The national Newspoll survey, commissioned by Labor Council, came up with heartening findings, with support for unionism far outstripping actual membership rates.
The Labor Council executive will restructure its operations to place greater empahsis on organising and recruiting. Labor Council secretary Michael Costa will chair the high-level committee which will co-ordinate organising and recruiting campaigns across the affiliates.
Importantly, the Committee will be given an annual six-figure budget generated from income from the Currawong development, should it be approved next month. It would work closely with the Trade Union Training Authority to develop and implement recruitment strategies.
Costa says the survey results shows the tremendous opportunity for unions, while rebuffing the federal government's anti-union agenda.
Key finds of the survey were:
- 67 per cent of respondents rejected the proposition that Australia would be better off without trade unions.
- 44 per cent said they'd join a trade union if they were free to choose.
- 53 per cent said management had more power than unions.
NSW Labor Council secretary Michael Costa said the figures were heartening and showed that the blatant attacks on unionism from the Howard Government and rogue employers did not have widespread public support.
"What this shows is that the community overwhelmingly supports trade unions; it's our job to ensure the unions are effective in organising and delivering services," Costa says.
"It highlights the critical importance of providing training and skills for unions officials to meet this challenge.
"It's also clear from the figures that management hostility is a deterrent to many workers who want to join a union and shows the Employment Advocate is not doing its job.
"The Employment Advocate should be focussing on employers who discourage or threaten employees who want to be union members rather than harassing unions in conducting their legitimate activities.
"I call on the federal government to alter its industrial relations legislation to provide structures that allow the community to fulfil its desire to join trade unions."
The Flight Attendants Association say Qantas announced they would set up a Thai recruiting base this week through one of its key advertisers, Channel Nine, without any consultation with staff.
While this is a breach of the enterprise agreement consultation clause, the union is more worried about the job prospects for young Australians wanting to work as flight attendants.
FAAA industrial officer Marie Irwin says the decision is all about cost-cutting, but warns Qantas it is risking its status as an Australian icon in the process.
"Qantas markets its Australian identity in its advertising and Australians have responded with loyalty to their national carrier," Irwin says.
"The company has replied by cutting Australian jobs."
While Qantas argues it is hiring in Thailand because of the need for more ethnically diverse cabin crew, the FAAA says this ignores the diversity of contemporary Australian society.
"There is no need to look for Thai speakers abroad, there are high language skills amongst young Australians and, anyway, only one per cent of Qantas' passengers are Thais," Irwin says.
"A lot of young Australians dream of a career with Qantas. It is disappointing that the company is destroying there opportunities and deserting the unemployed."
And while the focus is initially on recruiting Thai nationals, the FAAA understands Qantas will also target New Zealand where labour market deregulation has turned that country into another low-wage ghetto.
"The New Zealand option is even more concerning because the proposition here is to replace Australians with other English speakers."
The FAAA also questions what they see as the cost-cutting exercise given that Qantas made a $305 million profit last financial year and has already increased this be 30 per cent so far this year.
Bob Carr has agreed to co-sponsor the conference, which would nut out ways of winding back the institutionalised faction system, following this week's cabinet meeting in Newcastle.
Carr told his new Cabinet that Labor had to break through the rigid faction system and put an end to branch stacking if it wanted to broaden its electoral appeal.
The sentiments reflect Costa's call to put aside outdated factional divisions and reform the process of preselection and policy formulation.
Under the Costa plan, the high-level conference would discuss new ways of organising Party affairs including:
- relevance of the proportional representation rule which underpins institutionalised factions
- the structure of branches
- the method of preselection
- the possibility of term limits for MPs
- membership being linked to induction courses and ongoing training to limit branch stacking
Party officials have indicated that it may be possible to provide half a day at the annual state conference to canvass the factional issue.
Public Transport Union state secretary Nick Lewocki told last night's Labor Council meeting that the ALP had been formed as a trade union political party and should remain so.
"How many small businesspeople stood on polling booths or letter-boxed for the ALP in the state election campaign?" Lewocki asked.
"How many small businesses pay a percentage of their profits to the ALP? Not many."
Lewocki called on Labor Council to send a clear message to the MPs at Macquarie street: "It's our Party and if they don't want to to be part of it, they should leave."
Labor Council secretary Michael Costa told the meeting the Premier had assured him that trade unions would remain at the core of the ALP.
But he renewed his call for the Premier to publicly acknowledge the role the trade union movement played in his re-election.
by Bernadette Moloney
Membership of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's Construction Division has reached its highest level for the past seven years, according to figures released today for the year to March 30, 1999.
The CFMEU Construction Division had a total of over 109,000 active members in 1998/1999. Membership in the two largest CFMEU branches, NSW and Victoria, has grown, respectively, by 8% and 7%, in the past six months alone. All the major branches are filing financial surpluses.
"Those who've pronounced the death of the trade union movement should clearly think again," said CFMEU National Construction Secretary John Sutton.
"All the efforts of Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith to talk down union membership have been in vain, as far as the construction industry is concerned.
"The CFMEU's record membership levels prove that construction workers are keen to belong to a strong trade union with a reputation for achieving good wages and conditions through collective agreements."
"With its highest membership levels in over seven years, the CFMEU has defied the death knell widely proclaimed by Minister Reith and his conservative colleagues. High membership levels also strengthen the union's capacity to continue to fight for better conditions for construction workers across Australia," Mr Sutton said.
But ACTU assistant secretary Greg Combet is keen to distinguish the trip from the big think treks of the 80s which gave rise to the Australia Reconstructed report which shaped the ACTU's amalgamations agenda.
Combet says the aim of this trip, which will take in London, Dublin, Brussels, Toronto (where it will coincide with the Canadian Labor Congress) and Washington, is to learn from what the good unions abroad do well.
He likens it more to the mission that came back from north America in the early 90s recommending the ACTU's successful Organising Works program.
"You won't see another Australia Reconstructed, don't expect glossy books or tomes of analysis, it will have a more practical focus," he says.
"We'll be seeing how unions in North America and Europe are dealing with the less hostile political environment they are now operating in."
One item Combet is keen to look into further is the provisions for paid education leave that have been secured by several Canadian unions, financed through collective bargaining agreements.
Members of the delegation are: Combet, ACTU research officer Marion Gaynor, NUW general secretary Greg Sword, LHMU national secretary Jeff Lawrence, Australian Education Union national president Sharan Burrow, AMWU national secretary Doug Cameron and SDA national secretary Joe de Bruyn.
Combet has promised Workers Online a full report of the trip on his return.
May Day Committee convenor Bob Coombs told Workers Online that the focus of this year's traditional dinner and march would be the defence of workers' conditions in the face of Reith's planned second wave of industrial reforms.
While last year's May Day March, held in the middle of the waterfront dispute, drew predictably huge crowds, Coombs is hoping the fire is still burning in the belly of trade unionists.
"There's a whole range of issues which working people should be concerned about: such as the GST, cuts to public health and welfare, not to mention the work of Reith."
The May day dinner will be held on Friday 30th April at the Graphics Arts Club from 6pm. Speakers include Michael Costa, MEAA state secretary Michelle Hryce and Stan Sharkey.
Entertainment and meals will be provided for just $15 per head with tickets available on the night.
Next day the May Day procession will assemble at noon in Town Hall Square, before moving off at 1pm along George Street to First Fleet Park where speakers will include John Maitland and Sandra Moaitt
"I'd encourage all rank and file unionists to support important day, a day when trade unions have traditionally come together," Coombs says..
For further details contact the May Day Committee - Bob Coombs 9264 5024.
Publishers of Tanner's book 'Open Australia', Pluto Press, say the meeting of minds continues a tradition of Bragg meeting with left-leaning political activists when in Australia.
And judging from the former Red Wedge spearhead and Thatcher bogeyman's Sydney press conference this week, the two should have a lot to talk about.
Bragg says the fire in his belly stills burns, despite the end of the Cold War and the challenge is how to apply socialist ideals in an effective way.
"The red flag may not be as significant, but people from the left still have the compassionate ideal; socialism comes from the heart not necessarily from textbooks.
And is pop and politics dead? "maybe the problem is that we're looking for white boys playing guitars"
"Art does still reflect society; if the society is political so will the art; one problem is that we are living an ideological vacuum at present."
But Bragg is not one to bag the Blair Government, although he says he rejects the notion of a 'Third Way' and says there have been things which have disappointed him.
"I think they should call themselves 'Nice Labor' rather than New Labor -- I would like to see them make a few tough calls, rather than making sure people aren't scared by them.
"But you have to remember, Britain didn't vote for socialism, they voted for teachers and nurses.
"While I am disappointed with some of the elements of Thatcherism that they have adopted, they have not been motivated by the same degree of spite. I refuse to become
If the NSW Labor Government is to be seen as a reformist government with vision and social justice conscience it should implement the plan without any further delays.
Distributing our limited resources and services to the western suburbs and regional NSW is long overdue.
Former Health Minister Andrew Refshauge understood the necessity to relocate resources especially to regional NSW and initiated reforms in that direction. However, he was unable to finish the reforms he started when he was moved from the health portfolio.
The NSW Parliamentary Left, the self-proclaimed guardian of social justice reforms should have been the ones pushing for such a social audit plan. But they were too busy back-stabbing each other for the spoils of victory.
Let us hope new Health Minister Graig Knowles will take heed of Costa's recommendations and concerns and finish the reforms Refshauge started.
I think the best approach is never to buy the daily telegraph under any condition.
Without his print audience, he's just another nobody like the rest of us. The ultimate punishment for egos like that!
I often wonder why any unionist would support a publication which continually works against their interests. It was with some satisfaction that I noted the Telegraph has a declining circulation.
Stand by for a trip even further down market, perhaps they should rename it "People" or "Picture" and fill it up with tits and bums!
Your Pierswatch article is pure gold! I am a Blacktown born and bred lad who has no time for these namby pamby spoilt little yuppies and there "throw another worker on the fire" attitude,it is good to see someone not afraid to get up this buckingham puppet and call a @#$% a @#$ which I dare say you will agree he is.
I am a new subscriber and recently joined the party (put that off too long) god bless and keep it up, please have a go at this degenerate next time he starts barking like kerry jones that we cant run our own country...god that shits me.
How frightened Workers Online must be at Mr Akerman's (or would that be News Limited?)lawyers studiously reading every issue of Pierswatch.
We must be prepared in case those imperialist dogs decide to throw a few legal grenades.
I'm embarrassed to admit it but this is an emergency and I feel it's time to come out of the closet.
For the last few years my comrades in Australia have sent me every column Mr Akerman has written and I have bought every wine he recommended.
He has taught me everything I know about drinking in moderation.
Despite having to take out a third mortgage on the Dapto semi I was going to have as my retirement retreat I've never been a happier quaffer.
It means though I have an abudance of left over wines stored under the kitchen sink from when my palate was not "Piers" educated and I find I just can't face them.
I would like to donate them to your fine publication because comrades the world over know raffling dubious wine is the best and most effective way to raise funds.
You'll have to pick them up though because I can't afford the air freight.
Yours in sedimental solidarity,
The sooner the Howard government wharves conspiricy is aired the better.
The Aussie public soon forget and the government know that the longer they stall the less flak they will receive.
We as unionists know and do not have to be reminded, however somehow we have to keep the issue in the non unionist public eye so that they won't forget.
Y2K VCR programming:
You won't be able to use the programmed recording feature on your VCR in Y2K.
But before you toss it, just set it on 1972 because the days will be the same.
Pass this on because VCR manufacturers are not likely to share this information.
They'll encourage you to purchase a new one that is Y2K compliant....
by Peter Lewis
So what have you been doing so far as a Member of Parliament?
Parliament's been sitting for most of the year and this is the first part of the year I've had back in the electorate. I'm the deputy chair of the Caucus Living Standards and Economics Committee, so one of the thing's I've been doing is organising the visit that committee will take around the country in the first half the year.
What does that committee get up to?
There's five caucus committees that reflect the structure of the five national policy committees. They were set up after the 1996 election defeat: there's Living Standards and Economics, National Security and Trade, Social Policy, Government and Service Delivery and Infrastructure, Regional and Rural Development. There's also the Status of Women Committee. They have responsibility for a number of portfolio areas; for instance, Living Standards and Economics has responsibility for Industry, Employment and Education.
The aims of the committee are twofold. They're the first sounding board for legislation before it goes to the whole of Caucus and a position is formed. The other task is coming up with some new ideas and especially now, a long time out from an election, as free-flowing a discussion as possible; not just within the Caucus, but going out and talking to unions, academics, community groups, business about how they see the issues we face.
What issues have you been tackling?
We have three visits coming up over the next couple of months, to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. They're focussing mainly on eduction, jobs and industry development - the core of our committee's brief. So we've been organising who we will talk to at those visits and we've also had as many groups as possible coming in and talking to us when we're in Canberra, some of the ANU economists, people with particular expertise in retirement income, changes to the superannuation environment. It's really interesting and a great opportunity to talk to people who are experts in their field, who we would not always come into contact with otherwise. My main purpose is to get as many perspectives on the issue as I can, although very soon we'll have to put down on paper some of the solutions we're coming up with -- producing discussion papers for Caucus and the National Policy committees. So we're part of the policy melting pot.
Have their been any ideas that have been presented to the committee, that you've gone "wow, that's amazing"?
I feel like every time we talk to someone that there is something that is useful and interesting; even people who I don't expect to agree with contribute something to that discussion of ideas. What I'm really enjoying is the frank discussions around the table that accompany the consultations. I mean, we sit in the chamber of Parliament and get bagged for the fact that we've got a backbencher and a frontbencher who've written books recently and we get called a book club and a reading group, but it feels to me like a really exciting period when we've got people who are having those arguments, to the extent that there are quite wide differences of opinion at some times. But that is more healthy than the situation you have in the Coalition where John Howard comes up with a pathetic preamble and no-one in the party room has the chutzpah to say it's a joke.
What's your take on the Latham/Tanner debate?
I think it's really healthy to have ideas debated as widely as possible. But I guess I feel to an extent there's nothing new in the world. I think that a lot of what Mark's saying is what the left has been talking about for decades: the focus on community, grassroots politics - that's what the left of the Labor Party has always been doing. I think that our historical relationships with groups outside the Labor Party like the peace movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the environment, the feminist movement. Our links with community feminist organisations have been about promoting grassroots activism around sexual assault services, domestic violence services; that sort of activism within the community and collective responsibility, the political pressure that the group working on a particular issue, all that stuff that Latham is talking about is what we've been doing for some time.
Albeit, with a greater emphasis on the State as the deliverer of the services ...
Sure, but that is actually one of the criticisms that can be made of Latham. he uses the example of the parents of the kids with learning difficulties and talks about terrific it is for the parents to take responsibility for this. And it is vital in a situation like that to empower the parents as much as you can. But it is also fair to say that the State owes a responsibility to those kids and their parents. We don't want to return to a situation of voluntarism where individual parents may not have the skills or the patience or the time or the financial ability to look after their children in the ways that would benefit them the most. And I don't know if it's an ideal situation to necessarily throw the responsibility back on them. I don't want to go back to a situation where families -- and that means women -- are being told its their responsibility all over again. We fought pretty hard to say that there are areas like this that deserve professional service, we don't want to return to a situation where we say: anyone can do this, because that devalues caring work as highly skilled work.
So if Tanya Plibersek were to sit down and right her book on the future for Labor, what would be your central thesis?
I don't have any book planned. I don't even imagine that I have a grand plan that all of the things we are concerned with fall into ..
Does that say as much about grand plans? It seems to me this search for a grand plan to solve all the problems is itself problematic...
That's why I think the whole "Third Way" tag-line is problematic. You end up having to fit all your observations about the world into a book. You have to take an ahistorical approach to fit your vision of the future into your model. The desire of any author is to imagine that they are the first person to have ever thought of their schema means they have to ignore the fact that nothing is ever new. In lots of ways what's called the Third Way in Britain, is what we were already doing in Australia, admittedly sometimes imperfectly.
One thing that has changed for someone form the Left since the end of the Cold War is the clear ideological differences between the ALP factions. Having entered Parliament with the Cold War well and truly over, what does it mean to be Left?
I think that's an issue not just for Parliamentarians, but a generations of young people. To say to the average young person now that so-and-so used to be a dual ticket holder, it means nothing to them. It doesn't mean they are ignorant, it just means they didn't grow up in an environment of paranoia. They probably don't think they're being bugged either. The level of fear and suspicion is lower than in the past, but I still feel there are ideological differences between the Left and the Right of the Labor Party. I don; think they are insurmountable and, if people behave properly, they can be worked out in line with the democratic rules of the party.
Which are the differences that inform you?
I suppose they are based on recent historical positions that different groups have taken. In NSW the most obvious is electricity privatisation. I think that people lined up pretty much factionally within the parliamentary party, the union break-up was a little bit different, but there were only a few people in the political wing of the party who didn't follow the factional line. Historically, there's things like selling uranium to France, privatising the Commonwealth Bank, the position we took on sending troops to Iraq, the left position on East Timor -- which is only now being realised as the appropriate position -- French testing in the Pacific. There are a number of issues like that that throughout my political awareness where the Left has taken a position which is much more in line with my views and that is what made my position clear from an early age.
What about now in Canberra? What are the issues on which there would be a difference between Left and Right?
The policy divisions are now a lot less than they have been historically. But that's because I think we're winning many of the moral arguments and I think that if you have a look at the last National Platform after the 1996 election loss, is a much more left wing platform than we had for a long time. that's because we had so much input from rank and file party members and rank and file union members. I think it more accurately reflects the attitudes of the people who join the Labor Party. It was much more closer to what I think are out core Labor values, than the platform that had evolved beforehand..
So what are our core Labor values?
I always find it hard to talk about without sounding like a wanker, but: equality, fairness, access to all the necessities of life, education, shelter, food, health care. there's all the definitional arguments about equality -- absolute equality or equality of opportunity. John Howard and Pauline Hanson say they believe in equality as well and what that means to them is different to what it means to me, which is a high basic standard of living for every person in this country.
Let's talk about the factions, there are some people in Sussex Street who think the factions are no longer relevant. Do you agree with that?
People keep telling me that the factions are no longer relevant, I don't know whether that's the case. What worries me is that "power abhors a vacuum". What replaces factions? I don't believe it will just become one big, back-slapping collective. I think if you lose a structure which is based on factions, what will replace it is one based on warlords and that frightens me. I think that we're in a much better position when decisions are made collectively rather than individual people acting on individual whims. I feel more comfortable with a system where people are empowered to negotiate on behalf of the group they represent and they are required to report back to the group on the decision that they make. I think you end up with more honest and fairer outcomes in that structure.
I think both sides of this debate are arguing about their ideal systems. My ideal is a working factional system based on policy differences. I don't know if we've had that system in recent times, but that's an ideal collective system. The other ideal that is being posed by the people who say the factions are dead, involved individual people making moral decisions on policy issues and being promoted on talent. I've got no problem with that, I think it would be a lovely thing but, call me cynical, but I don't think that's what will replace the current factions.
by Mark Hearn
"What Peter Reith wants is an impoverished and desperate workforce", John Thompson gives me a hard look. Once again, I'm glad that I am not Peter Reith. "He wants workers at each other's throats."
Anger can make a quiet bloke passionate about ordinary things once taken for granted. Like your whole working life. "The Award has evolved over the years to maintain decent standards", John explains, his hands working hard to try to shape the right words. "The Award encourages you to stay in the industry, to do the job."
Shearer John Thompson is talking about the Pastoral Industry Award. Like shearing, the Award seems to have been around forever. Created in 1907, the Pastoral Industry Award was the first handed down by the new Commonwealth Arbitration Court, decisively ending "freedom of contract" - the boss free to run his shearing shed, to determine wages and conditions, without the interference of uppity shearers or the meddling Australian Workers Union.
You can see why Federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith likes the idea of freedom of contract. He was unimpressed that the National Farmers Federation and the AWU recently negotiated a new Award, and had that streamlined Award approved by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, settling years of conflict. Reith has appealed the decision, demanding still more cuts.
It's all part of Reith's promise of a new era of workplace relations, based on his slogan, "More Jobs, Better Pay". How does that bold promise stack up against the changes he wants to impose on the Pastoral Industry Award?
Reith wants to cut clauses that govern the condition of the sheep and the number of sheep to be shorn. He even questions whether the farmer should supply the sheep, and provide shearers and shedhands with basic amenities, like clean water and accommodation.
Cuts that some farmers will certainly welcome, as John Thompson explains, and as only a life-long bushie can. "Some owners would have you sleeping in the chook shed on a bag of thistles, if they had their way."
Shearer Peter O'Conner describes removing the clause guaranteeing shearers a minimum number of sheep as "a back door way of lowering shearing rates". Shearers pay - piece rates - relates to the number of sheep they shear - not the number of hours they work. As shearing is seasonal and itinerant work, shearers need to be able to schedule work in advance - confident that they will have enough sheep to shear to justify travelling long distances between pastoral stations. Peter Reith is expecting shearers to turn up at a station with no guarantee of a reasonable income.
Peter O'Conner says Reith's demand that workers lift productivity is irrelevant in the pastoral industry. "We're already working flat out". Shearers work as fast as they can to make a good living, to build a strong tally of shorn sheep, and a good pay cheque - 30-40% of a shearer's income disappears in work-related costs. They can't shear night and day, although there is constant pressure to shear on weekends. Reith's award cuts will only intensify that pressure.
The AWU is aware of contractors advertising in New Zealand for shearers to work "seven day" rosters in Australia. Every day, for the entire shearing season. An impossible workload, says Peter O'Conner. "You can't go out with a spanner and a set of nuts and bolts and repair a human being". Many shearers already retire with permanent disabilities from a life of wrestling sheep that can weigh up to 65 kilos.
The AWU is fighting Reith's appeal of the AIRC decision. National Secretary Terry Muscat says "Peter Reith has broken his word. He promised that under his Workplace Relations Act no worker would be worse off. Yet he knows that once you remove the legal responsibility of award conditions, employers will try to cut pay rates and working conditions."
John Thompson doesn't expect farmers to provide him with luxury when he goes out shearing: just "decent standards". Peter Reith has a bad habit of upsetting decent people. Once roused, decent people make obstinate political opponents.
by Jeannie Gehue
Oh, come here, I'll show you something really interesting. What we used to be like before they started demolishing everything and building those ugly townhouses. See that? Its an old broom factory. Beautiful, isn't it? Sandra Villanova, Rozelle resident discussing Commonwealth Broom Factory, March 1994.
But Miss Gehue, that is only a corrugated iron shed! Now, what can you tell us about the cottage also on the site? Comment by National Trust Assessment Board, August 1996.
Sometimes a building is worth more then the sum of its building parts. The family home is an example of this. What makes it significant is what it means as a building, not what it cost or what fixtures are in it, or what it can be replaced by. It is also a building which we can all relate to. As we wander through the rooms of Elizabeth House or the working class terraces at Susannah Place, we imagine ourselves in that time, in that life. Sadly, this can rarely be said of our working buildings. The very few which do enjoy this sentiment tend to have once housed industries which we still understand; shops and banks, tram sheds, pub and gaols. They are built of materials which we consider worthy; stone and brick.
The mighty slabs of timber, lashed, braced and bolted to a forest of piers, support the peeling, vacant super-structures of the finger wharves. These last remnants of Woolloomoolloo's and the Rock's industrial heritage stretch out into Sydney Harbour. A harbour, which is increasingly removed from its industrial base and reduced to a view for the wealthy. By fighting to preserve these industrial sites where the working classes once struggled with employment and life, we are recalling a working harbour and recognising our maritime history and its related industries.
A little corrugated iron factory. In a lane. In Rozelle.
A corrugated iron factory offers neither the romantic nostalgia of a colonial home or the vast expanse of Sydney Harbour. It once housed industries that we no longer understand or need. It sits there quietly, unemployed, empty. Its story fading and peeling away from us like the paint on its corrugated surfaces. And yet, this Foucart Street factory, like its many inner-city counter-parts who once cluttered the shorelines and laneways of Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Pyrmont, is similar in every way to that one building which is iconographic to the Australian identity - the woolshed. Built of the same materials, during a similar era, powered in the same fashion, they were both buildings which consumed physical labour like their steam engines consumed wood and coal. They are both working class buildings that have seen their fair share of scandal and hardship, fun and high times. Both have been hotbeds of unionism and equity issues. Only one, however is enshrined in the Australian psyche - the woolshed. The other languishes, almost forgotten on the edge of people's memories.
Well, the other exciting thing that is happening here in Hay is that we are getting a new museum. We've found this woolshed, which is quite old, corrugated iron and all, and we are re-locating it here in town and fixing it up to be a museum. Beat Around The Bush, 2BL Radio, Phillip Clarke Morning Show talking with the Hay correspondent, August 1997.
It is the woolshed which is saved and recycled when the opportunity presents itself. The corrugated city factory is disadvantaged, first by its location which is neither remote nor romantic and second by its building fabric which councils and government offices still shun. And yet these too are culturally significant buildings. What we have forgotten, as a society, is how to interpret them. Their stories are just as robust, romantic, funny and cruel as the buildings we still understand. They too represent Australian ingenuity, our maverick sense of enterprise, adventures; successful and those gone astray. If we are to preserve any of our early urban industrial life, it is essential that we re-learn the language of these buildings or they will be lost to us forever. This is the threat and the promise of the corrugated iron broom factory at 84 Foucart Street, Rozelle.
Built originally as a foundry in late 1881 by Mr. R. O'Connor, this colonial industrial building is a fine example of haste and limited revenues [Land Titles Records, Book 557, No. 586; see also The Black Wattle Sheets (BWS), 1881 - 1889, Water Board Archives with documents built history of Foucart Street area]. It borrows a sandstone and rubble boundary wall as one of its own. Remains of this wall, which once marked out Dr. Louis Foucart's land holdings, can still be seen throughout the Rozelle neighbourhood. The interior beams of the building were originally hand hewn. One such beam remains. The floor was dirt. The cottage, also located on the site was built in 1885 and shared its out buildings with the foundry. The foundry itself is clad only in a variety of corrugated iron sheets with windows, delivery and dispatch doors cut into them.
The problem with the good economic times that O'Connor would have found when he first opened up his business, is that they never last. 1890 saw Australia slip into a the grip of a cruel recession. Small businesses, then as now, are always hit hard and O'Connor was no exception to this. The economy continued to decline and by 1894, O'Connor was having difficulties maintaining his mortgage to Tooths. 1896 saw Tooths take bankruptcy proceedings out against O'Connor and by 1900, O'Connor had vacated the. A long term tenant rented out the cottage, but the foundry remained empty property [Land Titles Records, Book 996, No. 305; Sands Directory, 1896 - 1913].
Henry Grubmeier? Oh, you mean Heinz! Yes, he was my grandfather. He had a broom factory in Rozelle, somewhere. He made millet brooms. Not many people knew how to in them days. My father was a millet broom maker, too. He could get work anywhere because of it. Fred Grubmeier, aged 86, retired sheet metal worker, January 1997.
The beginnings of Rozelle's unique broom making community lay with the arrival of a German immigrant, Heinz Grubmeier and his young family, in the mid 1800s. Heinz arrived in the new world with an old craft: millet broom making, a skill that was still in its very rudimentary stages in the colony, and an industry that would have offered Grubmeier instant employment and a good rate of pay.
You really were somebody if you made millet brooms. It even gets a special mention on the marriage certificate! Fred Grubmeier, Henry Grubmeier's grandson, January 1997.
In the same year that O'Connor was building the foundry on Foucart Street, around the corner Grubmeier was buying the foundry at 12 Fred Street [Land Titles Records, Book 212, No. 807]. The building was converted to millet broom making. He called this first corrugated iron factory, "Federal Brooms". By 1898, when O'Connor was feeling the true squeeze of hard economic times, Grubmeier and his family were financially secure. What did Grubmeier know about millet brooms that his competitors did not? Besides his experience and family ties to the craft, what gave him the apparent edge over companies that had been struggling since the inception of the colony?
When my grandfather, Daniel French, took over the Federal, he bought the patent. This was a long time ago, you know, but I always understood it as Grubmeier had figured out a new way to attach the millet to the handle and that made a better broom. Fred French, Daniel French's grandson, ex-owner of Federal Brooms, January 1997.
For this new industry to survive in Australia, it had to have an efficient design that would be able to support the high cost of technology or risk being pushed out of the market altogether. To combat this, Grubmeier devised a new method of tying millet to the broom handle which he also made longer and changed the manner in which brooms were stitched. These changes in production refined the shape of the broom to that of the flat triangular shape which is standard today.
With this new compact design Grubmeier not only had a broom which was cost effective to make, but better suited to do what a broom was meant for - sweeping. A broom which was also easier to use as it no longer required the user to stoop. These significant changes to the design of the broom and its production entitled Grubmeier to a fourteen year design patent [An original copy of this patent is held by the William Dixon Library, Sydney, in their manuscript box, Federal Brooms/Commonwealth Brooms. A search was requested in September 1997 to try and locate the Patent Office's copy. However it appears to have been lost]. An impressive achievement considering how entrenched this industry was and continues to be in the United States, Germany and Eastern Europe.
In 1899. In a corrugated iron factory. In a laneway. In Rozelle.
While recognising that they have no patents or any other tangible proof to support it, the United States still claims the modern broom as an American invention. However, sitting safely in the State Library of NSW is Grubmeier's patent along with other related documents allowing us to counter these claims. Just as we have countered American claims to the first national park, so too can we claim the right as the inventors of the first modern broom.
Today the production mode, style and design of the broom is so well known it is once again public knowledge and as such falls outside of the bounds of patents and royalties. As a household appliance it has been almost completely overshadowed by the most advanced broom of all; the vacuum cleaner. It is hard to imagine that something as ordinary as a broom ever caused any fuss at all. In Australia, Grubmeier's patent was still considered valuable in 1900 when he sold it and the Federal Broom Factory to one of his employees, Daniel French.
It was also this knowledge and expertise that allowed Henry's widow, Rebecca Grubmeier, in 1913, to repeat the process again. Another foundry was bought - 84 Foucart Street and converted to millet broom making. They called this second corrugated iron factory, 'Commonwealth Brooms'.
Rebecca's neighbourhood pulled together, ensuring the Commonwealth's success. In the 1900s this was the only form of social welfare which existed. The patent had expired, releasing Rebecca from any legal restrictions. This is a moot point as one of the very first companies to assist her in establishing the Commonwealth, was the Federal Broom Company and the French family. Now there were two such broom factories in the area, ostensibly started by the same family. By 1932 there would be six such factories in the area, creating an industry and a community that would survive two world wars, a Depression and automation.
Corrugated iron factories. In laneways. In Rozelle.
Women could sort the millet, and lots of them did, but I never heard of a women making or sewing a millet broom. It was hard, dirty, dangerous work making a broom back then, before machines. 'Splinter' Giles, millet broom maker, Federal Broom's Foreman, November 1996.
Rebecca ran the Commonwealth with her two daughters. They would have hired runners, sewers (sic), makers and a foreman to run the factory floor, employees easily found within the local area. One such person was a young man named Jim Ferrier. His family was well known to the Grubmeier and French families as they also lived on Foucart Street.
Even when the Commonwealth was briefly owned by outside interests, no changes were made. Why didn't Ferrier buy the business himself? He had worked there all of his life, he was a skilled broom maker, he had been the factory foreman for years and he was married to Rebecca's daughter, Dora.
Old man Ferrier was called "Nutsey" because all he lived for was soccer. Eddy was called "Young Nutsey" because he was just as bad and Jim, well. He always wanted to be a football star, but he wasn't good enough, really. His brother Eddy could really play. He was the captain of the team and all. When Jim finally realised he'd never be a player, that's when he bought the Commonwealth. Gloria Brown , born 1921 in Rozelle where she has lived all of her life, November 1996.
He also built the cottage which stands across the lane from the iron factory. It was during these days, over beers and millet buying trips that the Commonwealth, the Federal were at their closest. They continued to share resources, they bought equipment together, workers flowed easily between the factories. The corrugated shed which they shared as a millet store remains in Foucart lane. These were not just major employers in the area, they were also local families who had grown up in Rozelle, often following family footsteps into the industry. They supported local sporting clubs, charities and institutions. They were a dynamic neighbourhood, linked through industry and held together by the pride in their craft.
Ferrier did not make any real changes to the Commonwealth, he saw no real need.
All of the warehouses and factories around here were made of iron then. People even lived in the stuff. It was what you used. It was what everybody used. The Commonwealth is an original building. The Federal was built out of iron too, they just put the brick building right over the top of it. Albert 'Splinter' Giles, broom maker, Federal Foreman, January 1997.
The business was running smoothly providing Ferrier and his family with a pleasant lifestyle and employing as many people as it ever had (about 12). It gave him time to devote to other things - the soccer club, the billiards hall on Darling Street, millet buying trips with Harold French and the pub.
One of the young boys that Jim Ferrier hired as a runner was Norman Martin. Like Ferrier before him, Martin was never to work anywhere else. In 1956, Dora Grubmeier Ferrier, as the only surviving member of her family, sold the family business and the Foucart Street site. Harold French had died, quite un-expectantly and this had pushed Jim Ferrier into retirement. The Federal was taken over by Harold's sons, Fred and John, neither of whom were broom makers. Ferrier sold most of the Commonwealth's equipment to the Federal. The new owner, Norman Martin would not require them. He had secured a wholesale contract to supply the Navy with their broom brush and mop needs. Most of the Commonwealth's employees also shifted to the Federal.
Competition existed outside of the neighbourhood; from the broom factories in Pyrmont and Surry Hills. But, within this specific neighbourhood there was an egalitarian ethic rather then 'one-upmanship'. Here there was a long tradition of sharing resources and skills. This is seen clearly in the relationship the factories had with the Brushmaker's Union, which was basically conflict free. It is also seen in the relationship which existed between the factories which extended to workers, suppliers, storage arrangements as well as respect for each other's contracts. Federal Brooms, for example, did well out of supplying Commonwealth Brooms, which in turn supplied the Navy. Whereas today a company might be tempted to spirit such a lucrative contract away from a competitor, during this era, such a manoeuvre would have been seen as unethical.
Oh sure, the Federal could have supplied Martin's customers direct, but that wasn't how you did business in those days. You didn't steal your neighbour's customers. Besides Martin got that Navy contract on his own. It had nothing to do with Federal. They never came and saw us or anything. One day Martin shows up and says he's got this great contract and how much for this many of these brooms? Albert 'Splinter' Giles .
This was the factory's final phase of its working life.
Oh, the last 20 or 30 years of the factory was a bit of a social club, you know. Martin had this the big military contract. He was their sole supplier in Sydney so, no pressure. There would have been 3 or 4 people working on the factory floor, packing and putting metal locks on the brooms. It was pretty easy work, everybody seemed fairly relaxed. Tony, from up the corner shop, used to deliver their lunch everyday. The neighbourhood just sort of hung around the place chatting to Norm. He loved a bit of a chat. G. Foulds, resident, neighbour to Commonwealth.
Norm Martin? Well of course I knew him, everybody did. Big, strapping man, good looking, lots of red hair, gave away plenty of money too. Of course, I didn't know him personally, you know. He was a 'Prot', a Methodist, I think, or something, and I'm a Catholic. But he was still a fine fellow, did a lot of good work. Dolcie, long term local Rozelle resident, November 1996.
Of all of the people to live and work in this quarter of Balmain, Norman Martin probably made the most tangible contribution to his community - the only world he ever knew. He never married, devoting his life to the care of his mother, Elizabeth, the sponsorship of the local soccer clubs and the Wesley Church. Commonwealth Brooms, now called "N. Martin Broom Brush and Mop Manufacturers" underwrote this life of charity and civil service.
Martin also supported many building projects in Leichhardt including the building of the Wesley Church on Wetherill Street. He donated the Church's Queensland maple pews, pipe organ and grand piano. Next door is Martin Hall which he had built for the senior citizens of the area. He was one of the major contributors to Hawkins Hall, the senior citizen's home found on Norton street [Interviews with Roy Ellerston, Elder of Wesley Church, Leichhardt, January 1998]. His neighbours around the Foucart Street area enjoyed a free supply of brooms, brushes and mops. He gave freely to local charities and supported both the public and Catholic schools in the area.
Oh, I've got a great collection of brooms and brushes from Norm's place. He used to give them to me. "Try them out", he'd say "Let me know if they are any good!" Suzie Cheel, neighbour to broom factory, 84 Foucart Lane, January 1997.
In 1971, Norman Martin was awarded a British Empire Medal for his services and commitment to the community. 1980 signalled the decade of corporate greed and for the group of broom manufactures in Foucart Street, it meant the end of a 100 year history. The first to feel the heat was the Federal. The French family was bought out by a large American company. The business's assets, were broken up and sold. The factory site at Fred Street was closed, it's equipment sold, the site auctioned. The other factories were soon absorbed. For Norman Martin, now an old man, the fire went out. While he sold the business, he did not sell the one hundred and eleven year old buildings until 1992. Hudsons, a local timber merchant rented out the cottage and used the factory as a timber store.
A culture begins with the simple things - with the way the potter moulds the clay on his wheel, the way the weaver threads his yarns, the way the builder builds his house. Greek culture did not begin with the Parthenon: it began with a white washed hut on a hillside. Herbert Read, The Politics Of The Unpolitical, London, 1943.
As Australia re-defines itself for the twenty-first century it needs to remind itself of its past. Of glorious deeds and cruel misdeeds. It needs to recall it's determination, it's humility, its sense of humour. We need to remember that the Australia which we are today did not start with the Opera House or even with our mighty and majestic woolsheds but with humble, unencumbered, simple buildings. Commonwealth Brooms, Federal Brooms, ABC Brooms, Austral Brooms...
Corrugated iron factories. In laneways. In Rozelle.
A fuller version of this article appeared in a special issue of Locality, the publication of the Centre for Community History at the University of NSW, focused on Industrial Heritage. The Centre can be contacted on 9385 2379.
Jeanne Gehue is a Canadian Australian. Since arriving in this country she has completed degrees in history and education. The broom factory in Rozelle formed the subject of her honours thesis. She is currently a special education teacher at St. Scholastica's College in Glebe.
by Steve Wilson
'BHP announces closure of Australia's oldest Steelworks by 1999 ... All steel production to stop, retaining only rod and bar plant. More than 2,000 jobs to go, plus 1,000 jobs amongst contractors ... Premier Bob Carr calls it tragic and brands it a 'boardroom betrayal of working-class Australia.' ... AWU promises war over Newcastle ... BHP shares rise by 48.5˘ to $17.86 ...'
These were the headlines on and shortly after 29 April 1997, the day that BHP announced its decision to end steelmaking in Newcastle. The immediate effects of the decision were very dramatic - workers walked off the job, a large stop-work meeting was held, the Today Show from Channel Nine broadcast from Newcastle the following day, even Sixty Minutes ran a story about the decision - but since the decision little has been heard of the workers or how they're coping with the closure as it draws nearer (ie. September 30, 1999). That is, till now. The Workers Cultural Action Committee (WCAC) is about to release the results of the Molten Arts Project - an arts project with the employees of the Newcastle Steelworks recording and celebrating their working lives.
For example, over the past nine months PP Cranney, a writer, has been working with employees to gather their stories about working at the Steelworks.
'The Committee felt it was important to give the workers an opportunity to tell their side of the story', said Cranney. 'Through the interviews and writing workshops people have been telling us some interesting tales about how it used to be in the old days, funny stories and the accidents that have happened'.
When you were ready to hose the ash pit in, you'd wait till you'd get the blokes you didn't like on the other side and you'd squirt it through and it'd blow shit all over him. - Tom Lutton, Rail Traffic
Everybody grew stuff and everybody brought it in. We used to have a big biscuit tin and you'd go and get a biscuit and you'd have a cup of tea and lemons ... Nobody drank coffee. It was always tea. - Ernie Kembrey, Bar Mill
Everything was exploding, the whole building was shaking. The flames were shooting, tremendous, you know. $15,000,000 damage done - Adam Niewidok, Bloomcaster
The WCAC also employed a photographer, James Campbell, to co-ordinate a photography workshop for employees. Over 100 disposable cameras have been distributed. 'We've asked workers to take photographs of what's important to them about this place. For the keener photographers we've given them black and white film and shown them how to process and print their own photographs' said Campbell. 'They haven't had great gear or the knowledge to get the greatest photographs of steel making but what they do have is an amazing perspective. You look at some of the shots and think where did they take that from? How the hell did they find that angle?'
The pictures and stories will be edited and compiled into a publication titled Tailing Out - BHP Workers talk about Life, Steelmaking and the Newcastle Closure due to be released in June 1999.
The interviews, prose and poetry in Tailing Out were recorded and written between May and November 1998: roughly halfway between 'the Announcement' and 'the Closure'. The book as such is a freeze-frame, a snapshot, in the words and images of the people who work there, of a workplace - a community - in transition.
I can remember as a young apprentice ... one of the bosses come down and he asked me why had I done something ... and I said, 'I've used my initiative.' And he said, 'Well, don't you ever do that again.' That stayed with for some years - Steve Skelton, Fluid Power
A lot of people looked at me and said, 'You're going to the Coke Ovens? What did you do wrong?' - John McBride, Coke Ovens
You were so close to hell you'd know where it was - Ernie Kembrey, Bar Mill
Another project undertaken by the WCAC has been the design and installation of a public sculpture honoring the men and women who have worked at BHP. Shaped like an industrial shed, the sculpture is designed for people to walk through and around it. The interior - containing components from the plant - will use key images to prompt memories of the place and the people.
'It's about the work experience of the people here and the culture that such a large industrial place creates', said sculptor Julie Squires. 'Once the steelworks is gone people will be able to bring their families to the sculpture and point out the references to where they used to work. It's trying to capture a sense of what it was like to work here '
The 50-tonne, 8-metre high sculpture will be located along Industrial Drive near the main entrance to the old side of the Steelworks. The sculpture should be completed by June 1999.
In August this year the WCAC will enhance these projects through a performance to be held on-site at the Steelworks.
These projects have been funded through a grant from the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body, and additional funding support from BHP Rod, Bar and Wire, the Australian Workers Union, Newcastle Trades Hall Council, the CEPU (Electrical Div) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. BHP Port Kembla, Tubemakers, Robert Carr & Assoc., BHPE, and various departments within the Newcastle Steelworks have provided additional in-kind support.
I often sit here at night ... when it's quiet and the phone's not ringing; I can still see these blokes. I can look at the crane - you might think this is stupid - and I can still see Spencer Lane's face. I can still see old Jimmy Stoker, and old Teddy Harrison ... All them blokes. And it's all gone. - Aub Brooks, Wagon & Rail
Over one million work-related deaths occur annually according to ILO estimates and hundreds of millions of workers suffer from workplace accidents and occupational exposure to hazardous substances worldwide, the Chief of the ILO's Health and Safety programme told delegates assembled this week in San Paulo at the opening of the 15th World Congress on Occupational Safety and Health.
In a speech to the introductory session of the Congress, Dr. Jukka Takala, Chief of the ILO's Health and Safety programme, pointed out that the workplace hecatomb of 1.1 million deaths exceeds the average annual deaths from road accidents (999,000), war (502,000), violence (563,000) and HIV/AIDS (312,000).
Approximately one-quarter of those deaths result from exposure to hazardous substances which cause such disabling illnesses as cancer and cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous-system disorders.
He warned that work-related diseases are expected to double by the year 2020 and that if improvements are not implemented now, exposures today will kill people by the year 2020.
In addition, he said that by conservative estimates workers suffer approximately 250 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year. Deaths and injuries, he said, continue to take a particularly heavy toll in developing countries where large numbers of workers are concentrated in primary and extraction activities such as agriculture, logging, fishing and mining - some of the world's most hazardous industries.
Also, according to ILO, some 600,000 lives would be saved every year if available safety practices and appropriate information were used:
- every year, 250 million accidents occur causing absence from work, the equivalent of 685,000 accidents every day, 475 every minute, eight every second.
- working children suffer 12 million occupational accidents and an estimated 12,000 of them are fatal.
- 3,000 people are killed by work every day, 2 every minute; asbestos alone kills more than 100,000 workers every year.
ILO estimates show that the fatality rate in advanced industrialized economies is almost half that of Central and Eastern Europe, China and India. In the Latin America/Caribbean region, the fatality rate is even higher and in the Middle East and Asia (excluding China and India), the fatality rates soar to four-fold of that in the industrialized countries.
Selected hazardous jobs can be from 10 to 100 times riskier. Construction sites in developing countries are 10 times more dangerous than in industrialised countries.
Industrialised countries have seen a clear decrease of serious injuries as a result of structural changes in the nature of work and real improvements in making the workplace healthier and safer, including improved first aid and emergency care which saves lives in the event of accidents.
However the evolving nature of work is generating new occupational hazards, including musculo-skeletal problems, stress and mental problems, asthmatic and allergic reactions and problems caused by exposure to hazardous and carcinogenic agents, such as asbestos, radiation and chemicals.
High Cost of Negligence
The economic costs of occupational and work-related injuries and diseases are rapidly increasing.
The ILO expert says that "while it is impossible to place a value on human life, compensation figures indicate that approximately four per cent of the world's gross domestic product disappears with the cost of diseases through absences from work, sickness treatment, disability and survivor benefits."
The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) lost in work-related injuries and diseases is more than that of total GDP in Africa, Arab States and South Asia together and more than all official development assistance to the world's developing countries.
In addition to suffering material shortages and inadequate medical facilities, developing countries' problems are compounded by rapid industrialization and migration to cities.
According to Mr Takala, in the context of globalization, industries are being set up, often informal and dangerous ones, engaging workers without previous experience of industrial work.
The provision of adequate housing and premises frequently lags the development of new factories and industrial sites.
The need for infrastructure increases construction work, another hazardous occupation, in areas as diverse as housing, roads, dams and power and telecommunication facilities, bringing a host of benefits but also problems linked to modern industrial societies, including traffic, noise, stress, new products and an array of chemical and synthetic materials which may be hazardous if incorrectly used or improperly disposed of.
Intense competition for scarce investment capital can contribute to disregard for safety, health and environmental considerations, as the large number of fires caused by toy, textile and similar kinds of factories in developing countries attests.
Coverage for occupational safety and health varies widely in different parts of the world, says the ILO, with, for example, workers in Nordic countries enjoying nearly universal coverage while only 10 per cent or less of the workforce in many developing countries is likely to enjoy any sort of coverage.
Even in many developed countries, coverage against occupational injury and illness may extend to only half the workforce.
Strategies to Improve Safety
While arguing for the largest possible coverage of all workers, the ILO says that different strategies to improve occupational health and safety are needed in light of the different circumstances countries face.
For industrialized countries, priorities need to focus on psychological factors linked to poor workplace relations and management, the mental and physical consequences of repetitive, highly technical tasks and information on handling new technologies and substances, including chemicals.
In industrializing countries, priorities need to focus on improving safety and health practices in primary industries such as farming, fishing and logging, preventing industrial accidents, including fires and leaks of hazardous substances and preventing traditional accidents and diseases, including
those in informal workshops and home-based industries and involving exposure to silica dust, which is extremely hazardous and results in a large number of unnecessary premature deaths each year.
"In countries at all levels of development," Dr. Takala said, "a large proportion of the deaths and injuries by workers can be attributed to inadequate safety and health information."
He outlined a number of ILO programmes, some developed in conjunction with the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Development Project to improve safety and health information and networking.
These include the International Programme on Chemical Safety, which develops, translates and disseminates clear and standardized information on the properties of chemical substances in the workplace.
The ILO also undertakes extensive research and publishes a large number of publications, including the 4,000 page ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, which was published in an updated 4th edition last year.
He cited a number of activities in developing countries, ranging from chemical safety programmes for small coal mines in China, agro-chemical safety initiatives in Central America and occupational health and safety information campaigns throughout Africa.
Dr. Takala urged the Congress delegates to set a number of measurable targets for improving occupational health and safety. These include improved policies and legislation, wider availability of occupational health services, improved infrastructure and manpower and better recording and notification systems.
In many industries, occupational and work related diseases and injuries are not even reported: "An improved safety culture is partly a question of resources and technology, but above all it requires better information, management and higher ethical standards in confronting the ever present and ever evolving dangers of the workplace," said Dr. Takala.
The ILO is emphasizing that key occupational safety and health conventions, such as the framework of Convention No. 155 on occupational safety and No. 161 on occupational health services should be considered as minimum standards.
In addition, the Global Safe Work Programme is being launched to provide knowledge, advocacy and services in occupational safety and health and to place this high on the global, international and national agenda.
by Neale Towett
Labour Review No. 15, 12 April 1999
UK Tries to Regulate Maximum Working Hours
The Working Time regulations commenced on 1 October 1998 and apply to almost all employees and many contractors in the UK.
The regulations require:
Failure to observe the requirements is a breach of occupational health and safety legislation.
Employees may bring tribunal hearings if:
So far there have been problems with the regulations, including the "reasonable steps" requirement which is difficult for employers of employees with more than one job. It may require the employer to request employees to inform then of other jobs held, and if employees don't the employer would then not be liable for breaches.
The employer, if they find an excess of hours because of two jobs, may need to reduce an employees hours, which would also reduce their income.
(Work Alert; no. 4, 26 March 1999)
Transmission of Business
It has been generally accepted that for a transmission of business to occur there will be a different employer. However this view does not account for situations where the employer does not change. For example, in the FCU v Davids (NSWIRC matter no. 6281/98, 8-12-98)
The commission examined whether or not employees of a business that had relocated were still covered by an enterprise agreement that had been negotiated for the original worksite. Also the Commission had to consider whether employees from another business which had been taken over by Davids and relocated to the new site should be covered by the Davids Enterprise Agreement.
The NSW Industrial Relations Act on a literal interpretation requires new agreements if a definite location for workers covered by the agreement is specified. However, in the Atlantis Removals case (AILR 43 5-162), the Commission held that to argue that an agreement did not cover employees because the business had moved was "unrealistic and artificial".
In the Davids case, however, the relocation question was complicated by the employees who were originally employed by the company Davids took over. These employees relocated from Lidcombe to Blacktown.
Justice Marks statement in the Atlantis case seems applicable to the Davids case. Therefore if conditions for the ex-Lidcombe employees at the Blacktown site are compatible and comparable with conditions at Lidcombe, they should be covered by the Davids Agreement. This conclusion also accords with the High Court in Cooper Brookes (Wollongong) Pty Ltd v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1980-1981) 147 CLR 297 which held that the rules of statutory interpretation were no more than the rules of common sense.
(Work Alert; no. 4, 26 March 1999)
Employer can't escape broad liability
The NSW Supreme Court has confirmed a decision of the NSW Equal Opportunity Tribunal that found an employer liable for the actions of its president when he rubbed himself against a junior employee at the staff Christmas party. Justice Studdert found that the employers have a broad responsibility for the actions of employees under EEO legislation, and bear the onus of proving that they did not authorise such action. Authorise was found to mean "sanction, approve, countenance and permit". The court upheld the Tribunal finding because the woman had twice complained of the man's conduct before the party, and should have acted before the party incident. A circular had gone out which may have gone before the club board but it was incumbent on the secretary/manager to make sure the board discussed it so that all board members were aware of the consequences of such types of behaviour.
(Discrimination Alert; Issue 83, 30 March 1999)
Public Interest Defined
Section 170LT(3) of the Workplace Relations Act allows the AIRC to certify an enterprise agreement even if it fails the "no disadvantage" test provided it is in the "public interest". Section 170LT(4) gives the example of an agreement which is part of a strategy to deal with a short term crisis in a particular business. A recent case found that this did not limit the use of the public interest clause. A union argued against a decision by Harrison SDP but the full bench found that the term "public interest" imports a discretionary value judgement and section 170LT(4) was not the limitation on the meaning of "public interest". (Appeal against Certification of Chubb Security - Darling Harbour Rangers Enterprise Agreement 1998; 45 AILR 3-997)
(Australian Industrial Law News; no. 3, 26 March 1999)
Reduction in Hours and Termination
The AIRC has found that an employee, whose hours changed from 38 per week to 9, and whose job description changed form bistro cook to kitchen hand and dishwasher, and who then resigned, was a termination at the initiative of the employer. There was no valid reason for the termination, so the dismissal was harsh, unjust and unreasonable.
The employee worked between 38 and 50 hours per week and the management kept giving her extra work to do in the existing hours. The manager also made comments about her being stressed, and called her into the office about the number of medical apportionments she was having. Then she was given a letter reducing her hours to 13.5 per week because of her "stress". The decision was to be reviewed in 3 months. She told management she could not survive on those hours and the manager told her that she was free to find other work. After 3 months she was recalled to the office and hours were further reduced to 9 per week.
Management claimed, with some support from fellow employees, she was often crying at work. The Commission regarded such claims as vindictive. The employee felt she could no longer tolerate working there as she was sure she would eventually be dismissed so she resigned.
Reinstatement was not considered as a practical option by the Commission so compensation of 20 weeks pay in lieu of reinstatement was ordered. (Taylor v Port of Bourke Hotel, 45 AILR 4-001)
(Australian Industrial Law News; no. 3, 26 March 1999)
Changes in Earnings Inequality, 1975-1998
There has been a significant increase in earnings inequality over the past twenty five years, and in this article Keith Norris and Ben Mclean argue that the main reason is differential employment growth at different parts of the earnings distribution, rather than changes in relative wages. A picture of increases in high paid and low paid employment, with a large decrease in middle income level jobs is presented. This supports the views of those who urge the need for highly skilled workers as they are doing relatively well. However the majority of employment growth is at the low skilled end.
There has been an increase in the dispersion of earnings within occupations and between people with the same educational qualifications. An explanation for this may lie in the decrease in the proportion of unionised workers.
(Australian Bulletin of Labour; vol. 25, no. 1, March 1999)
At 11.30 am on 21st January 1998 I was sitting in the meeting room at the CSA Copper Mine just out of Cobar. Cobar is essentially a mining town of 5500 situated on the Barrier Highway between Nyngan and Wilcannia in Western NSW. The Cobar Shire sign proudly boasts "mining since 1865" with Cobar servicing the world's largest copper mine earlier this century.
The CSA mine (abbreviated after the nationalities of it three founding partners - Cornish, Scottish, Australian) was part of the established mining operation to work the Great Cobar Orebodies. From 1919 low commodity prices forced the closure of almost all mining operations in the region leaving Cobar reliant on farming industries such as shearing to generate income for its declining population. The CSA was reopened for production form 1965 with other operations adding to the prosperity and growth of the region since.
I was initially to be there for negotiations on a new "Enterprise agreement" on behalf of the employees of whom our union has a considerable membership on site.
Consistent with the common understanding of our state and federal political leaders, we assumed we could negotiate a binding agreement and have it certified under the Federal Workplace Relations Act. Whilst the certification of such an agreement would impose obligations on the employer and workforce it would also provide industrial right to the workers. After all the chief object of the Act is to, amongst other things, provide "a framework of rights and responsibilities for employers and employees,.... which supports fair and effective agreement making and ensures that they abide by awards and agreements applying to them" [Section 3(e)].
Until this agreement could be finalised the workforce would be protected by the existing provisions contained in their previous certified State Enterprise Award under the NSW Act, which implies similar guarantees about effectiveness and enforceability of awards and agreements.
The CSA copper mine was Cobar's oldest, largest and arguably proudest continual operation. Its workforce of 267 (including management) were almost all locals with a number of the contractors and supplementary workforce also considered local or "Iron Ringers" (nickname reserved for locals born in Cobar).
Although the CSA was up for sale it had continued to supply its parent company(Ashanti Goldfields of Ghana) and London Based directors and shareholders with a health profit until late 1997 when the international spot price of copper plummeted. While the common practice of hedging on the future market protects mining operations like CSA from the volatility of fluctuating commodity prices, Ashanti had sold CSA's hedges leaving it susceptible and operating in the negative.
In January 1998, when Ashanti made the commercial decisions to disassociate itself from its CSA managing company, (Cobar Mines Pty Ltd) and the debts and accumulated liabilities incurred by it they not only shook a community they also rather savagely illuminated the community to an appalling lack of protection of employees rights and entitlements in cases of corporate insolvency.
This takes me back to 11.30am on Wednesday 21 January 1998.
The door opens and the mine manager introduces us to the newly appointed "administrators" from Price Waterhouse. We are informed that the mine is closed as of midday and a meeting of all creditors is being convened.
We are informed that the majority of assets are under claim by the "secured creditors" and that a small portion of the $10.8 million owed to employees in wages, leave and redundancy entitlements and the $6 Million owed to unsecured creditors such as contractors and local suppliers may be achieved through the dale of milled copper concentrate on the site and at the shiploader in Newcastle.
An air of stunned disbelief descended on the whole community. How can they do this to us? We have an agreement! They can't do this to us - Can they?
The Cobar Option, a term later used by a government member, describing the practice also being adopted by stevedoring company Patrick in their waterfront folly, was well and truly underway. A practice where the real corporate entity with the real money can hide behind a myriad of front (usually financially barren) companies and claim not be responsible for their debts. A practice where no matter how much moral or legal authority a person may have to call in what's owed, under normal circumstances, they have no hope of legally pursuing it.
In the absence of legal options or the money to pursue what legal vagaries existed with Ashanti's methods, the outrage of the Cobar community generated sufficient momentum to enable an eleven monthly campaign to pursue what was rightfully owed to that community and to pressure our political leaders to amend corporate and insolvency laws to better protect employees in times of corporate insolvency.
On 3 March, following an 800km convoy to Canberra by about 250 miners and family members, a delegation met the Prime Minister to put forward a number of options.
It was not our fault the Australia was so backwards when it came to providing tangible protection's to Australian workers in cases such as this. In our view the Australian government was responsible for the state of our laws and therefore should provide financial relief to those disposed as a consequence of our legal shortfalls while the Federal government should pursue Ashanti for the debt as they had the resources and international influence to.
After all, given the governments apparent generosity in relation to offers to solicite and underwrite the financing of up to $500 million in proposed waterfront redundancies at that time our claim for financial assistance amounted to a paltry $17 million maximum in contract with the possibility of recouping most if not all of it. To ensure other people didn't suffer our fate we also proposed:
- A central fund be established for the provision of leave and redundancy entitlements to be administered by the ATO.
- Mandatory insolvency insurance to protect employees and unsecured creditors in cases of corporate insolvency.
- Amending the current order of payment priority in cases of insolvency to elevate employees above secured creditors such as banks and other financial institutions.
We described to the PM and his advisors the devastating effect on the region of the mine's closure and the impact not only on the 267 jobs directly lost but the multiplier effect which would see the loss of 1500 full time jobs affecting the labour market as far away as Dubbo where unemployment would jump from six to eight per cent attributable to the CSA's closure. Cobar unemployment had jump from less that five per cent to over 30 per cent overnight and retrenched workers could not receive unemployment benefits as Centrelink were assessing the workers as having received their entitlements even though the payments had not been forthcoming.
We also described some of the indirect effects. How some families ware now reliant on food and emergency relief from church and benevolent societies and how only three days earlier three former CSA workers lost their lives in a plane crash at Mt Isa while seeking employment at another mining operation.
How families were disintegrating under the burden of financial hardship and of the extended periods of absence of breadwinners away from home in search of work and unable to sell their homes even if they wanted to. The resentment fermenting as people, not used to dealing with government bureaucracy tried to find their way through the maze of paperwork in a vain effort to achieve some assistance from an unfashionable institution like the Department of Social Security.
The PM, to his credit, gave us a good hearing and was visibly concerned with the treatment meted out by Ashanti to the Cobar community. While commitments were given to have the Australian Securities Commission investigate the circumstances of this insolvency (which ultimately provided the necessary pressure to extract a better settlement package form Ashanti), no commitments were made in the area of reform to Australian law.
Reasons offered for not implementing reforms along the lines of what we proposed included:
- Business cannot afford to set employee entitlements aside in a fund because small business might need that money for ongoing operating costs,
- Insurance would be an added cost to business and good business should not have to pay for the actions of bad business operators, and
- If employees were elevated above banks etc, they would be reluctant to loan and may increase interest rates and charges to cover bad debtors.
Theses excuses may offer peace of mind to advocates of business who want to dismiss instances such as Cobar as some sort of glitch without cause or remedy, but the reality is that under simple scrutiny, they do not stand up to logic.
First, it is not unrealistic to expect that an employer can set aside leave and redundancy entitlements. After all it is not the employers money anyway s why should they have ready access to use it (or even gamble it) on their own enterprise particularly without the knowledge or consent of the employees concerned. Even if the employee knew, what rights do they have to inspect books and their employers' continued viability in the way a bank can.
The establishment of funds such as "Wage Guarantee Funds" is not a new concept. They currently exist in most European counties as wall as Japan, Canada, Argentina and some US states in one form or another.
With computer technology and Tax File Numbers it would not be impossible to establish a fund with the capacity to ensure that when an employee chooses to access his/her money that in fact it was going to be there.
Secondly, the notion of a mandatory insurance may well be anther cost impost on business however if there is a potential for an employee's legal entitlements to be jeopardised they are entitled to demand some sort of protection.
I do not enjoy having to pay motor vehicle insurance to drive a car, however we all accept things like third party insurance as a community responsibility. Similarly, no matter how little the incidence of corporate insolvency, business must accept that in the absence of the first option they must provide better security for employee entitlements than currently exists.
Thirdly, given that the secured creditors are generally banks and lending institutions with the capacity to know they're lending the money, what it is for, the viability of the business and the potential for repayment whilst charging an interest premium it would not be unreasonable to expect the unwitting employees "loan" be given priority for repayment in cases of insolvency.
Finally, if a fund were established and, in the absence of the valid contribution to it, a mandatory insurance applied to the employer concerned, I'm sure there wouldn't be too many cases were bankers rights were jeopardised by the humble employee having the power to put their hand out first.
In our view all three options should be favourably examined and properly implemented in conjunction with each other.
The pity of Cobar's experience was not only the harsh reality of a globalised and unregulated business community leaving a trial of broken hearts and promises in the wake of their pursuit of the holy dollar. It was the undermining of the way we like to think business is conducted - particularly in the bush where a handshake and goodwill have traditionally characterised the binding contract.
We are entitled to a society where employees can make agreements confident that they will be abided by and where families can go about their day to day lives free form the pressures of financial insecurity and the psychological impost of paranoia and distrust.
The tragedy of it is that unless our national leaders stop pandering to business and start implementing "fair and enforceable" protection's for the citizens they claim to represent, a continued repeat of the "the Cobar option" is an inevitability.
Stephen Roach was formerly secretary of the Rural Workers Union
The Australia-West Indies test series threatened to be a one sided wipeout. It ended up as the most compelling series in years.
It was a contest which reverted to traditional type with sublime pace and brilliant batting deciding the outcomes and with spin marginalised for the first time in years.
On one side we had the brilliant, the resilient and the ever awesome Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose.
And on the other the world's toughest cricketer in Steve Waugh and a Glenn McGrath at the peak of his powers.
After the third test commentators claimed they were witness to one of the best ever test victories and one of history's great batting performances from Lara.
Well, it was just as well someone was there to witness it because most of us saw sweet bugger all.
Shafted (again) by the media bovver boys
There was not one minute of live coverage of either test or one day cricket of the Windies tour on free-to-air television. There wasn't even a highlights package.
700,000 subscribers could afford access to the West Indies tour through Foxtel (owned jointly by Murdoch, Packer and Telecom). 15 million Australians could not.
As Alan Ramsey pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald the underlying issue has nothing to do with cricket.
'It's about broadcasting policy and how, like much of the rest of this country's mass communications, pay TV, too, is coming to be dominated by old familiar faces,' he said.
The issue is access
The big issue with cable is access and it will become even more so according to Queensland University of Technology Lecturer in Media Terry Flew.
'The rights to sport will become even more expensive and priced out of the reach of public broadcasters,' he said.
'In the past we've relied on the ABC to make sure things of national interest are available to all Australians. But the cuts to the ABC have made it uncompetitive in sports broadcasting.'
Terry Flew says it is the responsibility of the Australian Broadcasting Authority through their anti-siphoning list (the list of sporting events that must be available through free-to-air) to set the rules which guarantee access to major sporting events.
'Some events like the Melbourne Cup, home test matches and the AFL Grand Final have been on the ABA's anti-siphoning list since 1995. But the series against the Windies has exposed the limits of available protection for sports fans,' he said.
Terry Flew says unions and community groups have an important role to play in ensuring access to major sporting events is fair and equitable.
'We need to address existing regulations that are in place and lobby the ABA to broaden the list of what should be available on free-to-air. We need to make sure there are no easing of the laws on media ownership. And we need to strengthen public broadcasters,' he said.
A first innings lead to News Corp in the cricket but it's Murdoch 0, Football 2
All is not lost. Elsewhere in the world the fans have been fighting back. The first big blow against Murdoch's drive to monopoly was in New Zealand.
The local religion - rugby - was only available on Sky, Murdoch's New Zealand pay TV channel until a rebellion by the rugby public forced the Government to step in and insist on the broadcasting of tests on free-to-air.
And this week the British Government blocked Murdoch's 623 million pound bid to take over Manchester United. The British Monopolies and Mergers Commission claimed it would be anti-competitive, against the public interest and would damage the quality of British football.
'This is good for the fans who have fought an impressive David and Goliath contest and won, and good for the club itself which, with its Manchester roots, is more than capable of standing on its own feet,' said the editor of the British newspaper The Guardian.
Little Johnny, Kerry and Rupert - a sordid threesome in bed together
Complicit in the shafting of the sports public is the Government especially John Howard - cricket lover and champion of the battler.
The Government has the clout to influence the anti-siphoning list as was shown when Channel 9 was pressured by Richard Alston into broadcasting the last Ashes series.
But when it came to the Windies tour the Government was talking from the same bed as the pay TV operators.
'All free to air broadcasters were given a reasonable opportunity to acquire live rights,' said Communications Minister Richard Alston.
Let's give the last word to Senator Robert Ray who accused John Howard of using his position of wealth and power during the tour to get a more priviliged position than the rest of the Australian community.
'When you get up and put on your slippers and you have your honey and crumpets and your cup of tea, and you are watching (on Foxtel) the direct telecast from Antigua, most of the battlers you purport to represent out in Penrith, Bayswater and Ipswich will be struggling to find a radio broadcast because the ABC will have gone over to some crackpot fishing show or some handyman program and there's no cricket at all,' he said.
by Peter Zangari
In today's fast moving information age, there is little time to waste when you need to get your hands on that particular Full Bench Decision, State Award or Labour Force Statistic.
Major changes at Labor Council last year led to the old library being shifted to the ground floor of the building, and being reinvented as the Information Centre. The aim of this move is to give a more accurate reflection of the public role of this section, as a provider of current information and research to students, unions and unionists, researchers and teachers.
The move to the ground floor also allows for easier access for the users of the information centre and it's always service with a smile with Research Librarian Neale Towart at the helm.
The Information Centre is now open 5 days per week from 8.30am to 5.00pm with Peter Zangari, the research assistant, assisting with over the counter inquiries as well as conducting research and helping Labor Council officers with IRC applications and hearings, negotiations and committee work.
Electronic resources continue to play a major role in the functioning of the information centre, with heavy use being made of federal and state awards, agreements and decisions on the internet and CD-ROM industrial law reports and commentary. Loose leaf reporters covering OHS, workers compensation, EEO, personnel management, superannuation, enterprise bargaining, recruitment and termination law and leave and holiday practice and law remain invaluable for research purposes. CCH has been enhancing the value of its services with much improved newsletters and review essays accompanying its updates.
Our pro-active role has been enhanced by providing a fortnightly newsletter called Labour Review giving overviews of IR issues and news reported in the many newsletters, journals, magazines, ABS publications and research papers the information centre receives. The newsletter which is now available on the Labor Council web site under news alerts also provides snapshots of current economic trends.Affiliates and other readers are encouraged to ask for copies of articles reported.
The various university industrial relations research centres continue to produce invaluable material which is well used by students and staff. Good recent examples have been the cutting edge research on working time, employment security and casualisation. Also the work ACIRRT has done on the NSW IR Act emphasising the importance of a strong union presence backed by a progressive state government in securing better employment conditions for NSW workers.
The library has not been abandoned however, and our collection continues to grow. Recent months have seen a number of biographies and autobiographies of trade union figures (Jennie George, Tom and Audrey McDonald, Nick Origlass), Open Australia by Lindsay Tanner, ACIRRT's monograph on work and its future and a collection on international and comparative industrial relations.
For many, the Information Centre will be an invaluable point of contact with the trade union movement. The staff are happy to assist with your inquiries and can be contacted via the Information Centre email address: [email protected] or by calling 9264 1691.
Indeed, in pounding Labor Council, Piers has forced himself into the unpalatable situations of leading the cheer squad of Premier Bob Carr - a position that couldn't sit comfortably with either party.
In his piece "Social Audit the Way to Bankruptcy", Akerman seems to be arguing that Carr has done so well "in the election-winning fields of education and transport", that he doesn't need to look at the broader issues of service distrubtion in the state.
The piece itself is a classic example of Piers' cut and paste research and knee-jerk reaction.
First, he summarises the series of press stories that have been run since the election where Costa has called on Carr to seize his second term majority to pursue some meaningful social reform.
Then he dismisses the proposals one by one with flippant responses such as "the enthronement of a secretariat of social workers" (the social audit) "anti-job" (industrial reforms to promote job security) and "decriminalising marijuana" (enough said).
Finally, he weaves these disparate attacks together, accusing Labor Council of pursuing an "inherantly crazy agenda".
Problem is, Piers has totally missed the point.
The social audit idea is not about "meet(ing) unlimited welfarist wishes with limited public funds". On the contrary, it about isolated the areas of worst problem in a rational way so limited resources can be better allocated to areas of greatest need -- rather than keeping them with the urban elites and "chattering classes" who Piers so regularly despises.
But why debate the merits of the proposal, when you can give us another kick, eh, Piers? And then to have the gall to suggest unions should focus on recruiting, on the same pages as you've been bagging us for trying to turn Currawong into a training faciltity?? And we're running the crazy agendas???
Perversely, the attack will only give the proposal greater credibility amongst the Labor troops. I mean, if Piers thinks it's a dumb idea, we've got to be doing something right.
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LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/9/print_index.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005