|Issue No 93||27 April 2001|
Delegates from across industry endorsed a resolution as the converged on the Sydney Opera House to pay their respects to deceased and injured colleagues, victims of workplace accidents.
Labor Council secretary Michael Costa moved the motion, restating that the protection of injured workers is a fundamental issue for the trade union movement.
The resolution reads:
"This meeting condemns the current workers compensation package and calls on the Carr Government to make substantial amendments to protect the rights of injured workers.
All union members in this State are to be placed on alert for May 29, the day State Parliament resumes.
This meeting authorizes the Labor Council's workers compensation campaign committee to take any industrial action necessary on that day to further their campaign."
Carr Gets the Small Print
Meanwhile, Harbour Bridge riggers have upped the ante in the workers compensation battle, unfurling the largest protest banner ever seen in Sydney.
The members of the Australian Workers Union took the action, despite the risk of disciplinary action, in support of the Labor Council's campaign against the Della Bosca laws.
Even as the banner was poised to be dropped, the workers were being pressured by management to remove it.
But unfurl it they did. The banner, carrying the simple message: 'Hands Off Workers Comp' - is likely to hang indefinitely from Sydney's number one tourist site, with the riggers the only workers qualified to bring it down.
The unfurling of the banner was a thrilling highlight to a somber occasion to mark the sixth International Day of Mourning for Deaths in the Workplace.
International Day of Mourning
The Sydney gathering was one of hundreds of events being held around the world to commemorate the day.
Hundreds of workplace delegates gathered at the Sydney Opera House to take part in an ecumenical service.
Hosted by members of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance employed at the Opera House, the ceremony included prayers by Catholic and Muslim clerics.
Actor Joy Smithers, retail worker Lara Jarzabk and bridge rigger Jim Sparahar also gave their personal accounts on the impact of workplace injuries on their lives.
The service concluded with a minute's silence in memory of victims of workplace accidents.
The members of the Australian Workers Union voted to back the labour movement campaign against the Carr Government's workers compensation package.
Union good-guy Gavin Hillier worked with the riggers to drop the massive 270 kilo, 22 metre by 18.5 metre banner that will this weekend dominate postcards.
The riggers brought the banner in at 7.00am, securing it to the bridge, just north of the southern pilon. All was in place for the drop.
Bridge Delegate Harvey waited on his mobile for his signal. Just before take-off time management told the workers to remove the banner.
The workers stood firm - even as names were taken down - and the banener was dropped.
Like the Olympic flame there was a hiccup - the banner snagged halfway down. Disaster was in the making 'Give It a Shake, Boys!' Harvey cried and it continued its descent.
But it was not over, a couple of enthusiastic supporters of the Della Bosca package from the bosses' team took it upon themselves to cut the banner and remove it from the skyline.
The members convinced them that it would be better for productivity to keep the banner up.
It will now become a Sydney landmark - get down to the Harbour this weekend and admire the riggers' work.
The riggers have vowed to keep the banner up there "for as long as it takes".
They have our backing.
The commemoration ceremony for the estimated 1.2 million people who are killed around the world each year because of their work was hosted by the ACTU at the Victorian State Library.
ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said that by the year 2020, more than 56,000 Australians are expected to die from asbestos diseases. Australia still imports an estimated 1,500 tonnes of raw (chrysotile) asbestos and some one-million products containing asbestos each year.
"We're calling on the Federal Government to come on board with all the States and agree to ban asbestos imports and use in Australia as soon as possible," Mr Combet said.
"The Commonwealth-State Workplace Relations Ministers' Council meeting next month provides Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott with a perfect opportunity to adopt the ban by 2003, as already agreed by the States.
"The first official declaration of asbestos as a hazardous material came to Australia from the UK's Chief Inspector of Factories' report in 1901," Mr Combet said. "A century later, more than one Australian per day is dying of work-related mesothelioma, and the death rate can only go up.
"The time to put a stop to this outrage is manifestly overdue.
"The only reason industrial asbestos is still used in Australia is because Mr Abbott refuses to stop it. It's critical that the Federal Government act now to ban all asbestos imports if our community is to become asbestos-free."
As part of the International Day of Mourning, workers across the country are planning to observe one minute's silence at 11am today in memory of their deceased colleagues.
Detailed talks on framing amendments to improve the package's protection for injured workers will commence through four working groups.
Labor Council secretary Michael Costa told delegates the government was on notice that real changes, that addressed the concerns about access to benefits for injured workers, must be accepted.
"If they try and stall or frustrate, we will go back to our original position that the legislation should be withdrawn," Costa said.
The working groups are:
- American Medical Association Guidelines
- Determinative Medical Assessment
- Psychological and Psychiatric Impairment
- Disputer Resoluton including Court and Common Law Thresholds
Another three working groups are being convened by WorkCover to look at:
- Return to Work
- Workplace Safety
Employers Stats Exposed as Bogus
Meanwhile, one of the country' s most reputable economists has rubbished claims by Australia Business Limited that a rise in premiums would cost the state 60,000 jobs.
Access Economics director Chris Richardson has predicted that an increase in premiums would have "Only a modest impact on jobs" - with a worst-case scenario of a ten-year average of 3,800 jobs.
Richardson says an increase in workers compensation premiums would have a similar impact on jobs to an increase in payroll tax.
"Economist have long noted the latter to be an efficient tax, despite its reputation as a 'tax on jobs' in the business world," he says.
Costa has called on ABL to produce the economic assumptions behind its 60,000 jobs claim or withdraw form the debate altogether.
He says if employers want to raise the premium issue, unions would welcome a public debate on the levels of employer contribution to the scheme.
"The reason the scheme is in deficient is that, for several years, employers have not been paying their way," Costa says.
See extract from Access Economics opinion in Features Section
This week's Tools, Jim Anderson, John Bartlett and Grant McBride ('The Dirty Three') are now the only non-Cabinet members who have refused to sign on to Della's list.
The List, published on LaborNet's special workers comp website, has become a sounding board for rank and file anger at the workers compensation package.
A long line of Labor MPs signed up to support amendments to the package this week, in the face of protest actions outside their electoral offices.
And Workers Online understands that the Premier's own State Electoral Council has passed a resolution condemning the WorkCover changes.
More Government Revenue Targeted
Meanwhile, more government services will be the target of industrial action next week, following this week's successful fare free days on trains and buses.
Already the government has lost an estimated $2.5 million in revenue from targeted bans. Similar action will be announced next week on a day-by-day basis.
The Transport Workers Union is planning to blockade the city on Thursday over the failure of WorkCover to enforce safety in the trucking industry.
For all the Compo action keep an eye on our special campaign page at http://www.labor.net.au/compo
The bans were imposed last week by members of the fire Brigade Employees' Union in response to the government's workers compensation reforms and its ongoing dispute over death and disability payments.
Firefighters employed since 1985 receive substandard protection if they are injured at work - less comprehensive than the protection state politicians have awarded themselves.
While the NSW Industrial relations Commission has ordered the firefighters to lift their bans, the workers are standing firm, stating that the bans relate to safety measures.
Addressing Labor Council, FBEU state secretary Chris Read said he expected the union would need to escalate the dispute over the next few weeks and has called on all Labor Council affiliates for their support.
Former NSW industrial relations minister Jeff Shaw also copped a serve from the Fire Brigade Union for taking the brief to seek the orders.
"I don't like to play the man, but we were very disturbed to see Jeff Shaw representing the government in this matter", Read said.
Robbo, will complete the journey from Sparkie to the most senior union official in NSW, when he takes up the position on August 31.
The former Electrical Trades Union delegate will replace Costa, who is moving to the NSW Upper House. His deputy will be Mark Lennon.
In announcing the succession, Costa said he was confident the pair would maintain the move to a more inclusive and activist peak council.
At a full bench hearing of the ACTU's Parental Leave case in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the Federal Government was alone in opposing the automatic granting of maternity leave to long-term casual employees.
"Even though all the employer and union groups have agreed, the Howard Government opposes extending these benefits to all eligible employees. This is fundamental discrimination against casual workers, most of them women," ACTU President Sharan Burrow said.
"This is ideology gone mad. Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott says he supports giving maternity leave to casuals, but he is opposing this application proceeding as a test case," Ms Burrow said.
"People should not have to fear for their jobs just because they have a family, regardless of whether they're casual or permanent employees. By opposing this case, Mr Abbott has placed himself in the absurd position of trying to stop something he says he supports," Ms Burrow said.
If successful, the ACTU application would give unpaid maternity leave rights to all casual workers who have 12 months regular and systematic employment with the same employer.
Under the Federal Government's workplace laws casual workers are specifically excluded from accessing maternity leave despite the fact that 60 per cent of casuals have worked for the same employer for more than a year.
The ACTU application has the support of State Governments and major employer associations including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Hotels Association and the Australian Industry Group.
The Commission is expected to deliver its decision on the application next month.
The scientists are particularly dismayed at the decimation of the ABC's science unit and the loss of many experienced science journalists.
CSIRO Staff Association Secretary, Sandy Ross, said, "The ABC science unit was the finest science communication group in Australia, equal to the best in the world. CSIRO staff are aghast at the damage to the unit caused by Jonathon Shier's so-called reforms. The final broadcast of Quantum is a huge loss for the Australian community."
"These cuts undermine a vital, impartial, informed and stimulating approach to science reporting," said Mr Ross. "ABC's capacity as national broadcaster is going from macro to nano scale and no other broadcaster can fill the gap," added Mr Ross.
Mr Ross points out that the recent Chief Scientist's Review into Australian science capability emphasised the need to raise the awareness and understanding of science across the community.
"Yet the ABC management have killed Quantum stone dead. All Australians should be concerned about what's happening," said Mr Ross.
The CSIRO Staff Association is urging members of the scientific community get behind efforts to Save the ABC by attending rallies and writing letters to MPs.
SAVE THE ABC RALLY
Sunday, 29th April 2001
11.00am - 1.00pm
Sydney Opera House Forecourt
Wide range of speakers including Barry Jones and Prof Peter Baume from the science community, along with comedian Rod Quantock, para-olympian Pria Cooper, actor John Howard, Reverend Bill Crews, broadcaster Dr Jane Conners journalist Quentin Dempster and others.
by Paddy Gorman
A husband and wife team representing the families of 16 CFMEU members found to have been victimised by Rio Tinto at its Blair Athol mine in the Central Queensland coalfields, confronted the company's Board of Directors at the AGM over the traumatic ordeals they have been subjected to for almost three years.
They were joined by coal mineworkers who are victims of Rio Tinto's dirty war against unionists. The CFMEU has been fighting 190 cases of victimisation at Rio's Hunter Valley No.1 mine since October 1998; and 80 cases of victimisation at the company's Mount Thorley mine since December 1999. Rio Tinto used the same system at Hunter Valley and Mount Thorley that it pioneered at Blair Athol to victimise workers.
Rio Tinto claimed it used a 'merit system' to determine the sackings. The 16 claimed they were victimised because of their Union membership and took the matter to the Industrial Commission. For over two-and-a-half years, they fought an Unfair Dismissal case.
On April 9, following the longest ever-Unfair Dismissal case in Australia, the Commission found that the 16 had been placed on a Black List by Rio Tinto, victimised and unfairly dismissed.
Commissioner Hodder described the company's treatment of the 16 victims as a "blood sport". The Commission ordered the reinstatement of all 16 coal mineworkers along with full back pay to July 1998.
It was a stunning win against the world's most powerful private mining company Rio Tinto, particularly given that less than 1% of Unfair Dismissal cases have succeeded in Australia under Howard's Workplace Relations Act. The latest figures on unfair dismissals show that between 31 December1996 and 30 June 2000, only 90 cases out of 26,983 have succeeded in reinstatement.
Throughout their ordeal, the mineworkers and their families continued to live in the company town and were given a hard time. In the two-years-and nine-months spent awaiting their decision, the mineworkers volunteered their time and labour to assist community groups and help maintain and restore community facilities.
This week the Working Hours Conference in Brisbane heard that more and more employees are working excessive hours in overtime and according to The Working Time Arrangements in Queensland report by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training the majority of this overtime is unpaid.
QCU General Secretary Grace Grace said it was about time employers did the right thing and start paying workers for their overtime.
"A lot of workers are working reasonable and required overtime which they are not being paid for," she said.
"The QCU accusation is that by not paying this entitlement, employers are essentially taking bread out of the mouths of workers and their families," Ms Grace said.
"All Awards and Agreements have an overtime provision so there is no excuse" she said.
"Employers need to start meeting their responsibility to workers and start paying their workers overtime entitlements or let them go home to their families," Ms Grace said.
"This is an issue that affects not only workers but their families," she said.
"Workers are often unwilling to raise this issue with their employers for fear of losing their jobs or at the least, face intimidation and victimisation in the workplace," Ms Grace said.
"These circumstances are totally unacceptable," she said.
"The QCU calls on employers to pay their responsibility to workers or hire more staff who would be more than willing to do the work," she said.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for the March quarter show that the Consumer Price Index rose 1.1 per cent to give an annual inflation rate of six per cent - the highest since December 1990.
"These figures make a mockery of John Howard's mean-spirited opposition to the ACTU's Living Wage application for a modest $28 a week rise for the most poorly paid people in our country," ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said.
"The burden of the GST is falling on ordinary Australian workers who are already struggling to make ends meet. These figures are particularly disturbing because they show massive increases in the price of the basic necessities of food, education and health care."
The figures showed vegetable prices soared 20 per cent, pharmaceutical costs rose 9.3 per cent and education costs increased 4.4 per cent in the last three months.
"The ACTU has demonstrated that the $28 Living Wage increase would not add to inflation but would assist low paid workers," Mr Combet said.
"After pumping up inflation with his GST, the Prime Minister continues to oppose a wage rise for the two million Australians working for minimum award rates," Mr Combet said.
"Despite his promise that no worker would be worse off, Mr Howard is ensuring that the most vulnerable people in our society bear the brunt of his changes.
"These figures destroy the Government's claim of superior economic management. The only real record this Government holds is the creation of the highest inflation rate in a decade."
The Australian Industrial Relations Commission is expected to hand down its decision on the ACTU's Living Wage application next week.
Knowles announced the funding - to the NeuroScience Institute of Schizophrenia and Allied Disorders (NISAD) at a dinner co-hosted by the Labor Council and Employers First.
In announcing the funding, Knowles recognized the ongoing work of trade union stalwart Don McDonlad in raising awareness of the illness.
McDonald has been taking the message out to building sites, asking workers to dedicate a small proportion of their weekly pay-packet to research.
At the dinner, Michael Costa also reveled how the illness had touched his family personal. His sister is a schizophrenic who is being cared by his aging parents.
Costa said that, a part form research, more attention needed to be given to the plight of carers.
The dinner, organized by Labor Council's safety watchdog Mary Yaager, also heard from Alan Jones, who commended unions and employers for putting aside their political differences and working together.
This year will be no different with unionists taking to the streets of Sydney to show their support for the struggle of all workers.
Rally for Global Justice
Unionists will join with students and other community groups at lunch time on May Day to protest against corporate exploitation and government penny pinching. The rally will take place at 1pm, Tuesday 1st May at Martin Place. For more info check out the Global Justice Coalition website at http://www.geocities/globaljusticecoalition
A Toast to May Day
The traditional May Day toast will be held on 1st May between 6 and 11pm at the South Sydney Leagues Club, 256 Chalmers Street, Redfern. Speakers are John Robertson, John Sutton, Pat O'Shane and, by popular request, an encore performance by Bob Ellis. The organisers are asking those attending for a $15 donation. For further details contact the May Day Committee on 9264 5024.
May Day March
This year's May Day march will be on Sunday May 6th starting from Hyde Park North with participants assembling at 11am to march at 12 noon to Tumbalong Park at Darling Harbour. Show your solidarity with other workers and bring your family and friends (and a picnic) for a great day out with speakers and entertainment. Contact the May Day Committee on 9264 5024 for more details.
This is only what's happening in Sydney. Other events are planned for Wollongong and Newcastle. Contact the South Coast Labour Council (telephone 4229 2888) or Newcastle Trades Hall Council (telephone 4929 1162) for the details.
by Paul True
He was recently invervied by for the union's journal Unity.
HT Lee was in Canberra for ANZAC Day and gave Charlie a copy of Unity. Charlie was glad to see himself in Unity and was captured on film by HT. Below we reprint the article by Paul True in Unity.
Charlie first learned bricklaying as part of a government scheme for returned soldiers: 'We had to go to the technical school daily. We continued on until we were good enough to go into the building trade.'
When they were put out to work the government subsidised their wages.
'Well eventually I become proficient as a bricklayer, after a long while. In 1927 we were invited to Canberra for the opening of the old Parliament House. The Prince Of Wales--Edward--come out to lay the foundation. As bricklayers we went over to Canberra to represent Victoria. We continued on there until they got rid of us and sent us back to Melbourne.'
The standard working week was 48 hours when Charlie first started.
'Then they broke it down to 44, then down to 40.'
Like most brickies he's also done piece-work in his time.
'We laid bricks for 24 bob ($4.80) a thousand--now they're getting $1.50 a brick!'
Technology in the industry has changed a lot too over the years. When Charlie started, virtually all the scaffolding was made from timber.
'The top men did the scaffolding--with their poles and their ledgers. They'd go storey upon storey, they were special builders labourers. They'd erect the posts, splice them together with the ropes and everything. And that had a lot to do with the bricklaying trade, because if you didn't have good scaffolding...'
He also vividly remembers the hod-carriers: 'Oh yes, "hodfellows", the "hoddies". hey carried 12 to 14 bricks, climbing ladders... and it was remarkable to see them climbing with 14 bricks on, up 4 storeys, one after the other--say 4 or 5 of them following one another--not much room between them - and out to the bricklayers.'
'They were pretty fit blokes. When they were unloading, they'd yell out, if you were working near them,--"Toes!" but if they could use a trowel, a lot of them give the hod away to lay bricks--it was a bugger of a job.'
Charlie vividly remembers the Depression too, saying people only got two or three days work a fortnight.
'There wasn't much bricklaying around--I had to go on the railway, joined a plate-laying gang. And day after day you'd worry. My wife would say, "Be careful with the butter--that's got to last you a week", that sort of thing.'
He moved to Western Sydney in 1946 and continued working in the industry until his retirement in 1960. Through bricklaying he developed a bad back--but he's pleased with his hands--they're in good nick.
Having survived the horrors of trench warfare as a teenager, and lived another 80 years after that, Charlie calls himself, '...a satisfied customer'.
'I've been off the grog for 51 years,' he says with a smile and a shake of the head--'That killed a lot of the trade.' n
I am not a current member of a trade union although I have been in the past and I have always been a staunch Labor Party voter. The workers' compensation legislation amendments that are before Parliament currently make me shudder. It seems to me that these amendments make Margaret Thatcher's right wing views pale into insignificance. How can it be that a labor party could promote such a stance? While I commend the unions who have taken action so far, I strongly believe that the only action that this arrogant Government will take notice of will be a general strike, even if that means a prolonged period? I, for one, will never vote Labor again if this legislation is approved. In fact, if my local member is not prepared to cross the floor to oppose these amendments in toto, I will actively campaign against her.
These amendments are anti-worker and they should be opposed at all costs.
Dear Workers On Line,
I'm pleased to see that Mr Ian McDonald, MLC, has joined the ranks of those who wish to see workers better off, but as a Parliamentary Secretary his ignorance of Parliamentary procedure is startling, and on the facts he is just plain wrong.
The proposed judicial inquiry into workers' compensation that Mr McDonald refers to was not moved by me, but by the Liberals in the Legislative Council. And it certainly was not seconded by Michael Gallacher as asserted by Mr McDonald. There is no such thing as a seconder in this situation in the Upper House, where Mr McDonald has been a member for the past 13 years. It was a Liberal motion * nothing to do with the Greens whatsoever, and we did not support it.
The Greens support an independent inquiry into workers' compensation, not a judicial one, because the Carr government has prevented all the relevant information and data coming to light. Our support for an independent inquiry is based on a request from left unions.
Lee Rhiannon MLC
You drew my attention to an article in today's Daily Telegraph, noting an estimate that an 0.8 percentage point rise in NSW WorkCover premiums might cost 60,000 jobs.
Access Economics recently assessed the potential impact of NSW WorkCover premiums on jobs. Our work (presented to WorkCover in December 2000, ahead of the current controversy) indicated that a 0.5 percentage point rise in NSW WorkCover premiums might cost 3,800 full-time equivalent jobs in NSW. The latter is a 10 year average, with a peak loss of jobs of full-time equivalent 4,900 in 2006.
Clearly the Access Economics study suggests a rather different result to that noted in today's Telegraph. Why might a rise in WorkCover premiums have only a moderate impact on jobs?
1. Even though employers sign WorkCover cheques, the true cost is spread. To the extent they can, employers raise the price of products they sell (pass costs forward), or slow the rate at which they raise wages (pass costs back). That soon limits the impact of any increase in premiums on company profits, and therefore on employment.
2. Premiums include an experience factor. The larger the firm, the more its WorkCover premiums depend on its claims history rather than the base premium rate. The higher the experience factor, the smaller is the actual impact of a change in the basic tariff. That means many firms would face smaller percentage increases in their tariffs than in 'headline' WorkCover premiums.
3. Premiums are levied on wages excluding superannuation. The latter also dilutes the labour cost impact (and therefore the employment impact) of changes in WorkCover premiums. At present Superannuation Guarantee premiums are 8%, and that will rise to 9% in 2002)
4. Some employers are self-insurers. This group accounts for some $9 billion in NSW wage bills. Again, they are not directly affected by changes in 'headline' NSW WorkCover premiums. Across NSW 's private sector, that further dilutes the labour costs impact of any change in workers compensation premiums by 11%.
For those reasons, I am confident that the impact on jobs of any change in WorkCover premiums would be rather less than that suggested in today's Telegraph. Indeed, while economic theory is firm in suggesting a link between wage-driven labour costs and jobs, the relationship is more complex with respect to on-costs such as workers compensation.
For example, a change in WorkCover premiums has similar economic impacts to a change in other on-costs such as payroll tax rates. Economists have long noted the latter to be an efficient tax, despite its reputation as a 'tax on jobs' I the business world.
As NSW Treasury has said, "Payroll tax is already one of the more efficient taxes operating in Australia", and "The economic literature on payroll tax suggests that many of the common criticisms of the tax are exaggerated or unjustified".
by Peter Lewis
Westie: The Workers Voice
Let's start off with the Workers Comp package. What prior consultation was there with the backbench before the legislation was placed in Parliament?
First of all, through the Industrial Relations Caucus Committee, which met on the morning at 9.00, am for 45 mins. Then went to the Caucus at 11 am. Caucus discussed it for half an hour.
What degree of discussion was there on the merits of the package?
The Caucus was provided with the normal Caucus briefings that they get with all bills. The presentation was the 'Simpler, Fairer, Faster' document that was released to the media. So there was effectively the positive side of the Bill - understandably. The Minister's presenting the bill that he was proposing to put to Parliament.
Was there much discussion by the Caucus on the issue, or was it more a case of the Minister must know what he's doing?
There was discussion on whether or not is was appropriate and needed to be done in the time frame. But as for the Bill, no one had the Bill.
So would it be fair to say that the backbench had ownership of this package in any sense?
It terms of the Caucus process, the Caucus process is advising the Caucus of what the Ministry proposes to put to Parliament. So the Caucus was advised. It was aware that there was a bill ...... when the report is put to Caucus then it's taken as read, it's approved. It was voted on.
Just talking in more general terms, you've only been in this place for a short period of time. It there the degree of involvement by the backbench in decision-making that you expected?
As you say, I've only been here a number of months so it would be wrong of me to say. But I was pretty much aware that there couldn't be in depth discussion on every bill that came up but I must admit I expected more discussion on issues than what there has been.
You actually came to Parliament determined not to be a seat warmer and you tried to particularly be an advocate for trade unions down here. How hard has that been to actually stick your neck out and do that sort of thing?
As a union official I've always been a collectivist. I've always believed in abiding by Caucus decisions. But I must admit there's a need, and there probably always will be, a need for improving the process. I think continuous improvement on the involvement of all the Caucus and ensuring that any decisions that are made are informed decisions is something that needs to be worked at.
What sort of impact do you think the union campaign of asking backbench MPs to actually state their opinion on Workers Comp publicly has had on that process?
I think those things can only help in improving the process. Most Caucus members, I think all Caucus members, would be supportive of anything that ensured that decisions that were made by Caucus were informed decisions.
Let's talk about Workers Comp more generally. You've been working around the issue for quite a few years. You were a member of the Workers Comp Advisory Council when you were a union official. First question, is this the right package to fix the scheme in your view?
In my view it's not. In my view it doesn't focus on the real issues. The real issues are the front-end issues of return to work and rehabilitation. And return to work is very much hampered by the emerging labour relations and the breakdown of employer/employee relationships and the big increase in labour hire. The fact is that workplaces are harder and harder for injured workers to find, to actually go back to, to be rehabilitated in.
So, although you've got a philosophy of return to work, early return to work and rehabilitation, that philosophy is very much hindered by the fact that workers don't have a workplace to go back to in many cases. So that has to be worked out. The Labour Hire Task Force that was recently undertaken under Jennie George, that was commissioned by Della Bosca I think it was - it's vital that that particular task force, the recommendations from that task force - be looked at. I think that would do a lot more to go to the heart of the problem.
As for attacking the Independent Tribunal and attacking stakeholders or participants in the process and trying to make people in the process scapegoats and the sole responsible party for any blow-out in the so-called deficit, it is just very short-sighted and misses the point altogether.
I was always a great believer in the Advisory Council set up by the previous minister. Unfortunately the advisory council, any advisory council's not worth being there if the minister doesn't support it. It's unfortunate because the stakeholders are the ones who really have driven the change and any scheme like Workers Comp needs continual monitoring by the stakeholders. You can't just make a change and it's fixed. It's been under constant change since the first act in 1926 and the current blow-out has got to do with a whole host of things such as under-compliance, and non-payment of premiums. I think it's important that people understand the actual scheme itself is quite viable.
It seems as though that part of this package is that it's this shift from a notion of continuous improvement to a big bang reform. And that's been tried in the past obviously. Why doesn't the scheme need a big shock every now and then?
You can do it but it really doesn't solve the problem. All it does is upset everyone, create ill-will. If you work with the stakeholders and do it on a continuous monitoring method, it's much more effective.
How do you see this whole thing playing itself out?
Well, I'm hopeful that the Labor Council and the Government can work out a proposal, an agreed position, on these issues and that those major issues of ensuring that there's an independent tribunal, there's a proper medical assessment and that people are able to test the medicals in an independent tribunal. I think there needs to be an agreement between the Labor Council and the Government on the issue before it goes ahead. I hope that happens very quickly, before people get themselves into their trenches.
Finally, it took you a long time to get down here. Has this experience dented your enthusiasm for being a Member of the Government?
The Workers Compensation issue is an issue that's been dear to my heart for more than a quarter of a century and it's an issue that's a fundamental tenant of the labour movement - be it the industrial wing or the political wing. To me it's an issue that is vital for both wings of the party to agree upon, and if we can't agree upon something as fundamental as workers compensation, I have to admit it would dent my faith in the whole process.
The following is an open letter to BHP, signed by the Pilbara workers, setting out why they will remain collective and strong.
We the undersigned, have read the letter addressed to BHP Iron Ore regarding the "Workers response to Workplace Agreements". We demand BHP stop harassing us both at home and at work to coerce us to sign Workplace Agreements.
We the undersigned would like to respond to the meetings, letters and videos issued by BHP Iron Ore in order to coerce us into signing a Workplace Agreement. BHP Management continually tells the media that we refuse to sign because of pressure from the Union Movement. Yet they fail to ask themselves why we choose the implied pressure of the Union Movement over the extreme pressure being exerted by BHP to sign the Workplace Agreement. The answer is WE ARE the Union Movement. This dispute is being fought and decided by members on the ground. BHP Management needs to ask themselves why we choose to face conflict every time we enter our workplace. BHP Management needs to ask themselves why we tolerate being treated by our employer as the enemy when our only crime has been not to sign a Workplace Agreement.
We do not refuse to sign because of any "Fear Campaign" directed by the Union Movement. We accept the direction of the Union Movement because they are there to support and guide us. We do not refuse to sign because we fear the loss of friends and respect in our Community and workplace. We have lost much already. BHP Management claims that the cost of this dispute is hurting us and that we are not happy with it. Well they are right. We are not happy to lose wages, friends, relationships and harmony in our Community. Our town is divided and our families are feeling the pressure also. We are also aware that the things in life worth fighting for often come at a cost. We are paying that price yet we are still prepared to stand. This is the conviction behind this dispute.
We the undersigned wish to respond to the rhetoric by BHP that it is few voices that are speaking for the masses. The signatures on this petition are proof that this is the voice of the masses. The Union, for us, means collective representation. It means we decide the action we take and consider the consequences of those actions. We are informed, active and organised. We choose representation because we are aware that those of us who dare speak out on issues that are not under the protection of being Shop Stewards or Conveners will be targeted by the Company. We would expect to be sought out, harassed and intimidated. Our Shop Stewards and Conveners are acting under our wishes, not vice-versa. We do not wish for martyrs in this dispute. We expect that our superiors will be under orders to seek out those of us who do speak out, those of us who would be labelled as troublemakers. They will follow those directives, not through choice, but because they are staff. However, this is the basis of this dispute...CHOICE. This choice is already evident in the Workplace Agreement signees who are now silent on issues. Those that have had the audacity to speak out have learnt that "You've signed, you have no choice". There are those of us in this dispute that still have a choice and we choose not to sign a Workplace Agreement and do choose to sign this petition.
We the undersigned would like to respond to the issue of industrial action. BHP tells us that strike action is disappointing and disrupts their business. Yet under current applications BHP are able to send us home for up to 5 shifts if we attend a stop work meeting for longer than 1 hour. Is this not hypocritical? Does BHP want us to strike? It seems they would prefer us to leave. Derek Miller, Vice President Operations, tells us the Conveners were surprised by BHP's protective action. Perhaps they were because this would be the first time BHP has encouraged their employees to strike! Derek Miller also claims it is possible the members were not fully informed that the company could take such action. However, we are aware that BHP will use any tactic available to them in order to turn us away from the collective. It is certainly not beyond BHP to attempt to hurt us financially in the hope that this would encourage us to sign a Workplace Agreement. Is this the choice BHP is offering....to accept or leave?
We the undersigned wish to respond to the applications in excess of 3,500 that BHP Iron Ore received for 60 advertised positions. We, in the E.B.A. are certainly not surprised that people want to work for BHP. We all do as well, for we have good benefits and conditions. Graeme Hunt, President Western Australian Operations, has explained that obviously people are happy to work under the new Workplace Agreements. Of course they are. Those conditions will not change while the majority of us hold out against Workplace Agreements. These conditions were not given to us out of the goodness of the hearts of BHP Management. They were fought for by members of unions over many years. These conditions are not in place to hurt or disrupt the business of BHP. They are in place to protect the workers' safety, security and entitlements.
We the undersigned wish to respond to the letters, memos and notices conveying that BHP will not tolerate any form of harassment or intimidation by either party in this dispute. Yet, we are still receiving letters, memos and are forced into meetings with supervision about Workplace Agreements. The latest effort is a video tape sent to our homes expounding the benefits of signing a Workplace Agreement.
Is this pressure, coercion or intimidation?
We are continually told the Workplace Agreements have increased productivity while the EBA people have not, yet we are still doing the same work for less money. Is this not intimidation and discrimination? After EBA meetings or gatherings, Graeme Hunt often tells the media that he is disappointed, however numbers attending are low in comparison to those that could have attended. Well, what else can he say? While trying to convey to the media that we are some sort of idiot fringe of the union movement, he is hardly going to admit that BHP is losing the battle.
We the undersigned wish to respond to BHP in "Building a better Future" and "Building a high performance organisation".
BHP continually states that their only option in gaining a high performance organisation with their workforce is through the introduction of Workplace Agreements. However, all they need do is look at their productivity increases between the March '99 redundancies and the introduction of Workplace Agreements in November '99. The issuing of V.E.R.'s in March '99 saw BHP appeal to their workforce that they needed a better way of doing business. The workforce responded by increasing productivity at a steady rate. Though issues were still being processed through the normal channels BHP were gaining the changes they asked for. Their workforce was happy but obviously BHP was not, as on November 11, 1999 Workplace Agreements were introduced. BHP stated that change was not happening fast enough and they needed to remove the restrictive procedures that place a handbrake on change. When we take a closer look at these procedures, they are the ones in place to ensure safety, entitlements and work arrangements are protected. Of course BHP tells us that nothing will change!!? This is the flexibility that Graeme Hunt is so proud of from his Workplace Agreement workforce. When there is so little regard for safety, procedures or taking other peoples jobs we do tend to be a little suspicious. We too have had 15 months to observe the evidence of what this new "flexibility" means.
BHP Iron Ore tell us they will respect our wishes not to sign. However, apart from still being bombarded by BHP propaganda, we only need remember the respect they displayed in the original issuing of Workplace Agreements. The workforce was at no time consulted in what they wanted or expected from such an arrangement. It was a take it or leave it offer with refusal by BHP to put into writing the conditions they have absolutely no intention of changing!!??
BHP states that "turf wars" between unions were a major reason for the removal of unions in its Iron Ore division. Yet here they have initiated the biggest turf war in the history of their Iron Ore Operations. This time its between the Unions and Workplace Agreements.
Graeme Hunt states that the Workplace Agreements will have guaranteed rewards for Communities but again he fails to explain how. The fly in - fly out arrangements of Contractors working for BHP have little benefits for the businesses and Community Clubs and Associations in Newman. But of course, once again, BHP has no intention of following that arrangement with the rest of their workforce, not that it's in writing.
We the undersigned are aware that Corporate Australia is watching us. We know there are not only Union Movements, but also individual Union members in workplaces around Australia that support us and pray we hold the line. We concede that the ramifications of our actions will not only be felt by ourselves and fellow Australians, but also by those that come after us, namely our children. We do not wish to be remembered as the generation that gave up the rights of workers in exchange for a little cash. Those rights were too hard won by those that came before us. WE CANNOT give up those rights and conditions in one simple contract that have taken generations to achieve. WE CANNOT give up our right to collective representation and leave individuals to argue their own case. All intellects will agree an individual has no power.
We the undersigned realise that the pressure on us to sign will now increase. Supervision will be under orders to apply that pressure as is now evident in the workplace. They will use all legal means available to them against the Union Movement. BHP will increase their fear campaign on what we are losing and will be likely to lose if we refuse to sign. They will try and divide and isolate us from the collective. They will try and back us into a corner and attempt to convince us that we have little choice, that our Union can do nothing. We are the Union, we are collective and we are prepared to stand.
We the undersigned have signed this petition with the knowledge that there has been no coercion or pressure to sign it. We have signed to express to BHP that we do not wish to sign a Workplace Agreement. We have signed in the knowledge that this document has been written and has had input by Union members on the ground. It has been distributed and discussed with each individual person that has signed, with no organisation, co-ordination or coercion from Shop Stewards or Conveners. There have been no directives from any Union leadership body in the compiling of this document. It has been signed out of strength, loyalty, unity and because each individual has made his/her own informed choice after reading this document.
We the undersigned, petition BHP to respect our choice. If BHP wishes to bypass and ignore the respect that they have promised, then we are prepared to stand. We are strong, we are united and we are determined. We are proud to be collective and WE ARE the undersigned.
The headline of the Australian Financial Review of September 13, 2000 read 'RBA backs currency union'. The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Ian Macfarlane, has come out in support of Australia and New Zealand sharing a common currency. This followed the New Zealand Prime Minister stating that New Zealand adopting the Australian dollar as its domestic currency "might be inevitable" (itself an interesting concept). International mergers and acquisitions happen even in central banking.
More recently, in April 2001, the Chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange, Maurice Newman, has been reported as advocating Australia's adoption of the US dollar as Australia's domestic currency.
So what are the issues involved in currency mergers? The first thing to note is that they are pretty common. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the Thirty Years War was the benchmark of the introduction of the principal of one-nation-one-currency: that each nation state demonstrated its sovereignty by issuing and securing the domestic and international integrity of 'its own' currency. But there have always been exceptions. Australian monetary history shows the range of different national currencies that passed for legal tender within Australia in the early period of white settlement.
Today, there are many cases of small countries adopting a major currency, especially where there is geographical proximity. Panama and Liberia have, from their independence, adopted the US dollar. Several other central American countries have recently been contemplating 'dollarisation'. The South African rand is legal tender in Lesotho and Namibia. Bhutan uses the Indian rupee. Several former Soviet republics, now independent nations, still use the Russian rouble.
But currency unions are not simply a matter of small countries hitching their wagons to large ones. The Euro represents a case of large, rich industrial countries adopting a common currency as a perceived practical economic solution.
As debates about the Euro showed, currency unification plays out a now-standard conflict over globalisation: a logic of accumulation versus national sovereignty.
The supposed benefits of currency unification, simply stated, are twofold. First, in cases where a central bank is unable for some reason to secure a stable monetary system (on-going high inflation in particular) the adoption a currency like the US dollar provides a (generally) stable solution. A number of the cases cited above fit this depiction. Moreover, in many countries the US dollar exists alongside the local currency as the preferred monetary unit.
The second case for currency unification, applying to the advanced capitalist countries, is where different nations are integrated economically by extensive flows of goods and services, finance and investment (and perhaps labour). This is the situation that led to European currency unification and the Euro. It is also the Australia and New Zealand situation. In these circumstances, different currencies are thought to create unnecessary uncertainty. Exchange rate movements create windfall gains and losses for traders and investors - or they add to the costs of having to hedge against uncertainty. With uncertainty eradicated under a single currency, evidence suggests that trade, investment and financial flows increase.
This is central to the Australian Stock Exchange's proposition. The ASX is concerned that, in global financial markets, Sydney will be of diminished importance - shares will be bought and sold only on the world's major exchanges, and companies won't even bother listing on the Australian exchanges. (The AMP and BHP are two companies that have recently reorganised their global operations with the purpose of getting prominent listing on the London stock exchange.) To meet this challenge, the ASX has already established a number of agreements with exchanges in other countries for cross-listing of companies and 'free trade' across exchanges. The most significant of these is a proposal for 10 exchanges, including the ASX and the New York Stock Exchange, to be linked together in the Global Equity Market. (On these ASX links, see http://www.asx.com.au/shareholder/l3/InternationalAlliances_AS3.shtm). However, exchange rates are a problem - Americans will not trade on the ASX because of the risks involved in crossing between US and Australian dollars. If Australia used the US dollar as its trading currency, this risk disappears and the ASX has much more appeal as a site for global share trading.
Extending this case some distance leads to the proposition that countries (and by implication all countries) should adopt the US dollar. The US dollar is the major world currency for trade, credit and investment. If companies are heavily exposed to the US dollar by these means, it is simpler overall if all their costs and revenues are in US dollars. This is the case for dollarising the world.
The argument against monetary unification is essentially the monetary version of debates about sovereignty. There are two basic arguments (three if we indulge the patriotic desire to see pictures of Aussie battlers on notes and coins). First, a separate national currency is required for national monetary policy. National determination of interest rate adjustments is used by the state for management of the overall level of economic activity within the nation. Currency unification denies this policy lever. In Europe, if France is booming and Austria in a slump, there is no mechanism to cut interest rates in Austria to stimulate spending. On the other hand, there is no particular reason now in Europe for nations to have different economic cycles requiring different policies. (Anyway, nations have always been limited aggregations for this purpose. If Sydney is booming and Tasmania in recession, what should happen to interest rates in Australia?)
Second, nation states use their currency for seigniorage. That is when they issue more currency than is required by the current level of economic activity. The benefits of issuing the 'extra' currency accrue to state revenue. US dollars circulating as legal tender outside the US were issued by the US state but they do not create inflation within the US because they had to be bought with other currencies. So their issue generates revenue for the US state. If New Zealand adopts the Australian dollar, seigniorage is lost to the New Zealand state, but the Australian state's capacity expands.
Alternatively, seigniorage signals that the state's control of money and the state's control of public revenue and expenditure cannot be separated, and public finance is an intensely political process. With currency union the New Zealand and Australian governments (or Australian and US governments) would have to reconcile how they raise revenue, where and on what they spend public funds and what their budget strategies would be. There cannot be monetary union without some significant degree of political union.
Note the implications here of the case for US dollarisation - where there is no political merger with the US, a substantial range of national economic policy tools are lost in the dollarised countries. Seigniorage is lost as is any involvement in setting interest rates. George W would all but set social and economic policy in Australia.
Arguments about complete global dollarisation present the extreme case of the dilemma. There is, for accumulation, a clear logic in having a single global currency. Multiple currencies are as sensible as different rail gauges and different power sockets - they are an anachronistic inconvenience and costly. But where that global currency is one nation's currency writ large, there is a fundamental contradiction. The US dollar cannot serve as both the global currency and a national currency used to regulate the level of economic activity within the United States. That was the situation that brought down the post-World War II monetary system, the Bretton Woods Agreement. With dollarisation that experience is destined to be repeated.
So the question here is really whether the US dollar could break free from the United States state, and operating as a globally-regulated, consensually managed currency. The answer has to be that it is at best improbable, and more realistically unimaginable.
In the meantime, the reality of internationally integrated accumulation is likely to see more currency unifications stitched up. As these mega-currencies get bigger and fewer, exchange rates between currencies will become bigger and bigger issues and who controls monetary policy within each currency unit will be a major political battle.
It was always thus. All prices (exchange rates, interest rates, prices of goods, wages) have always been battles over distribution. Currency unification turns an inter-national battle into a 'domestic' battle. The difficult issue of currency unification is not getting everyone to use the same bank notes, but to avoid a predictable process of rule by the strongest central bank - the Reserve Bank of Australia in the case of Australia and New Zealand and the US Federal Reserve in the case of Australia and the Unites States. Building the forums in which these 'domestic' battles over amalgamated monetary policy are played out openly and democratically looks a long way off.
Dick Bryan is from the School of Political Economy at the
University of Sydney
An earlier version of this article appeared in Arena magazine; issue 51, feb -march 2001, inquiries mailto:[email protected]
I'm reminded of my niece as I speak to you today. She is sitting for the HSC this year at a Sydney high school and informs me that my news stories for the Sydney Morning Herald keep bobbing up in one of her subjects. It's a case of studying what I write, as I write it.
Her teachers are providing to students copies of my articles for legitimate study of contemporary history and the basics of journalism - the "who-what-why-when" and don't forget "how" questions that must be answered if possible in any report that professes to be comprehensive in the modern media.
So I suppose it's gratifying to know that not all I write is ending up as fish and chip wrappings or pulp for cardboard boxes.
I also know, from the number of notices I receive through Australia's copyright agency, that quite a lot of what I write is used as either material on its own or source material for research works by students and others.
And I can tell you that from the sampling taken by the copyright agency that I have a lot of more my work reproduced that my wife, who writes about rare brain diseases. What do I deduce from this? Well, at least contemporary labour history rates more highly in the public mind than rare brain diseases - or at least it did until the mad cow epidemic began.
But seriously though, I speak to you today as someone with experience in writing for the daily print media and as an author.
I am in my 18th year as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, and I have spent majority of those years in a writing capacity as the paper's industrial relations editor. I'm also author of two books, one a chronicle of the 1989 pilots' strike and another a biography of the former ACTU president Jennie George.
This experience, combined with an earlier period of my career spent as an academic at the University of NSW teaching Australian politics, makes me peculiarly well placed to speak to you about the role of the industrial relations journalist writing contemporary history.
Daily journalism is a very different discipline to writing books, yet I would not have one without the other, unless I had chosen to veer off and write fiction. When it comes to the daily media, frankly, the role of the industrial relations journalist in writing contemporary history is essentially no different to the role of any other journalist. It's what the forefathers of modern journalism, people like Daniel Dafoe or Samuel Pepys, did, as they reported on major events in the world around them and tried to make sense of their significance. Our understanding of the Great Fire of London is so much more enhanced thanks to Pepys's diaries, resplendent with detailed observations and wry comments about what life was like in those times.
In modern day terms, the role of the journalist is to deliver the news as it happens. As speed of technology and life in general increases, knowledge is more powerful than ever. We seem to have an unquenchable thirst for information and the immediacy of the media can be addictive.
It is tempting to think of the role of the media as merely that of a cipher, giving a transitory, unscientific, even scatty take on life that is relevant at the minute an event happens and little more.
Sometimes this is not an unfair analysis. The media has a habit of reporting an event, failing to give it a broader context because of time or space constraints, and then moving on to the next thing when is tired of the subject or a new subject fixes its concentration.
Newspapers used to be journals of record - that is much less common now. Showbiz rules and the quest for a bigger profit that drives media companies more than ever before means that a leading force behind what is published is what editors think will maximise sales, based on what the market is perceived to want. As a consequence, the duty to inform, per se, has been downgraded. Follow-up stories are rare. Worthy stories get left out or go missing.
But there is something different about the industrial relations journalist. He or she is the specialist of specialists, usually possessed of far more detailed information about issues than can be conveyed in the space available, but perhaps more conscious than most journalists of the need to cut through the mind-numbing jargon and the arcane, so that issues can be explained in straight language to the general population.
The area is a great training ground for many in the profession and while there aren't many who stick around, one thing that all journalists who spend some time hanging around trades hall for a while come to appreciate is that there is a rich history, and much of it is untapped.
I mentioned just a minute ago the showbiz aspect of journalism that seems to be taking over. But scratch a good industrial relations journalist, not unlike, I suppose, a committed political journalist, and you will find a scribe who wants to tell the stories behind the stories, and fights for them to be published.
I think it is also reasonable to say that, despite my earlier criticism of how the mass media operates these days, the standard of industrial relations journalism, like that of political reporting, is a vast improvement on the past.
A peruse through newspaper articles from the 1950s and 1960s will demonstrate that the main issues of the day were certainly covered. And now they would provide some useful source material for any labour historian, for example, who was trying to come to grips with the basic wage cases of the era, or Albert Monk's ACTU presidency, or Menzies' attempt to ban the Communist Party or Bob Hawke's rise to power.
But frankly the journalism of those times was, on the whole, superficial in nature: rudimentary, polite pieces of journalism that were reverential to the government of the day and failed to tell the real story, or go much beyond the political process that was being played out in front of the reporter's eyes.
From the consumer's point of view, one of the advantages of the saturation of electronic media coverage now - much of which remains rudimentary - is that it has forced the print media to offer more to its audience in order to compete. By that I mean that the strength of the quality press is its capacity to break news, to delve further into issues, to look behind the news and to capture the subtleties of what is really happening.
Industrial relations journalists are far more sophisticated than in the past. They have to be if they are to provide the level of reportage and analysis that is expected these days as a matter of course.
This sophistication is a reflection of the improved economic and political literacy of readers and the pressure to provide, as one of the advertising jingles says, everything you need to know.
There are obvious benefits in this change for the writing and understanding of labour history. Labour historians have better resource material, from the industrial relations media, from which they can draw facts, tease out themes, compose more accurate narratives and understand the motivations for human actions.
I ran into John Hartigan a few years ago when he was editor of Rupert Murdoch's Daily Telegraph in Sydney and he said "Brad, industrial relations is dead". If IR is dead, then what am I doing here? What are you doing here?
From Hartigan's perspective, what he meant was that his paper had taken an editorial decision that industrial relations was dead, partly motivated by its negative attitude towards what trade unions do, but also based on a judgment that the serious decline in memberships since the 1970s made unions irrelevant.
Hartigan is now the chief of Murdoch's News Limited organisation in Australia and his analysis may be a sound one for the Telegraph. The Telegraph knows its tabloid market and is very good at what it does.
Hartigan was in a jovial mood when he spoke to me but was telling me nonetheless that what I was doing at the Herald was irrelevant. I would disagree. While industrial relations journalism has changed, there are interesting stories to be told, whatever you call them, and there are more of them each day.
There are presently enormous changes going on in our workforce, from the increased participation of women, to a transformation of the nature of work as jobs shift from full-time to part-time, and old-style manufacturing gets replaced by the booming service and information technology industries.
For the past six years, there has been a change in political culture to observe as the Howard government has replaced Labor's order with its own. It has kicked along changes that were already underway in the industrial landscape by passing laws that seek to reduce union influence, to devolve the authority of the institutional model created by H.B. Higgins to the local level and to promote labour standards tailored to the circumstances of the individual workplace.
The power of trade unions has obviously diminished - but they remain strong and organised in traditional areas that still form a large part of the economy and almost as influential as a decade ago inside one of Australia's two major political parties, the Labor Party. Labor, inevitably, is going to be in government at some time or other - and as the Hawke and Keating governments have demonstrated, possibly for long periods of time. The connection of unions to the ALP alone makes unions an important part of the network of political influence and therefore worthy of close observation for the keen industrial relations journalist.
Without the industrial relations journalist, there is so much of contemporary history that would not be written down. For example, the detail and sheer complexity of major events over the past decade such as the pilots' strike and the waterfront dispute would have been lost if it were not for the journalists who tracked them from start to finish on a daily basis.
There have been a lot of labour histories written over the years. It astounds me that some that have crossed my desk, by academics, can pretend to relate and analyse an entire era of recent labour history and yet not draw upon a single article in the quality press as raw material for footnotes or references. Rather, some of these books have stuck to the traditionally accepted approach of citing other academic works and nothing else. One in particular that springs to mind purported to be a rendition of the Accord years during the Hawke government and yet I was staggered to find nowhere in the tome any mention of the highly influential ACTU figure for all of that time, Bill Kelty, without whom the history may have been very different.
Given Mr Kelty's reclusive ways and unwillingness to be subject to public scrutiny, it is a statement of the bleeding obvious that the only way a historian is going to get to the nub of what really happened then is to sift through media reports in the Financial Review or Herald or Age or Australian or Business Review Weekly that were written by specialist industrial relations journalists who were fortunate enough to have had access either to Mr Kelty or those who dealt with him regularly.
I might add that the relative ease with which print media coverage can be accessed on the web these days makes it patently silly if such a resource is not used by labour historians. I know personally that one academic and author, Professor Braham Dabscheck from the Industrial Relations Department at the University of NSW, religiously reads the Herald, AFR and Australian. He has made a point over many years of keeping clippings files of articles from major newspapers. He has boxes and boxes of them and they are an invaluable resource for him in his writing and teaching. Dabscheck's books such as The Struggle for Australian Industrial Relations contain voluminous bibliographies as properly researched academic works should. But there are also extensive chapter notes, many of which cite newspaper reports. And it makes sense. Where else, except newspapers, could Dabscheck have relied to retrieve details of the wage-tax deals of the early 1990s? Nowhere. The educative value of the media should not be under-estimated.
Dabscheck also makes a point of asking his students where they obtain their information. Sadly, he is frequently disappointed to hear the answer that his students don't read newspapers. One suspects that some academics don't read newspapers either.
The collected work of the industrial relations journalist can be an important contemporary history in itself for the interested reader who is following an issue closely in the media. It can also be an important source material for the author and academic, who, with the benefit of hindsight, may disagree with certain interpretations of the journalist writing in the past, or is able to correct the record of some misreported facts, but nonetheless has a rich resource from which to draw information and compare with other historical records that may be uncovered during research.
I now want to turn to the journalist as author. Journalists have a distinct advantage over other writers when it comes to the more arduous task of writing contemporary history in book form. For a start, journalists are taught to write clearly and to use an entertaining style. Writing a book is very different to daily deadlines but a book publisher has a better than even chance that a journalist will be capable of sticking to a schedule and turning in a completed work.
Quality of the product may be a different matter. But the main point to make is that journalists have such a wealth of material at their fingertips, much of which probably hasn't found its way into print because of space reasons but which has been accumulated during the course of daily work.
This information can form the bare bones of a narrative, whether it is for a biography or a dissertation on a major issue of public interest.
Sometimes it would be a waste of this information if a book were not written. I certainly felt this way when I wrote my first book, on the pilots' strike. Early in the dispute, which from its start to last gasp lasted about seven months, I realised that the dispute had the dimension for a book and I approached the ABC's publishing unit. Ten years later I still get queries about the book and its availability all the time. The book is available in libraries and the odd second hand bookstore but otherwise is out of print. It stands as the only book on the subject and, unless I revise it, I expect this to remain the case. There is nothing else, except for the odd radio or television documentary, which pulls those tumultuous events together. It was an important history to tell. What happened a decade ago had implications for industrial relations in the early 1990s. It occurred just ahead of airline deregulation and the move away from a centralised wage system. It was the direct spur for Labor legislation enshrining for the first time a legal right to strike. It was something of a trial run for what the Coalition wanted to do to unions in general and it horrified some that a Labor government could so blatantly ignore union principles in its treatment of the pilots, even if they were perceived to come from a silvertail union that was not part of the ACTU family.
For the pilots at the centre of that storm, the tale has not ended. There were family break-ups, financial collapses, suicides, pilots who returned to their jobs and are still vilified as "scabs", pilots who left Australia for good to fly for overseas airlines and pilots who never found work in aviation again and have never emotionally recovered from the stupidity of their union leadership that cost them their jobs.
The proliferation of books written by journalists these days surely demonstrates the keenness of publishers to tap into what journalists, as prospective authors, can offer them. Some of the products of these labours are good; others are not.
Paul Kelly has replaced Donald Horne as the king of authors when it comes to writing contemporary political and social history and who can deny their quality? Kelly is already probably on so many university reading lists that long ago he transcended the label of newspaperman. He is prolific, a historian of all media genres and a professor at large. Apart from his regular newspaper columns and string of authoritative books, I'm sure many of you caught the recent history series on the ABC timed to commemorate our centenary of federation.
There are roughly speaking two types of books when it comes to writing contemporary history - the quickie and the thoroughly researched tome. Most written by journalists fall somewhere between the two.
The quickie is the book that is written in haste, sometimes amazingly in a matter of a few weeks, in which the journalist, in a flurry, just collates all the material that was gathered during the course of his or her working time on a particular story and essentially vomits it onto the page with a guiding narrative but without any additional research. The final product looks, for all intensive purposes, like any other book - it has a structure of sorts and a good cover jacket presentation. The reason it is written in such haste is that the journalist or publisher wants to capitalise on the currency of a public issue or public identity in the spotlight.
The quickie is the first to hit the market and capture sales, before other, more reflective, more thoroughly researched works. There may also be a belief on the part of the publisher that the book in question has a limited shelf life because public interest in the subject will disappear altogether.
It is easy to criticise books written by journalists on the basis that they lack the research methods that academics are trained to use. But the main practical limitation of journalists writing contemporary labour history in book form is a variation of what they face every day, satisfying relentless demands for output as a working journalist in the popular media. That is, of course, the limitation imposed by time.
The books that I have written do not fall into the category of the quickie and yet the time factor was undoubtedly most important: the publishers who commissioned my works had in mind that they would indeed be "contemporary labour histories", published as close as possible to the actual events they describe.
That meant that while much research and many interviews were conducted in addition to the work performed while covering these events for my news organisation, there were time constraints imposed on the projects - a shutting-off point that was necessary if the books were ever to see the light of day.
For the publisher there was a financial reality at stake that the books had to be released before the events they described faded too much from public consciousness. If too much time elapsed, the subjects would not have rated sufficient interest to yield sales justifying the projects in the first place.
In the case of my book on the pilots' strike, I approached the ABC with the idea in October 1989, roughly two months after the dispute began. My publisher, Richard Smart at the ABC, was keen to have it released as soon as possible. I submitted the completed manuscript, except for its epilogue, in early August 1990. In a remarkable editing turnaround time in publishing terms, the book was printed with an almost up-to-the-minute epilogue by late October and released in November.
In the case of the George biography, my publisher, John Iremonger from Allen & Unwin, was most keen to have the book out while George was still in office as ACTU president. He first approached me in December 1996, in the wake of a Good Weekend magazine profile I wrote about George that persuaded him that her life had all the elements for a good biography. I submitted most of the manuscript, as agreed, in early April 1998. Because developments germane to the biography were still in train after that - notably the waterfront dispute and the federal election - it was important to make the book as current as possible. Like Blanche D'Alpuget and others before me, I added chapters and revisions right up until publication time in November that year.
Such limits of time mean that the contemporary labour history can be as thorough as humanly possible but there must be missing pieces. Contemporary histories may benefit from currency, chief among them a living memory of the events described and access to interview subjects while they are still alive. But they may suffer by lacking the distance of 10 or 20 years, by which time passions have subsided, more historical documents may be available and a clearer analysis may be possible.
A manifest constraint of time, which worked against me, but in Jennie George's favour, was that for the first edition of her biography I was compelled to leave the issue of her Communist Party membership unresolved, even in the face of numerous accounts of witnesses who attested that George was a member along with them. The issue was left unresolved because George, and a loyal band of her friends, insisted most vehemently that she had never been a member.
What was I to do? The biography was unauthorised but Jennie George had agreed to cooperate with me and had given information freely in all other respects.
It had been made plain to me that the now defunct Communist Party, which has bequeathed its records under restricted access to Mitchell Library, would not allow me access to scan for George's membership. Given such insistent denials, the most I could reasonably conclude based on evidence prior to publication was that George was more than just a fellow traveller, that her party associations ran deep and that she claimed some distance from the CPA when it suited her.
After the biography's first edition publication in hardback in November 1998, Communist Party records that were not available previously came into my possession. These records, obtained for me from the Mitchell Library documents, confirmed beyond all doubt that George was no mere CPA foot soldier, but that as late as 1972 she was elected to the CPA's Sydney district committee with Jack Mundey, was elected to the national congress of the CPA and stood in elections for the party's central committee.
Now, by any historian's standards, the omission of George's CPA membership was a serious one from the first edition but I was fortunate enough to have a second edition in paperback in which I was able to correct the record. Even then, I had to make the changes quickly because of the printing deadline.
I think this anecdote provides a good example of the limitations confronting a contemporary labour historian who is trying to provide the most honest, accurate account possible.
It is going to be most interesting to see what Stuart Macintyre, the eminent Melbourne historian, makes of George's CPA membership in the second volume of his history of the Communist Party. As I understand it, Macintyre has been given full access to records held in the Mitchell Library. Surely he must devote attention to George's experience in the party and exactly how long her membership spanned. She rates, more than avowed CPA members John Halfpenny or Laurie Carmichael, as the most successful communist to have enjoyed a career in the mainstream of Australian public life. She reached the top of the union movement as the president of the ACTU. She was its public face. She may even make it to a Labor cabinet in a Beazley government.
George's coyness about CPA membership, while understandable in the context of the Cold War, was unwise in the sweep of history because when her name was already in the records of an organisation it was always going to prove impossible to conceal forever.
As George's biographer I'm disappointed because my account of her life is less for the omission. It would have made the book more interesting if I could have explained more clearly her political development and what life what like for her in the communist milieu. Such are the limitations of time and access. I look forward to Stuart MacIntyre's account of this important side of George's background and how he interprets it.
Today, my other book on the pilots' strike sits on the shelf, or at least those that are still in circulation do. Realistically, no commercial publisher in 2001 would take this project on board anew. The way modern publishing works, my book on the pilots was only a prospect as an independent mass-market proposition when it was fresh. The only way I can see that it will be revisited in written form is if an academic with a special interest writes a thesis on the subject or if the story is published as a subsidised institutional history.
I suspect the same is the case for my biography of Jennie George. Except for the broader interest of academic historians wanting to place her life in the context of the times, I believe my published account of her life will be the first and last.
I don't intend that comment to be rude towards George - maybe she will write her memoirs one day. It's just that unless she does the inconceivable and goes on to become Australia's first woman prime minister, she is, as she has admitted, past her peak. The public interest in George's life has waned and is certainly not sufficient to excite a publisher now, nor I believe in the future.
As it is, when Allen & Unwin first asked me to write the biography, George's profile was already on the slide. The influence of the ACTU had diminished significantly by the time she was handed the job in late 1995 and union memberships appeared to be in free fall, to the point where their relevance was being seriously questioned. There was nothing George could do to stop the union decline in the brief time she was at the ACTU. Her role stands as an important one symbolically, and she was a passionate advocate for her cause. I found her an interesting subject, but she was a figurehead and secondary to Kelty, who remained the organisation's pivotal figure until his retirement last year.
That leads me to another, final point about contemporary labour histories. Many readers like biographies because they provide an opportunity to explore the history of the period they relate. I think that this opportunity was a very valuable part of writing the George biography, perhaps the most valuable in the long run.
There is much background in my George biography. George herself lamented in her speech at the book's launch that "in some places I began to wonder whether the book was really about me or Bill [Kelty]". This is a valid question, as I acknowledged in an address to the Sydney Institute two years ago, and I was conscious of it at the time of writing.
When I told my publisher, early on, that I would probably have preferred to write a biography of Bill Kelty, he said he didn't think it would sell. But he acknowledged my point that Kelty was the more significant figure and crucial to George's promotion. As a compromise he suggested that the biography of George he wanted me to write could contain a mini-biography of Kelty as well, without losing track of the narrative. Who knows? The result may stand as the only mass-market biography of Kelty, let alone George.
This paper was presented at the Australian Labour History Conference, ANU, Thursday 19th April 2001
Chinese Pilot Wang Wei
In 1991 George Bush the first described the Gulf War as heralding a New World Order. There was some truth in what he said, but it was more a statement of US desire than reality.
The NATO bombing of Serbia showed America's intent more clearly. The US-controlled NATO bombed Serbia to send a message to the world in general but China and Russia in particular - nothing could stand in the way of American interests anywhere in the world.
The missile which destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during that bombing reinforced the message. Faced with the overwhelming military superiority of the United States, the Chinese could do nothing in response. Demonstrations in China against the US only increased the feelings of futility and frustration the Chinese leadership the felt.
The recent spy plane crisis is the first indication that the American era is over, or at least that the image of the United States as all powerful can be challenged.
The incident gave the Chinese the opportunity to overcome some of their previous humiliation. The fact that the US aircraft crash landed on Chinese territory with 24 American crew members gave China control of the situation and thus a major advantage over the Americans.
The US could conceivably have responded militarily. However a rescue mission would have taken time and may well have failed in its immediate objective of rescuing the crew.
The US also had the option of attacking a Chinese target - for example some of the military installations on the mainland across the water from Taiwan. This would have escalated the dispute and possibly resulted in war, limited or otherwise.
Despite the urgings of the Republican right, George Bush the second could not risk a military adventure against a middle-ranking power like China on its home soil. He, and the US, had too much to lose.
This has allowed the Chinese leadership to project an image to the Chinese people and the world that they are immune from US military action.
In the event, American military power was held in check. So the two sides cut a deal. Ambiguous words about being sorry allowed both sides to claim "victory".
This checking of US military power does not make China a superpower. The country simply does not have the economic power or technological capacity to challenge the Americans around the globe.
However China wants to become the major power in Asia. This in itself will create conflicts with the United States which has substantial military forces and economic presence in the region.
China's plans involve expanding its navy to become the dominant force in the South China Sea. This would give it the ability to control the oil-rich Spratley Islands. But it also means challenging US power in the area.
The security consultants Stratfor speculate that the US EP-3E spy plane was looking for two new submarines the Chinese navy is developing. The Type 093 can supposedly fire cruise missiles underwater and would, if true, "threaten the pre-eminent American weapons system in the region - the aircraft carrier".
In 1996, when China carried out live missile tests off Taiwan, the United States sent an aircraft carrier group to the region. China stopped its tests. The new submarines the Chinese are developing may challenge the capacity of the US to defend Taiwan.
Taiwan is the key. The United States sees itself as Taiwan's protector. China views Taiwan as a renegade province and reserves the option to re-take the island by force.
However the Chinese are not strong enough in the water or in the air to do this, even without the US intervening. So the Chinese have built up their missiles on the coastline facing Taiwan.
In response the Taiwanese asked to buy four destroyers equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system from the US. Aegis is capable of being integrated into Bush's proposed missile defence system which the Chinese see as giving the United States a nuclear first strike capability.
The Taiwanese request gave President Bush a dilemma. He wanted to emphasise US power and America's desire to protect Taiwan.
But he also did not want to antagonise China. US transnational corporations see China as the last great market for their goods and services as well as a source of cheap labour.
This dilemma was encapsulated in the different descriptions of China during the presidential campaign - either a "strategic competitor" according to the Republicans or "a strategic partner" in the words of the Democrats.
Bush has resolved this dilemma by agreeing to sell the destroyers to Taiwan without the Aegis system. The President recognises that China is both a competitor and a partner.
The Chinese success in the Hainan incident means that they will test the waters (literally!) to gauge the strength of US resolve in the area. And as its economy grows and strengthens China, it will be able to exert its influence in the region more strongly, despite what the US wants. China will have to do it carefully, but it will do it.
The CPSU has been at the forefront of efforts to stave off attacks on the ABC. One obvious motivating factor behind the campaign is the job security of union members, however there are many broader concerns.
We are campaigning with and Friends of the ABC, because Shier's direction is a threat to the very existence of the ABC" said Thomson
In Shier's first year as managing director the ABC has...
• flagged more programs being made by commercial media
• slashed $8m from news/current affairs while increasing executive salaries by $7.4m
• cut the radio budget by $2m
• ripped another $4.5m out of TV production resources
• cut 100 jobs out of Sydney.
Shier has made it plain he wants thorough change. His method has been to invoke the market. Shier has demanded that television be more ratings-driven. It is important to understand both the ABC's role, laid down by charter, and the job of ratings. Part of the ABC's charter vests in it responsibility for "a balance between programs of wide appeal and specialised broadcasting programs."
Ratings are designed, in consultation with the advertising industry, to deliver viewers to advertisers. Just why the ABC, unable to screen advertisements, should be driven by ratings is unclear. Look at what the chase for ratings points has done to Nine, Ten and Seven. Their program schedules are virtually identical.
The ABC, and SBS for that matter, exist because they are different, not better nor worse, than ratings-driven channels. Research shows that, over any given week, more than 60 per-cent of Australians choose to watch at least one ABC program.
With the exception of Nine's Sunday program, quality current affairs has just about disappeared off the commercial radar, yet this is the very area Shier has chosen to shear.
But the ABC is not just TV.
It runs orchestras and Radio National, yet critics can hardly accuse youth station, Triple J, of elitism or cultural snobbery. Commercial radio, like TV, is ad-driven and risk averse. Triple J, on the other hand, has supported the likes of Midnight Oil, silverchair, Killing Heidi, Powderfinger and Yothu Yindi, not to mention comedians Roy and HG.
ABC radio and television were never supposed to be commercial or compete with the commercials. They were established to provide services, or programs, which commercial operators either couldn't or wouldn't.
The ABC is a core public service and now, like much of the public service, it is under threat.
SAVE THE ABC RALLY
Sunday, 29th April 2001
Sydney Opera House Forecourt
For more information visit http://www.cpsu.org/abc
and the Friends of the ABC site http://www.fabc.org.au
by Ray Marcello
Rio Tinto Shareholder Activists
Despite the American tech stock crash, Australians remain dazzled by the allure of owning shares.
In early 2000 an Australian Stock Exchange survey found that when including personal share portfolios and managed investments like superannuation, 5.7 million Australians own shares.
And with their piece of the company, Australians must judge corporate performance from an owner's perspective and with an owner's obligations.
This is the premise behind Share Holder's Rights by Henry Bosch. The book is part of the growing literature about how to be a smarter shareholder through active ownership.
Bosch is a columnist with Fairfax's Shares Magazine and is widely held as the private share owners guru. He is a company director and was Chairman of the predecessor to corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
Bosch is also a member of the largest and most organised shareowners interest group in the country, the Australian Shareholders Association (ASA).
His book is a collection of Shares Magazine columns and is divided into issues like conduct at general meetings, the role of shareholders, corporations law reform, corporate crime, and dealing with corporate boards.
Using corporate timelines, much of the book's information, gathered over the past four years risks becoming old news although the entrée to corporate culture and lucid explanation of issues facing shareowners makes it a handy reference.
But probably the two most current (and fashionable) subjects in the book are corporate governance and the issue of corporate social responsibility.
Bosch has doggedly campaigned for a better deal for shareholders from the company directors behind the boardroom doors.
Indeed, ASA pressure was a factor behind the reform of the Coles Myer Board during the celebrated case involving its former chairman Solomon Lew whose private share deals led to his resignation.
For Bosch and many big professional investment institutions, good governance adds to the bottom line of creating shareholder wealth.
However, Bosch sides with conservative boards about the issue of corporate responsibility. He maintains that shareholder's financial interests prevail over the interests of stakeholders like countries, employees, and the natural environment.
Bosch opposes the growing numbers of shareholder activists who pressure their companies to consider the "triple bottom line" of social, environmental and financial reporting.
Yet despite the impressive growth of assets in ethical investment (around US $2 billion dollars are invested in US ethical funds), Bosch adopts a narrow view about how boards should spend shareholders money:
"The sole common interest of all shareholders is the ongoing prosperity of the company " and he also argues that "reason must rule passion".
He also credits the increase of the Lang Corporation's share price as a result of their illegal sackings of MUA members as an example of why companies should ignore protest and "political" demands. From the shareowners perspective, the higher share price and presumably better investment returns are the only consideration.
But this dour view is challenged by the emerging ethical business and corporate social responsibility agenda. For instance, the resource giant BP sponsors Shareholders Deliberate, a group that considers social and environmental responsibility.
Another example comes from Sydney lawyer, Robert C Hinkley who believes corporate conscience can be created by amending the corporations law to add human rights, the environment, employee dignity and community concerns to company director's fiduciary duty.
The issue of shareholders versus stakeholders is becoming fervent campaign ground for activists - from corporate campaigners who want to see more boardroom accountability, to NGO's who want to radically change corporate practices.
Australia has a poor record of shareholder initiated pressure. The one-time Workers Online Tool of the Week, Stephen Mayne is one example of shareholder activist who seeks to reform boards in order to boost company performance. His tactics at company AGM's lead the way for many stakeholder interests.
Several unions and internal company shareowner groups like North Ethical Shareholders Group (within North Ltd who own Rio Tinto) have used their ownership to fight for positive changes to the social impacts of company activities.
Market signals matter too. The Sydney Morning Herald reported a recent survey of 500 investors which found that 69% said given the opportunity, they would choose an ethical fund.
Clearly there is pressure to change corporate practices beyond the financial bottom line. The notion of the sustainable corporation and good social citizenship is a touchstone of the globalisation debate and are realities shareholders must now consider.
Share Holders Rights encourages the small shareholder to be proactive, but for investors who want their money to be well behaved, they should look to broader agendas.
Share Holder's Rights (Information Australia, 2000) by Henry Bosch
Ray Marcelo is an organiser with the NSW/ACT Independent Education Union
Hundreds of investment bankers in your very own country are living at or just below the seven-figure income level! Atrocious! And, as if that weren't bad enough, they will be deprived of pay for several weeks - possibly a whole year - as a result of their redundancy.
But now you can help!
For about five thousand dollars a day - that's less than the cost of a large screen projection TV - you can help an investment banker remain economically viable during his time of need.
Five THOUSAND dollars a day may not seem like a lot of money to you, but to a investment banker it could mean the difference between a holiday spent golfing in Florida or a Mediterranean cruise. For you, FIVE thousand dollars is nothing more than three months rent or mortgage payments. But to an investment banker, five thousand dollars a day will almost replace his pay.
Your commitment of five thousand dollars a day will enable an investment banker to buy that home entertainment centre, trade in the year-old BMW for a new Ferrari, or enjoy a weekend in Rio.
"HOW WILL I KNOW I'M HELPING?"
Each month, you will receive a complete financial report on the investment banker you sponsor. Detailed information about his stocks, bonds, property portfolio, and other investment holdings will be mailed to your home.
You'll also get information on how he plans to invest the $15 million lump severance package he will receive upon redundancy. Plus upon signing up for this program, you will receive a photo of the investment banker. Put the photo on your refrigerator to remind you of other peoples' suffering.
"HOW WILL THEY KNOW I'M HELPING?"
Your investment banker will be told that he has a SPECIAL FRIEND who just wants to help in a time of need. Although the investment banker won't know your name,he will be able to make reverse-charge calls to your home via a special operator just in case additional funds are needed for unexpected expenses.
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Note: Sponsors are not permitted to contact the investment banker they have sponsored, either in person or by other means including, but not limited to, telephone calls, letters, e-mail, or third parties. Keep in mind that the investment banker you have sponsored will be much too busy enjoying his free time, thanks to your generous donations. Contributions are not tax-deductible.
Ordinary working Australians stand like Canute before the waves of change thinking they can do nothing. As they sink they glimpse John and Kim, dry on the beach, worshipping the very waves that destroy all our economic certainties.
These powerful emotions may produce an electoral tsunami that destroys the Howard Government. Good.
But fear and anger can also be breeding grounds for despair. One Nation feeds on these emotions with its racist appeals and protectionist policies.
However there is hope. Australian society is moving, however slowly, to the Left. The election results in Western Australia and Queensland, and the possible defeat of the Howard Government, show a desire to reject the overt economic rationalism of the Coalition parties.
Radicals might suggest with a fair amount of truth that the ALP is hardly a hotbed of leftism and actually spearheaded the extension of the free market in Australia. But by
voting Labor many people think they are rejecting Tory economics. It is this perception that the Left wants to capitalise on.
The Labor victories in Queensland and Western Australia were built in part on an increase in the vote for the Greens.
But it would be a mistake to view the Greens as an anti-capitalist grouping. They are a mass of contradictions. The Greens have spawned the likes of, on the one hand, the pro-uranium NATO supporter and German Foreign Minister Joschke Fischer and, on the other, pro-working class presidential candidate Ralph Nader in the United States.
The Left has much in common with the radicals in the Green movement and wants to work with them. However it has to be understood that mainstream electoral formations like the Greens and parties like the ALP (and the Democrats, if one can consider them left-wing) accept the basic tenets of capitalism. This means they do not offer a long-term solution to the problems of society.
This truth and the electoral volatility we have seen over the last five years may open up an opportunity for the radical Left in Australia.
Eight very different revolutionary groups certainly think so. They recently formed Socialist Alliance to stand candidates in the forthcoming Federal elections. Around
300 enthusiastic supporters attended its Melbourne launch. In Sydney there were 250 supporters.
A number of things are driving the Left. First, the success of the S11 movement in Melbourne last year showed that there is a sizable minority of people who, even if not specifically anti-capitalist, are concerned about the directions of global capitalism. An alliance is one way of involving these people in debate, discussion and action.
Secondly, the continuing appeal of Pauline Hanson has shocked the revolutionary movement into attempting to coalesce an electoral alliance that can appeal on a
socialist basis to those dissatisfied with the impact of economic rationalism and the pro-globalisation policies of both major parties.
The Left are, and have been, the consistent opponents of capitalist globalisation. To allow Hanson, with her racist and reactionary policies, to go unchallenged would be a political crime.
Socialist Alliance has adopted policies Labor might have put forward before it was taken over by the economic rationalists.
The Alliance wants to abolish the GST. It will tax the rich. Its candidates will argue for the reversal of the privatisations undertaken by Labor and the Coalition. The group will support the public health system, not private health funds.
They will campaign for free higher education, the repeal of the Workplace Relations Act, increased funding for public transport, extending native title, freeing the refugees from their concentration camps and introducing a shorter working week, with no loss of pay.
The Alliance will make a simple point - the major beneficiaries of capitalist globalisation are the corporations whose dominant concern is profit, not people.
While the Alliance is putting forward concrete measures to benefit working people under capitalism, its members believe there can be no ultimate solution to the problems of humanity without a fundamental re-ordering of society. The Alliance will argue for socialism - the working class's democratic control of the factories, offices and mines so that production is organised to satisfy human need, not to make a profit.
The Alliance is not neutral about who it wants to form Government. It sees the Coalition as the enemy. For that reason preferences will go to the ALP before the Liberals and Nationals.
The Alliance wants to appeal to ALP members and supporters disaffected with the right-wing nature of the Party. That may not happen in the run up to this election. But there is no doubt that having Labor in power for three years will help expose the ALP for what it has become - the handmaiden of the rich.
Establishing a viable left-wing alternative now is a necessity to be able to capitalise on the disillusionment that will develop with Labor over the next three years. Otherwise the good people on the Left of the ALP and their supporters risk becoming cynical and being lost to politics completely.
The Alliance is realistic about its immediate electoral prospects. It knows that it is unlikely to win a large number of votes in the forthcoming elections. And it knows
that voting for socialist candidates, even electing them to Parliament, will not change the world. However the point of standing candidates is not to win seats. It is to give
the Left a stage from which to spread its ideas and build a stronger anti-capitalist movement.
The Alliance sees its immediate task as being to build the M1 movement. M1 is a coordinated series of demonstrations around the world on May 1 against corporate greed and globalisation. In doing that socialists hope to attract new people to the anti-globalisation movement and involve them in the discussions about the future for humanity.
The Left has a vision of a new and democratic world where all can live in freedom, prosperity and peace. Socialist Alliance is one way to spread this message of liberation.
The $800,000 Sydney Cup at Randwick has drawn an average field of battlers. Kiwi six-year-old Our Unicorn is top weight at an extraordinary 53kg and so far do the weights tumble that many leading riders were never a hope of being engaged.
Don't look for Larry Cassidy, Chris Munce, Damian Oliver, Darren Beadman, Lenny or Danny Beasley in the starting gates because they won't be there. Sydney trainer Graham Begg had to send out a trans-Tasman SOS to get an experienced rider to take advantage of the featherweight 47kg allotted his entrant, Pristine Partners, the winner of, ahem, a whole $26,000 in prize money.
Begg did well to secure Lee Rutherford. His charge will blow in the market because, for some reason, Aussie punters don't like the thought of women on top but if Pristine Partners fails to feature it will be a reflection on horse not human. Rutherford has saluted a Group One level and is noted for getting home long shots, as art at least as praiseworthy as being able to put hot-pots in the frame.
And, to be fair, the standard of this year's cup can't be laid solely at the feet of the AJC. It wasn't their fault that hometown favourite Tie The Knot was turned out for a spell, or that Melbourne Cup place-getter Second Coming up and carked it a couple of weeks shy of race day.
The club will be the loser because there is no Tie The Knot or Sunline to pitch to the wider public. For the oft-forgotten punter, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing. For a start they won't be trampled by rampaging hordes of wannabes searching for a dunny to dispose of their last 18 bottles of San Miguel.
And, to be fair, the lack of out-and-out stars should make the cup a more interesting betting proposition. No question, it's wonderful to see the champs but when it comes to parting with the hard-earned, even money doesn't exactly drive the moths out of the wallet.
Favourite Giovana was showing a miserly 5/2 in overnight markets but, the unlucky mare aside, the next shortest proposition in a 14 horse field looked like offering at least 6/1.
With five other group races on the card, including a better than useful Queen Elizabeth Stakes, headed by Sky Heights, Shogun Lodge and Referral, there is plenty of exposed form about.
There won't be too many carnivals in this part of the world, or any other for that matter, that wind-up with a group three race as interesting as the TJ Smith Stakes.
Top weights Testa Rossa, Mr Innocent, Hong Kong hero Falvelon, and Black Bean are well and truly millionaires; Padstow knocked off the Galaxy on this track at 50/1; Hire has plenty of admirers and down at 15 on the card is last year's Golden Slipper winner, Belle Du Jour, with a respectable $1.98 million in the bank. You're looking at anything between 9/2 and 33/1 for that lot.
The media spotlight will continue to shine on the standard, or otherwise, of the cup field but there is going to be plenty of value about and that means fair-dinkum punters should be there will bells on.
Overview of the Australian Labour Market 2000 by Keith Hancock and Ben Safari
Employment increased and unemployment fell. However, indications are that the expansionary phase may be ending
Between 1980 and 2000 the amount of total time at work by males (as a percentage of the total work force) declined from 70.1% to 63.8% (including part time workers). For women the equivalent figures were 29.9% and 36.2%.
The numbers at work have increased in the 20 year period, but the full time work force has declined substantially.
The feminisation of the workforce, linked to the trend to part time work, has seen a 16% narrowing of the gap between male and female employment rates over the years 1980-2000.
Prime age male employment (ages 25-54) has seen a major change, with a reduction from 90% full time equivalent to 82%.
Share of employment by industry over 1985-2000 shows expansion in property services, accommodation, cafes and restaurants. Weak performance in manufacturing, electricity, gas and water.
Using the ABS Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours, we can see anm increase in inequality in pay rates, and an increase in the female:male relativity.
High pay women fared worse in relative terms over the period than lower paid women.
(Australian Bulletin of labour; vol. 27, no. 1, March 2001)
Working At WALMART by Barbara Ehrenreich and Jane Birnbaum
Passing a urine test and personality profile will get you a job at Wal-Mart - where talking with co-workers is forbidden, unpaid overtime encouraged and health insurance unaffordable. All for $7 per hour. Orientation to the Wal-Mart way is an eight hour session, with full anti-union video and a history and philosophy of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton, Rather like being inducted into a cult.
Jane Birnbaum highlights the appalling treatment Wal-Mart hands out to its employees, the corporate welfare it enjoys, the extent of its imports (despite also being the largest retail employer in the US), its treatment of workers trying to unionise, its attitude to those customers injured in the stores and its attitude to people who live near their huge complexes.
([email protected]; April, 2001)
Fitness for Duty
To minimise the risk of unfair dismissal or discrimination claims, employers need to make sure that their procedures for testing and assessing a worker's fitness for duty are clear, fair and consultative. According to two papers delivered at the ACIRRT breakfast briefing on the topic of 'Fitness for Duty', employers and their human resource managers need to ensure that:
· employees are clearly informed of all relevant policies, such as those dealing with drug and
· alcohol use;
· employees are given reasonable opportunities to respond to any employer concern about their fitness for duty (FFD);
· all the avenues and procedures to manage and address FFD issues are clearly documented to help insure against potential claims.
Unequal treatment makes dismissal unfair
An employer failed to give equal treatment to its employees when it dismissed two of them for angrily confronting a third worker who damaged their lockers, while letting the third worker off with a caution, the IRC has found.
South Pacific Tyres' decision to sack the pair was "disproportionate and unfair'", Commissioner John Lewin found.
J Whitling v South Pacific Tyres. PR903454 (12 April 2001)
P Henshall v South Pacific Tyres. PR903422 (12 April 2001)
New way for unions to stymie WAWAs
Unions have won a new tool to prevent employers using WA Workplace Agreements to undercut award conditions, following a court decision yesterday.
The WA IRC (in Court Session) allowed an application by the LHMU to insert a new award provision guaranteeing new employees a genuine choice between collective and individual arrangements.
The ruling, according to WA employment lawyers, shows that the State Commission will ensure that alternative systems of employment regulation are not allowed to undercut the award system.
The judgment in LHMU (WA branch) v Airlite Cleaning Pty Ltd and Others might also be the first official recognition that WAWAs can be associated with a reduction in pay and terms and conditions of employment.
Company discriminating due to casual loading:
In what could be an important test case, the ASU is claiming in a Federal Court freedom of association action that a security company is unlawfully discriminating against a group of casual security guards because of their entitlement to a 25% casual loading.
Chubb Security Services Limited today gave a temporary undertaking to Justice Peter Gray that it wouldn't bring in new employees from outside the company to replace the 100 or so casual cash-in-transit guards, many of whom have refused the company's request to convert to part-time or full-time permanent status.
The guards, some with up to 20 years service, are understood to prefer the flexibility and higher hourly rates of their casual employment.
They fear that by bringing in new permanent employees, the company would severely reduce the number of hours available to casual employees.
The union's stance is unusual, given that unions have traditionally supported a shift from casual to permanent employment.
It claims that the company has injured the employees in their employment in breach of s298K(1)(b) and prejudicially altered their positions in breach of s298K(1)(c), for the prohibited reason under s298L(1)(h)that they are entitled to the benefits of an industrial instrument.
Work & Parents: Competitiveness and Choice- a summary: Parental Leave in the UK
The Blair government released a green paper on options for parental leave (in December 2000)
Some of the problems it addresses include:
· Should the period of unpaid maternity leave be extended so that a woman can stay at homefor a year in total?
· Should any extension to unpaid maternity leave be shared equally between the mother and the father?
· Should the flat rate of maternity pay be increased? Or the period over which a woman receives maternity pay lengthened to 26 weeks?
· Should one parent have a right to leave paid at the equivalent flat rate and for the same length of time as maternity pay when adopting a child?
An increasing number of men want to play a more active role in supporting their partner following the arrival of a new child.
· Should working fathers be given paternity leave, for example for two weeks, paid at the same flat rate as maternity pay?
· What mechanism should be used if paid paternity leave is introduced and why?
Paying for parental leave would be very costly for employers and the State. However, the Government is seeking views on whether, despite this, it is a priority. Other options on parental leave are:
· Should the amount of parental leave available to parents of disabled children be increased?
· Should there be funding to help employers develop flexible parental leave schemes?
People are now able to take unpaid time off to deal with a family emergency, for example, when children are sick.
· Should this entitlement to time off work include routine hospital appointments for children and other dependants?
The main problem faced by employers, especially small ones, is finding cover when someone is absent.
· How could the Employment Service and private recruitment agencies work with employers from an earlier stage with managing absences?
Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid by employers and then refunded by Government. This creates an administrative cost for employers. What can we do to reduce the costs for employers?
· Should more small and medium-sized employers qualify for complete repayment of the money they pay out on SMP and the additional compensation?
· Should small employers be encouraged to make use of the existing
provision to seek SMP payments in advance from the Inland Revenue?
UK business lobby attacks "work-life balance" agenda
One of Britain's major business groups has launched a broadside against the "work-life balance" agenda and its polemicists and lobbyists, who it says are partly responsible for the re-regulation of the labour market.
The attack by the Institute of Directors follows the Blair Government's boosting of statutory paid maternity and adoption pay (which is paid by the employer but reimbursed by the Government) and the recent release of a Government green paper which canvasses introducing a broad range of "family friendly" measures.
The main targets in the IOD's sights are claims about the "long-hours culture", the alleged inflexibilities and demands of the workplace that make it hard to satisfactorily balance "work" and "lives"; and job insecurity.
The IOD's report, The "Work-Life Balance"... and all that: The re-regulation of the labour market (see links below) says that while the Institute recognises that mothers in particular have to make very hard choices between their careers and children, "these problems are essentially insoluble". In its press release accompanying the report, the IOD says the "unrealistic and sentimentalist demands" for better work-life flexibilities fail to understand how business works.
After two weeks of wooing, these are the only three ALP backbenchers yet to sign up to Della's List, vowing to support amendments to the workers comp package in protection of injured workers.
John Murray claims, as Speaker, he has no Caucus vote (although this has not stopped his Upper House colleague Meredith Burgmann speaking out), while Peter Nagle is in hospital - so we, reluctantly, let these two off the hook.
Otherwise, the entire Caucus minus Messrs McBride, Anderson and Bartlett have come good for injured workers.
Originally this List included about half the backbench, those with the commitment to injured workers to stick their necks out in what can be fairly a hostile environment for Mavericks.
In the past week more and more MPs have been adding their names to the list, typically just before a group of workers were due to hold a protest outside their electoral office.
The have joined with a form of words, which we understand has been vetted by the Premier's office, in the form of a letter to Della.
I am writing to advise that members of the NSW trade union movement have sought my support for amendments to the proposed legislation, which seeks to protect injured workers.
"In your Second Reading speech you indicated your willingness to consider amendments to this legislation.
"I formally advise that I will support any sensible and constructive amendments proposed by the Trade Union movement which will protect the interests of injured workers.
I trust that, through consultation, an amicable agreement can be reached between the NSW Labor Council and the State Government."
Not exactly what one would call going to the barricades, but the statement does represent a commitment to constituents that the signatories will concentrate on the amendments when they go before Caucus, rather than rubber-stamping a piece of promotional material, as occurred with the original Della package.
Even the Premier this week, endorsed the notion of amendments stating it was totally consistent with his own position that amendments would be made to the Della Bosca package.
Yet this trio of wide-eyed idealists are still holding out, casting doubt on whether they have still even turned their confused minds to the proposition before them.
Needless to say, they have earned our respect, not for their policy position, but for their sheer determination to defend the indefensible.
Here's a quick rundown of those who are holding out:
Jim Anderson: Member for Londonderry - Founding Father of the Trogs and a former Mayor of Blacktown. Appears to have confused the National Party as his core constituency. A delegation of rank and file workers is planning to remind him otherwise next week.
Grant McBride: Member for The Entrance - is apparently in line for a Cabinet post so may be attempting to do a bit of brown-nosing. When contacted by Labor Council, McBride vowed he "would not be intimidated" into signing anything. We refer him to Labor Party policy and platform and suggest that if he has signed his membership forms, the rest should follow naturally.
John Bartlett: Member for Port Stephens - we have never heard about this guy before, but obviously he has nothing in common with his namesake in the West Wing. Martin Sheen is so wise and principled he would never attack injured workers. And if he did: Joel and Sam and CJ would walk out in disgust (although now they've hired that blonde Republican, there's a bit of a worry - but Toby will get her measure, as for Sam , hubba bubba).
The purpose of Della's List has always been to give the ALP backbench an opportunity to stand up in defence of injured workers. The vast majority of the Caucus have now signed up - most with relish, some with resignation, a few with outright resentment.
But it is only the Dirty Three who remain, the last men standing, Tools all.
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