|Issue No 85||23 February 2001|
Grace Grace on the Queensland Election
The head of the Queensland union movement looks at the implications of the Beattie victory.
The magnificent landslide victory to the Beattie Labor government on February 17 is a great boost for Queensland workers.
It looks as if the majority in the Parliament may be as high as 46 seats with the opposition reduced to a splintered rabble made up of independents, One Nation, a Liberal or two and about a dozen National Party MPs.
The Queensland Council of Unions played a strong role during the campaign to retain power As General Secretary, I toured the north of the state visiting most of the marginal seats Labor had hoped to pick up. The message I delivered was loud and clear "If workers want to continue getting a fair go in the workplace and a fair go from WorkCover, then there is no alternative but to support the return of the Beattie Labor government." "Beattie Better For Workers" was the slogan used.
Most of the workers in Queensland could remember what happened last time the coalition had control of the Treasury benches. The coalition's Santo Santoro was the Minister for Industrial Relations and it was clear that he took his cue from Peter Reith when it came to drafting anti-worker legislation.
Under the previous coalition government, Labor's Industrial Relations Act 1990 was scrapped and the Workplace Relations Act 1997 was introduced. It provided for the stripping of Awards to only provide for listed allowable matters, individual contracts, reduced unfair dismissal protection and provisions lessening the powers of the Industrial Relations Commission. The WorkCover legislation was amended to exclude a range of workers from compensation benefits and had the toughest definition of injury in the country. Workplace health and safety was virtually ignored as a government priority.
Trade union members throughout Queensland could be forgiven for wearing a faint smile following the recent election when Santo Santoro lost his seat to trade unionist Liddy Clark of MEAA, just like Keirath did in Western Australia. And, as everything happens in threes, just watch the member for Flinders, Reith, lose his seat at the next Federal election to a member of the MUA - I think its called 'poetic justice'. Go Wayne Finch!
Workers and their families have obviously had enough of the kind of divisive legislation dealt up by conservative parties around Australia and sick of feeling insecure in their jobs.
When Labor came to power in 1998 the worst aspects of what the coalition had done were reversed and the Industrial Relations Act 1999 was introduced following a major review of Queensland's industrial laws by a tripartite task force.
It appears to be the case that every time we have a change of government and the legislation changes, it's a battle to regain all that was lost. To its credit, the Labor government went a long way in 1999 to deliver most of what the coalition had taken away or sought to destroy and it did so as a minority government.
The QCU and its affiliates will be keen to make further gains with the new government. There are aspects of the Industrial Relations Act relating to unfair dismissals that need improving and provisions relating to unfair contracts require fine-tuning. The QCU will also ensure that the findings of the Queensland Pay Equity Inquiry are implemented and a Work and Family Unit be established in the Department. In addition, improvement in benefits for injured workers under the WorkCover legislation need some attention. The QCU will meet with the new Minister as a matter of priority to pursue the changes required as well as discussing issues relating to jobs and training.
The real significance of the Labor win on February 17 is that the spectre of a coalition government or a hung Parliament are no longer considerations and won't be now for at least six years if the size of the majority is anything to go on. What this means for Unions is that we can now get on with the job of growing the movement without having to watch our backs all the time.
While the legislation in Queensland is not perfect is does not hinder Unions from gaining access to potential members, it supports collective agreement making, it protects the Award system and it provides for Union Encouragement clauses to be inserted into Awards and Agreements.
In this type of climate, affiliates can concentrate on recruiting, developing delegate structures and looking at their own internal structures to ensure that they support these activities. The QCU is increasing its organiser training efforts and will provide assistance to affiliates to organise in key areas such as call centres and other new growth areas. There are no excuses now, we just have to get on with it - and we will.
Interview: Tony Abbott – Workers' Friend?
The new Workplace Relations minister relives his own union background and explains why he’s really just another worker at heart. Honestly.
Politics: The Politics of Petrol
Australia might be burning, but is it a fire that can be brought under control?
Organising: The Battle of Campsie
SDA delegate Maria Kavaratzis recounts how the Campsie Big W has been transformed into a union shop.
History: Scabbing Through the Ages
Neale Towart looks back at how popular culture has treated those workers who have not considered themselves part of the collective.
International: Diary of a Showdown
The Korean Metal Workers Federation recounts a week which culminated in violent attacks on workers outside the Daewoo factory.
Economics: Debt Dumping Campaign Enters New Phase
The millennial deadline might have passed, but Jubilee 2000 is not giving up the fight for debt cancellation for the world’s fifty-two poorest countries.
Health: The Real Drug Wars
As Africa attempts to deal with the HIV crisis, access to the medicines that can relieve victims’ suffering is emerging as a major humanitarian issue.
Satire: Liberals Claim Triumph in Queensland
John Howard has claimed the Liberal Party’s decimation in Western Australia and Queensland as a triumphant vindication of his party’s embracing of the national competition policy.
Review: Beyond a White Australia
As we ponder the One Nation renaissance, a new book challenges the current debates around xenophobia and the perceived threat of danger from Asia.
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