Interview: Trading Places
Safety: Snow Job
Politics: In the Vanguard
Unions: Gentle Giant Goes For Gold
Bad Boss: 'Porker' Chases Blue Ribbon
International: Cruising For A Bruising
History: Under the Influence
Economics: Working Capital
Review: Fahrenheit 9/11
Poetry: Bad Intelligence Rap
Satire: Osama Bin Manchu
The Locker Room
Tom Goes Asexual
Road Rage At Work
Democracy In Action
- Interview with Peter Lewis
You must have the most sought after job in the union movement now. What do you want to achieve out of being the International Officer for the ACTU?
This role provides a great opportunity to promote labour standards and respect for workers rights. In the big picture, the biggest challenges in coming years will be how the Australian trade union movement engages with the changing economic and political conditions in countries like Indonesia, China and our smaller neighbours in the Pacific. I have a real passion for international issues. The eradication of poverty and the attainment of sustainable development would be a great human achievement. Making it happen requires huge effort and great political will. Working on that, to me, is great job.
I think there's a lot that can be done in bringing together different perspectives on what the priorities are for the Australian trade union movement internationally. I think we're moving into a different phase right now in terms of both how the trade union movement looks at international issues and what the factors that are challenging Australian workers internationally are all about. In the next phase the Free Trade Agreements negotiated and signed off on have very direct impacts on the conditions for workers in Australia and what we want to see longer term. These Agreements also raise questions about conditions for workers in the other countries. We have the US Free Trade Agreement, the agreement with Thailand and with Singapore and the big one that's coming up is China. So these trade issues will present a big challenge and also a really incredible opportunity to really lay the foundations for the future. For example, the future of Australia's trade will redefine the way we link with trade unionists from around the globe. So there's some big challenges and I'm really interested in supporting the Australian trade union leadership in coming to terms with those challenges and negotiating a really good position.
Of course the key issue that International union bodies are continually pushing is Core Labor Standards. How successful have we been in getting these included into these bi-lateral trade treaties that are currently being negotiated?
Well in fact, mostly core Labor Standards haven't even really hit the deck in terms of the Free Trade Agreement process - both in terms of core labor standards or more general workers rights. In general they have not been taken seriously by the Australian Government in these negotiations and that's a big challenge for us.
Wasn't it true that at one stage the American's wanted Labor Standards in the US/Australia Free Trade Agreement and Australia wouldn't cop it?
That's right. Exactly.
So what does that say about the current Australian Government's attitude?
Well I think that it's pretty clear (that workers rights and Core Labor Standards don't even rate a mention in terms of our current government's position. Its something that every Free Trade Agreement needs as a fundamental aspect of what forms the actual terms for those agreements. In the case of the US/Australia Free Trade Agreement it's my understanding that the US raised it and the Australian Government squashed it. We've got to ensure that protections are put in place for jobs, for conditions, or we'll see a race to the bottom.
The whole debate around bilateral solutions to complex problems is a hot issue in terms of global security and also in trade. Is it the way to go? What would be different about working through multi-lateral solutions?
The most effective initiatives coming from the UN and the International Labor Organisation have been to get agreement and strengthen the multi-lateral processes. They actually provide protection for people in countries and opportunities for people in different countries, taking into account the different kinds of conditions for people and societies.
The problem with bilateral agreements is it comes down to two often unequal playing fields, two different levels of power. Note Australia and East Timor. If you can look at bringing the strengths from a number of different countries together then you can often get a much better arrangement for people across the board, based on agreed international law, whether its relating to security or to trade or to culture.
Core labour standards under the ILO conventions are the minimum set of global rules for labour in the global economy and respect for them should be strengthened in all countries. Bi-lateral agreements can often undermine those if they don't take into account the body of really extensive work that we call International Law.
Speaking of the ILO the big initiative through the ILO has been the sanctions against Burma. How successful has that been and is it really a model for dealing with other countries?
Burma is a tough case. The military regime there is not interested in respect for workers rights or anyone's. They have a long history of absolute abuse. Unions are banned. Forced labour etc. There are so few pressure points that the International Community can really apply to Burma. I say the ILO's work has been outstanding in terms of the way a UN body can come together and co-ordinate and do practical work. Now the people who argue against sanctions say it hasn't really impacted the situation in Burma. It's true there is little evidence of change. But the other way to look at it is to ask yourself what is actually going to effect change to such a regime. The people in Burma clearly want change and what can we best do to support that? The sanctions have certainly provided the most pressure on Burma in recent years and the sanctions I say, is very important in ensuring that the Burmese regime, the SPDC, know that the International community is serious. The hip pocket argument. Otherwise what they see is a whole bunch of resolutions passed at the Human Rights Commission or various different UN bodies that are not enforcible. So clearly it's both an act of solidarity but also practical to use the mechanisms that are available to the International community. The Burmese regime isn't going to change overnight, and its been years, and years and years but you know when you really look at what room there is to apply pressure for both respect for human rights and for creating space for civil society within Burma, then the ILO's work is been really essential. The regime does take notice of the ILO. The ILO, with other international bodies, is a good model for dealing with the tough cases I think.
We're currently in a world where the power of global capital is increasing. What sort of work is being done internationally to match that global power?
The World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, which was initiated by the ILO, is the first systematic attempt to deal with the social dimensions of those processes, such as the creation of decent jobs and how globalization can be made fair and inclusive. The Commission has been looking at what setting labour standards can achieve in terms of justice and sustainable development, and impacts on health, what globalization means in terms of general access to health services, basic education, adult education, vocational education, HIV/AIDS, access to treatments, all these factors that impact more and more people on the globe. The issues are not new, but the dimension of their impact are. These are issues that people who have an interest in workers rights need to understand well.
Finally the ACTU does have its own Aid Agency for the region, APHEDA what's its priorities and how does it work with the ACTU?
APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad was set up in 1984 to provide solidarity with workers in the developing world. It has programs operating in 15 countries and they are all about empowering people to gain the vocational skills and to be able to generate their own income and support their families and societies. APHEDA Union Aid Abroad works directly with some of the poorest and most marginalised, including refugee communities, and with workers in rural communities, not only in industrial sectors. It's very important I think, both as an act of solidarity and also practically to link with countries who are our neighbours and those who are going through really tough economic transitions and tough times. The priorities for Union Aid Abroad are addressing the needs that workers in the 15 countries where Union Aid Abroad works have and for them to be able to achieve their own sustainable economic and social development. The ACTU is represented on APHEDA's management board and APHEDA's programs reflect ACTU policy.
And of course if people want to experience that first hand there are also APHEDA study trips
That's right. In fact, right now there's a group in East Timor, the first study tour to East Timor since the re-building process began. Union Aid Abroad on behalf of the Australian trade union movement has been very active in supporting the development of vocational education, community media, the health sector and the emerging trade union movement in East Timor. So people can get a real sense of that face-to-face. It's a great trip.
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