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August 2005   

Interview: On Holiday
Historian Richard White looks back on the Aussie vacation - and finds a way of life is under threat.,

Unions: One Day Longer
Nathan Brown travels to the Boeing picket line and find a group of workers with a steely determination to stick together.

Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Jim Marr plays the Howard Government's industrial relations spin job on its merits.

Politics: Spun Out
Canberra’s latest campaign underlines the need for controls over government advertising, according to Graeme Orr and Joo-Cheong Tham

Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
Evan Jones explains how the way we purchase alcolohol reflects the type of economy we live in.

History: Taking a Stand
Neale Towart looks at two books that chronicle how to build community support against social injustice.

International: The Split
Amanda Tattersal outsider's account of an insider's shake-out at the AFL-CIO Convention 2005

Legal: Pushing the Friendship
George Williams argues that the federal government’s constitutional powers are not sufficient to enact a comprehensive national industrial relations scheme

Poetry: Simple Subtractions
The latest blitz of taxpayer-funded advertising has revealed a crisis of arithmetic in government ranks has moved resident bard David Peetz to prose.

Review: Sydney Trashed
Sydney band SC Trash are on a mission to give new life to folk and country music – and the politics of common sense. Nathan Brown had a beer with them


The Westie Wing
Our favourite MP, Ian West, goes away for a couple of weeks and look what happens…

The Soapbox
The Last Weekend
Unions NSW secretary John Robertson's speech to the Last Weekend - how the Howard government laws will undermine the Ausrtalian way of life.

The Locker Room
A Concept Is Born
In which Phil Doyle helps the proponents of the vision thing across the road.

Workers Blood For Oil
A new book by Abdullah Muhsin and Alan Johnson lifts the lid on the bloody reality of US backed democracy for Iraq's trade unions

London Post
During his recent stay in London IEU industrial officer John Shapiro was living only a few hundred metres from the site of one of the bomb blasts.


Iemma’s Dilemmas
The past fortnight has seen the sort of upheaval in NSW that reminds us all that politics is a very tenuous game with few certainties and even fewer rules.


 Carmen's Boss No Fun Guy

 Discriminating Centrelink on Charges

 Uproar Over Holiday Plans

 Do The Bus Stop

 Taxpayers to Fund Advertising Orgy

 Get Up Stands Up

 Andrews Provokes Showdown

 Thousands in Super Rort

 Constituents Don’t Trust Andrews

 Skill Shortage Fabricated

 Yanks Short Change Tradesmen

 Howard Steamroller Hits Building Sites

 CFMEU Bans Ferguson

 Activists Whats On!

 Back To The Past
 AFL-CIO Not The Only War
 Be Afraid
 Frame Up
 We Love Morris
 ANew Development
 A Readers Suggestion
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Never Mind the Bollocks

Jim Marr plays the Howard Government's industrial relations spin job on its merits.


'Australia will be the only nation in the OECD that makes it harder - significantly harder at that - for a group of workers to withdraw their labour than for an employer to lock-out their employees,' accirt, University of Sydney.

'The Government's basic problem is that it can't bring itself to admit that the crustal-clear objective of its changes is to shift the balance of bargaining power in favour of employers,' Ross Gittins,' Economics Editor, Sydney Morning Herald.


Rattled Government and business leaders are calling worker representatives "liars" for warning about the effects of John Howard's workplace laws.

It's a serious accusation and, there's no doubt, somebody in this debate is being economical with the truth.

You could look at issues like Children Overboard, Weapons of Mass Destruction or promises to "never ever" introduce a GST, to try and establish a credibility rating, but they're all ancient history now.

Instead, let's have a look at federal government's own advertisement, paid for with $20 million of our money.

The headlines are bold - More Jobs, Higher Wages and A Stronger Economy. But where is the proof? Well, actually, they're talking about the present situation built on the very workplace rules they want to jettison.

There are no facts or figures put forward to support any contention their blueprint will improve the situation.

In fact, the concrete evidence available, suggests the opposite.

John Howard chose to invoke New Zealand in a major speech in Sydney, last month. In it, he suggested, Kiwis were happy with a system based on individual contracts.

He quoted a survey, expressing 85 percent employee satisfaction, 18 months after the radical Employment Contracts Act was passed in 1991.

What he neglected to mention was, in that country, unlike Australia, employers couldn't push workers onto individual contracts until collective agreements had expired.

He was, in fact, quoting a survey of attitudes to working conditions based primarily on collective, union-negotiated contracts.

It took five or six years for the full effect of the changes to be felt in New Zealand and the results were dramatic. Here are some facts Howard neglected to mention ...

- a 1998 National Business Review survey returned only a 39 percent employee satisfaction rating

- a detailed study of supermarket wage rates, for the decade to 1997, published in the Labour Market Bulletin, showed real wages had fallen between 11.2 percent for fulltime adults to 44.4 percent for part time students

- the fact that, in 1997, real wages in New Zealand were LOWER than they had been in 1977

- that, despite lower wages, labour productivity grew by only 0.5 percent a year between 1993 and 1998. Under a centralised, collective wage bargaining system, Australia achieved annual growth of 3.2 percent for the same period

- that the New Zealand Government admits, today, its economic performance still suffers from being turned into a low-wage economy, 14 years ago

- that tens of thousands of Kiwis voted with their feet, emigrating in search of better rewards. Howard, himself, slammed the door on years of reciprocal citizenship in a bid to stem the trans-Tasman flight.

Here's some other things the Government claims, in its own words ...

Here's Johnny

"Workers on AWAs currently earn 13% more than workers on certified agreements, and 100% more than workers on award rates."

BUSTED: In July, the government's own statisticians at the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) released official earnings comparisons. Its publication, Australian Social Trends, showed workers on collective agreements earned, on average, 80 cents per hour more than those on AWAs.

There are some things we should know about Howard's claim. First, it compares total weekly earnings, irrespective of hours worked.

ABS figures show AWA employees work six hours per week longer than Aussies on collective agreements and a whopping 27 hours more than those on awards, many of whom are casual or part-time.

The government also ignores the earnings of more than a million people employed on state-registered agreements.

It includes more than 800,000 people defined as "managers" by the ABS, such as departmental bosses in Canberra hauling in six-figure salaries, on the AWA side of its equation.

"Workers will continue to be protected from unlawful termination ... "

BUSTED: This is classic pollie-speak. "Unlawful termination" is a specialist category of essentially human rights protections that deals with discrimination on grounds such as race, political affiliation and gender. These cases are expensive and have to be run in a formal court of law.

What Howard intends to do is remove "unjustified dismissal" rights from people at workplaces that employ fewer than 101 people. It is under this less formal provision that the vast majority of unfair sackings are contested.

Significantly, the government ad makes no mention of "unjustified dismissal".

"It will also remain unlawful for workers to be forced to sign an Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA) or be sacked for refusing to sign an AWA."

BUSTED: This is semantics. A job-seeker can be forced to sign an AWA as a condition of employment now. Of course, you can't "sack" someone who hasn't yet been employed.

Already, employers can, and do, use a policy of "AWA or the highway" with job seekers. Government agencies charged with protecting workers' rights are leading this campaign. Both, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Office of the Employment Advocate, force new starters to sign AWAs.

For existing employees, it is lawful to make wage increases or promotions conditional on signing a secret, individual contract.

The Australian Government will protect the rights and conditions of Australian workers by legislation. Protected conditions include: 4 weeks annual leave, personal/carers leave, parental leave, and a maximum number of 38 ordinary working hours per week.

BUSTED: The truth is they will take a welter of rights, contained in law, awards and agreements, and strip them back to those stated above.

Even then, there are loopholes. The 38-hour week, for example, is meaningless without penalty payments or overtime. Andrews has made it clear he will legislate for neither.

"WE WON'T cut four weeks annual leave"

BUSTED: Andrews is already on record saying workers and employers will be able to "trade away" two weeks of that entitlement. Effectively, that will chop guaranteed annual leave back to the US standard two weeks.

" WE WON'T cut award rates"

This is unclear but, from government releases, it appears workers will no longer negotiate awards. Minimum wages, it seems, will be laid down by the government- appointed Fair Pay Commission, and conditions will be restricted to those listed above.

"WE WON'T abolish awards"

As more and more workers are forced onto AWAs, awards become increasingly irrelevant. In every comparable jurisdiction that promoted individual contracts - NZ, WA and Victoria - safety net awards were rapidly undercut by inferior individual agreements. The point is that few employers will survive if competitors are using AWAs to drastically undercut wages and conditions.

WE WON'T remove the right to join a union"

No, but they will make it much harder for union officials to visit workplaces and it will be unlawful for unions to even set foot on sites, such as start-ups, where they have no members.

"WE WON'T take away the right to strike"

This claim stretches the truth to breaking point. Strikes will be illegal during the life of any agreement. Outside that time, workers will have to apply to the AIRC for its permission to hold a ballot, then they have to organise a secret ballot and, if that is passed, give the employer written notice of their intention to strike.

The process will take weeks, even months. Even then, third parties can apply to have the action suspended at any time.

Employers, on the other hand, will have the right to lock their workforce, or individuals, out with three days notice. There is no provision for third parties to contest lockouts.

Large fines and unlimited damages can be imposed on any union, or individual, involved in action later found to have been illegal.

NOTE: Federal government can run these "we won't" claims because this part of its workplace rewrite will be enabling legislation. It won't slash holidays, cut wages or abolish awards - those things would be political suicide.

What it will do, though, is strengthen the hand of business by allowing it to force workers onto non-negotiated individual contracts, and rewrite the rules so it can do all of those things.


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