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July 2003   

Interview: As They Say In The Bible ...
One the movement�s great characters, Public Service Association general secretary Maurie O�Sullivan, is calling it a day. He looks back on his career with Workers Online.

Industrial: Just Doing It
Sportswear giant, Nike, is the first company to sign off on an agreement that purports to protect Australian clothing workers, wherever they labour, writes Jim Marr.

Unions: Breaking Into the Boys Club
For a 23-year-old woman who has never worked in the trade, recruiting young construction apprentices into the union has its challenges, reports Carly Knowles.

Activists: Making the Hard Yards
Mal Cochrane came to the smoke as part of an Aboriginal avalanche that redefined the face of Rugby League. Today, he serves his community through the trade union movement.

Bad Boss: In the Pooh
What do you give a boss who makes his workers labour in raw sewage? A nomination for the Tonys.

Unions: National Focus
In the national wrap Noel Hester finds a Victorian Misso delo who is redistributing lucre from Eddie McGuire into workers� theatre, South Australian unions taking that Let�s Get Real stuff seriously, an American unionist fronts up at a distinguished �meeting of the brains� in Adelaide and a look at the line up for ACTU Congress.

Economics: Pop Will Eat Itself
Dick Bryan wonders if we can be insured against pop economists promising financial nirvana as well as financial market instability.

Technology: Dean for President
Paul Smith looks at how the internet is helping one Democrat candidate to the front of the primary pack

International: Rangoon Rumble
Union Aid Abroad's Marj O'Callaghan looks at Australia's weak response to developments in Burma.

Education: Blackboard Jungle
Lifelong learning shouldn�t mean cutting jobs, but that's exactly what the Carr Government is proposing, argues Tony Brown

Review: From Weakness to Strength
Labor Council crime-fighter Chris Christodoulou catches up with his boyhood hero, the Incredible Hulk

Poetry: Downsized
Resident bard David Peetz pens the song the Industrial Relations Commission needed to hear


The Soapbox
Cleaning Up
Rabbi Laurie Coskey from San Diego adds her voice to the global campaign for just for cleaners in Westfield malls.

The Locker Room
The Name In The Game
In an age of the sportsperson as celebrity it seems that names are overtaking the games, writes Phil Doyle.

The Beach
Southern Thailand�s terrorist activities: facts or fiction asks HT Lee


A Recipe for Conflict
Without making any excuses, Tony Abbott�s hand wringing at this week�s airing of a secret video of picket line violence was a bit like watching Don King condemn boxing.


 Aussie Workers Cradle-Snatched

 Morris McMahon Workers Say Thanks

 Violence: Emerson Fingers Abbott

 Cowboys Face Contracts Ban

 TUTA Rises From the Ashes

 Teased Teachers Fight Back

 Labor Fails TAFE Test

 Coke Called on to Stop the Rot

 Bridgestone Drops Doughnut on Workers

 AIRC Locked in Dark Ages

 Maternity Breakthrough in Hotels

 Labour Rights: Even Bush is Better!

 Long Winter for Seasonal Workers

 Activist Notebook

 A Tribute to Brian Miller
 Orange Peel
 After the Accident
 Cuba - the Debate Continues
 Old Ted
 Greetings from Japan
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Just Doing It

Sportswear giant, Nike, is the first company to sign off on an agreement that purports to protect Australian clothing workers, wherever they labour, writes Jim Marr.


Barry Tubner is not the most trendy individual in Sydney and it would be a stretch, to say the least, to imagine him in some of the flouroscent gym wear on the market these days.

But the well-padded union man has just buttoned-up Nike to a ground breaking Deed, protecting clothing workers from exploitation, and has shifted his sights to Sea Folly, the queen of leotard chic.

Coming into focus are a host of big-name sports bodies and the companies that manufacture their top-dollar jumpers, shorts, socks, jackets and most anything else that can attach itself to a part of the human anatomy.

No wonder Tubner and his NSW Labor Council off-sider, Chris Christodoulou, are drooling.

Tubner ticks off the new targets - the NRL and manufacturers like Puma and Classic; the ARU, AFL, ACB, Soccer Australia.

This month's Nike sign-off on the Sports and Corporate Wear Ethical Clothing Deed, marks a milestone on a long road for Tubner, Christodoulou and tens of thousands of predominantly female Australians they aim to protect.

Tubner was around when the campaign kicked off eight years ago with clothing manufacturers basically telling the unions they could go and get swooshed.

The aim has been to close down sweat shops paying workers as little as $2 an hour and bring everyone, outworkers included, under minimum protections offered by the Clothing Trades Award.

There have been successes of varying magnitude along the track. NSW's Ethical Clothing Trades Council, a retailers code and last year's NRL agreement all helped lift the bar.

As the Federal Government stripped back protections and regulatory checks it became obvious to everyone, with the possible exceptions of Blind Freddy and Miranda Devine, that the only organisation willing and able to police safeguards was the union whose members' jobs swung on some standards of decency.

Basically, that's what the Nike Deed delivers and, Tubner suggests, it might provide a tactical pointer to workers battling similar rorts in other industries.

First and foremost, the agreement is a legally binding deed, rather than a voluntary code like most previous tilts at the clothing industry windmill.

Under its terms, Nike accepts that everyone in Australia producing its product, irrespective of location, must receive wages and conditions outlined in the Clothing Trades Award, as a minimum.

Further, it agrees, the union will be authorised to police the situation, giving it, amongst other things, the right to ...

- enter the premises of any supplier without notice

- check wages books

- interview employees

- carry out OH&S inspections

Tubner says the "no notice" provision is a must because fly-by-nighters will try it on.

"If we have to give 24 hours notice the bad employer will have changed the circumstances to hide the facts," he says, "it's self-defeating. Twenty four hours notice is the difference between finding 20 workers and two.

"It's a hindrance to finding the truth. The only people who benefit from it are the crooks."

The clincher, though, for the union is that Nike agrees that the Deed will become part of its contractual arrangements with future suppliers. In other words, contractors will sign off, not just on the status of the award but also the union's enforcement role.

Failure to allow entry, inspection, safety checks or to provide wage records would constitute a breach of the supplier's contract with Nike.

Right about now, warning lights would be flashing in Tony Abbott's brain. We're talking all the buzz phrases that make him see red - third party involvement in contracts, union powers, strengthening awards, in short, regulation.

This is where Tubner suggests the Nike Deed might be worthy of wider consideration.

"Effectively," he says, "it moves compliance from the Industrial Relations arena to contract law.

"Naturally unions are more confortable working in an IR situation but as a hostile Federal Government changes that system against workers' interests, maybe it is legitmate to look at other tools to achieve our ends."

Nobody, least of all Tubner or Christodoulou, suggest the deed will clean up the industry, fullstop. It is, however, another pressure point, especially on the public relations battleground.

There is little doubt that Nike has taken a big hit from the consumer-driven approach to labour standards, courtesy of outrageous exploitation uncovered in the developing world.

Tim Conner from Oxfam Community Aid Abroad's watchdog, Nike Watch, gives the Deed a tick, while pointing out its limitations.

"In terms of Nike's production in Australia it is an important step forward because Nike will make available information about its suppliers and how much they are paying," Conner says.

"But there is still a lot of concern about its international practices.

"It's meaningful because Nike has to source a certain level of product from close to its market for flexibility reasons. They would probably need three or four hundred people involved in garment production in Australia but they might have half a million in Asia and Latin America."

The question for Nike, Conner says, is why it promotes an international code guaranteeing workers' rights to organise then sources most product from regions of Asia and Latin America where it is illegal to organise?

Nevertheless, he concedes, there has been positive change at the company.

"Up until a year or so ago they were primarily responding from a public relations perspective but, more recently, Nike has made real improvements in some of their procedures, even if there is still a way to go."

For better or worse, then, Nike has shown itself susceptible to pressure on its reputation, the brand name that conquered the world.

Other major players in the commercial world have similar concerns while, to be effective, the Sports and Corporate Wear Ethical Clothing Deed, needs to extend well beyond Nike.

Tubner looks down his target list, thinks footy finals, Rugby World Cup, and permits himself the briefest of grins.


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