by Jim Maher
How would you like to have an extra $212,000 in the bank?
That's one question posed by research into the performance of various superannuation products on the Australian market.
Rainmaker Information analysts concluded that a worker in an industry fund earning $40,000 a year, with $10,000 accrued today, could end up $212,000 better off than someone in a for-profit arrangement.
The analysis was based on the relative performances of industry funds and the for-profit sector, over the past five years, and assumed the worker would cash in his chips in 40 years time.
It highlights the differences that can accrue from seemingly minor discrepancies over a lengthy period, especially when they compound every day of a working life.
Shark Net Slashed
Rainmaker's figures were based on research that showed not-for-profit industry funds outperformed retail funds, for the average working Australian, by $160 over the last 12 months, and $2500 over the last five years.
It reinforced research that showed fees charged by banks, insurance companies and financial planners were much higher than those levied by industry funds.
Independent research firm, SuperRatings, found the average for-profit (master trust) returned $2.50 for every dollar taken out in fees. For the same price, industry funds added around $8.60 to members' nest eggs.
The findings have gained widespread publicity because of the federal government's move to open up industry funds to competition from banks, insurance companies and other private operators from July 1, this year.
Golden Eggs Run Dry
Industry funds were established as part of the accord between the ACTU and the Keating Labor Government to lift national savings rates and have been effective in achieving that goal.
Usually managed by a board of worker and employer representatives, they return all profits to members.
Some economists believe the vast amount of investment money at their disposal, more than $250 billion, has been an important factor in Australia's relatively strong economic performance.
That amount of money, though, is a lure for John Howard's big business constituency and worries those who believe workers' voices should not be heard in boardrooms.
Architect's Dream Snuffed Out
The "choice" legislation is only the second major move the federal government has made on super since it was elected eight years ago. The first was to squash movements that would have taken compulsory contributions to 15 percent of annual income.
According to the ACTU, in 2004 dollars, single people will need $32,800 a year for a "comfortable" retirement. That means access to lump sums of $420,000.
If the average Aussie saves only the nine percent Super Guarantee Contribution, at current rates of return, he or she would have $167,000 in 30 years time or an annual entitlement to $19,800.
Every dollar that goes missing along the way, through poor investment decisions or fees, is important because it compounds again and again during our lifetimes
When ABC and Sydney Morning Herald commentator, Alan Kohler, compared industry funds with for-profit super he came to a thought-provoking conclusion.
"There's an awkward secret at the centre of Australia's superannuation system," Kohler wrote last August. "The socialists are winning.
"Think about this: virtually every industry fund has performed better than every retail fund since 1998 - but at the same time every industry fund costs about half of every retail fund because there's no need for a profit and those managing them earn smaller salaries."
From July 1, banks, insurance companies and financial planners will have access to the accounts of an extra four million working Australians. Choice of Fund legislation won't apply to workers covered by state awards, certified agreements of AWAs that specify a fund but all new employees must be handed a "standard choice form" within 28 days of starting. The choice legislation over-rides default funds in federal awards.
The Feeding Frenzy
We can't tell you where you will find most satisfaction but we can warn you what to look for when a member of the quick buck brigade is prowling you, and what his tactics could be...
Will He Respect You Tomorrow?
Hidden fees are the specialty of this smooth talking individual. Remember, when someone's only after one thing, you won't necessarily hear the full story.
Hidden fees can wreck your plans. Last year, one industry fund member tried to move her $2,104 account and was confronted, by a bank, with a demand for $1,234 for the privilege. Another financial institution came up with a $10,114.44 exit fee on an investor.
Another silver tongued devil out to woo you and screw you.
Honeymoon rates are the oldest trick in the book, luring people into relationships by not coming clean on the long-term ramifications. He'll tell you what you want to hear but the truth will come out once the deal has been consummated.
This bloke's up-front fees are competitive but your costs are loaded onto the back-end of the deal. He's almost encouraged by Choice of Fund legislation that only requires suitors to disclose their intentions for the first year.
Honeymoon rates have been remarkably successful in the home mortgage sector where many Australians have signed up for products that will cost tens of thousands of extra dollars in the long run.
Just a Gigolo
Trail commissions can be the sand in the knickers of a super relationship. Just when you think you've finally got on top, this fellow will keep nibbling away at your nest egg.
Trail commissions are the lifeblood of financial planners, they're how they finance their lifestyles. They might not seem dramatic in the heat of your first encounter but over a lifetime they can skim the cream off your plate.
Dressed to Thrill
Straight from the big end of town, Flash Freddie's got the firepower to turn your head. He's unlikely to knock on your door in person but, sure as eggs are eggs, you will find him in the living room and even laid out, most attractively, on the breakfast table.
Fancy marketing is the seduction technique of banks and insurance companies under pressure to return dividends to shareholders. Not all are up to no good, not by any stretch, but they've got deep enough pockets to fund an advertising orgy.
When you get your invitation, peel back the wrapping and check out the fine print.
by Peter Lewis
In the past week you've shared a stage with Bono and locked into your hotel during a political uprising in Nepal, is this an average week for the leader of the international union movement?
It certainly shows the extremes of the role. There's no question that the issue of poverty, probably underscored both those experiences. In Davos we launchedi GCAP - the global call for action against poverty. Three of the seven G7 governments - Britain, France and Germany - supported this call at the WEF along with Mbeke from South Africa and Lula standing with the unions and civil society at the WSF in Brazil. We are finally starting to build a global alliance around the eradication of poverty. In Nepal it would be a victory to get a minimum wage of US$1 a day. The struggle for democracy is of course a precondition for union freedom and we fear for those union sisters and brothers who are being arrested as we speak.
Thus there are clear links betwen both those extreme examples of the life of a global union movement leader.
What was Bono's depth of understanding of the issues?
I am a little suspicious of celebrity activism but I have to say discussing the issues with Bono left no question that he has a depth of understanding that's quite extraordinary. He has established his own foundation, and has been a voice for social justice for fifteen years or more now. So you can't really put him in the box of the stargazing moment. He's solid and if we are determined to generate jobs and eradicate disease and poverty for working people the whatever works! I've got no doubt, despite the fact that I have to admit to enjoying the time we had in his company and what woman wouldn't - that he is genuine and thus we welcome his weight being added to the cause.
On a serious note: congratulations on your election. What are your priorities for the ICFTU over the coming 12 months?
There are moments when I think that this has to be one of the craziest decisions I've made yet. Yet its like anything in the union movement - if there's work to be done, and you're colleagues see that you've got a role to play, then its very hard to say no. It's a huge honour of course but it's also an enormous challenge. I've said publicly that I'm still somewhat daunted by the challenge, but we do have a lot to do. We need to build a new international. Now that's exciting because not many institutions or movements like ours get a chance to build a new beginning on the strength of our history yet with 21th century principles of inclusion - women, diversity across continents and indeed races. That's a challenge, but I think it's going serve the cause of global unionism well at a time when we must be more united and much more strategic. In addition we are committed to a global unions council with international industry unions; the GUFs. This kind of union is the only answer to tackling the multi-nationals and corporate globalization in the interest of working people.
How does your experience as an Australian trade unionist and official shape your international agenda?
: Australia's unions faced the issues of economic restructuring; we took a lot of pain in the 80s and 90s. We understand the importance of skills, of skills classification, to both the wages and the opportunity for working people. Productivity is only achieved when it is the result of skilled workplaces and innovation that drives prosperity shared by working people not by exploitation. We live in a capitalist society and our roles have always been to civilize capital at a national level. The task is now to ciivilise capital on a global level and that requires strong unions; unions that organize effectively. We are building our capacity on the back of a proud history and that is recognized and respected internationally. The strength of the women's movement within unions, the concern for indigenous peoples rights and the multiculturalism of our workplaces all provide a strong foundation.
The issue of global labour rights has been on the agenda for years - what is required to actual see a result in terms of incorporation into trade agreements.
We've got to work on two fronts; we have to continue to push for a new set of global rules that underpin a fair trading environment. Investment and profits must work for working people in the form of job creation. Where profits are generated on the back of misery for working families because there's no labour rights and this no collective bargaining and no fair distribution of wealth it is not acceptable. We need a new set of global rules based on a respect for international law including ILO core conventions or labour rights. But we're also going to have to take our own action. In respect of the global corporates. What we do nationally in terms of bargaining with companies, in terms of running corporate campaigns we have to do globally. So building global bargaining tables, building alliances through the union movement - across the employment base of multi national companies is essential. That's the challenge.
If you look at Qantas we saw the argument that went about offshoring jobs to London, Qantas is a global company and employs working people around the world. In order to protect standards in Australia, but also in Thailand and London, we have to start looking at how we have global bargaining tables. I could give you endless examples like that, but if my leadership does nothing else, it will force the argument about taking the union movement as we know it nationally and making the international union movement operate on a global scale.
Now that requires us to be very conscious that while you've got the big corporates, you've also got supply chains. Look at Walmart, the biggest retail chain in the world, it only employs something like 2,000 workers in China directly but it employs 6 million in EP zones through the supply chain. So every time we bargain globally, or nationally we have to actually be conscious that there are workers in our supply chains that we need to organise, to be aware of them, to make sure that to the extent we can, we are influencing decent work for them; that is wages and conditions that meet international standards.
We are told that China entry into the world economy will be a defining moment for this century - is this something for Australian workers to fear?
I don't think fear's the answer, fear's never the answer, China is a reality. What we have to do is work out how we manage the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, both in the context of an international economic and a union environment where we're seeking to look after the rights of working people. But we also have to be aware of its impact on Australia and Australian workers.
The public debate around the China/Australia free trade agreement is critical but its only part of the picture. The biggest impact on Australian manufacturing is actually the capacity for cheap products to be imported out of China now. Our trade imbalance is growing astronomically. So what do we have to do? Well first of all we have to figure out how you can work to make the rights of working people in China a reality and that again comes back to corporate strategies around multinationals.
We've got a major symposium on China next week and my paper will argue three things. One, we need to pursue of course, labor rights and strong clauses in any trade agreements, but we also need to go back to look at the international standards that underpin the commitments out of the Singapore WTO0 discussion. With the New Zealand trade union movement it is critical that we establish a permenant forum that regularly assesses the impact of globalization and in this case trade with China. We need also to put up the tests for this government that will determine whether the Chinese economy continues to be a threat and in what sectors to the lives of working Australians. We also need to understand where there are opportunities rather than focusing on only one side of the equation.
A lot has been written about the global response to the tsunami - what is your take and can this goodwill be harnessed in other productive ways?
Well it was terrific to see the generosity that existed both out of Australia but also globally and I think in a way the response at Davos to the need to eradicate poverty, was deeper on the back of this tragedy. People are ahead of their politicians and that's probably always been the case. Where people actually demonstrate that they're concerned about something, that they want something done about an issue and that they are prepared to stand up themselves for a set of decent values then politicians have to listen.
With the IR agenda of the federal government emerging daily, how significant is the outcome in terms of global labour relations?
With John Howard's unfettered power in Parliament we are potentially facing the wholesale dismantling of the IR system that we've known for a hundred years. If that's the case then what is it that we need to establish as the basis for people understanding what this means for Australian workers. It means that unless we can maintain a commitment, both of Australian workers and Australian public to choice and democracy as the basis for justice at work, then the core challenge is for us to stand up for collective agreements and in the process each other.
There's a global dimension to this, given that never before has Australia needed international support in the way that we will do this year. We have been proud to stand in solidarity with the workers in other countries trying to develop rights based on international law, and that is just where we will stand in the face of the Howard agenda. There's an enormous generosity from our international colleagues. As you saw during the Hardie's case when we asked our Dutch colleagues to stand outside the AGM, they did it. When we asked our American colleagues to take industrial action in Orange County around the asbestos issue, they did it. There's enormous generosity and enormous respect for the Australian movement that is ironically why we should be proud of my own election. It is an acknowledgement of the strength and the history of this movement. But now it is on the line.
I'm confident that working Australians, whether they are union members or not actually do understand the value of collective agreements, of being able to stand up for each other. I'm not so sure that politicians have thought through the ramifications of what it might mean to take on the very basis of democracy in our workplaces, that is the choice of an individual contract or a collective agreement. If we are faced with that choice because the legislation is dismantled, I will back workplaces right across Australia to determine that they want to stand for each other and that means that they will stand for collective agreements.
So it's going to be a tough year but you have to be optimistic, at one level, that we get a chance to demonstrate that commitment to a common humanity - the same commitment that we saw as a result of the Tsunami tragedy and demonstrate it in the context of what we believe should construct fair workplaces.
The government hired the OECD to further push its barrow of neo-liberal reforms recently. What is the OECD anyway? And how do they come be the font of wisdom on all things economic?
Neo-liberal principles would see the 2000 staff of lawyers, economists and scientists, amongst others, in 200 committees, as needing to be pruned. After all, how do they measure their productivity? If it is by the quality of the research and advice on getting your market economy right, then it has been a failure all round, simply because there are constant economic crises around the world that such market technocrats are supposedly giving advice to prevent. The advice on improving national economies by a commitment to the market is given from a budget of 300 million Euros per year (around $600 m!!). The money comes from member countries, as does the staff, so it is hardly likely that the OECD is going to be a source of fiercely independent advice.
It claims that its work is increasingly cross-disciplinary, but that doesn't mean the left hand knows what the right is doing. A comparison of what its annual Employment Outlook says about the Australian labour market with what is Country Report published last week shows how it acts according to the whim of its member governments policies when required, for a headline, whilst some decent analysis and policy detail garnered from its own look at the stats is buried. The Employment outlook is at pains to point out the impact of vocational education and training on the wage level - it puts it up - whilst the Country report urges the lowering of the minimum wage. Why lower the level for the lowest paid, instead of providing more pre and post employment training. Chapter Four of the Employment Outlook 2004 know, from looking at real statistical evidence, that training helps. The authors of the Country report clearly were not at the meeting that discussed that.
It has also published some interesting material in other reports on work-family, labour market and welfare system integration and poverty reduction. Did Peter Costello or Stephen Smith/Wayne Swan bring these to our attention? No they just pushed their barrows in the other direction, the only difference in their approaches was the size of the cake the employers and wealthy need, although there was agreement that they need more.
John Quiggin comments that he "normally ignore OECD reports on the Australian economy, since they are in essence, a Paris republication of the Australian Treasury policy line of the day. The OECD is largely staffed by officials from national treasury departments on temporary postings, and its primary source in consultations is the Treasury".
Terry Lane in The Age on Sunday noted one bloggers description that OECD reports "are normally not independent (as they appear to be) but written on information provided by, "are normally not independent (as they appear to be) but written on information provided by, often even the spin of report provided by, the relevant domestic government department. Thus they are usually PR praise for policy that is being implemented or stalking horses for policy (that) government would like to implement but is finding politically difficult".(Terry Lane Age 6-2-05). So all such reports really need to come packaged with a health warning, or at the least, a reminder that they are not independent thoughts.
All the usual stuff was there. The OECD claims that labour markets will functions more effectively by: promoting the negotiation of wages and employment conditions at the enterprise and individual levels; removing disincentives to hiring, especially of low skilled workers; enhancing human capital by improving training and education; and creating stronger incentives to participate".
So the small number of workers who are earning only the safety net wage are having such a dramatic impact on the employer that they are holding the economy back. Cleaners and hotel staff are the reasons your kids can't get work?? Give us a break. Two thirds of workers are on either enterprise agreements, individua contracts or are "own account" workers (self employed contractors). How does the safety net impact on their earnings? How does unfair dismissal law effect the 28% of people who are casual or self-employed? Some would say that for the OECD to claim that the very small group of people who depend o the safety net are a barrier to increased participation would imply that many are determined to be cleaners as their career path. So they won't need training, education and multi-skilling to improve human capital, which the OECD claims is also a necessary policy priority for the government.
There is no mention in the OECD report, which laments the high safety net as a disincentive to employ, that working hours per year per person in Australia are the highest in the world at 1855 hours (in 2000). The mean here is 1643.
Vocational education and training are certainly important, according to workers and employers in manufacturing. The OECD urges more investment here. However the government, which has let its employees from Treasury go to temporary positions at the OECD (the Paris option someone once said) forgot to say that the new apprenticeship schemes and the cutback sin funding from government to education at all levels are not much help in getting workers to gain the skills they need to get higher wages and increase participation. As the report thinks the safety net is a problem I guess they don't really care about skills anyway. At the same time it urges further deregulation of the fee system in higher education. This at a time when government expenditure on education and training is declining. If we look at international comparisons, our youth unemployment rate has been near the top of the table (ie highest level of unemployment) since 1980. On all countries, the unemployment rate amongst he tertiary educated is far better than amongst those with less than senior secondary education. However Australia still rates above the mean, according to Ross Gittens and Rodney Tiffen in How Australia Compares (Cambridge UP, 2004)
The OECD urges the freeing up the university system to allow more control over fees at the institutions. Government share of expenditure on education sees Australia well below the mean (Australian governments provide 76% of total eduction expenditure, compared to the mean of 88%). How does the OECD recommendation of freeing up tertiary fees help here? The trend has seen government expenditure on education as a share of GDP fall from 6.2% in 1975 to 4.6% in 2000.
The other thing they lime to worry about (as per the Federal Treasury's intergenerational obsession, is the ageing population and the heath system. Here we see another approach to the attack on Medicare, one of the most equitable and cost efficient health systems in the world. The report argues for more private funding of health (ie more private insurance for you and me) and for ways to increase the labour force participation after the age of 65. The ageing cleaners are needed (my Mum and Dad did this well past 65 by the way) as are other skilled older workers. Fair enough. However to complain about the ageing population and then say you need them to work seems odd.
Gittens and Tiffen, among others, have pointed out the scare tactics of intergenerational reports. The figures they use are based on the assumption that those over 65 are not working.
- Many are still very healthy and active past 65, particularly as the fact of living longer also means people are "younger".
- The dependency figures also make the mistake at the other end. There are fewer young people dependent on those of working age too.
- Ignores the trend of productivity improvement through work and technology
- Ignores the increasing participation rate of those who are of working age, in particular women
Again they complain about one of the governments favourte subjects -Unfair dismissal protection. The OECD argues for the reduction in this as a means to encourage small business to employ.
On the difficulty of dismissal scale drawn up by Gittens and Tiffen, Australia rates at 1.5, with the mean at 2.6. Our procedural stringency is 0.5, with The Netherlands at the top with 5.0.
The government claims that removing unfair dismissal protection is necessary for it to be the friend of the small business battler. As put it:
If you're angling to be a successful small business person in this vibrant enterprise culture think again. The landscape is dominated by ravenous corporate capital for as far as the eye can see. Retailing; unless you have a niche location and/or a niche product, forget it. Supplying to corporate retailer; forget it. Tenancy to a corporate landlord, forget it. Finance from a major bank; read the small print (nb the standard inclusion in an overdraft facility: 'the Bank may cancel the facility at any time whether or not you are in breach of this agreement'). Franchising? possible, but unaccountable franchisors still menace the unsuspecting franchisee.
Unemployment is a concern for many who cannot get enough work, although the government keeps claiming that people want the flexibility of casual employment. The OECD urges more freedom in this area. As we have over 28% in some form of temporary employment, the highest levels I the OECD, I'd say we haven't much to live up to here. On official unemployment statistics, which the government claims bragging rights on, international comparisons put Australia in a position where we are having a falling level on unemployment and are now below the OECD average rate. We are now below the US level. What more do they want except to reduce wages.
Labour productivity levels show that wages as a factor in business are becoming smaller as our productivity has increased along with the hours of work. Do I see a connection here?. You bet. We have more and more unpaid overtime and more own account workers who have to fulfil contracts no matter how many hours they take. Australia has turned in the best productivity performance (average annual increase 1996-2000 2.5%.
A more interesting productivity indicator is multifactor productivity (MFP). This is an attempt to measure technological advance. Ireland, where the government has removed tertiary fees and actively engages in the knowledge economy, is well out in front. MFP in Ireland ran at 3.72% annually from 1990-2000. Australia at 1.68%.
So investment in the knowledge economy by the government is decreasing, as a percentage of investment in eduction. Employers and employees have been taking up some of the slack in terms of skills and other workplace oriented training. The federal government and its cipher the OECD do not address these issues in their report that is basically an attempt to further close the circle o Australians as the seek to impose the outdated mantra of There Is No Alternative. There is, and the government is I the position to the lead by investing in job flexibility, family life, income security, training and education. They have their OECD report that shows exactly what not to do. A read of the OECD Employment Outlook 2004, and other publications from the myriad OECD QUANGOs, would be a great way for the government and its ALP allies to open their eyes and see that alternatives are out there in place and working nicely thank you.
In Australia during the 1850s skilled workers in Sydney and Melbourne generally worked a 58 hour week; 10 hours per day Monday to Friday with 8 hours on Saturday. For other workers it was longer; shop assistants, for example worked between 12-14 hours per day. Child labour was not uncommon; in 1876 in New South Wales, for example, the NSW Coal Mines Act was passed to limit the working week for boys aged 13-18 years to 50.5 hours per week and ban the employment of girls or boys in mines under the age of 13.
The idea that working people should work less hours, enjoy and improve their lives, and have some control over their working conditions, were radical propositions, as was the idea the working day should be based on eight-hours of work. Eight hours of work per day was not only problematical for employers and the State because it was an attack on untrammeled wealth production, but problematical also in that it left working people with unaccounted for hours; if they were not producing wealth for employers and taxes for the State and getting tired and exhausted in the process, then they might be out doing other things like thinking, improving themselves with reading, education and discussion, socialising, enjoying life, and maybe organising and challenging the status quo.
Welsh born social reformer, factory owner and pioneer socialist, Robert Owen (1771-1858) envisaged a better world for working people other than the soul and body destroying grind of work, work, and more work. He formulated the goal of the eight-hour day as early as 1817, and coined the slogan „Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest‰, which became part of the rich cauldron of protest and agitation known as Chartism.
The eight-hour idea came to the Australian colonies during the 1850s as a legacy of Chartism, the great movement of popular political agitation and ferment in Britain during the late 1830s and the 1840s that mobilised working people for social, economic and political reform, where socialist, trade union, democratic and co-operative ideas and impulses variously mixed, clashed, combined and inspired, constituting political crimes when the established political order was threatened.
But literature and ideas have currency and appeal that cannot be easily or totally monitored or suppressed, and they cross borders and seas in many ways, unseen in the heads of believers, or secreted in luggage; Chartist sympathisers and movement personnel variously came to Australia, as immigrants, refugees escaping prosecution and persecution, some disappointed by the movements apparent failures, others transported for political crimes. Chartist veterans were prominent in the early leadership of the struggle for the eight-hour day.
Inspiration also came from across the Tasman. The eight-hour idea took root in New Zealand beginning in 1840 when a carpenter from London, Samuel Parnell, refused to work more than eight-hours a day, successfully negotiated the working condition and campaigned for its general application in the infant Wellington community. Another early and notable contribution was the campaign for the eight-hour day in Otago, 1849, by Samuel Shaw, plumber, glazier, and house decorator.
Traditionally Melbourne claims Australian parentage of the Eight-Hour Day. Following agitation by Melbourne stonemasons in 1856 the eight-hour day was introduced in that city for workers employed on public works without loss of pay.
Masons were in the vanguard for a variety of reasons; they were skilled craftsmen, proud of their skills and trade, they were organised, doing a job that could not be done by the untrained and unskilled, and realised they were needed by employers and planners intent on erecting fine stone buildings. In the building boom of the 1850s associated with the discovery of gold in Australia, masons were in a strategic position with an essential role in the building industry that gave them considerable power should they decide to utilise it. The climate also contributed; working 10 hours a day exposed to the extremes and vicissitudes of the Australian climate, as masons did, sharpened the desire for a shorter working day.
Chartist veteran and mason James Stephens (1821-1889), who came to Melbourne in 1855, was prominent in the event that made the breakthrough, a downing of tools by masons on 21 April 1856, on the building of Melbourne University, and a march on to Parliament House with other members of the building trade. This demonstration came after meetings by Melbourne masons, led by former Chartist activists James Galloway and James Stephens, had decided to seek the eight-hour day, and the matter had been taken up with employers; to some, however, it seemed there was more talk than action, and prevarication was sensed on the part of employers.
The Melbourne success led to the decision to organise a movement, actively spread the eight-hour idea and secure the condition generally; as mason leader Galloway explained, he and others had come to the colony „to better our condition, not to act as the mere part of machinery‰. Subsequently and gradually the eight-hour idea, or „short time‰ as it was also known, spread throughout Victoria, to other trades and industries, and to the other colonies; gains were made, but not without struggle.
In 1903 the iconic Eight-Hour Day monument funded by public subscription was completed on the corner of Victoria and Russell Streets, outside Melbourne Trades Hall. One thousand people gathered to hear veteran socialist Tom Mann speak at the unveiling ceremony.
The achievement of the eight-hour day was one of the great successes of the Australian working class during the nineteenth century, demonstrating to Australian workers that it was possible to successfully organise, mobilise, agitate and exercise significant control over working conditions and quality of life. The Australian trade union movement grew out of eight-hour campaigning and the movement that developed to promote the principle.
A less known aspect of the eight-hour day struggle is that the Melbourne workers were actually pipped, and inspired, by their brother colleagues in Sydney. Before the Melbourne stonemasons activated, stonemasons in Sydney successfully organised, agitated for, and gained, the eight-hour day.
On 18 August 1855 the Stonemasons‚ Society in Sydney issued an ultimatum to employers that in six months time, masons would only work an eight-hour day. However men working on the Holy Trinity Church in Argyle Cut, and on the Mariners‚ Church (an evangelical mission to seafarers, now an art gallery and café) in Lower George Street (98-100 George Street), could not contain their enthusiasm and decided not to wait. They pre-emptively went on strike, won the eight-hour day, and celebrated with a victory dinner on 1 October 1855.
In February 1856 the August (1855) ultimatum expired and six months to the day, Sydney stonemasons generally went after a reduction of hours on the eight-hour model. Their demand was opposed by employers, even though the masons made it clear they were prepared to take a reduction in wages proportionate to the reduced hours. The main opposition came from the builders engaged on construction of Tooths Brewery on Parramatta Road. Less than two weeks of strike action overcame that hindrance and the masons won in late February, early March, 1856.
A popular argument against granting the shorter working hours was that masons would use their free time to 'indulge to excess in intoxicating drink'; but as an anonymous mason correspondent wrote in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald (11 February 1856),
"masons are men of a different stamp, and if they had time, many, I doubt not, would have their names enrolled as members of that valuable Institution--the Mechanics‚ School of Arts; and their desire for mental improvement is another and a strong reason which urges them on to obtain a reduction in their present hours of labour".
By 1871 in New South Wales, workers in four trades had won the eight-hour day, all of them part of the building industry. But it was not something everyone got to share; adoption of the eight-hour day was an ongoing and long industrial struggle, culminating in 1916 with the passing of the NSW Eight Hours Act granting the eight-hour day to all workers in the state. Nationally the movement seeded in 1855 by masons working on two Sydney churches and in Melbourne by masons building Melbourne University in 1856, culminated with Commonwealth Arbitration Court approval of the 40-hour five-day working week beginning I January 1948.
Main sources: R.N.Ebbels, The Australian Labor Movement 1850-1907, Cheshire-Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1965, pp.7-9, 58-72. Joe Harris, The Bitter Fight, University of Queensland Press, 1970, pp.23-29. Photographs of Mariners Church on NSW Heritage site.
Every day on average in Australia a young person with a disability goes to live in an aged care facility.
Its a shocking figure made worse by the fact that some of these people are younger than 10 years of age. The reason they are forced to accept a bed in an aged care facility is due to the lack of alternative accommodation to address their high or complex care needs.
Many of these young people have sustained catastrophic injuries in situations where compensation isn't available. Some have developed degenerative neurological diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's Disease and Muscular dystrophy.
At the current rate of entry there will be over 10,000 young people living in aged care facilities by 2007.
One organisation, the National Alliance of Young People in Nursing Homes (YPINH) is leading the fight to stop this flood of people into aged care and to find alternative accommodation and care for them.
But the struggle is made harder by the fact that no records are kept by the Federal Government documenting which facilities these young people are living.
YPINH is calling for union members across the country who know of a young person in an aged care facility or facing the possibility to urge them and their family to get in touch with the alliance. (See contacts below)
Dr Bronwyn Morkham from YPINH explains: "Often people who find themselves trapped in a nursing home do not have the support network that they need to help them get out.
"It is an incredibly difficult job for families and the young people themselves to try and push their case when you have the bureaucratic maze of both the state and federal governments to negotiate in the area.
"One of the problems with aged care is that people who are there tend to get left alone. If no-one is taking up their case the chances of them getting out are very slim.
"These young people deserve to not be hidden away and forgotten but to have a chance to return to the community.
"It is an inappropriate place for young people to be cared for. Staff in many facilities do their absolute best to care for them but the therapy and treatment they often require as well as the social activities are just not available. Nursing homes are for people in the last years of their lives not in the prime of their lives."
The Health Services Union is supporting YPINH in its efforts to get young people out of nursing homes. HSU national secretary Craig Thomson said members working in aged care facilities would like nothing better than to see young people allowed to move to more approriate accommodation.
"It is hard for staff as well because they feel like they don't have the time or the expertise to give these young people they type of care they require," he said.
"It makes no sense and it is deeply concerning that more is not done by the state and federal government to provide alternative accommodation."
Vicky Smith, 34, who lives in a nursing home in Ballarat in Victoria is just one of the thousands of young people who do not want to live in an aged care facility.
She has been in a nursing home since she was 17, a year after she suffered a brain injury in a car accident. It has been a frustrating and at times deeply depressing experience for Vicky, separated from her family and people her own age and surrounded instead by the dying elderly.
Despite the isolation and the obstacles she faces, Vicky has been waging a campaign for a special facility in the area where young disabled people can live together.
"I think that all people that are either mentally or physically handicapped should have their own special accommodation (and) not put into old people's homes," she wrote in her submission to the current Senate inquiry into aged care.
People who have information about a young person living in a nursing home or who want to get in touch with Young People in Nursing Homes can call (03) 94825655 or email Bronwyn Morkham at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the alliance can be obtained at www.ypinh.org.au
by Neale Towart
Katherine V.W. Stone has been grappling with this question as part of her research into employment regulation systems for the changing workplace. Her book "From Widgets to Digits" (great title at least) provides a few snapshots of successful strategies that are helping some unions and that may at least provide a few tips and clues for others.
She is writing largely in the US context and outlines how the initial post-war success of the merged AFL-CIO was based on collective bargaining and contract administration.
However the changes in the international economy that began to impact on the primacy of the US from the late 1960s lead to severe legislative and corporate attacks on organised labour from the early 1980s onwards. The development of new workplace practices combined with information technology, outsourcing and offshore manufacturing attacked the existing employment hierarchies that had suited management and employees. There was need to move from single worksite approaches in the US and towards political and community approaches. That the US legislative environment increasingly made it hard for unions to even survive, let alone broaden their horizons made it a tall order for the labour movement.
One early step by the AFL-CIO was its associate membership program. It offered unorganised workers and unemployed members reduced forms of membership. The aim was to enlist the support of former members and workers who might go on to unionise. This could be enlarged to give political voice to those non-union members.
As Stone says, "in the boundaryless workplace, employees continue to need collective representation, but not merely on the single employer basis. Here the US Labour Relations Board legislation is a limiting factor, and she calls for amendments to various aspects of its operation, not least to the broader scope for bargaining, but also to the ability of unions to act politically. The unions need to be able to exert wider pressure on employers across occupational, industrial and political boundaries. This must mean moving to help provide workers with the chace to improve skills, ensure portability of benefits and to create institutions for childcare, for example.
Mutuality was part of the reason for unions coming into existence. Much of this role has been lost but perhaps now is the time to reclaim it, in a new guise. For community based unionism can mean unions acting as community support organisations across occupational categories in geographic regions.
Stone categorises new roles that some unions have begun to develop into what she calls new craft unionism and citizen unionism.
New craft unionism is described as an occupation-based form of unionism that bargains with industry-wide employer groups to establish minimum standards and provide training, while enabling employees to move between employers in the industry.
In Australia, with the standard career path with one employer becoming a rarity, and with more workers becoming own-account workers/self-employed contractors, this approach is a useful way of rethinking the union role. The Association of Professional, Scientists, Managers Australia (APESMA) has been growing in the IT sector where many are self-employed on short term contracts with many different employers/contracting bodies in a working life.
Gabrielle Meagher, in her study of workers in domestic services, also pointed to US and Swedish unions who have stepped outside the traditional boundaries to play a role in training and ensuring the quality of work and the protection of workers in a sector with many small employers (see WO, December 2003 http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200312/c_historicalfeature_domestic.html)
Stone "compares and contrasts" the experiences of two US unions in the film and television industry. The National Association of Broadcasting Employees and Technicians (NABET) organises on an industrial basis, developing collective agreements between crew and the major motion picture and television studios. The International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) is organised on a craft basis.
NABET's fortunes began to decline as employers in many industries began to downsize and outsource. The major broadcaster, NBC wanted to utilize contract and freelance workers on a per job basis. NABET would not countenance a move away from the collective approach it had succeeded under since the 1950s. After an eighteen week strike, NABET capitulated and were forced to agree to the networks terms. Other major broadcasters and film studios soon followed. Since then regular employment at NABET organised companies has been declining and NABET membership did too. It's largest local merged with IATSE in the early 1990s and the rest of the union joined the Communication Workers of America in 1992.
IATSE, by contrast, as Stone explains, engages in a modern version of the insider contractor system, n which lead workers hire their own crews on an individual job basis. For example a film producer who wants to produce a film in New York contacts a lighting technician, and asks that individual to put together a crew. That person is then the head lighting technician and they contact others to for the crew for the job. Each individual has their own contract with the producer, within the framework of the IATSE local's basic agreement.
Stone calls this the "embedded contract" approach (similar to the site agreement approach in out construction industry and the federal government's dreaded "pattern bargaining". The union negotiated a basic agreement that provides for individually negotiated agreements consistent with the basic terms.
No job security is provided at all. The agreement assumes that workers will be hired on a as-needed basis and will work from job to job, even on more than one job at a time. Another shift is that seniority is not a term of the agreement.
Temporary work in the industry threatened the very existence of NABET, but had no impact on IATSE. Employers are able to use temporary workers WITHOUT GOING OUTSIDE THE UNION. An opportunity not a threat to the union.
This did not happen without disagreement within the union. Some IATSE members argued that low-budget film workers should not be allowed in the union. However it was argued and agreed that having workers outside the tent was a threat. Being outside the union meant that low budget film workers would constitute a source of well trained strike breakers, presenting companies with a constant temptation to eliminate the union. This approach, whilst not pleasing everyone, has enabled IATSE to have strong geographic membership, with New York City being almost 100% unionised.
Old craft unionism restricted membership, resulting in unions that were white, all male and racist. They were ultimately weakened because crafts changed, became easier to learn, or were bypassed with changes in technology. IATSE' inclusive approach enables them to avoid generating underprivileged outsiders.
Other sectors where this flexibility has been turned into a union strength is in the Hotel and Restaurant Employees citywide organising drives and other geographic and occupation based organising drives.
This approach can strengthen the position of low-wage service workers, who are moble across many employers in an industry (as Meagher shows) and raises standards across the board in this vulnerable sector. The construction sector also exhibits features of this form of unionism, with unions providing training and standards across an industry. The Communication Workers Union of America and the Washington Alliance for Technology Workers (WASHTECH) induced IT giant CISCO Systems to adopt a national training program for technical workers.
Citizen unionism is locality based. As Stone explains, it operates by enlisting all employees in a locality or region to pressure area employers to provide labour market protections workers need to survive and thrive in the boundaryless workplace. Workers have temporary jobs, but it is not a simple mater to leave your suburb or region and the ties to space and place are strong for workers and companies. Improving the locales social infrastructure is a major issue for residents across different occupations.
Some issues that citizen-based unions can address are:
- Protection of benefits - portability and uniformity of pension and health benefits
- Training. Pressuring employers to pay for training and retraining
- Child care
- Wages. Pressure employers to adhere to a minimum locality based wage structure. Wage subsidies for low paid work could also be a factor.
- Legal assistance. Enables individuals to access legal mechanisms that could enforce minimum wages, conditions and safety issues
- Corporate citizenship. Employers in a region draw upon collective skills, knowledge, experience and expertise, as well as local infrastructure, resources and natural attributes. Employers should then, contribute to schools, libraries, sports clubs, community groups and hospitals
But how can these unions exert bargaining power. It is all very well to set up with this in mind, but how is it implemented. Stone suggests it is exerted partly by public pressure through the media and personal pressure on managers and other senior people who, after all, live in localities. Also product and service boycotts. Getting corportions to sign codes of conduct is a good public strategy.
Playing a part in the political process by endorsing, dis-endorsing candidates is another strategy, particularly potent in the USA where so many local positions are elected.
Examples of citizen unions and workplace organisations include the Boston Center for Contingent Work that uses the media and other lobbying mechanisms to ensure that companies that hire contingent workers adopt codes of conduct specifying minimum wages and conditions.
The National Alliance for Fair Employment (NAFFE) lobbies to get temporary workers the same rights under labour laws as permanent workers. It has proposed a Temporary Industry Code of Conduct covering holiday pay, sick leave, safety, orientations, health insurance and job descriptions. It states that employees have the right to join a union.
The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) is the most comprehensive example. It is a multi-issue organisation working at a grass roots level on local issues of social services, education, and employment and has established itself in a number of cities and regions. It works through existing organisations like unions, churches, schools, health and neighbourhood centres and other community groups.
So unions and others are developing strategies to deal with the new workplace. But, as Stone, notes, the move from widgets to digits requires labour law reform and this is proving harder to effect. Experiments in structure, coalition building and using power that you gain are what is going on, and we can usefully draw upon the highs and lows of these organising strategies to help ourselves deal with the threats and opportunities we face.
Katherine V.W. Stone (2004). From Widgets to Digits: employment regulation for the changing workplace Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
by Paddy Gorman
As Cliff Bultitude left the dark recesses of the Nymboida underground coal mine behind on a bright, hot summer Friday afternoon, his mind was on a refreshing shower, a cold beer and the weekend ahead.
However, the bright light of day that greeted Cliff and his fellow coal miners at the pit top was clouded by news that the mine was closing and they were on a week's notice.
To add insult to injury, the Nymboida coal miners were told that their employer had no money to pay them the tens of thousands of dollars they were owed in severance pay, annual leave and other entitlements. The miners were told that their last shift would finish on Friday 14 February 1975 and after that they were on their own.
Cliff Bultitude had worked at the Nymboida mine since 1953. Many of his 30 workmates had spent all or most of their working lives at Nymboida. The loss of their jobs would devastate them and their families.
No one knew better than the Nymboida miners just how bleak their future was. The mine was on the outskirts of the northern NSW city of Grafton and unemployment in the region was among the highest in Australia. The nearest coal mines were hundreds of kilometres south of Grafton.
The miners and their families spent the next few days absorbing the shock of the loss facing them - no jobs and all their entitlements gone up in smoke. They turned to their union, the Miners Federation, who advised them to fight.
And fight they did. Miners work in the most dangerous industry in the world. Every year more than 20,000 coal miners alone are killed at work while hundreds of thousands more are injured. They are hard and fair men who depend on each other for survival working in the bowels of the Earth.
The Nymboida mineworkers showed just how tough and determined they were when they refused to accept the sack and began a work-in on the day that the mine was to close.
The community and the trade union movement rallied behind them. With public support behind the Nymboida miners, a series of negotiations involving the Union, the Joint Coal Board and the NSW Government finally resulted in ownership of the mine being handed over to the Miners Federation in return for the debts owed by the operating company being discharged.
The Nymboida miners' victory was heralded in the media. The Australian headlined it: "Sacked miners now own the coal mine"; while The Daily Telegraph ran with: "Union to run the mine".
Although expressing a different emphasis, both headlines were right. The mine was run by the Union and the workers through a company, Union Coal Mining Pty Ltd. The Directors of the company were Miners Federation National and Northern District officials and the then Nymboida lodge secretary. These Directors dealt with all the legal obligations, finance and contracts. In addition, the Nymboida mineworkers elected from their own ranks a Committee of Management that oversaw the day-to-day issues of the mine, including production and safety.
As the workers mined the coal the Union handled its sale to Nymboida's traditional market, the nearby Koolkhan Power Station. The Union and the miners ran Nymboida for the next four-and-a-half years until it finally closed in August 1979, with the decommissioning of the Koolkhan Power Station and the exhaustion of the mine's reserves.
In its four-and-a-half years as a Miners Union operation, all the Nymboida workers kept their jobs and received over $1.25 million in gross wages; money which if it had not been for the work-ins and takeover, would have been lost to the mineworkers and their families, and to the Grafton community. In addition, all the Nymboida mineworkers received their full benefits when the mine closed, including five who had retired during the years of the Miners Federation's operation.
With the closure of Nymboida some of the mineworkers retired, others found alternative employment in the region while some opted, with the Union's assistance, to move south to the Hunter Valley coal mines.
Nymboida proved that a trade union could profitably operate a mine where a private company failed.
While the closure of Nymboida ended a unique chapter in Australian industrial history, it opened another. The Miners Federation discovered that as the owner of a coal mine whose reserves were exhausted, it was entitled to apply for a replacement lease.
At this time foreign giant oil multinationals were spending hundreds of millions of dollars scrambling for a stake in Australia's growing coal industry. This coal boom had been triggered six years earlier by a massive increase in oil prices by the OPEC countries, which forced international energy producers to switch from oil to coal-fired power stations. Coal was the new black gold.
When the Miners Federation presented its application for a replacement lease it did so as a successful coal mine owner and producer. This was a lesson not lost on the then NSW Wran Labor Government who responded in October 1979 by granting the Miners Federation a replacement mining lease in the rich Upper Hunter Valley region of NSW.
However, as a trade union whose entire resources were used in the service of its members, the Miners Federation did not have the finances to develop and operate a multi-million dollar coal mine. In possession of its lease the Union looked for partners to finance the project in a joint venture and was swamped by suitors.
But not all in the business community were happy. There was fierce opposition within business and conservative political circles who feared that not only would the Union have a valuable insight into the business of running a mine and selling coal, but it might use profits from its involvement to store up a war chest to finance industrial campaigns against the employers.
From the outset though, the Union made it made clear that whatever earnings it would accrue in the future from the coal lease would not go into union coffers. Rather, the money would be channelled into a Trust Fund for the benefit of mineworkers' families and communities.
The Union selected business partners for a joint venture project and United Collieries rose from the ashes of Nymboida. It was to be some years though before the project was up and running.
When the Miners Federation went into this project it was venturing into new territory for any union in Australia. The Union got involved for three main reasons.
The first was to promote employment opportunities. In 1991, United was the first underground mine developed in NSW in over a decade creating over 200 new permanent mining jobs and 500 more in the community.
Secondly, the involvement in United presented the Union with a unique insight into the international operation of Australia's coal industry. Miners Union representatives still chair and sit on the United Collieries Board of Directors. The Union became much more aware of the global economic circumstances and marketplace complexities in which companies operate.
And thirdly, the Union aimed to generate funds to assist mineworkers, their families and communities.
In 1991, the year that United opened and began producing coal, the Mineworkers Trust Fund was established with four Union representatives and one NSW Government appointee as Trustees. Since then the Trust has channelled the millions of dollars that the Union earns from its ownership of the United lease back into the community.
The Trust provides annual tertiary scholarships as well as millions in funds to community organisations and projects. This has benefited hospitals, high schools, youth and sporting groups, emergency services, cultural and historical projects. Community welfare groups are also beneficiaries, as are support groups for sick and handicapped children.
These community dividends would not have been possible without the actions of that small group of Nymboida underground coalminers who had the guts in 1975 to take a stand and fight for their jobs and entitlements.
And neither would this remarkable success story have been possible without those Union officials who had the courage and commitment to fight for the survival of the Nymboida Colliery and the vision to pioneer the development of United Collieries.
Pic 1: The Nymboida mineworkers pictured in the last week of the colliery's operation in August 1979.
Pics 2 &3 from The Coal Mines the Workers Ran.
•For the full stories on Nymboida and how the Miners Federation obtained the United replacement lease, see The Coal Mines the Workers Ran by Pete Thomas and Paddy Gorman; published by the CFMEU Mining and Energy Union, PO Box 1641, Sydney 1230.
by Neale Towart
Trade unions have been at the forefront of the redevelopment of the training agenda in Australia, as they seek to ensure a vital industrial future for Australia, with all the associated employment benefits.
They have been involved in ensuring that universities have resisted the dumbing down of their role in the search for more fee income from students. These concerns help point the way towards the key role unions will play in the greater integration of universities with the communities and the innovative job and training paths required to maintain and develop sustainable city space. The universities will be part of the knowledge hubs that will enable knowledge diffusion amongst the innovative firms establishing on a regional basis, that will share skills, ideas and creativity in ways that all I the clusters will benefit from and quality jobs will be in place and maintained,
Trade unions are also at the centre of opposition to the federal governments' attempts to dumb down industrial agreements. The attempt to further reduce standard awards to 12 items and to further emphasis Australian Workplace Agreements (individual contracts that aim to give the worker no scope for negotiation and no room to consult, means the government and backward looking employers want workplaces where workers turn up, don't think, stay "at work" fro as long as the boss wants and go home with no satisfaction gained from problem solving, working with others or influencing the processes used for a better outcome. They are deemed incapable retrospectively.
How does this place Australia in a world where innovation, skills and consultation have been shown to be crucial and where management that pursues the low-road to cost cutting ultimately outsources itself to those who will always be able, to undercut you if you seek to compete on a cost basis. It locks us into the role the squattocracy and its successors amongst the Australian ruling class have always felt was correct - miners, farmers and branch plant churners for the innovation that occurs somewhere else. The federal government funds sustainable regions, but is unwilling to see that crucial to sustainability are. Co-operative workplaces. The Irish approach could not be more different.
The Irish economy s one that can show that small economies do not have to be trapped into a peripheral role.
As Roy Green said of the Irish approach recently in a talk at a CPP Symposium in Melbourne - 'The Workplace of the Future - Innovation policy, skills, work and management systems' ( December 10 2004) - we need to "focus more clearly on the need to build national innovation capacity - and to create higher skill jobs". He also sharply contrasted the trade balance of Ireland in the ICT sector - more than 20% surplus - to that of Australia - close to a 20% deficit.
Green backgrounds his argument by placing the Irish approach in the context of the European wide initiatives. Ireland sees opportunity, not threat in being part of Europe. By April next year, the EU25 must give legal effect to a sweeping new directive on information-sharing and consultation at the workplace.
This EU directive provides new information and consultation rights in undertakings (50 +employees) or establishments (20+employees)
Consultation must be with employee/union representatives - covering the economic situation, employment issues, work organisation changes.
The Information Sharing Directive supplements recent and emerging legislation in this area:
Traditionally, a moral case has been made for involving employees in decisions, addressing the 'democratic deficit' at the workplace. Now this case has been joined, if not superseded, by the economic, social and technological imperatives of the European 'single market' and knowledge-based economy.
The Australian government seems intent on heading in the opposite direction, with less consultation, less positive intervention (as opposed to negatively impacting on workplace negotiation by legislatively limiting it) and stepping back from funding and directing national training systems. Sue Richardson pints out that:
This is in stark contrast with Europe. Green highlights that European approach is "embedded in the social structure and...depends on that structure for its capacity to operate effectively... It sees a need for the active cooperation of workers in the work process... and it recognizes the importance of institutions and the role they play in creating a framework in which a market operates, in mediating the relationship between the economy and society, and in reconciling economic efficiency with other social goals. (Osterman et al, Working in America, 2001) "
Europe isn't adopting this approach simply because of a concern for workers rights and social responsibility but because the aim is to be the world's 'most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy' by 2010.
The renewed approach has been developed in the light of a perceived widening of a labour productivity gap in comparison to the USA since the early 1990s. The EU, however, is resisting the US road of driving down labour costs by attacks on workers rights. Instead it seeks worker and union cooperation. "This emerging innovation narrative is not just about technology but also institutional support and, crucially, effective delivery at the organisational level."
The Irish approach, within Europe is firmly based on partnership. "Few countries have developed a coordinated and focused policy for organisational innovation: this is an area where Ireland, with its positive experience of social partnership, can gain early mover advantage".
The positive example of the early years of the Accord resonates here. How can we seek to renew social dialogue and cooperation in Australia for mutual advantage, in spite of the federal government's ideological commitment to the master-servant relationship.
The recent headlining of a Greater Sydney Metropolitan Strategy by the Dept of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNA) provided an opportunity to think about how regions can act to develop a high road approach to economic development, security and equality. As Frank Stilwell puts it, "We may be getting richer in the aggregate, but our urban economies are becoming more insecure, more unequal and less sustainable."
"The labour market challenge for Sydney over the next twenty years is to achieve better spatial balance through the coordination of consumption and production activities."
The trade union agenda is part of the high road in these economic and planning processes must be to seek quality jobs, increased union membership and increased union involvement and partnership with business, government and community in area planning, training, education and community building.
That unions are crucial to this cooperative process has been highlighted by Bronfenbrenner's work in the US on the productivity levels of unionised manufacturing sectors as compared with non-unionised, uncooperative, antagonistic low wage sectors.
In an earlier incarnation Roy Green was based in Newcastle and also did work for the Hawke/Keating governments Industrial Relations Bureau where he and colleagues looked at the importance eof cooperation between management and unions. They found that "the role and impact of consultative schemes in improving workplace performance was found to be directly related to the 'intensity' of collaboration between management and workforce"
(Alexander & Green, 'Workplace productivity and joint consultation', 1992)
The Irish reports are clear on the importance of people and consultation: "Knowledge creation and diffusion are at the core of economic activity. Knowledge is embodied in people, and it is the quality of the human resources that will determine the success or otherwise of firms and economies in the years ahead."
The federal approach excludes collaboration. The further development of Sydney as a global city requires active intervention, not a market based let it rip approach if we a re to have a region that is attractive to investors and workers. Local attachment to place can overcome cost based location decision. Industrial clusters and knowledge hubs involve capital-labour-state cooperation, conducive to sustained capital accumulation in regions.
The NSW government has progressive industrial laws in place. NSW is the driver of the Australian economy, its industrial relations system is not a hindrance to economic development. Rather its fostering of active employer-union negotiation are a large step along the path to social partnership that enhances social equity and can, with research, networking and continued collaboration, ensure that we are a part of the emerging global knowledge based manufacturing and information technology society.
Active policy support and proper ongoing training systems are essential for Australian workers to be part of a more equitable global society.
Rodin Genoff is an academic who has gone off to implement what he taught. He has co-authored a book, Manufacturing Prosperity some years ago, and is now Industrial Strategist for the South Australian City of Playford, based in Elizabeth, north of Adelaide. Peter Roberts in the AFR (January 22-3, 2005) provided a useful outline of someone seeking to develop a creative region.
A finer example of industrial age landscape would be hard to find in Australia. Established post war with the influx of migrants, and the heart of the growth of South Australia under Thomas Playford and the ideas termed now, disparagingly, McEwenism, it was an area of large factories and strong unions, with high levels of employment. Its decline mirrored the downturn in manufacturing and the era of Fordism from the 1970s. It is still the home of car makers, and also electronic manfacturers.
Genoff knows that the mass employment in the old style is gone and he is seeking to shape the future around the knowledge economy. The area has a low household income and a high level of unemployment. Genoff himself lives in the inner city of Adelaide, much more likely to be a home for the creative class, as Florida sees it. However, the Playford area is developing a regional plan, as outer Sydney is, and unions could benefit from the ideas Genoff has about manufacturing. "Innovation occurs within networks of companies. In the knowledge economy, companies depend for their success just as much on the innovativeness and competitiveness of the companies they do business with in the vlue or supply chain as they do on themselves."
Holden for example outsource almost everything in their car making, just putting it together. Here we could see opportunity for unions to act and organise knowledge workers and skilled workers who are not based at a central plant but have the skills needed by all the companies in the cluster around Holden. Unions can be the key players in what Genoff is organsing for the Playford cluster. He is helping capability audits, business plans and he formation of networks and joint ventures
Genoff is aware that, as Phil Toner has argued, most research and development in Australia is based around manufacturing. Our manufacturing exports are still growing, just not keeping up with imports as we have lost the capability to produce many things.
It is not the job of unions to tell companies how to operate, some would say. However the rebuilding of regions to create sustainable futures is about people as much as about physical infrastructure and unions will be in a position rebuild themselves as well as employment, equality and lifestyle by becoming key players in the shaping of the future of regions such as Playford and the greater west of Sydney.
The federal government likes to depict unions as part of the problem. What Genoff says about manufacturing applies equally to unions: What is often seen as part of the problem is I fact part of the solution."
AFR 22-23 January 2005 p23
Frank Stilwell Changing Track
Frank Stilwell (2003). Overview: The urban economy Analytical, research and policy challenges. Address to the State of Australian Cities. National Conference Carlton Hotel, Parramatta. 3--5 December
Bob Fagan, Robyn Dowling, John Langdale (2003). Suburbs in the 'Global City': Labour markets in Western Sydney since the mid 1990s. State of Australian Cities. National Conference Carlton Hotel, Parramatta. 3--5 December
Jane Marceau, Kate Davison (2003) The Greater Sydney knowledge region: A basis for future development. State of Australian Cities. National Conference Carlton Hotel, Parramatta.3--5 December
"There's no time in this job. You've got to make all your gains fast because when the last door goes on, the last lock's fitted, the job's completed, you're all down the road, out of there," Mick Sage, carpenter.
The construction industry has an exciting urgency and energy. It's probably the emotional manifestation of a workplace that changes everyday until finally it disappears altogether.
And at any level, it's a cut throat game. This only adds to the drama.
Into this world plunges Liz Ross author of Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win! with the daunting task of documenting the last 15 years of one of Australia's most militant and controversial unions.
Ross makes no feint at an undaring objectivity, quoting liberally from Marx, Gramsci, Luxemburg and Trotsky.
But this fastidiously detailed read only benefits from the storyteller's undeniable love for the institution.
An institution that dared to take its brief beyond sticking up for its members work rights but also to their concerns about other issues of the day.
The union threw its weight around in everything from environmental concerns to Aboriginal rights, from community campaigns to its forthright action on behalf of women's, migrant and gay campaigns.
The union slapped green bans on much of the Rocks and ensured no McDonalds was ever built in Centennial Park.
The union was so political it banned work once on a communications tower because of a union wide US bases out campaign, but then lifted it because it was to be used to spy on Russia's forces in Afghanistan - a project union elements believed in.
When the state beat up its members, the BLF downed tools on police station sites. And they weren't afraid to break a concrete pour or two either.
This kind of "opinionated" approach to IR raised the ire of not only employers but also governments - especially as construction represents five percent of the economy and greatly influences employment. It's a major political football, and an important barometer for the economy as a whole.
So it wasn't just the fact many BLF leaders were avowed socialists, that conservative forces sought to destroy it.
Indeed in the union's heyday in the 1960's and 1970's many were members of the CPA, including Jack Mundey and Norm Gallagher.
And so Ross's story begins with the Fraser government's 1981 tri pronged attack on the union - a Royal Commission, de-registration proceedings in the Federal Court and contempt proceedings against Gallagher.
And like the recent Cole Royal Commission into the building industry the media were able to run all of the Commission's unsubstantiated accusations.
But there was only limited success for the Fraser Government which had to threaten many employers to participate. And other more moderate union leaders refused to criticise the BLF for striking or enforcing No Ticket, No Start.
Maybe the public had learnt from Jack Lang's remarks from the 1930's that no
government ever set up a royal Commission without knowing the findings beforehand.
While the union was able to attack the commission as a political witchhunt in full page newspapers ads, the de-registration proceedings left a heavier toll.
So much so the union had to levy members to pay its legal bills.
But the union remained strong and confident, after all, it had had bee de-registered in the 1970's and had actually grown its membership.
But the tide was turning for the BLF.
The culture of radicalism was changing and with Labor sweeping into power in Victoria in 1982 and nationally in 1983, the BLF's 'go it alone' policy was to be its undoing.
Over the years it had made many enemies, not just in the major political parties and boardrooms, but also in the broader trade union movement.
The years ahead would be a struggle, the Accord and other policies of the Labor Governments, perhaps ironically, racheting up the pressure on the union.
But the bitterness and division the next few years would cause for the labour movement is tempered in hindsight by the achievements of a union which had nothing but great 'confidence'.
It's legacy, whether in the geography of the modern day rocks district, or in stopping building workers having to work in the rain, will never be forgotten.
Liz Ross, Dare To Struggle, Dare To Win!, The Vulgar Press, 2004, $35
Two Labor hacks were out drinking,
One said "I sure dreamt one last night!"
"What happened?" "It was our great leader -
He soothed me and said 'don't take fright.
We'll wion tomorrow's election,
The partu's faith I will rewards.
I know I lost two in the past,
But this time a win is assured!
The PM thinks war's a vote winner,
And getting all close to the yanks...
But my policies have outflanked him -
Tomorrow, I'll give you my thanks.'"
"Far out! Your dream was all about Kim?
In three years time - what a neat trick!"
"No sadly, 'twas Calwell I dreamt of -
And the year was 1966!"
This novel has a title Titanic Forces and several chapters of this always unfinished manuscript appear in Bob Carr's 2002 book Thoughtlines .
After some thirty years, Bob Carr probably does not remember me. We were both delegates to a National Young Labor conference held in Sydney in 1973. I certainly remember Bob and his extraordinary ability to use sarcasm and humour to demolish the left of which I was very much a player. Greg Sword from the NUW has some photos of the delegates together, all in our twenties and all going to save the world.
Bob Carr and I both joined the ALP in the 1960s, he chose the right wing faction controlled by Ducker/Unsworth for his spiritual guidance. I went with the Victorian Hartley/Crawford left which after federal intervention in that state branch was reborn as the Socialist Left (SL). In the 1970s we both worked for the trade union movement. Now, some thirty years after our first and only meeting, we have both climbed the greasy political Labor poll. Bob Carr has been leader of the strongest Parliamentary Labor Caucus for sixteen years while I have been an ALP electorate officer for almost two years.
Bob's impatient hero in Titanic Forces, Richard Carter, works for a right wing controlled union which is based in Sydney's Sussex Street. Other characters in his novel include Gerry Sheridan a king maker if ever there was! Surely in real life in NSW Labor politics there could not be such a person who thinks of nothing but winning pre-selections, beating the left and counting numbers. Richard, our hero, has a few ambitions and ideas of his own. I can almost taste the Chinese food in Sydney's Dixon Street, smell the smoke and beer in the pubs in Goulburn Street.
In Victoria, we (ALP) electorate officers love reading of the exploits of the Shane Moloney character, Murray Whelan, and his steady rise through the ALP machine (Stiff, The Brush Off etc.) When Bob Carr gets a bit of time he should finally reveal if Richard will go on to win a seat in the Parliament and to serve the Labor Movement in Canberra or Sydney. Only then we will have a chance to compare the real engine rooms of politics within our two great states.
At least hope I can get a review copy or a decent glass of a Hunter Valley red at the launch. This political thriller needs to see the light of day.
this article first appeared in the summer 2004/2005 issue of Dissent magazine http://www.dissent.com.au/
What went wrong on 9 October? What lessons are there in the result, for labour and Labor?
What follows is a personal view.
For what it is worth, I went to Canberra in 1980 for my first job - as a young graduate in the Economics Division of Prime Minister's department - and joined the public sector union. Amongst other things I wrote briefing papers on 'Prices and Incomes Policies' for the PM. In January 1983 I transferred to the Department of Industrial Relations to work in the National Wages Policy Division, where submissions were prepared for national wage cases. In February of that year Malcolm Fraser called an election; Bob Hawke became Prime Minister with Labor's victory in March; and the National Economic Summit Conference was held in April 1983.
I worked on the Commonwealth submission to the 1983 National Wage Case, and on subsequent cases until switching sides mid-way through the 1986 wage case and starting work as ACTU Research Officer in March 1986. Eighteen years on, after many wage cases, submissions, policy papers, and committees, I am still with the ACTU.
Through this experience I have witnessed the relationship between organised labour and political Labor at close hand, from both sides. The Australian Labor Party was born as the political wing of the broad labour movement. The industrial wing is the Australian union movement. This essay briefly recounts the recent history of this relationship and outlines some issues for the path ahead. It is offered as a contribution to the debate the broad labour movement must have on the way forward.
A Potted History of our time
A split labour movement helped keep Menzies in power for a quarter century after World War II.
A fractious relationship between the union movement and the federal ALP dogged the Whitlam government. There are many reasons why Whitlam's government lasted only three short years, and this was one of them.
The Accord years were different. Several critical policy initiatives in the early years of the Accord - including deregulation of the financial and foreign exchange markets - came from left field but the relationship between political and industrial labour held, and communication on policy development was deep and extensive.
A key to this was the concept of the 'social wage'.
Restraint on increases in 'industrial wages' was the counterpart for gains on the social wage, notably including Medicare, childcare, superannuation, industry restructuring and development, education, and social security reform.
The point was that the real living standards of workers and their families depended on both. Through the eighties much was achieved economically and socially. These were heady years.
Increasingly after 1993 the Accord relationship frayed. The phones were silent more often. In truth, the darkness began to set in a little earlier, at the turn of the decade. After seven years of growth and hope and prosperity, the early nineties were characterised by recession then slow recovery, crippling unemployment, leadership tensions in the parliamentary Labor party, policy fatigue, staff burnout and turnover, and deep ructions with the arbitration commission. Some of these reflected growing pains for a maturing nation, but they were painful nonetheless.
In Canberra the view grew that the Accord had essentially been about wage restraint and with spreading enterprise bargaining the industrial wing no longer possessed bargaining coin of any denomination. The counterpart but latent message was that 'social wage' was the gift and the sole discretion of the political wing.
In influential Labor quarters the view was also growing that unions were social dinosaurs, more political baggage than boon here as for 'New Labour' in the UK and 'New Democrats' in the US, and best ditched in the modern quest for middle ground support.
Neo-liberal rhetoric about J-curves and the replacement of fiscal policy by monetary policy as the 'swing instrument' of macro-economic management had served a purpose in the late eighties, but by the mid-nineties events had shown it to be empty. It was a hard landing after all, following the boom of the eighties.
An ostensible nation building program in 1992 - the 'One Nation' package - had served the purpose of demarking Keating from Hawke. But there was a lack of conviction amongst the new Prime Minister's economic advisers regarding the intrinsic merits of the program. 'Planning' had for years been pilloried by the federal bureaucracy, and a lack of prior planning meant that 'One Nation' money could not be spent on infrastructure until the recession (and thus the counter-cyclical need) had passed.
In fact long before Dick Morris and 'triangulation', the view had formed at the highest level of government in Australia that the macro economy managed itself in the modern world, and the best option for government was to entrust it to autopilot. All a government could usefully do was promote competition and remove market impediments. 'Working Nation' would ease labour market frictions and mismatches, but job creation was a goal honoured in the policy breach. Industry policy was dead [except in the arts and communications]. Fiscal policy could be tightened by cutting spending or relaxed by cutting taxes. The economy runs itself, so politicians should talk about anything else.
Accordingly the bureaucratic and media dogs were let loose on the 1993 Kelty-Fox Regional Development report, encouraged to bark and to savage it, while Labor's political leadership stayed silent or damned the Report with faint praise. [Its key ideas were picked up in the 1996 Labor election policy package, when the best photo opportunities were provided by the Prime Minister's opening of new road and rail projects initiated under the One Nation banner, but by then all was lost.]
The heartland of the labour movement was hurting from economic recession, and nagged by the thought that Canberra was in cahoots with the elites and no longer listening to them. Attempts by the ACTU to link the tariff reduction program to its ostensible benefits - jobs growth, and lower unemployment - were dismissed by the Prime Minister's office on grounds of political psychology (being seen to be weak) without consideration of the economic merits.
One popular 'analysis' announced the end of certainty, asserting that (white Australia and protectionism having been ditched) the last vestige of the federation settlement - industrial arbitration - was an anachronism and swinging in the historical breeze. A wannabe biographer (then inner circle adviser) to the Prime Minister shared this view, and - against ACTU advice - salted the PM's speeches with welcoming references to the imminent end of the award system. 'Danger Man' was interposed in the lines of communication between Canberra and the ACTU to distance the chief from his erstwhile allies, and charged with cruelling the unions.
In the dying years of the Accord (post-1993) the political wing denigrated the maritime unions, promised to open the legal gate for non-union agreements while leaving restricted and conditional access for union collective agreements and, in so doing, gave tacit support and encouragement to union-busting firms. Late in the piece and reflecting the depths to which the relationship had deteriorated, former Prime Minister Hawke was resurrected as industrial advocate for the ACTU in the Weipa dispute, much to the chagrin of then current Prime Minister Keating in Japan for an APEC meeting.
Redfern and the republic were wonderful and visionary and warmed the hearts of true believers, but were pulp for victims of economic restructuring and xenophobes alike in 1996, waiting on their porches with baseball bats at the ready. They had been waiting long before Hewson flashed across their screens and gave them pause three years earlier. They had waited all through the Downer-Costello comic interlude.
The '93 election was, with hindsight, simply a stay of execution; the smell of political death was all about in '96 and Labor was smashed.
Since that time communication between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement has been haphazard, intermittent, and limited essentially to matters of industrial legislation.
Even there the road has often been rocky. Former ACTU President Martin Ferguson described then Minister Reith as 'an honourable man' and committed Labor to supporting government legislation entrenching archaic, inefficient and unfair junior wage provisions in awards. Without that support the government's legislation would not have passed the Senate and award restructuring would have flowed to junior wages too, and given us simple, coherent, fair minimum wages for young workers.
Industrial legislation aside, over the past decade consultation on policy development has been routine at best, between the two wings of the labour movement. Political Labor has perfunctorily gone through the motions of talking with unions in formal ALAC sessions. Industrial labour has bitten its tongue on Labor policy in public.
Without a substantive policy development role, some union leaders have indulged in the politics of party personalities and endeavoured (wholly in vain as it turns out) to influence the political wing's parliamentary leadership decisions.
Labor's apparent rebound result in the 1998 election really reflected deep public opposition to the GST. But it gave rise to the 'zero target' strategy, which killed off development of a Labor vision, of something for voters to vote for in the subsequent election.
Labor's 1998 tax package had been influenced by the 'five economists' plan to freeze award wages, and featured a 'working families' tax credit that delivered nothing to low income singles or middle income families, and promised a tax on four wheel drive vehicles. [Beazley's advisers believed minimum wage increases cost jobs.] Post election wisdom held that the tax package was too complex and scared swinging voters.
So, for the future under Beazley, there would be nothing visionary. No nation building infrastructure. No public hospital program. No industry policy. Simply hot air - spaghetti and meatballs - and the promise of book-keeping rectitude.
Then, when the Tampa arrived and tipped Labor into an abject political bog, there was simply nothing with which the party could gain policy traction and extricate itself from the mire. Howard's government had a vision - in reality, just a big new tax - but it paired this with deftness and decisiveness in playing to paranoia and fear, driving the wedge at every opportunity and harvesting Hansonist sentiment.
Beyond this, economic recovery (built on Labor reforms) was, by this time, well entrenched, and claimed by the government as its own.
The recent past
After the 2001 loss, incoming ALP leader Simon Crean inexplicably fell for Howard's sucker punch, and whacked himself in the solar plexus. Instead of standing on his digs and declaring long and loud the intrinsic worth of labour, he embarked on a strategy to inoculate political Labor from the Tory charge that it was simply the puppet of unions. Hawke and Wran were engaged to terminate the 60/40 rule governing affiliation in some states of unions to the ALP.
The rule changes were effected, but the strategy did not work. Crean made enemies of natural friends in the union movement, and won no new friends amongst 'New crew' apparatchiks in the parliamentary party. The effort required to secure the rule changes sucked energy from federal Labor's policy development and drew the limelight away from Crean's policy announcements.
What has it delivered? Howard flogged the union bogey mercilessly during the 2004 campaign, and in the aftermath the Murdoch and Fairfax press still pumps out the same asinine and self serving crap alleging union control of the policy agenda.
Having had total and loyal support over six years for his own leadership from Crean, Beazley sat as backbench baggage in the policy cart for two years declining to get into harness and help pull the cart along. Several Labor frontbenchers relentlessly and surreptitiously slipped sand in Crean's bearings then predicted a train wreck for the party under his leadership.
Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane's hindsight about Labor's chances under Crean is irrelevant. Latham's leadership gave Labor oxygen and a fresh impetus from late 2003, but the federal parliamentary party's processes of policy development continued to keep industrial labour out of the loop.
Over the past decade household debt and foreign debt have ballooned, while public debt has shrunk to minuscule levels.
Financial deregulation accounts for some of the former and privatisation much of the latter. The 'twin deficits' thesis, that public debt sucks in foreign debt and thus that government can redress a nation's foreign indebtedness by running domestic budget surpluses, is patently bunk.
Megacorps do dominate the world economy in this age of global capitalism, and accordingly national governments have limited leverage over domestic economic conditions. But voters believe governments affect the economy and government policy can and does influence economic developments to a considerable degree.
The esteem in which politicians are held in the Australian community is extremely low on any comparative measure. Politicians are perceived to by self-serving, lying, duplicitous, manipulative creeps and not to be trusted. Howard is emblematic of this type, so truth overboard revelations simply confirm the archetype. So too do (what seem to be) bully-boy handshakes. On their own, revelations such as these do not shift many votes.
What does shift votes is the perception that one party will put a skyrocket under interest rates when the household is mortgaged from the ridge cap to the footings. Union members have mortgages and personal debt. It is how most of them build their lives.
The ostrich posture is no response to a political fear campaign about debt and/or taxes. Neither is it possible to run an effective counter to such a campaign during the election period unless a solid base for it in community expectations has already been established.
There simply was no collaboration on most of the policies affecting the social wage that Labor took to the 2004 election. A few examples serve to illustrate this:
-Tax and family policy
Costello's May 2004 budget gave no tax cut whatever to the 75% of wage earners with incomes less than $52,000 a year. Labor promised a tax cut for all those who missed out; but was jammed by fiscal rectitude on the one hand and the need to deliver more than a sandwich and milkshake on the other. Policy room was shortly constricted further by a promise not to touch Costello's top marginal rates and thresholds.
Clearly, given the need to rebuild services the amount available for tax cuts was constrained, but low paid full-time workers desperately needed some tax relief. The ACTU never knew for sure how much the ALP had earmarked for tax cuts, but an informed guess of $1.7bn was used as a working parameter.
With this, ACTU figuring showed it was possible to deliver an income tax cut to all workers earning less than $52,000 a year. For all full-time workers between the minimum wage and $52,000 the tax cut was $10 a week. Single income earners with no dependents would benefit. Two-income working families would get relief not provided by Howard. EMTRs would fall for low paid workers.
The delivery mechanism was a tax credit, and the key to the proposal was means-testing the tax-free threshold. This reduced the dollar value of the May tax cuts for higher income earners without changing the top marginal rates and thresholds set in the budget. Higher income earners would keep $27 a week out of Costello's $48 a week tax cut. No low paid workers lost out.
The detailed proposal was forwarded to relevant shadow ministers. No response was ever received. As happened in the run up to the '98 and 2001 elections, no discussions ensued. Insofar as it was anything more than wage restraint alone, the Accord was clearly dead in body and in spirit.
In the result Labor's family-tax package 'Rewarding Hard Work' promised a tax cut of $8 a week for most workers delivered as a tax credit, and a complex change to family tax payments. The total cost to budget of the tax cuts was $2.7bn. Taxpayers with incomes over $80,000 would receive a further $4.80 a week tax cut, but those with incomes between $56,000 and $80,000 would get nothing.
There was a substantial group of low-income earners left worse off under the proposed changes to family tax benefits. For example a single income family with three kids, one under 5 and two aged between 5 and 12, with the wage earner employed on the federal minimum wage, was $931 a year worse off under Labor than the coalition.
The low-income losers under the Labor package were single income couples with children, and single parent families. The ALP response to this group was (1) the $600 of Howard cash they would lose was 'not real' and (2) the package would improve the incentive to work. Those of us who argue for Safety Net wage increases in the national wage case each year were flabbergasted.
Helen Clark, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair all won elections promising redistributive tax justice - promising to raise taxes on high income earners and cut taxes for low paid workers to improve the return from work. Over the past twenty years in Australia high-income groups have had tax relief in spades. Over the past ten years low paid full-time workers in particular have had it in the neck. Labor's family tax package fell well short of rectifying the situation.
Labor never lost a chance to make the point, repeating it loud and long throughout the last three-year term, but on 9 October the voters returned 'the highest taxing government in Australia's history' with a handsome majority.
The essential details of the Labor package were not known to the ACTU until after the policy's release. In the interests of gaining economic authority and credibility for the package however, the full details were provided to Access Economics, the Melbourne Institute, and NATSEM.
- Industrial Relations
There was good consultation between Labor and labour on the elements of Labor's industrial relations policy, resulting in shared understanding of the issues. From this came substantial agreement and acceptance by labour of Labor's IR legislation package.
Regrettably, this was seriously undermined in public perception, by Access Economics' endorsement of the coalition IR policy. The vehicle was an Access report commissioned by the BCA on Labor's IR proposals. This was a shallow, shoddy and intellectually dishonest piece of work that reflects poorly on the professionalism and product quality of this high profile consultancy firm. But this same firm - that would willingly torpedo Labor's IR policy - was relied on by Labor to give credibility to its economic policy! The same might well be said of the Melbourne Institute.
Retirement income adequacy is core union business. It is core ALP business too. A child of the Accord, superannuation was conceived in direct bargaining, nurtured in the award wages system, and taken to the verge of maturity through the SGC. At 9% it does not yet provide for retirement income adequacy.
In this respect Labor's policy taken to the election was tentative and hesitant, and fell well short of ACTU policy. Labor delivered one speech on super during the campaign, promising '65 at 65', but there was no clear indication of how this might be achieved. After this speech nothing further was heard from Labor about superannuation.
More disturbingly, the ALP promise - born out of concern for fiscal rectitude - to use $800mn of unclaimed super to retire public debt, was hatched wholly without consultation with the industrial wing of the labour movement.
Medicare Gold was a creative step in the right direction, but not a policy to deliver affordable universal health care for today's working families today.
ALP policy on schools was redistributive, identifying 67 loser schools. Predictably of course, the 9,000 plus winners got no profile in the press coverage.
This was an electoral debacle.
Environmental concerns are here to stay. Climate change, greenhouse, renewable energy, Kyoto protocols, biodiversity, natural heritage, sustainable production. So too is job security. Organised labour can never ignore or reject the interests of its constituent members.
In truth a large majority of both union members and environmentalists are blackberries - red when they are green, and green when they are red. There is an extensive overlap of common cause and common purpose, and a shared commitment to the common good.
Labor and labour have been managing industry restructuring for decades - in primary and resource industries, and intensively in manufacturing across traditional heavy engineering sectors, high tech vehicle manufacturing, clothing and footwear and more. In NSW the state Labor government negotiated a restructuring package with the forestry workers.
This is difficult territory, but both the industrial and the political wings of the labour movement have extensive experience in it. On this occasion the industrial wing did not know what was coming and got it second-hand when it did come.
An $800mn industry-restructuring package is a huge commitment and should have been a major electoral plus on both the south and the north islands. How formulation of this policy and the tactical aspects of its release could be so bungled is an indictment on both wings of the labour movement.
- Economic policy
Over the past three years there was no substantive consultation or dialogue between the ACTU and the federal parliamentary Labor party on broad economic policy.
ALP economic policy was essentially shaped by the Government's policy position and rhetoric, tempered by grabs of populism - zero net public debt, bigger surpluses than you, public-private partnerships, highest taxing government, don't sell Telstra (just bits of it), national competition policy, free trade agreements, current account deficits don't matter, forget industry policy, markets fix problems, governments make problems.
Investing in infrastructure for growth, regional development, that investment drives savings not vice versa, using superannuation for our future and more jobs? - these were not Labor's themes.
Including core labour standards and environment clauses in trade agreements? - anathema for Labor. Arguing the case that budget surpluses in perpetuity slow national development? - too hard. Labor articulating the case for activist government ? - don't be stupid.
Through all this, the ACTU has gone quietly. Policy adopted by its Congress has been forwarded to the federal parliamentary Labor party with no public fanfare and promptly been ignored by them. The oft-repeated conservative lie - that Labor requires permission from the unions to make policy - is fanciful but ceaselessly repeated in the hope of making it a well-known fact.
The most incomprehensible aspect of Labor's 2004 policy pastiche was the readiness to be redistributive on schools but not on tax. The silliest aspect was Labor's pandering to fourth estate preoccupations with fiscal rectitude to the neglect of political common sense. Howard didn't do it and it didn't hurt the Tories.
Few remain in labour's political or industrial wings, from the team that won victory in 1983. Twenty years on, the lessons of the Accord are not first-hand knowledge for today's incumbents in either wing.
Many have sought to diminish it as simply a mechanism for restraining the growth of money wages, but at its best the Accord was more than that. Its real strength was in its being a process for policy development; the Accord was never an inflexible adherence to a suite of immutable policy positions.
As an agreement to restrain wages in the unionised sector of the economy, the Accord is rightly now dead and will not be resurrected. The tragedy for Australia's working people is that Accord's collaborative beating heart was interred along with the raiments of wage restraint.
The course travelled in Australia by Labor and organised labour over the past three years has been a continuation of the same dry track we have been stumbling along together for most of the preceding decade. There has to be a better way.
Where to now?
While there will be changes at the margins, many unions will remain affiliated to and active within the Labor party at federal and state level for years to come.
But detailed policy development is a matter for the parliamentary team and the shadow cabinet in particular at any point in time, subject to broad parameters set by Party conferences from time to time.
For the parliamentary team of political Labor, there are essentially two policy alternatives.
In one direction is the 'zero target' option. Here the Party promises to be good and diligent bookkeepers, and otherwise give voters nothing to vote against. The strategy is to wait until the incumbent Tories become so dysfunctional that they stink to high heaven and get turfed out. Ultimately victory will come, but as the Menzies years show that may be a generation away yet.
In the other direction the Party develops a coherent suite of alternative policies that give voters something to vote FOR. Bookkeeping rectitude is an essential element in the policy bag, but not the sole item there. [The degree of collaboration with organised labour in developing the policy package is important, but a second order issue.]
The choice between these two broad approaches is a matter for Labor's parliamentary team.
For organised labour there is simply no choice. Unions must articulate cogent reasons for workers to join them, or die.
A union movement that fails to advocate its cause, that fails to agitate for change, that does not fight for a better world, has no future.
Industrial labour in Australia is facing its gravest challenge in living memory. Howard is gleeful with a majority in both houses. The Tories see the coming engagement as the crusade of individualism against collectivism.
Whatever its views and policy positions regarding the national interest, the union movement will have to focus sharply on maintaining good order in its own house and fight first and hardest for the immediate interests of its own membership. The industrial wage must be the foremost concern.
Wages. Leave. Hours. Superannuation. Minimum standards. Industrial law. Organising. Job security. Financial security.
On broader social wage issues - tax, health, education, environment, economic management, and the like - biting our tongues has not worked. The union movement must speak its mind on these issues and ventilate its policies.
To claim that the past three election results would have been different had Labor engaged more collaboratively with labour in developing its policies, is to draw a very long bow. The principal lesson to be drawn for the broad labour movement is how extraordinarily hard it is to win office.
A close working relationship between the political and industrial wings of the labour movement is in the best interests of working Australians and their families, and did deliver the country its longest and most stable period of progressive government.
But unions must work with the world the way we find it, not the way we wish it were. If parliamentary Labor declines a closer affair and prefers estrangement to engagement, industrial labour must accept that reality and get on with core business.
Senior Research Officer
Australian Council of Trade Unions
All views, opinions and errors in this article are the author's alone, and should not be taken to reflect those of the ACTU or any other person or organisation.
When the Asian Tsunami struck on Boxing Day over 600 union activists already in Sri Lanka immediately downed tools. The unionists, from Norwegian People's Aid, were in the area clearing land mines, but quickly turned its manpower, trucks and water tanks over to the emergency effort. Since then their sister organisation, Australia's own Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, has been resourcing the group with some of the more than $1 million raised by Australian unions since then.
But Union Aid Abroad's Peter Jennings is quick to point out while emergency relief and home rebuilding is important, the international community needs to stay focused to help our neighbours rebuild their livelihoods and civil societies. That's why donations to Union Aid Abroad are not only going to providing hammers, saws, cement and corrugated iron sheets but also to fishing boats and nets.
If any good can be said to come of the crisis it can be the possibility of crafting the social infrastructure of affected countries even better than before.
At the best of times, life is not easy for the palm plantation workers and their families who live along the Acehnese West Coast on Indonesia's Sumatra island. In a country with 30 million unemployed, many of these workers are grateful to have work at all, yet conditions are poor by any measure. The official minimum wage has been set at between US$1.60 and $1.80 a day, but companies regularly undercut this level. In recent years the number of casual labourers has increased compared to permanent workers, giving employers more control over setting employment conditions. Often the wives or children of male labourers are compelled to work in order to achieve production targets. Tools, safety equipment and OH&S training are rarely provided, and expenses accrued due to sickness and injury are not covered. Workers and their unions have staged protests and strikes in the region in an attempt to improve conditions, but given that many of the palm plantations are state-owned, the government authorities have largely resisted their demands. Additionally, because of the ongoing civil conflict, many labourers' families have been forced to move out of plantation housing and live in the regional city of Meulaboh.
On December 26 2004, disaster struck the already precarious existence of this community. The earthquake that triggered the tsunami that morning was only 150 kilometres from the Meulaboh district, meaning that the area was one of the worst affected. In the city itself, an estimated 40,000 out of a population of 120,000 were killed, and fishing boats were washed as far as three kilometres inland. Hundreds of palm plantation workers' homes were destroyed, and many of them lost their lives. Even now, a month after this disaster, much clean-up work still remains, and there is significant risk of an outbreak of cholera and tetanus in the area.
Amidst this situation of tragedy and destruction, trade unions and community organisations have been busy helping rebuild lives. Funded in part by Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA, the overseas aid agency of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) now has teams of Indonesian volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics in the region providing much needed assistance. The IUF teams, who are amongst only a few relief groups in the area working independently of the Indonesian military, are providing medicine and medical treatment to palm plantation workers and their families, and have also set up a portable water sanitation unit. This work is vital, as very little assistance has thus far flowed to these communities.
Besides the work with the IUF in and around Meulaboh, Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is also assisting tsunami relief efforts in other parts of Aceh and in Sri Lanka. In the city of Banda Aceh, some funds are being channelled through 'WALHI', an umbrella environmental group representing community and human rights networks throughout Indonesia. They have been assisting with food and water distribution, and are working in several camps for internally displaced people.
In Northern Sri Lanka, aid is being delivered through Norwegian People's Aid, the overseas aid arm of the Norwegian trade union movement. After providing emergency relief they are providing relief and helping with reconstruction in badly affected Tamil communities. In Southern and Eastern Sri Lanka, a partnership has been established with local Singhalese trade union networks, who now have thousands of volunteers working in the area. They have been distributing food, water and medicines, and are helping clearing away the debris in preparation for reconstruction work.
With the emergency relief phase of the disaster slowly ending, Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is shifting its emphasis to long-term reconstruction projects in Sri Lanka and Aceh. In the words of ACTU president Sharon Burrow : "Houses and general public infrastructure will need to be rebuilt, jobs and livelihoods re-established as well as the rebuilding of communities and civil society structures. It could take years to restore some regions devastated by the tsunami. This is why long term plans need to be put in place."
To ensure that these long-term projects aims are completed effectively, the executive director of Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA, Peter Jennings, will be visiting Aceh in mid-February. There he will assess the needs of local communities and prepare for a Bahasa-speaking Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA project officer to establish ongoing operations.
Key to these activities has been the overwhelming generosity of the Australian trade union movement. Outstanding contributions include donations of resources and hundreds of thousands of dollars from both the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), as well as a call by the Australian Education Union (AEU) for members to donate half a day's pay to their Tsunami Appeal.
Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA is committed to funding and managing long-term rehabilitation projects in both Aceh and Sri Lanka. Your ongoing assistance with this objective is needed. Every dollar donated to Union Aid Abroad will be matched by the Federal Government with 20 cents.
To make a financial donation or to find out more information about the Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA Tsunami Rehabilitation Appeal, contact us:
* Ring 1800 888 674 (free call) or (02) 9264.9343 between 8am and 6pm.
* Visit the Union Aid Abroad website
* Mail a cheque or money order to APHEDA, Level 3, 377 Sussex St, Sydney NSW 2000
* Walk into any National Australia Bank. Please specify the APHEDA ˆ Union Aid Abroad Appeal, BSB Number is 082024 Account Number is 57 877 0001
(Any donation over $2 to APHEDA Overseas Projects is tax deductible. APHEDA's ABN is 76 425 451 089. Authority to Fundraise CFN12752)
"Boredom: the desire for desires." - Leo Tolstoy
A long time ago, sometime last month, there was cricket being played.
Games wandered around like an old dog a the park; coming from nowhere and heading nowhere, falling across the gaze of a contented public that sprawled across the nation's lounges in a contented stupor, soaking up the soporific poetry of the ABC commentary and the absurd theatre of the TV coverage.
It was a harmless and pleasant time. The sun baked down outside while the ritualistic spectacle unfolded like some kind of hybrid between performance art and opiated athletics meet.
But while cricket was quietly minding it's own business, intoning numbers like some Coptic Bishop recites psalms, an evil spectre was looming.
Bursting onto this summer idyll like a Sunday morning leafblower came the Australian Open.
A sport least suited to radio coverage than tennis is hard to contemplate.
Sailing was pretty hard to fathom during the America's Cup, but the interloping coverage of the tennis last month was a scandal of mammoth proportions.
"Backhand! Forehand! Forehand! Forehand! Backhand!"
Certainly, someone's hand was pretty busy.
When slotted against the poetic anarchy of the cricket coverage it sounded quite bizarre. About as listenable as an experimental electronic orchestra from Berlin.
To add insult to injury it was possible to hear the Australian cricket team in action on Cricket plus in the Caribbean, but not in Australia.
One could hear of Afridi's exploits in Kingstown, but not in Kingswood.
"Is no natty dred mon!"
What flea-bitten, dopey headed, aluminium brained clot came up with this broadcasting the tennis on the radio at the expense of cricket idea?
Whoever it is, someone should get a blueprint of their brain. It will be handy if ever you wish to build a moron.
Speaking of morons, it's hard to tell from this distance whether Greg Norman is a moron or a congenital idiot.
The smart money is firming on the latter.
To watch his chisel-jawed visage in the corporate box while Lleyton is embarrassing himself in public again is to wonder at why this man is held in esteem by anything, let along human beings.
This man's achievements matter not a jot in the scheme of things. Given his abilities you'd think that his sole commercial value would be to advertise something that wanted to demonstrate its choking qualities.
I've seen flat basketballs with more spine.
No wonder he admires the little brat from Adelaide, they deserve each other.
And what's all this weird shit with the blonde girlfriend?
If the locker room wants to put up with blonde idiots he'll go surfing.
This column has suspected all along that tennis is some middle class front for wife swapping; either that or some wacko cult that worships deodorant.
Tennis is very strange.
Let's just hope we don't have to put up with Wimbledon buggering up the ashes series any more than Foxtus already has.
Phil Doyle - going in-off on the black
"If, instead of individual bargaining, one can conceive of a collective agreement... it seems to me that the framers of the agreements would have to take, as the first and dominant factor, the cost of living as a civilised being.
"If A lets B have the use of his horses, on the terms that he give them fair and reasonable treatment, I have no doubt that it is B's duty to give them proper food and water, and such shelter and rest as they need." - Justice H.B. Higgins in his Harvester Judgement.
It's 98 years since Justice H. B. Higgins handed down his Harvester Judgement to the Arbitration Commission, guaranteeing a liveable minimum wage. The Howard Government in its 4th term is bent on the complete corruption of this essential part of Australian history through a jurisdictional horse-trading exercise before the centenary is out.
When Howard was Leader of the Opposition almost 20 years ago, he told the H.R. Nicholls Society:
"Mr Justice Higgins' Harvester Judgement of 1907 effectively determined that Australian industrial relations would be inflexible and centralised. According to Higgins, it would be better for an employer to go out of business than pay his employees less than the fixed rate..."
This spin is as ideologically twisted as it is inaccurate. If Howard has his way, workers in all areas of Australia and especially NSW, will be forced to work under a system of watered-down Awards and minimal entitlements.
Howard's hypocrisy is highlighted by his backing of bosses' unions, championing collective bargaining among small business unions and associations and his belief in centralised wage fixing and industrial relations.
Howard's right hand man, Peter Costello, is just as hypocritical in wanting gaol terms for CEOs guilty of collusion in tendering (but not industrial manslaughter).
That's all fine for the bosses but when it comes to protecting workers' entitlements against corporate collapse, such as Walter Construction Group's, they won't lift a finger to formulate a national scheme to prevent collapses in the first place.
As NSW and other State Governments grapple with the challenge of providing more public services with less revenue (mainly due to GST allocations), we have to protect against the temptation to cede the difficult policy areas to the Federal Government.
There may be merit in the theory of horse-trading in matters of jurisdiction but the fact is that NSW as the most populous state will get a raw deal almost every time. And it is absolutely essential that Industrial Relations not be traded-off like some commodity in a so-called "free trade" negotiation.
Recent newspaper articles revealed that in Victoria, where the Federal system enjoys a monopoly, the number of working days lost is up to 70 per cent greater than under the NSW system.
This system allows a fair go for employers as well as workers and that in a recent review of the Act, not one business group suggested abolition of the State industrial relations system.
Howard continues to blackmail the states in many areas, not just industrial relations. Recently, threats to withhold funding on Austlink roads unless AWAs are implemented were made to the states under the guise of National Competition Policy.
This is the context in which the Carr-Refshauge Government confronts the challenges of delivering for NSW with annual funding for new infrastructure reaching $7.5 Billion, for example.
The recent resignation of Michael Egan as Treasurer resulted in a reshuffle of Ministerial roles. Andrew Refshauge has been Deputy Premier since Labor came to power in 1995 and it is fitting that he is the new Treasurer. He was replaced as Minister for Education by Carmel Tebbutt and John Watkins is the new Transport Minister.
Carl Scully is the new Police Minister and Michael Costa takes over Roads, Economic Reform and Ports. Reba Meagher is the new Minister for Community Services while Joseph Tripodi is the new face in the Ministry, with responsibility for Housing.
These Ministers and the full Labor Caucus will have to come to terms with many existing and arising issues in the coming year.
Insurance and negligence laws in various industries continue to present a challenge to the Government. The recent case High Court decision in favour of Mr Swain highlights major flaws in the patchwork of legislation covering various forms of no-fault and common law negligence compensation in this state.
The specific plight of the seriously injured, especially after the implementation of the Civil Liability Act 2002, has been further highlighted by this decision in the Swain case to reinstate the jury verdict of $3.75 million damages to the quadriplegic Mr Swain.
Other insurance such as home warranty insurance and workers compensation are still problematic areas and it is up to a Labor government to fix them. As I've said before, a government player in the insurance market would force down prices and improve coverage.
I'm currently on a Parliamentary Committee with a new inquiry into personal injury compensation legislation. The inquiry covers all forms of personal injury and the outcome of compensation claims, their impacts on the community and on premiums and coverage.
This inquiry is bound to turn up some interesting ideas and evidence, which I will continue to publicise. See the link to the Inquiry website below.
Mental health services continue to be a concern. The Mental Health Workers Alliance was launched in Parliament House in November and will promote a saner approach to mental health issues by government services. This problem is much bigger and broader than acknowledged and requires serious attention to ensure future services are appropriate.
Carers are also in need of attention--I was pleased to take delivery of a petition to Government from workers employed in the Homecare Service of NSW who are members of the LHMU. The workers want an equal allowance for using their car to that received by Homecare Administrative staff.
In the regions, long-term problems with no easy solutions continue to bite. Water usage, salinity, locust plagues, regional infrastructure and unemployment are all important and require more attention from Federal and State Governments.
The struggle to protect and improve the lives workers and their families hasn't changed. The new and vital chapter in this struggle has high stakes and plenty to fight for. I know the labour movement is up to the challenge.
- The first Unions NSW forum with NSW Labor MPs on Wednesday 24th February will address the Federal Industrial Relations attack and plan ways to defend essential workers' rights such as right of entry for workers' representatives.
- The NSW Government submission to the Senate Committee Inquiry into the Workplace Relations (Right of Entry) Bill 2004 sets reasons to reject the bill very clearly:
o There has been no consultation with state governments
o There is no policy case for change
o There is no legal case for change
o The bill seeks to impose a centralised, 'one size fits all' approach on employers and unions
o The bill aims to replace simple, effective and non-controversial NSW legislation
o The bill would create contradictions with existing federal and state legislation
o The bill breaches Australia's international obligations
Read the full NSW Government submission on the Senate Inquiry website: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/wr_rightentry/index.htm
- The Inquiry into Personal Injury Compensation Legislation by General Purpose Committee 1 is open to submissions until 11 March. For more information, go to http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees and use the Inquiries box.
For my spin on What's On in NSW Parliament, go to Ian West's Online Office at http://www.ianwestmlc.com.au/new.html
I am interested to hear feedback and ideas--you can contact my office at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email me at email@example.com.