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October 2002   

Interview: The Wet One
NSW Opposition industrial relations spokesman Michael Gallacher stakes out his relationship with the union movement.

Bad Boss: Like A Bastard
Virgin Mobile is sexy and funky, right? Well, only if those terms have become synonyms for dictatorial or downright mean.

Unions: Demolition Derby
Tony Abbott likens industrial relations to warfare and, like a good general should, he is about to shift his point of attack � from building sites to car plants, reports Jim Marr.

Corporate: The Bush Doctrine
For the powerful, consumerism equals freedom, and is all the freedom we need, writes James Goodman

Politics: American Jihad
Let�s get real. The origins of modern Islamic terrorist groups are in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Langley, Virginia not Baghdad, argues Noel Hester.

Health: Secret Country
Oral history recordings are an inadequate tool in trying to find out what happened to Aboriginal stockmen and their communities on cattle stations in Northern Australia, writes Neale Towart

Review: Walking On Water
On the 20th anniversary of the first AIDS-related death, Tara de Boehmler witnesses the aftermath of losing a loved one to the illness in Walking On Water.

Culture: TCF
Novelist Anthony Macris captures life on the shop floor in this extract from his upcoming novel, Capital Volume II

Poetry: The UQ Stonewall
The University of Queensland has sought to join the ranks of union-busting companies like Rio Tinto in trying to sack the president of the local union - and made the mistake of thinking they were dealing with an array of acquiescent academics.


The Soapbox
I Walk The Line
American civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has weighed into the Hilton Hotel dispute with this special message to the workforce.

Mekong Daze
Union Aid Abroad's Phil Hazelton fires off a missive from Laos where he is spending a year working with the community.

Month In Review
Bush Whackers
It was a month where the world teetered on the brink of peace, no thanks to the leader of the free world, writes Jim Marr

The Locker Room
The Laws Of Gravity
Phil Doyle goes looking for the fine line that separates sport from an exercise in time-wasting

Snouts in the Trough
It�s AGM season in the corporate world, and deal after shady deal is being exposed as highfliers treat company accounts like the proverbial honey-pot.

Songs of Solidarity
There has been a proud history of pro-worker tunes dating back to the early days of the 20th century, which will be continued in a new CD, writes Dan Buhagiar.


The Legacy of 11/9
From the orgy of righteous indignation that has enveloped the �Free World� this week a more chilling truth is emerging: if the suicide bombers were attacking Liberal-Democracy they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.


 �Robbed Generation� Seeks Stolen Wages

 One Year On: Ansett Crash Still Hurts

 Cole Exposed By Immigration Scam

 Car Workers on Howard Hit List

 Mystery Windfall for Hilton Workers

 Shock: Abbott Backs Workers

 Union Billboards Censored

 Track Grab Ignores Lessons of Glenbrook

 Casual Approach to Air Safety

 Bosses Say No Living Wage For NSW Childcarers

 Pastry Workers Tell Boss To Get Puffed

 Injury Toll Mushrooms

 Victorian Zookeepers Down Buckets

 Pride and Safety for Workers Out!

 Activists Notebook

 The CFMEU Race Debate #1
 The CFMEU Race Debate #2
 Keeping it Clean
 Sue the Leaders?

Wrong Way, Go Back
The weekend machinations over the structure of the ALP are in danger of missing the fundamental point: Labor�s current malaise is caused not be an excess of core values but through a deficit.


 Corrigan Fires Shot in Rail Showdown

 Fight Begins For Long Weekends

 Experts to Arrest Drug Test Outbreak

 Jobs Auction Hitting Bank Workers

 Libs Pledge Moderate IR line

 Workers Kick Grand Final Goal

 NSW Screws Down Lid on Funeral Scams

 Hilton Strike Break Plans in Tatters

 Detention Centre Workers Demand Safety Search

 Religious Teachers Win Legal Coverage

 Pressure Builds on Parking Sting

 US Docks Lockout Hits Sea Trade

 Activists Notebook

 Jacks and Jills
 Shame on Murray
 Use or Abuse of Long Term Casuals
 Speaking in Tongues
 Casual Days
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Demolition Derby

Tony Abbott likens industrial relations to warfare and, like a good general should, he is about to shift his point of attack � from building sites to car plants, reports Jim Marr.

The battleground maybe different but the aim of the offensive - driving down wages and job security - will be the same and, so too by and large, is the gameplan.

Commissions, hand-picked and overpaid, have become the weapon of choice in the Coalition Government's battle to deprive workers of rights they are entitled to under ILO conventions, endorsed by Australia.

First it was Commissioner Cole, sifting selective evidence, to justify restrictions on the CFMEU. Now it's the Productivity Commission being used to do a job on car workers and their unions.

Nobody at the Productivity Commission is taking home anything like Cole's $660,000, plus perks, but remuneration levels should still be interesting to car workers they are coming after.

The Commission employs 200 people and, in the last five years, has cost taxpayers $112 million.

The 25 decision-makers amongst them all earn six-figure salaries, averaging out at $170,000 per year.

Over the last three years, average remuneration packages at the Productivity Commission have increased by 26.3 percent.

Unremarkably, the two Government-appointed Commissions have come up with recommendations that mirror Government thinking on workplace reforms, a sort of recycled wish-list from the IR cheer squad at the Australian Industry Group.

How the Productivity Commission's report will be used was flagged by Abbott and Industry Ministry, Ian Macfarlane, well before it saw the light of day.

They will tie on-going assistance to vehicle manufacturers to sweeping changes in the IR landscape.

Taxpayers, Macfarlane says, are "right to believe that the money is going to greater efficiencies and not to support outmoded industrial relations processes".

He describes a direct link between IR change and industry assistance as an "extreme option" but adds "I am not ruling it out".

The AIG and the Productivity Commission have endorsed Peter Reith's reforms, restricting the rights of workers to organise and bargain, and backed more draconian elements, so far rejected by the Senate.

Central to the wish list, of course, is making pattern bargaining illegal. At least this recognises the fact that it is still legal and that unions using it, including the CFMEU, AMWU and AWU, are acting within the boundaries of Reith's redrawn boundaries.

Pattern bargaining, essentially, boils down to industry agreements, the view that people doing similar work in the same industry should get similar rewards.

It is an repugnant to Abbott, the AIG, Cole and the Productivity Commission because it limits the ability of employers to engage in a race to the bottom on wages, safety and entitlements.

They argue that different workplaces have different needs and these should be reflected in industrial instruments. Presumably, in practice, it would mean that where a second employer wouldn't agree to higher wages than a competitor, the union should negotiate a lower settlement because to come up with the same deal would make it a pattern agreement.

But it is not just pattern bargaining on the Abbott/AIG wish list.

The employer group, with Abbott's backing, insists on the following:

- suspending or terminating bargaining periods if a protected action causes damage to any firm, industry or employee

- giving the IRC power to stop industrial action within 24 hours and the right to suspend the registration of a non-complying union

- giving the IRC discretion to impose a cooling off period

- requiring secret ballots before industrial action

Then there's the Government/Productivity Commission extra - restructuring unions along industry lines - that strikes directly at ILO freedom of association provisions.

The first four demands, given that industrial action is already outlawed during the terms of agreements, aim to restrict the ability of workers to maintain living standards. The first, for example, would virtually eliminate the possibility of industrial action in support of bargaining claims.

How so? Because, at the insistence of the multi-nationals, the industry has moved away from integration to out-sourcing virtually all componentry which is supplied under a Just In Time system.

Just In Time, to be fair, has helped the Australian industry remain competitive, removing from manufacturers the need to maintain well-stocked inventories or run warehouses, at least in the old-fashioned sense.

It means, however, that any industrial action at a supplier can shut down manufacturers, virtually overnight, and, conversely, that agitation at manufacturing plants will rebound on suppliers.

Combined with Just In Time, manufacturers have put suppliers, and their employees, over a barrell by writing cost-downs into just about every contract. Under these clauses, suppliers are required to reduce costs over the life of a contract. Industry observers say average cost-downs demanded by vehicle manufacturers range from five to 15 percent.

This pressures suppliers to cut back on jobs, as well as wages and conditions, putting workers at a distinct disadvantage before they even begin bargaining.

We know why the AIG wants industrial reform. It is a self-interest group promoting, the narrow view of employers, particularly in this instance, multi-national manufacturers.

But why is their agenda adopted so readily by Government and the Productivity Commission who, theoretically at least, have responsibilities to the wider community?

Vehicle assembly, like construction, is far from a basket case.

The Australian industry, in fact, is thriving like never before ...

- The four majors - Holden, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Ford - along with hundreds of suppliers and specialist tool shops employ 55,000 Australians

- Last year, they turned over a record $17 billion

- Export receipts, last financial year, came in just below $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1996

- Annual export returns are expected to top $10 billion by 2010

- Toyota has just announced that Australian componentry in its new Camry model, built at Altona, will rise from 66 to 77 percent

- Toyota will invest an additional $120 million a year, on the Camry alone

- GM has announced its new V6 engine will be built in Australia

- Mitsubishi has made a staggering $1 billion commitment to research, development and production, opening up the possibility of 1200 new jobs

- Vehicle manufacture now outstrips cattle, sheep and grain production in terms of turnover and export receipts

Interesting, huh?

Well, given economic soundness, how does the IR record stack-up?

Between 1990 and the year 2000, 223 working days were lost per 1000 employees in Australia, a mid-table result but certainly better than the 7250 per 1000 lost in Korea, and Canada's 580.

To put the figure in context, the International Labor Organisation Yearbook reveals that working days lost in Australian manufacturing due to "compensatable industrial injuries" were 44 percent more than those due to strikes and lockouts.

Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand are among a small number of countries cited in the ICFTU's 2000 Survey of Violations of trade union rights. The others being Swaziland, Argentina, Chile, Turkey and Zimbabwe.

As the ACTU noted to the Productivity Commission "none of these countries is at the cutting edge of competitiveness in the international automotive industry".

Sweden, Germany and Canada are though and they also have strong trade unions and industry, or pattern, bargaining.

Clearly, Productivity Commission arguments for reduced tarrifs and sweeping IR changes, are ideoligically driven. Just like the Cole Commission and the Government that spawned them both.

They spell trouble for car workers, whether they are members of the AMWU, AWU or any other industrial organisation.

That much became obvious on September 19 when Geoff Polites (Ford), Ken Asana (Toyota), Tom Phillips (Mitsubishi) and Peter Hanenberger (Holden) pledged themselves to Government's IR agenda at a Canberra pow wow with Prime Minister, John Howard.

Previously, the big four had left it to the AIG to make the running on these issues. No doubt Government's willingness to use $2.8billion in taxpayer assistance helped concentrate their minds.


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