders of the company that provides the finance - it has got to be good for taxpayers. And the deal with the airport line for example, I think probably is not a great deal for taxpayers - certainly it potentially exposes taxpayers to great financial risk, and appears to be overly favourable to those who provided the finance. So on that particular one the balance wasn't as good as it could have been.
Is that because the government of the day didn't argue the terms tough enough?
It put itself in a poor negotiating position because it made it plain that it was desperate to get a big piece of infrastructure proposal up for the '95 election, and I think perhaps traded away protections that might otherwise have been put in there if they weren't time constrained to an election commitment.
You are responsible for public transport as well as roads - and we are hearing a lot about roads on the federal scene at the moment- how do you see the road/public transport mix? When do you decide to put a road in rather than public transport?
I found that having the two portfolios is very, very effective in looking at the integration between the two and making whole-of-transport assessments of what should be supported. Now, I believe that the Department of Transport can have a stronger role in terms of bridging the gap between rail and road in particular, and buses, and the new Director General of the Department of Transport has been charged by me to actually have a very important role there. But certainly having one Minister with chief executives underneath him, I believe, is more effective than having separate Ministers dealing with those two portfolios separately.
When you find an area that needs servicing, where do you think the onus should lie? As a best option would you prefer to be building rail or roads?
I have to balance the needs of motorists with the needs of public transport commuters, and also encourage motorists to use public transport. That is why we are building motorways at the same time as building rail lines and purchasing new rolling stock and upgrading stations and building new bus-only freeways out in western Sydney. So I have got a very large constituency that includes people who do use public transport and who would like to use public transport if it was improved and made more accessible, but there is a large freight industry and a large number of people who have no option but to use their own vehicles to get to work and home again. I am endeavouring to provide the infrastructure for all of those people.
What about more basic issues like environmentally friendly transport like light rail and bicycles? What is your agenda on those?
Light rail - I've put in about $16 million to enable that extension to Lilyfield out near Leichhardt, and that I believe has worked quite well. We are examining whether or not we can extend it into the city after the cross-city tunnel is built, or further out to Leichhardt itself.
In terms of the bicycle facilities, I don't think anyone before me has made as strong a commitment to building cycleways in Sydney. And elsewhere in NSW we have introduced the Bike Plan 2010, which is a $250 million commitment for cycleways all across the State, with very strong emphasis in Sydney, and in particular, western Sydney. I'll give you an example: wherever the 90km of bus-only freeways are being built on our transitways, we'll also have off-road cycleways. When that is completed in 10 years, we will have 90km of cycleway, and I think that is pretty good.
You look around some of the big cities in Europe and they actually close the city off to private vehicles. There is just public transport, bikes and taxis. Can you ever see the day when Sydney would have that sort of policy?
I can't see that happening yet, but that may well be a possibility for a future government along way down the track to have a look at. I think at this stage we need to encourage as much as possible, the use of public transport into the CBD, bearing in mind we also have a tolling system, as in the M5 the Eastern Distributor and the M2, so that if people are accessing the city by road they have to pay for it. If they want to use the cross-city tunnel when it is opened they will have to be paying for it, and that is certainly an encouragement to use public transport. But as for any more aggressive forms of discouraging the use of cars in the city, certainly we are not actively considering those options.
Internationally at the moment there is a debate about how you encourage a reduction in greenhouse emissions and carbon trading looks like it is going to be coming around the corner fairly quickly. Has your Department, or you personally, looked into how this can play in with public transport at this stage?
Well, I believe in a much smaller role, in terms of that very large picture which the Federal Government is primarily concerned about, and to a lesser extent, State governments - my own portfolio has a role in terms of encouraging the improvement of emission standards for vehicles, which is about changing the design of vehicles so that they take cleaner fuel. Which the Federal Government has of course adopted so over the next few years we will get cleaner fuel and better emission standards - and combined with the encouragement and building of new public transport.
I guess what I am driving at is have you any thought about how you could make a buck out of building public transport through the carbon trading regime?
I'm not aware of that. That would be other parts of the government encouraging that. I believe my role is to work on those aims of improving emission standards of vehicles and encouraging the use of public transport.
Finally you are one of the names that come up when people talk of future Premiers. Is it something you actually think about on a day-to-day basis?
I have to say, I have worked for Bob Carr for ten and a half years now, and it has been an absolute pleasure and a very significant learning experience in watching how well he operates. He is completely dominant in Parliament and I believe he will be around for a very long time.
So, you don't even think about putting your hand up when the time comes?
It is just not on my agenda. I think Bob Carr is going to be around for many, many years to come and I have found it very rewarding working with him and I look forward to the privilege of working for him for many years to come.
The ACTU's "organising model" has been learned from American unions whoare fighting for the last 20% of the workforce. The "organizing model" is not primarily about gaining representation in new industries.
I suppose one can imagine, if one really works at it, a strike by all the waiters, dishwashers and table attendants on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy or King Street, Newtown, or the Valley in Brisbane a sort of Jobs within Justice campaign but it would be pretty far fetched. Because unlike the famous building janitors campaigns that are the hallmark of the organising model in the USA waiters and dishwashers would not be protesting against a big and evil body corporate, or a real estate corporation, they would often be protesting against themselves as owners, operators and bosses of their own businesses.
Every survey of the past decade reveals that an increasing percentage of people aged below thirty want to own their own business. To be really on top of their game of representing people in the workforce, the ACTU would be running courses for Generation X'ers in how to run your own business by treating your workers fairly. But this is too big a leap of function for the ACTU to suddenly move forwards from its traditional function as a union of trades to being a union of small business.
But my point is that unless it does, the ACTU will probably never again be the political representative of the whole of the Australian workforce. It will simply be fighting an ever harder rear guard action against greater and greater numbers of opponents, some of whom would otherwise be supporters. I think the ACTU strategy is well intentioned, defensive, old fashioned and ultimately about maintaining the status quo.
Of course in great deference to my friends at the ACTU, no matter what the numbers of union membership, while the central wage fixing process stays in place the ACTU will always be important as the guardian of fair pay and the guardian of the weak in the workplace, but one can imagine a situation where, even without rabid Peter Reith figures, this function may also, over time, fade away.
The problem for ACOSS is somewhat different from the ACTU, but it has the same consequence of potential marginalisation By simply advocating for increases in social welfare funding, by advocating greater responsibility by governments for what is in effect a living wage for over 1 million people, I think ACOSS begins like the ACTU, to put itself against the interests of many of it's own constituency. How can that possibly be?
Well, here I find myself like Noel Pearson, surprisingly agreeing with the Right. I think that when the social wage becomes not just a supplement to private income, but the sole means of income, it creates a multiplicity of perverse effects. Let me say that agreeing with the Right's identification of a major problem, does not mean that you have to agree with their solutions. However I think it is correct to say that the way the social wage is currently designed, if increased funding flows through centralized bureaucracies that control schools, hospitals, and the way in which you receive income support, it will change very little about the inequality that exists in our society. It will even, in some case, as Noel has argued in relation to the indigenous society, increase inequality, dependency and powerlessness.
Let me pause here to try to get at the heart of what is problematic and this leads back to my analogy of the ACTU's inability to deal with Generation X small business. What is being stolen from people, even when we increase the size and power of the social wage, is people's capacity to think and act and work and solve their own problems for themselves. At the moment, by being primarily an advocate to an increased social wage, ACOSS puts itself on the side of health care professionals who insist on having absolute control of the health problems they cannot solve; and the silos of social wage bureaucracies in police, social security departments, education departments, housing departments who want to see social inadequacy solely in terms of what they have the capacity or responsibility to deliver. But none of this is about attacking inequality.
Extracted from: People Not Structures/New Investments of the Social Wage, a paper to "Just Policy, Sound Research, Joint Action A Winning Formula" the 2000 ACOSS National Conference, Rydges, Canberra, 16 November
The unions were attending a regional energy conference organised in Bangkok this week by the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions
The Burma pull-out call was unanimously approved by oil, gas, electric power and coal mining unions from Australia, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
The energy unions noted with alarm the military rulers' decision to cease all cooperation with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) which last week called on all member state to cease activities that were implicated with the Burmese regime's use of bonded labout..
In 1998, the ILO found that forced labour was "generalised and systematic" in Burma. This verdict was backed by the world's governments, employers and unions, who meet on equal terms within the ILO.
Last week, the ILO Governing Body ruled that the Burmese junta has still not taken the required steps to end forced labour. The new finding follows an ILO mission to Burma this October. Burma therefore remains in serious breach of ILO Convention 29 on forced labour.
Unless the regime bans forced labour by 30 November - and there seems little likelihood that it will - then the ILO will advise companies, states and international organisations to review their relations with Burma, so as to ensure that they do not in any way support or condone forced labour.
The ILO will also ask the UN Economic and Social Committee to tackle the Burmese situation. The ILO itself described these moves as "unprecedented".
If the ILO spotlight has remained on Burma, this is largely due to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which has continuously compiled and forwarded new evidence of the abuses. More than a million Burmese are still subjected to forced labour, toiling on construction sites for roads, railways, military installations and tourist infrastructure, the ICFTU says.
A voluminous new ICFTU file, sent to the ILO last week, documents still more cases of forced labour relating directly to the building of the gas pipeline linking Burma and Thailand and the construction of tourist infrastructure. One of the country's military leaders, Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, is directly involved.
TotalFinaElf and Unocal are in a joint pipeline venture with Burma's state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) to bring gas to Thailand from the Yadana field off the Burmese coast. Since its inception, this project has stood accused of serious human rights abuses, including the use of forced labour. MOGE has also been linked to the laundering of the proceeds from Burmese junta's international sales of illicit drugs.
Quite apart from these allegations, multinational energy investors are clearly helping to prop up one of the world's most repressive regimes. Another oil company heavily involved in Burma is British-based Premier.
The full horror of the Burmese system is again shown in the latest ICFTU evidence. Men, women and children are drafted in for unpaid work - notably as forced porters for the Burmese army, as the country's long-running civil war continues. Forced porters are often sent ahead into minefields. The beating, rape and murder of forced labourers are commonplace.
The following is the full text of this week's resolution on Burma by the Asia-Pacific energy unions:
"Oil, gas, electric power and coal mining unions attending the ICEM Asia-Pacific Regional Energy Conference on November 20-21 in Bangkok, note with alarm the decision of the military rulers in Burma to cease all cooperation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The ILO has moved firmly and decisively to isolate Burma because of the continuing use of forced labour.
We reaffirm that freedom from forced labour is a fundamental human right and condemn the Burmese military government for the denial of this basic right.
We call upon all international investors, especially those in the oil and gas industries, to cease investment in Burma while the use of forced labour continues.
ICEM affiliates in ASEAN nations are called upon to press their governments to use all intergovernmental means possible to make Burma apply international minimum human rights standards in the workplace, including abolition of forced labour.
"The ILO has clearly ruled that forced labour is continuing and systematic in Burma, and our energy unions in the region have made their views very plain," commented ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs in Brussels this week. "
The world must not tolerate slavery. The ILO is part of the UN system, and the United Nations should now urgently decide on the most appropriate international measures against the brutal Burmese regime - up to and including mandatory economic sanctions."
Though the experience of incomes policy in Australia during the 1980's may give many cause to doubt its usefulness, it is worthwhile, in present circumstances, reconsidering the usefulness of incomes policy, particularly in light of the lessons we can draw from the 1980's.
In my view, incomes policy provides an alternative means of dealing with inflation (assuming for the moment that this is a worthwhile exercise); alternative, that is, to the strategy of slowing down the economy.
Though this may well have been the view of the Prices and Incomes Accord of the Hawke-Keating era either in its initial stages or in its planning, I suspect the there are just as many if not more who see the chief benefit of the 1980's Accord lying in its moderation of real wages as a means of assisting employment growth.
I should state up-front that I clearly reject the latter view. Specifically, I reject first, any notion that employment and real wages are systematically related, and second, that the purpose of incomes policy is a reduction of real wages as a means to lower unemployment.
This does not mean that incomes policy is irrelevant to the task of reducing unemployment. On the contrary, properly run, it allows governments to tackle inflation and unemployment simultaneously - controlling inflation without resorting to deflationary or restrictive macroeconomic policies, and their accompanying tendency to slow economic and employment growth and hence to hinder the path to lower unemployment rates.
Incomes policy provides this possibility because it goes to the underlying process which drives inflation - the incompatibility of claims on the economy's income by employers on the one hand and wage-earners on the other. There may be many things which trigger price rises - but what transforms these into an ongoing inflationary process is the fact that the profit levels desired by employers and the real wage levels desired by wage-earners are together inconsistent with a constant price level. Indeed, continuously rising price levels are a manifestation of the inconsistency of claims by employers and wage-earners.
Lessons of the Eighties
Of course the hard part is the precise detail of a workable and sustainable incomes policy. And it is here that the lessons of Australia's experience in the 1980's become critical. The key lesson is how to build in to the policy what we might call the "shock absorbers" which allow the incomes policy to meet its objectives in the face of the type of shocks which would seriously test the policy. Effectively, this means maintaining in the face of such shocks the incentive for the relevant parties (unions, employer groups) to stick with the policy.
As we saw in the mid 1980's among the most important shocks are those arising from the external sector, in particular exchange rate pressures. A fall in the value of the Australian dollar (which could arise from factors quite unrelated to the incomes policy) would put some upward pressure on domestic price levels, necessitating a rise in nominal wages to maintain real wage levels.
The difficulty presented by such a case is that prices of imports with a fixed foreign currency price (though this is not the only case) will rise and this will feed into the CPI directly and indirectly by affecting the price of some inputs used in producing consumer goods. The point is that these price rises need not entail any increase in profit margins. As a consequence the pressure is placed either on business to wear a fall in profit margins in order to allow wages to rise to compensate wage-earners for higher prices; or for wage-earners to take a cut in real wages in order for business to maintain profit margins.
This was precisely the difficulty and first major challenge to the Accord in the mid-1980's; whether to discount wage rises for the effect of the large depreciation in the Australian dollar on prices. Clearly, any incomes policy intended to be a permanent feature of the economic landscape must provide a circuit breaker or shock absorber to situations such as these, since such a situation would have the potential for either party - wage-earners, employers - to consider the worthiness of opting out of the agreement underpinning the working of the policy. Indeed, not being able to deal with such shocks as a significant depreciation, without significant cost to the position of either party, would simply be a reflection of an incomes policy failure.
The use of real wage reductions as a circuit-breaker (and one which will always suggest itself to at least some policy makers) when faced with competing but incompatible claims by wage-earners and employers, is a viable strategy only in so far as the government can be relied on to maintain after-tax real income. There is of course much in the history of our major political parties in government to justify a large dollop of scepticism in relation to any such reliance, particularly as it concerns lower income groups. Put more generally, the strategy in question involves making real income of the working population conditional on the fiscal policy perogatives of the day. Of course, there is nothing unusual in the latter - it's just that this is more worrying in the context of a workable incomes policy which seeks the support of organised labour.
An alternative strategy in the case of something like a depreciation induced rise in the CPI is to allow a full-compensation of awards in relation to the increase in prices, but to use the tax system as a means of preventing a fall in profit margins. Essentially, the problem is how to compensate business for any reduction in profit margins arising from the compensation of wage-earners in respect of higher prices. In fact this may be done through the tax system in combination with some form of a price surveillance mechanism. Businesses in general could be given a tax credit for the extent of the increase in wage costs induced by depreciation triggered price rises. (once the mechanics involved in GST administration are in place, so would a significant part of the mechanics required to work such a compensation scheme.)
Nor is this strategy inconsistent with an incomes policy which allows for negotiation of wage-claims in excess of cost-of-living on the basis of improved productivity or for example in return for changes to work practices. However, a workable incomes policy which has the continued support of organised labour such negotiated wage rises at the level of individual sectors relate to pay claims over and above those associated with cost of living. The latter wage-adjustments would not be negotiable.
Of course, the alternative strategy alluded to here would make the maintenance of profit margins dependent on government tax policy. One can only hope that governments will be more prepared to honour tax commitments in this regard than they have been in relation to wage-earners.
Such an arrangement itself is not without potential problems. It will be necessary to ensure that Governments cannot deplete expenditures on the social wage in order to fund such compensating tax arrangements. Success on the inflation front at the cost of adequate expenditures on health, education and welfare would be a hollow victory.
Yet this concern underscores the other essential ingredient of a sustainable incomes policy - consistency in the other arms of economic policy. In this regard, monetary - or interest rate - policy is especially important. One difficulty that arises in relation to incomes policy is that if this means that interest rate policy is freed up for use in macroeconomic demand management policy, this could open up a differential between our interest rates and those of our trading partners (who prefer to use monetary policy to target inflation), with downward pressure on the value of the Australian dollar. This may be less of a worry to the extent that our inflation performance as a result of incomes policy is better than that of our trading partners. However, if interest rates are no longer to be used as an anti-inflationary tool, persistent pressure against the value of our currency could only be avoided by the re-imposition of controls on capital flows into and out of Australia.
In a sense this is also a lesson from the 1980's that incomes policy cannot as it were "go it alone" as a weapon with which to fight inflation. It must have supportive macroeconomic policies, and this means especially interest rate policy. But it also means a supportive external policy; in particular, an external policy which would allow a significant measure of autonomy in our setting of interest rates. Finally, and perhaps the biggest challenge of all suggested here, is that in order for a serious and sustainable incomes policy to work there must be something like a sea change in the thinking of the economics profession about the appropriate ways of reducing unemployment and tacking inflation.
Graham White is a lecturer with Faculty of Economics, University of Sydney
by Neale Towart
Early Australian unions were basically trade groupings or friendly societies. Indeed some historians such as Bob James have been struggling to encourage our interest in Lodges as an important aspect of labour history, too long ignored by labour historians. James may have a point, but its hard to argue that the development of unions by workers to resist bosses and hostile governments, and to claim improvements in working conditions, especially since the 1850s, has not been the motor for working class organisation in Australia.
. Why else would the current government, and the Workplace Relations minister and the Prime Minister in particular, seek to destroy the role of unions in the workplace if they didn't see them as the voice and force for the workers. What is labour history but the history of working people struggling to be able to work, and to work in decent conditions for decent pay. Unions surely are the motor that drives this struggle.
Unions are not monolithic institutions and those early trades people were individuals who came together for a purpose. This doesn't "just happen". These individuals get organised by the force of actions of all, but some in particular are recognised in labour history, by Labour Historians, as prime movers in getting unions started, and as activists in union activities. I'll talk about a few of those individuals now, to show how they and their unions have made and continue to make labour history. They come from different political motivations, and may well have been violently opposed to one another (another rich vein for the labour historians to fossick in). But as Laurie Short commented on some of his ideological opponents, eg Jack Mundey and Laurie Carmichael, he respected and admired them as they were genuine in their commitment to the workers' cause.
Mateship is seen by most as the key to the success of one of the first non-trades based unions, and the poetry and stories of Henry Lawson played a big role in developing a sense of solidarity and mateship amongst shearers and rural labourers in NSW in the 1890s. Mark Hearn says that the AWU ethos reflected an attempt by mates, armed only with their mutual dependence, to construct an agreed social order in the context of hard economic times, and governments and employers who refused to recognise their legitimate grievances.
This was a culture of exclusion - of women, blacks, Asians, islanders - but the essential elements of sticking together if you want to have any chance is the kind of mateship that was crucial to the survival and development of unions and the ALP. The efforts of the big daddy of the AWU, William Guthrie Spence, were central to achieving this goal.
Despair at the prospects for unions is current in much IR literature, but labour historians are aware of the precedents for union declines and revival. Spence did not despair, even in the darkest period of the 1890s, as he watched the union he and a few others built from the 1880s shrink under the assault from employers and government.
"We have the power to utterly change these conditions." He said at the time. "We have control over the circumstances under which we live more than any other animal, therefore we are responsible for the conditions under which we live." Under the general unions and through democratic political reform, unionists would achieve political and social reform. A quiet revolution was what he was about.
Spence seems to have seen unionism as a logical outcome of Darwinism. His ideal was to see unionism as a legitimate part of colonial society. Hardly a radical notion, and Spence himself by 1894 was the essence of the colonial gentleman. He was no revolutionary, and most of the ASU/AWU weren't either, but the response of employers and governments to the idea that the labouring classes should claim any rights made it appear that the union was advocating the overthrow of the social system.
Spence was one of the first members of the ALP, whose aim was the establishment of political rights of workers. Labour history being made today seems to be about and perhaps has always been about, asserting that right.
Maybe the mateship of those workers of the 1890s was racist and male, but the basic notion that they had to stick together, and be mates through thick and thin informs all union actions, including calls for international solidarity - which is an important element of trade union action today. After the apparent racism of the opposition Chinese workers and Kanakas in the 1890s, unions in Australia campaigned strongly for rights of workers in Fiji in 1987 and this year for example. The TCFUA and the CFMEU, for example are making great effort to organise workers from non-English speaking backgrounds today.
The MUA has strong international links - their members were, after all, the first working class internationalists. They saw first had the plight of workers abroad and played integral roles in many freedom struggles - such as that for Indonesian independence in the 1960s, and continues today with MUA's strong stand on the Ships of Shame issues, supporting workers in the often appalling conditions on ships. This has been repaid in times of difficulty at home, particularly with the decisive support from the International Transport Federation during Patrick dispute.
John Coombs, recently retired secretary of the MUA, could be seen as a 'gentleman' as was Spence - given his hobby farm. This doesn't stop him standing for the same ideals that Spence fought for in his battles with governments and employers - defending the rights of his members to work and be paid against a conspiracy of those who deny unions and workers any more rights than is absolutely necessary for their survival.
At the moment most things written about the Patrick dispute are in the IR and politics pages. We would see it, as would you as labour historians as a continuation of the struggle of workers for the right to organise, which is what labour history is. The history of workers struggles to organise, or, as a nineteenth century historian, philosopher and activist put, the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.
Another wharfie who perhaps did have the aim of overthrowing the existing social order was Jim Healy. He led the wharfies from bankruptcy to organising success, and took on Menzies in the heyday of his red baiting and won. He and his union colleagues played out the class struggle in a real way, banning pig iron to Japan, supporting Indonesian independence.
The government was directly interfering in the docks, as Reith and co did, and the unions were warned of the attempts about to be made to break down there solidarity. The army and navy were to be called in. Sounds familiar. Perhaps Peter Reith had been reading his labour history too when he aided the lockouts. Reith's legislation certainly had paved the way for what looked like being a smooth victory. He misjudged the amount of support unions had and the shape of his own courts. Menzies did similarly. The press were on side with Menzies, as they were with Reith to begin with and the wharfies picketed them too. The press remained on side for what they claimed were Reith's and Corrigan's main aims, to make the waterfront more efficient, conveniently ignoring the real agenda. Reith and Corrigan's mistake was to be a bit public in their bullying. It seems the wharfies have lost many jobs, but they didn't lose the right to act collectively, which was the aim of their antagonists. They also tapped into the notion of a fair go, and whilst the media image of them as bludgers had sunk in, the Australian people said that the government was not being fair. Unions are about fairness.
The wharfies of today have had to face more antagonistic legislation than Healy did, but have survived to fight another day. Industrial restructuring and new technologies has changed their bargaining power, but not the hostility to them from owners and govt.
The current federal government seems to believe that unions are not a legitimate part of the social system, and only stand in the way of what is legitimate, that is the right of owners to make money.
The actions of unionist today is the research fodder of labour historians tomorrow, and the precedents for the actions of unionists is in the rich histories of struggle against the state and employers. The unionists could be bent on the overthrow of the employers and the state, as the IWW perhaps most exemplified, or they could be like Spence, seeking to keep unions and workers to the wheel, without being chained to it.
Laurie Short was initially on the same side of the political divide as Healy, but split with the Trots and developed the FIA into a strong well, organised union able to take on employers on their own terms. Short's ideas covered the "responsibilities of union leaders, productivity negotiations, collective bargaining. In the 1990s these notions became a mantra for union leaders and for an ACTU ostensibly dominated by "the left". Again making labour history today is a challenge for unions to assert these rights to negotiate at any level for unions faced with a political ideology that gives them no standing or legitimacy.
The Labor Council itself has been a part of the history of unions and thus labour history for the whole of this century, and has played a big part in shaping workers struggles in NSW, as well as shaping the way the ALP in NSW and thus Australia has developed. People such as Jock Garden, Jack Beasley, Lloyd Ross have been integral to the way these struggles have developed, Ross a particularly interesting figure from the left and then the right and then sort of the left again. Stephen Holt has done an excellent job in tracking his intellectual moves. The veritable dynamo was concerned with labour history as well as education generally for the labour movement. Always with a broad social democratic outlook, whatever his ideological opponents on either side might say, he was not very forgiving of academic leftism, but concentred with active educational leftism, in the field and through the WEA, the Victorian Labor College, Fabian style discussion groups of the 1940s. He wanted the organisations to be "vanguard movements" - ginger groups stirring the pot of accepted notions and ways of doing things.
Another Labor Council figures who were concerned with this educational, research and communication aspect was Emile Voigt, the driving force behind 2KY, just celebrating its 75th birthday. Before getting it started, as one of the first radio stations in Sydney, he started a Labour Research Bureau at Trades Hall, to keep unions abreast of industrial trends and informed on labour activities in as many areas as possible. The basis of 2KY was to establish an alternative media voice for workers, outside the mainstream press. These vices had been around in newspaper form for many years, but here was the labour movement leaping on board new technology, seeing its potential for members.
The Labor Council today in its use of the internet to provide a daily alternative media voice, follows this tradition. Also the social justice aspect of enabling all to access the media was a prime concern of Voigt's with him making sure the transmission facilities for 2KY would enable all those who only had access to the most basic of crystal sets would be able to receive the signal. 2KY wasn't always horses and dogs (although they have been on air since the 1940s), but did play an active role in broadcasting union views. Similarly Labor Council now has established a deal with computer and internet service providers so that union members can access high quality computers and internet connections at reasonable prices.
Other aspects of labour history have now so moved away from their union origins to be general community events. Eight Hour day carnivals, be they processions or sports days are now basically community events. Union parades began probably in England as far back as the 17th century, with trades groups such as woolcombers, carpenters having their own parades usually asociated with a Saint or chuch figure. EP Thompson includes an illustration of a very early "union membership" card with Bishop Blaise the patron Saint of the Woolcombers illustrated on it, in his Customs in Common, where he highlights these parades and the way they faded because of opposition from the new industrialists in the 19th century. In Australia small community sports carnivals, shows etc had their origins in union days, with the eight hour day a focal point.
The point of including them here is that they showed that unions were the heart of many communities, and the carnivals were at there strongest often in mining towns. Workers through unions work together to make decent lives and decent communities in Australia. The sense of solidarity that the wharfies displayed and which others responded to, the solidarity of miners in Broken Hill in the 1890s and at Weipa, Gunnedah and in the Hunter Valley in the 1990s shows that community spirit and solidarity is carried by workers through their unions.
And looking at the issues confronting contemporary workers - I don't think tis time to write off either trade unions - or the evolving story of labour history -quite yet.
This speech was presented to the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History Annual Dinner on November 26
Australia is a bizarre country when it comes to education funding.
In the United States and Europe, 90 per cent of students attend public schools. The US Constitution upholds the principle of the separation of church and state. This denies public funding to private schools.
Millionaire businessmen in California and Michigan, supporters of the Republican Party, have tried to get around this constitutional provision by proposing parents receive a voucher for use in a school of their choice. In the recent US elections voters resoundingly rejected voucher propositions. Instead they voted for propositions to increase the funding for public schools.
Colleagues in France and Germany are bemused by the public/private funding debates in Australia.
Australia is ranked 24th out of 28 Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries on education expenditure.
The Howard Government is failing to provide properly for our public universities, our TAFE colleges, pre-schools and public schools.
The controversial States Grants Bill which would see the 70 per cent of Australia's students in public schools receive only 32 per cent of Federal education funds over the next four years is the most extreme manifestation of the push to privatise education and reduce the cost to government.
Unfortunately the Federation's NSW State Budget submission reveals that the Carr Labor Government has cut spending on education and training in real terms in the last two State Budgets. All the blame cannot be laid at the Howard Government, although its policies have not helped.
Governments are encouraging or doing little to stop the proliferation of small private schools based on a range of religious and education philosophies.
Federal governments began the funding of private education and state governments have followed suit.
The Carr Labor Government was content to bash public education teachers quite mercilessly during the salaries dispute without any regard for the impact on public education. Only belatedly has it begun a welcome inquiry into the funding and accountability of private schools.
Neither major political party seems to want a proper debate on education funding.
The Federal Cabinet has only two members who attended public schools. The Prime Minister, who was one of them, did not, however, send his children to public schools.
The Cabinet is representative of such narrow educational experience that it is hardly surprising that parental sacrifice has been redefined to mean paying the fees for The Kings School.
The Coalition no longer consults with public sector teacher or parent organisations. They consulted behind closed doors with private school lobbyists around the proposed new federal funding increases. They entered into quiet deals with the Catholic education authorities.
When confronted with the needs of public education, the Howard Government either resorts to blaming the states for not properly funding "their" systems and/or argues that competition between public and private schools will lead to improved quality.
The ALP is not altogether rushing into the debate either. It is certainly more aware of the public education constituency. But it has had to be pushed into proposing any amendments in the Senate to the States Grants Bill. Their amendments went to the abolition of the Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment mechanism, the cutting of increases in funding to the wealthiest private schools and the redistribution of these funds to students with disabilities in public and private schools.
The ALP holds the view that the supporters of public education will be satisfied with these amendments. It was a shock to the shadow education minister Michael Lee that his foreshadowing of these amendments did not satisfy the 750 principals, teachers and parents at the recent Mt Pritchard Public Education Forum in the ALP heartland of western Sydney.
The ALP's July Hobart Conference's response to the more visible lobbying of public education supporters was to call for increased funding to education. This is clearly to be supported but the issue of funding distribution and redistribution and the philosophies underpinning various education funding models must be confronted.
The Greens and the Democrats are attempting to do this. In the Senate debate, Greens Senator Bob Brown put forward an amendment that supported the maintenance of current funding arrangements in order to allow a year of review into education funding. This would have allowed a proper consideration of the notions of "choice", "need" and "quality".
The whole funding system and the relationship between Federal and State Governments has to be re-examined.
The relationship between choice and quality has to be examined.
In addition, there needs to be an examination of the relationship between values embodied in school systems and what it means to grow up being an Australian. The development of a cohesive society is not assisted by the proliferation of private schools that emphasise our differences and pander to parental fears.
While the political parties are reluctant to enter the debate, there are many in the community who are speaking out, forming coalitions and realising that "talking" must be joined by "doing".
The public education teacher unions around Australia will be working with the parent organisations to highlight the role of public education in Australian society and to highlight the importance of proper political support for our work.
by The Chaser
The Screen Actors' Guild is protesting against the low wages given to actors in commercials. Hurley's manager issued the rebuke after numerous union members yelled at her and called her a scab as she launched her new film, Bedazzled.
"According to Liz's understanding, the picket meant that no-one could act in an commercial, and she obeyed that to the letter," her manager stated. "If you look at the clip, you won't see one skerrick of acting."
Hurley's manager challenged the Screen Actors' Guild to produce any evidence whatsoever of Hurley acting.
The Guild later issued an apology, conceding that Hurley had not acted in the advert and adding that it now accepts that Hurley has never acted in her life.
"So far we've only watched her efforts in Austin Powers, My Favourite Martian and Passenger 57, but we're definitely getting the impression that she's never acted," said active Guild member Kevin Spacey. "I'd hate to jump the gun before watching Austin Powers II: The Spy Who Shagged Me, but it's beginning to look like we were wrong."
Sharonah Shannon stands on the line, shoulder-to-shoulder with two burly blokes. As a silver car-body slides between them, she quickly grabs a huge overhead welding gun and squeezes. A golden arch of fat burning sparks fly from the three guns, bouncing off her checked flannel-shirt. 'I wear long sleeved shirts because I've been burnt and on fire heaps of times. You feel a bit warm and look down to find half your shirt is missing. It doesn't cause much damage besides ruining your clothes,' she says.
Sharonah, 28, builds VT Commodores at Holden's vehicle assembly plant in the industrial suburb of Elizabeth, a 20-minute drive north of Adelaide. "It's not seen as a woman's job, but I love it. I feel it's an achievement' Sharonah says. 'The money is fantastic-last year I earned $45000 and this year, with overtime I hope to take home $50000.
Sharon says working on the process line means coping with repetivness and being flexible when asked to do boring jobs. 'The work is precise, you've got to be able to keep your mind on it, but it does wonder. I put myself on autopilot; think about what I'm cooking for tea or what I'm going to buy with my next wages'.
Sharonah did well in her year 12, but opted to be an invoice clerk with big w for five years instead of going to university. After the birth of her daughter, Taylor, she did a variety of casual jobs before getting a job in the noisy car factory. Now, having to wear steel-toed boots, work shirts and eye protection to work she says she has no regrets. 'I don't have to get dressed up nice to go to work. I don't worry about make up or nice hair or stuff like that. I can put on yesterdays clothes and nobody will notice or care, I like the way there's no airs or flares.'
Work on the process line is done in groups and it is important to fit in. 'If you don't blend in, you are not accepted. And if your not accepted you wont be helped or liked and you wont be able to fit in with your work group or mingle, have friends or get along with anyone.'
Even though Sharonah gets on well and loves her work, she's not prepared to cop every thing they dish up to her. 'The blokes know what they can and cant get away with. The older men are the worst. They throw a few lewd cracks, but I don't even hear it. I tell them to "eff off" - it works'
Being a woman working the line has not held Sharonah back. 'There's no resentment, 95 per cent of the guys will help you out if you need it. They know you're not there to show off or to be looked at, you're there to work, get paid and go home like the rest of them.' But she likes to have a woman around for emotional matters.
Sharonah does a verity of jobs, including six different welding tasks on the line. She does vehicle inspections to check cars for faults, and decides if the car is going to continue down the line. 'This is really important; I have to get it right. I look for any missing spot welds, holes blown in panels, missing sealer or any other damage done to the car. 'Don't ever buy a Monday car' she says with a mischievous laugh.
Behind Sharonah, a double row of big yellow robot arms waits for a silver car to stop on the 'j line'. Their long arms spring to life dipping in and out of windows, boots and delicately twisting without toughing the car body. Finding the weld spot, they send a 20-foot shower of hot metal skywards. 'They're fabulas to watch they seem to do their own thing, weld, weld, weld...move along...weld, weld, weld.
According to Sharonah, robots do what the workers cant do or cant do quickly enough she says workers tack the cars together and the robots do the heavy work, such as high welds, re spotting and the final weld that holds the car together. But there not all they cracked up to be 'sometimes I feel like kicking them each time the line breaks down it costs $4000 per minute, that's big money.'
Even though the robots do most of the repetitive work it hasn't prevented Sharonah or her workmates from getting injured. 'I'll stay here as long as my body copes with it. I've got a shoulder injury from repetitive movements, making my body do what it doesn't want to do. I can't do any outward lifting. The welding guns I use are hung high, you have to reach up and pull them down every 90 seconds.
Sharonah shift begins at 5:30 and finishes at 3:20 when she leaves to pick up her five-year-old daughter from the day centre. "It feels great at the end of the day. I crave to get in my car and not have the radio on, go home and have a shower with no light on.'
Getting tea ready, doing the washing, helping Taylor with her reading and studying for a vehicle industry certificate keeps the pressure on Sharonah as well. 'I look forward to getting away from the noise and the bights lights and going home to my family. I feel I'm a workaholic. All I do is work, eat, sleep and I'm still busy when I get home too, which sucks. But if I didn't have my job I'd be miserable _ working is healthy.
'It's Only a Job' by Phil Thornton AND PAUL Jones is published by New Holland
Back in July, when the international trade union movement began its campaign for a ".union" top level domain, I already had my doubts.
I expressed most of them in my book, "The Internet Belongs to Everyone", which you can read online -- http://www.labourstart.org/icann/ericleebook.shtml.
But one of those doubts has come back to haunt me in light of the decision last week by the ICANN Board to approve a number of new top level domains for the Internet, but not ".union".
ICANN is not a democratic organization. It was set up by the U.S. government as part of an effort to -- for want of a better word -- privatize the domain name system. And it is completely dominated by the same corporate elite which dominates the World Trade Organization, World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Its elections a few months ago were a sham, a transparent attempt to provide a democratic cloak for a body which is anything but democratic.
When the ICANN Board met last week and voted to have new top level domains like ".biz" for businesses and ".pro" for professionals, it was acting entirely in character. And its decision to reject ".union" was also predictable, even though the unions had done everything strictly by the book and had paid their $50,000 US as demanded.
The very idea of a global trade union federation representing well over 100 million members having to ask permission of a totally non-democratic self-selected body like ICANN to use the term "union" is outrageous.
But let's say we get lucky, and ICANN changes its mind. It meets again next year and decides, okay, you union folks can have your own domain.
Unions would still be putting themselves at the mercy of ICANN because it remains the ultimate arbiter of the top level domains. To understand what this means, you have to understand the difference between top level domains and ordinary domain names.
When you buy an ordinary domain name -- say, www.labourstart.org -- it's yours. You do what you want with it. You can even subdivide it, attaching words to the left end of the domain. And of course no one can tell you what can go on your website or not.
But top level domains -- like .com, .edu, and now .biz -- belong to ICANN. Its Board decides who gets to manage them.
My nightmare scenario is this: some state-controlled labour fronts or company unions -- say, for example, the official state unions in China -- apply down the line for a ".union" domain name. Naturally the labour movement refuses. This is actually explicit in the internatioanl trade union movement's proposal. It says that "applicants [for a ".union" domain name] not affiliated directly or indirectly to one of the organisations in the sponsoring group would not be excluded from consideration if their organisation is known to be free and democratic."
In other words, "unions" which are neither free nor democratic will be told no, sorry, but you can't have a ".union" domain name. This is one of the most important features of the ".union" proposal -- it creates a global cyber union label, a way to distinguish real from fake unions on the web.
So when the body administering the ".union" domain says no to a non-democratic, non-independent state-controlled union, to whom can they appeal to for help? Ultimately, to ICANN.
Even though the international trade union movement proposes a structure for dispute resolution, in the final analysis, ICANN decides. The same ICANN Board which last week revealed how little it understood about unions and which by its very makeup is bound to be anti-union -- it will be the ultimate arbiter of which websites get the carry the ".union" domain name.
We had a taste last week of what life will be like for the unions if ICANN ever does come around to approving a ".union" top level domain. It should make us think twice about the whole idea.
Malcom Conn, Chief Cricket Writer, The Australian.
Won a Walkely for his coverage of the Waugh/Warne bookmakers scandal.
Sports life: I was a modest bush cricketer and bush footballer in South Gippsland until aged 21 I moved to Melbourne to write for The Age. In cricket I bowled outswingers into the wind and batted in the top three. I played mainly at ruckman in footy with stints at centre halfback. I managed to play semi-regular cricket up until four years ago with the Glenalvie and Inverloch Clubs.
Sports high: I was chosen in 1979 as an opening bowler to play for Victorian Country Schoolboys.
Sports low: Getting out for a pair of ducks as an opener playing Interleague for my Association. It was a wet wicket at Sale and hadn't been rolled.
Sports dream: To play for Australia in the 1974/75 series against the Windies. My father took me to the Boxing Day Test and your hair stood on end as Thommo and Lillee destroyed them with the crowd chanting.
Roy Masters. Senior SMH sports writer, Channel 7 and 2GB commentator.
Sports life: I played hooker in both league and union at school and as a young teacher. League in those days was unlimited tackle and the scrums were a real aggressive contest for the ball, so the hooker was a key player. Then I started coaching while teaching in Lismore. I stopped playing around that time, but I went on to coach the Australian Schoolboys on their undefeated tour on England in 1972. From there I coached two first grade league teams; Wests from 1978-81 and Saints from 1982-87.
Sports high: In 1985 I was club coach at St George and we had all three grades in the grand final. We won the lower grades and lost the firsts 6-7 to Canterbury.
Sports low: Saints losing by a point in the preliminary final to Parramatta in the eighties. We were cheated by the referee Kevin Roberts. He gave three penalties to the Eels in a row in the last few minutes, getting them to the other end of the field where they scored.
Sports dream: My dream is to have senior NSW Labor politicians with the guts to return my telephone calls when they know I'm going to ask them for a comment on NRL rationalisation and the exclusion of South Sydney. They're too rude and arrogant even to say no comment.
Patrick Smith, Senior Sports Commentator, The Australian.
Sports life: I grew up in Glen Iris and played full forward in school footy, but I was better at cricket. I was chosen for the under age Victorian Second XI and played district cricket for Prahran in the 1970s as a fast bowler.
Sports high: Being a very competitive bowler at district level for ten years.
Sports low: In 1976 I was suspended for two weeks after a clash with a batsman. It was very early in the innings. I followed through and chested him to the ground.
Sports dream: I'd like to relive that moment that I was suspended for and not make the same mistake.
Paul Kent, Sports Columnist, Sunday Telegraph.
Sports life: I played lower grade rugby league as a fullback at Parramatta and Norths from 1989-91. Then I played park football up until 1996. In 1998 I had one amateur boxing fight at South Sydney Juniors. I'd always wanted to try boxing. I trained for six months, sparring every day for four months with people like Justin Rousell who was ranked IBF Number 3 at the time. Two weeks before my fight, Justin tore my septum, which is the cartilage between your nostrils. That made me question what I was doing, but I figured the adrenalin would get me through on the night and I was right. I fought as a light middleweight and knocked the other bloke out in the first round. He was a novice too and we both retired after the one fight.
Sports high: I'd have to say knocking that guy out in the first round with an overhand right to the chin. It was a pure moment.
Sports low: Actually this happened because of my work on the paper. When Mark Geyer was sacked from Balmain for lack of discipline in 1994, I wrote a story saying he'd had too many free rides and should go and play park football and earn his money. What I didn't reckon on was that he'd end up playing in the same park footy comp as me. When it happened, I was playing for Ourimbah and he turned out for Umina. He knew exactly who I was and remembered the story. I dived on a loose ball that he was chasing. He got stuck into me a bit. I was knocked out, concussed and was pretty crook for 24 hours.
Sports dream: To win the heavyweight boxing title by knocking out Joe Louis.
Mike Gibson, Senior Columnist, Sunday Telegraph
Sports life: I am a spectacular failure as a sportsman. I played lots of footy and tennis at North Sydney Boys High but aged 17 or 18 I got a job as a journalist. From then I was busy watching people who were so much better than I could ever be. I did play some lower grades in union in my early 20s. I was the world's slowest five-eighth, but I had a reasonable pair of hands. I also had a few union games in London for the London Irish. I'd been covering the Kangaroos 1963/64 tour and I was good mates with Ken Irvine. After the tour he gave me his boots, pads and gear. They fitted, but unfortunately his talent didn't rub off on them.
Sports high: Scoring two tries for North Sydney Boys High against our traditional foes Manly. I threw the dummy twice and the same bloke fell for it both times.
Sports low: I was continually breaking bones - legs, arms, ankles. At one time I played league in the Journalists Cup on Sunday mornings in Sydney. Some people took it pretty seriously and there was a bit of betting. You'd get ring-ins like grade players and boxers. I remember lining up one morning with a fierce hangover against Warren Ryan, who was playing first grade for Cronulla at the time. Another time I stiffarmed a bloke and he gave me a belting for it. I found out later he was a sparring partner at Snowy Robbins gym in Newtown. There were about three of them in that game. Anyway, Frank Packer, Kerry's dad, told me to give it up because I was getting hurt too often. I was playing for the Tele which was his paper.
Sports dream: I can't hold my hands up, but my dream would be to win the middleweight boxing championship of the world in the era of Duran, Sugar Ray and Hitman Hearns.
Peter Moss is a Director of Lodestar Communications
Workplace Safety; Death Can Be Manslaughter
The Victorian Government's "industrial manslaughter" proposals will make this an offence under the Crimes Act and will dramatically increase penalties for other OHS breaches. A maximum fine of $5m may be imposed for manslaughter and $2m for an offence causing serious injury. Companies will need to focus much more on OHS and how they incorporate OHS practices into management systems.
The Qld government has released a paper on "dangerous industrial conduct" which also calls for the new offence to become part of the criminal code.
Commentators have argued that the introduction of the "industrial manslaughter" offence will make it more likely that OHS agencies will prosecute and enforce compliance, as agencies have been reluctant to use existing manslaughter/murder procedures.
(Workplace Intelligence; November 2000; Occupational Health and Safety Bulletin; vol, 9, no. 205, November 1, 2000)
New US Ergonomic Rules Will Prevent Million of Injuries
Millions of workers will be spared painful repetitive stress injuries under Occupational Safety & Health Administration's new ergonomic standard for American workplaces. Issued Nov. 13 after a decade of efforts by the business community and anti-worker members of Congress to derail the rule, the standard "is the most important worker safety action developed" in OSHA's history, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said.
OSHA estimates that some 1.8 million workers a year report such work-related musculoskeletal disorders as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis and back injuries and more than 600,000 of those workers are forced to take time off from work to recover. The safety agency predicts that the new standard will prevent 4.6 million such injuries in the first 10 years.
"Workers in poultry plants, meat packing and auto assembly, along with computer operators, nurses' aides, cashiers and others in high-risk jobs, will finally have much-needed protection," Sweeney said.
"Since the passage of OSHA in 1970, the job fatality rate has been cut by 75 percent saving more than 220,000 lives," said AFL-CIO Safety and Health director Peg Seminario. "Job injury rates have been lowered by 39 percent. This new standard will also help make jobs safer and lower injury rates even more.
Seminario discussed the standard during a press roundtable Nov. 13 that included testimony from a chemical plant employee fired from her job after she suffered severe nerve damage from repeated lifting, reaching and twisting and a trade expert and writer at an Internet publishing company disabled from intensive computer work.
Business groups have argued that no scientific evidence backs up the need for the new ergonomic standard-despite years of research and studies to the contrary, including reports from the National Academy of Sciences, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the dozens of hearings with hundreds of witnesses that OSHA conducted around the country this year.
But the battle over the ergonomic standard is not over, as business groups and their allies in Congress are expected to continue their efforts to kill the worker safety rules. Opponents of the new safety standard are expected to continue their fight to include a ban in the still-pending fiscal year 2001 appropriations legislation that funds OSHA that would prevent the agency from spending any money on implementing the standard. They also may take their fight to the courts.
(Social Justice E-Zine #39, 14 November, 2000 from Kim & Ray Goforth)
High Court Sets Out Approach for Determining Transmission of Business
Whilst not formulating a general test to ascertain whether an employer has succeeded or transmitted a business or part of a business, the High Court of Australia has indicated the manner in which the question pertaining to 'transmission of business' ought to generally be approached.
The approach of the High Court is a three-step process that:
1.Identifies the characteristic of the business or part of the business
2.Identifies the characteristic of the transferred business activities in the hands of the new employer.
3.Compares the two entities.
If the third step reveals that in substance, the two entities bear the same character, then it will usually be the case that the new employer has succeeded to the business or part of the business of the previous employer.
In its long awaited decision in PP Consultants v Finance Sector Union,  HCA 59, (16 November 2000), the High Court has adopted this three step process to rule that no part of a Bank's business was succeeded to, assigned or transmitted to a Byron Bay pharmacy that conducted banking activities. In this regard the High Court distinguished between the claim that the pharmacy was involved in banking activities and the claim that the pharmacy was carrying on banking business.
The ACTU has strongly criticised the decision saying "the decision is a blow for job security for working Australians and is one more example of the unfairness of an industrial relations system that would see people doing the same work but earning far
less pay and with no right of appeal," the ACTU chief, Ms Sharan Burrow, said.
(HRLINK on http://www.workplaceinfo.com.au)
Fables of ESOP: Share and Share Alike?
Employee Share Ownership schemes have just been the subject of a report by a House of Representatives Committee. Strong criticism even within the committee sows that there are many views on this issue. ALP committee members were especially concerned that the use of such schemes for large scale tax avoidance had not been addressed.
ESOPs vary widely in their structure, eligibility criteria, funding arrangements, whether options on shares at a discount are available or fully priced shares. Common to all schemes are the aims to transfer some equity to employees.
Historically they have been pretty much part of executive remuneration packages and have been more common in large public companies and in highly unionised workplaces.
Unions have often been wary of ESOPs because they fear the schemes will be used to improve the financial position of executives and not the rest of the working population. Workers' money in effect finances discount share schemes for executives, who can then push asset-stripping plans and other schemes to maximise the share price and leave the company shorn of physical and intellectual assets.
Also unions are concerned that share ownership schemes are a way of opting out of maintaining wages and conditions.
(Workplace Intelligence; November 2000)
Common Interest: Employers and Employees Overcome Traditional Workplace Divides
The Newcastle branch of the AMWU and local employers and community groups are taking the initiative on the Newcastle leg of the Make It Here Or Jobs Disappear campaign.
Amongst the campaigns goals is pressuring governments to ensure all major publicly funded projects include a minimum of locally manufactured content.
The local taskforce has so far developed a draft plan including some of the following recommendations:
· Create a NSW manufacturing industry council
· Establish an industry division of the Dept of State and Regional Development
· Reorienting DSRD structure to focus on the needs of particular strategic industries
· Expanding DSRD role to promoting industry clusters
· Adequately resourcing the Industrial Supplies Office
· Require state owned corporations to participate in the procurement strategy
· Require DSRD to address the decline in apprenticeships in NSW and other skill shortages
(Workplace Intelligence; November 2000)
Refusal to perform changed duties
This case concerned a written contract of employment and a separate specification for the position which stated that the successful employee would report directly to the managing director and be on the executive committee. Following a structural reorganisation, the issue arose whether these were essential terms of the contract because of a subsequent direction that the employee no longer report to the managing director or be on the executive committee.
The Court stated that the existence of writing which appears to represent a written contract between the parties is no more than an evidentiary foundation for a conclusion that their agreement is wholly in writing. In this case the Court also looked at the job specifications and found them to contain essential terms of the employment contract.
The employee had asserted the direction was ineffective to alter the terms of his employment contract and was summarily dismissed for refusing to accept the downgraded position. While the Court found the employee's view was wrong as to the Managing Director's power to change his duties, the question was whether his refusal amounted to ``serious misconduct'' justifying summary dismissal.
The Court did not regard this conduct as amounting to serious misconduct, misconduct sufficiently serious to justify summary termination of the contract, conduct constituting a serious breach of the contract, or as showing an intention to be no longer bound by it. Therefore the applicant was entitled to damages for wrongful dismissal.
Bruce v AWB Ltd, FCA (Sundberg J) (FCA 594; VG 654 OF 1998) 10/5/00.
(Australian Industrial Law News; no, 9/2000 September 2000)
Workcover News focuses on safety on farms, with articles on dairy farm safety, keeping children safe with machinery, livestock and livestock handling equipment, hearing loss, using sprays safely, tractor operation safety and rehabilitation and rural workers.
(Workcover News; no 43, Spring 2000)
Employers' Stress Liability
Three recent decisions show that an employer's duty to provide a safe system of work also includes taking reasonable precautions to prevent psychiatric injury. The three cases discussed in this article show that am employer that continually exposes an employee to traumatic or stressful experiences, without taking any practical steps to alleviate that risk, may be found negligent at common law and liable for damages.
(OHS Alert; vol. 1, issue 10, October 2000)
John Fahey is a serial financial bungler. If you wanted to help him set up a small business, you'd give him a big business and come back six months later. To put it bluntly, Fahey struggles with numbers; since school when he could never get the hang of those pesky long divisions.
It's Fahey's problems with numbers that seen the Howard government's IT outsourcing policy fall into a massive heap in recent weeks. After forking out several hundred million crisp Australian notes into the project to shift IT expertise out of the public sector, the only people to walk away happy have been the Stateside spivs, who advised him on the deal. The master plan was to save taxpayers a projected $1 billion over eight years. As the Auditor-General has reported, after four years savings are less than $70 million - less than the consultants' annual IOU. Fahey has instituted a lame duck review to report behind closed doors to Max the Axe by Christmas; Labor is pushing for a more public review of the Finance Ministers work.
The financial botch-up should come as no surprise to those who remember Fahey from his days as the high-leaping Premier who won the Games bid and mismanaged the State for the period between Nick Greniers self-immolation and Bob Carr's rise to power.
Ministers in the new Carr Government are still finding new evidence of Fahey's inability to handle public finances. The most recent revelation surrounds the Airport Rail Link, where the Fahey Government rushed through a contract effectively indemnifying the private operators of the railway if it emerged that the rail line was not making huge profits by Christmas. Given the operators are charging the equivalent of an average weekly wage for a trip on the airport train, this has now eventuated, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
News of the Airport Link debacle follows hot on the heels of new increases in the private toll roads, allowed under the contracts that the Fahey Government cooked up with the private sector during those salad days of NSW Inc. Under the M4 and M5 deals, the road operators had the discretion to increase the toll as their balance sheet dictates, seemingly, in perpetuity.
But probably Fahey's greatest legacy to the people of NSW was his vandalism of the state's workers compensation scheme. In the early 90s the WorkCover scheme was rocking along, big surplus on the back of some tough reforms from the Unsworth government. Then IR minister Fahey got his hands into it - increase benefits, cutting premiums as he tried to court favour on both sides of the industrial divide. And as a special offering to his lawyer mates, Fahey took the step of reinstating common law claims. All these steps were carried out against the advice of the WorkCover Board. Combined, this created a wave that hit the Carr Government three years later in the form of a giant projected deficit and continues to hang over the scheme.
Once he'd lost his job in NSW and walked into a federal seat, it was only natural that Howard would put him in a portfolio that would match his experience. Hence, Finance. So anyone looking for a Christmas present for the innumerate Southern Highlander could do worse than opting for a set of cuisenaire rods. That, or an abacus.
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/79/print_index.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005