Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
After the Action
Power and the Passion
Mao and Then
The Third Way Hits A Dead End
Unfair For All
What Is To Be Done?
Black Hawk Up
Interview with Peter Lewis
How does losing control of the Senate change the way you've got to fight these legislative changes?
It makes the public campaign all that more important. It means that what the ACTU is doing with advertising, what some of the state government's are doing with advertising, it means the rallies. It's the public pressure that counts. Of course, in this increasingly fraying Liberal/National government the possibility of dissidence is growing. And if those dissidents emerge on this legislation we can put them in play by the positions we're adopting. But we just have to be a classic Opposition party holding the government to account and putting up better ideas.
An issue like industrial relations has not really been an election issue for the last few decades. Do you see it becoming an election issue next time around?
It certainly will be. The starting point of it will be John Howard's deceit at the last election. There was absolutely nothing in the Liberal platform that even remotely relates to what he's trying to do with this legislation. So the issue of his deception will be the starting point. But then we'll move on to a fairer system. Whatever he does it won't be a fairer system. So we will be running on some basic principles of a fair minimum wage setting system, a proper umpire, the rights for people to collectively bargain and to have a collective agreement and not an individual contract. We'll be fighting for the rights of unions to be able to organise. So those will be basic principles, which we will put forward to the Australian electorate to take the industrial relations system forward.
How important is an effective public campaign from the unions in giving you the space to develop your own policies for the next election?
Well it's critical. It'd be a big help. The fact that the unions are out there alerting the public to the what's happening to them is absolutely grist to the mill for us. You see I think the unions here are conducting a struggle not simply on behalf of themselves and their members. In a funny sort of way, what unions do for non-union members is at least as important for what they do for union members. All unions take an interest in awards. You often find though workers are the beneficiary of awards are hardly unionised or there are only very few union members among them. But the unions nevertheless go in to get the awards up dated and get the pay claims and the rest of it. So actually is an awful lot of people surf on the back of the union movement who don't actually pay their dues. Now, with Howard's legislation that's just not going to be possible.
If there's one cancer in this set of proposal it has to be the push of AWA's and individual contracts - linked to the government actively promoting employers and tying federal money to AWA's. What can you tell us at this point about the position on AWA's that you'll be taking forward over the next couple of years
Well, look I dislike AWA's but there's always been individual contracts out there in the common law system and huge numbers of Australian workers have traditionally been signed up to that. But what's the problem here is the combination of AWA's, removal of at least more than a dozen allowable matters, the gutting of the Industrial Relations Commission and the removal of the capacity of unions to enter workplaces. You combine all those four things together and the agenda becomes clear. They all work in an intersected way to suppress wages and AWA's are at the heart of that and I don't like them at all.
If, as seems likely the Industrial Relations Commission loses control of the minimum wage, is there realistically any prospect of giving it back to them under a future Labor Government?
Oh yes, and if the government gets away with what its apparently wanting to do we will certainly be going to an election campaign with a argument that the Industrial Relations Commission needs more powers to be an effective umpire and needs to handle that issue.
Unfair dismissals - should it be a debate about thresholds or is there a general principle there?
Both. You know the Labor Party has put some constructive amendments up on the proposals of the unfair dismissals. We have said that it's a reasonable thing for employers to be worried about people who are effectively ambulance chasers amongst the legal profession. So we say that you shouldn't be able to conduct, you know if you're a lawyer, taking up an unfair dismissal case on the basis of a contingency fee. We also say it's a reasonable thing for a small business person not to have to shut his business down to have a case heard so we think the IRC should go to the individual worksite and conduct their consideration of the particular claim there in the workplace so the boss doesn't have to shut down. We think there are lots of useful things you can do to make it not a burden on small business that it is now Under the Liberal proposal it is not a small business issue solely at all, and ninety nine percent of workplaces are caught up in their new limit. Again, it was not foreshadowed to the Australian people and when you take the unfair dismissals combined with the AWA's, combined with the gutting of the umpire what you get from that three pronged attack is you can see that employers will sit down with employees and say either you take the pay cut or take the sack. If you're unfairly dismissed well you can't do anything it. That's what they'll be able to do. It's the combination of these things that are so critical to the average worker.
Finally, a lot of people are getting pretty depressed at the prospect of the Howard government having control of the Senate from July 1. Give us your best case scenario of how the politics plays out over the next few years.
Well I tell you what, I've at different points in time apologised to the union movement for not getting keeping the Senate in a balanced situation. We missed it. The Senate's definitely created the vulnerability here. I think there will be an awful lot of people who will think twice about voting Liberal in the Senate next time and there will be an awful lot of people thinking twice about voting him in the House. So I don't expect this is to be a situation to last very long. That's the first point. Second point is with the Liberal party internally divided and the National party divided too from them and the worries that I know a lot of Liberal's have with Howard's extremism on this stuff there is a chance that the Senate nevertheless will be in play. Its something that we'll have to see as this debate emerges.
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