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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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Bad Boss

Like A Bastard

By Jim Marr

Virgin Mobile is sexy and funky, right? Well, only if those terms have become synonyms for dictatorial or downright mean.

Virgin Mobile's Call Centre in Pitt St, Sydney, is this month's Tony Award nominee, not just because it stiffs its employees by up to $4000 a year but because the whole operation sums up Tony Abbott's brave new world of industrial relations.

While the Richard Branson-spawned operation gives the marketing finger to the establishment, on the ground it is light years away from the liberal, egalitarian image it tries to present.

Approximately 100 workers are employed at Pitt St, operating in a sterile environment where the only forms of visual stimulation are company logos and exhortations.

Disgruntled employees are already talking about turning the omniprescent "Beat Bill Rage" into a more meaningful "Beat Wage Rage".

They have all been employed on "take it or leave it" AWAs, the centrepiece of Abbott's drive to de-collectivise workplaces.

Abbott and his sidekick, Office of the Employment Advocate boss Jonathan Hamberger, of course, paint AWAs as mutually agreed alternatives to collective contracts. No compulsion and flexibility are the keys.

Well, the fact is when Virgin assumed control of their operation from sub-contractor, Merchant Solutions, they were crystal clear about the future of anyone who refused to sign. They would be out of a job.

The next "protection" was a No Disadvantage Test aimed at ensuring nobody would be worse off than under the relevant award. Virgin workers weren't to know that this has become widely regarded as a joke in the poorest taste. Imagine what thought when they learned that, depending on job, they were between $800 and $4000 a year down on minimum award payments.

They would also dip out on the extra week's annual holiday the award provided for regular Sunday workers.

There would be no objective classification criteria, leaving reimbursement and seniority entirely in the hands of management, and nor would there be rostering proscriptions inspiring one worker to complain of feeling in a "permanent state of jet-lag".

Another theoretical key to Abbott World is freedom of association. This has been raised to an article of doctrinal faith, at least when it comes to the right not to join trade unions.

But, apparently, there is no reciprocal right to union recognition. Virgin didn't recognise their first elected delegate. It took them one month and a day to answer his email informing them of his election. And it went downhill from there.

After one meeting where it rejected such radical proposals as establishing a consultative committee and allowing access to new starters, it referred his every initiative to Phillip St lawyers, Baker and McKenzie.

The joint Virgin-Baker and McKenzie line has been that there is no union because the ASU Clerical Workers have no coverage. Ipso facto, there are no union delegates, the clerks award does not apply and there is no need for negotiations with the ASU.

This Sgt Schultz approach has two glaring defects. It denies freedom of association to near-on 50% of its call centre workforce who have signed up with the ASU and, conveniently overlooks, that in framing the AWAs Virgin, itself, chose the Clerks Award for its No Disadvantage Test comparison.

When the AWAs were imposed on the workers the OEA wrote to them individually, asking if they had objections. The idea behind this, presumably, is to give the illusion of consultation while leaving disatissfied workers posted as individuals.

Yet, 34 Virgin workers lodged protests with Hamberger's office within 14 days, and another six have been moved to add their objections since the artificial deadline expired.

At least two female employees have been assaulted, leaving the building after 11pm finishes. Another woman was accosted in suburbia following the same shift. The AWA is silent on taxis or subsidised transport for late-finishing workers and Virgin doesn't see the need to negotiate the issue with the ASU.

Union reps say the sorry history elevates transport to a health and safety issue.

Paul Morris was the original delegate. He has since left but is fighting a constructive dismissal case against Virgin Mobile.

Morris told Workers Online it was his previous call centre experience, before three years in event management, including a stint with Opera Australia, that made him question Virgin's inoocence.

He found himself, he recalled, working longer hours for "far less pay".

As Virgins go, it seems, they know a thing or two about shafting.


*    Other Tony nominees

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