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November 2003   

Interview: Union for the Dispossessed
The Welfare Rights Centre's Michael Raper on 20 years of activism, the politics of punishment and how to make Australia egalitarian again.

Unions: Joel's Law
Building Workers have overcome powerful forces to push workplace safety back up the national agenda. But, Jim Marr writes, their "success" has come at an unacceptable cost.

National Focus: Spring Carnival
It must be spring: punting in Victoria, singing in South Australia, fighting in America. It’s all there in the national wrap from Noel Hester plus an Australian union movement rugby world cup class consciousness poll.

Bad Boss: Fina and Fiends
They sacked the job delegate, reinstated him after an IRC hearing, and sacked him again two weeks later. But that was just the beginning.

Industrial: The Price of War
Mass industrial action is brewing in Israel as the policies of the right-wing Sharon Government come home to roost, writes Andrew Casey.

Economics: Who's Got What
Frank Stilwell pours over the latest BRW Rich List to build a picture of the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots.

History: Containing Discontent
Racism against minorities has always been a stock in trade of politicans, writes Phil Griffiths

Review: An Honourable Wally
Most Australians probably look at our politicians and feel they could do a better job but when redundant meatworker Wally Norman gets the chance to find out he realises getting elected is a major hurdle, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: The Colours of Discontent
A thousand blossoms bloomed during the US President's spring-time colonial visit last month.


The Soapbox
Bush's Faith-Filled Life
The President's conversion, 'sense of divine calling' and struggle with sobriety are subjects of a forthcoming book, writes Bill Berkowitz

The Not So Smart Money
Phil Doyle is sick of big money ruining grass roots sport, and he’s taking his bat and going home.

The Westie Wing
The ongoing challenge for Labor members of parliament is to make what the Premier calls the ‘creative partnership’ between the Government and the union movement a reality, writes our favourite MP Ian West.

Behind the Junta
Saw Min Lwin, Secretary for Trade Union Rights/ Human Rights for the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB), outlines the struggle for workers in his country.


Governing the Corporates
Suburban branch manager Joy Buckland’s bid for a position on the ANZ Board raises important questions about the way our major companies are governed.


 Taskforce Sleeps As Cranes Crash

 Scabies, Filth in Upmarket Annandale

 ANZ Jumps For Joy

 Race That Couldn’t Stop Nangwarry

 Mandarins in $120m Disappearing Act

 BAT Stubs Out Junta

 Millions on Entitlements Line

 Workcover in Hold-Ups Gun

 Phoenix Rises … Again

 TAFE Takes To Thong Slapping

 Casual Work Is Health Hazard

 Activists Notebook

 Veterans' Compo
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The Westie Wing

The ongoing challenge for Labor members of parliament is to make what the Premier calls the ‘creative partnership’ between the Government and the union movement a reality, writes our favourite MP Ian West.


The Carr-Refshauge government has put in place some of the toughest workplace safety laws in the world, as is widely acknowledged. These measures have also allowed vital union and worker involvement in occupational health and safety.

Bob Carr rallied the 2003 ALP Conference on the tough OH&S laws in New South Wales. "But we can always do more", the Premier admitted.

He committed the Government to strengthening the law in this area and that the goal was clear: "any employer who knowingly causes a workplace death should face the full force of tough, effective laws."

That should be the case for any employer responsible for a death on a work site, whether due to negligence or otherwise. What's more is that the current penalties are too lenient and are not being enforced.

The essential issue is to prevent fatalities in the workplace with stricter laws. As many unions have stated, they do not want to see people going to jail for manslaughter, they want to see fewer workplace deaths.

At least 10,000 building workers and other unionists came to Macquarie Street on October 27. They were angry about the injustice of a 16 year-old being killed in his third day on the job and the harshest penalty the boss will get is a fine.

It is completely unacceptable that the company that employed Dean McGoldrick, a 17 year old who died on a Sydney building site in 2000, has only paid $1,800 of the $20,000 fine for being responsible for his death.

John Della Bosca, the Minister for Industrial Relations, which now comes under the 'super-ministry' of Commerce, has outlined an initial response to the latest workplace injuries and fatalities.

It includes the safety compliance crackdown by WorkCover on construction work above two storeys, which will target residential unit developments, industrial warehouse constructions and commercial developments.

Specific attention will be paid to at-risk groups, such as young or inexperienced workers and those from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The question remains, is WorkCover up to the task?

The Minister has also established a Taskforce on the investigation and prosecution of workplace fatalities. The Taskforce is to develop a protocol setting out clear investigative guidelines and the role of WorkCover, the Police, the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Coroner.

The Government aims to have the protocol in place before the end of the year.

Labor must make these initiatives work and have the courage to strengthen them where necessary. It is reasonable for the union movement to demand 'zero tolerance' on workplace death, in line with the tough stance on law and order.

While the incidence of workplace injuries has fallen significantly since the Carr government came to power in 1995, the rates of workplace death have remained the same. This is a trend that we can no longer accept.

Last year, 68 workers died from injuries at the workplace. We have to view every single life lost on the job as preventable.

That is a very worthwhile challenge to face. By ensuring accessibility, openness and the willingness to consult, Labor can make the 'creative partnership' a reality.

One aspect of this is holding briefings by Labor Council and forums for unions to exchange and develop ideas and goals with Labor parliamentarians.

The next briefing session by Labor Council, hosted by Tony Burke MLC and myself, will be held on December 3rd to discuss the current situation of workplace deaths and the Industrial Relations Commission.

This follows the successful briefing on the Secure Employment Test Case being run in the Commission by Labor Council.

These are the events that are helping to make the creative partnership a reality. We must remember that the Tories are itching to dismantle the progress we make.

The Federal government's record is certainly a bad indication of what might happen. The Premier made his opposition to Federal government's attack on workers clear at ALP Conference.

He said "The attack on Australian unionism is reaching a new intensity. Take the Cole Royal Commission. It attacks hard-won, fundamental rights--the right of entry, the right of inspection, freedom of association."

Worst of all was the proposal to institutionalise the assault on the union movement by creating a Building and Construction Commission, enforced by front line police.

It is clear that there is a lot of work to do in this State and around the country.

I congratulate ALP affiliates like the LHMU who are using the "organising model" to educate and involve their members in lobbying politicians about the issues that affect their daily quality of life.

It is the responsibility of Labor MPs like myself to listen to what workers are saying, to educate ourselves about the issues and to deliver the political wing's end of the bargain.

Legislation Watch: click to view bills from the current session of State Parliament.

The latest issue of my newsletter, Workers' Voice, is available on my website at

I am always interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at [email protected]


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