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December 2005   

Interview: The Binds That Tie
Dr Don Edgar has demolished the Prime Minister's credentials as a family man.

Unions: Worth Cycling For
Pedal power joined the Your Rights At Work campaign on a 350km journey to take a message to Canberra’s politicians, wrties Phil Doyle.

Industrial: The Elephant in the Corner
Jim Marr takes a look at what the government has secreted away in the WorkChoices package, revealing what is really at stake - and what can be done about it.

Legal: A Law Unto Themselves
In this extract from the Evatt Foundation's 'State of the States' Jeff Shaw & Monika Ciolek look at the constitutional issues rasied by WorkChoices.

Politics: Ethically Lonely
At a forum in the Australian Stock Exchange sponsored by big end of town solicitors, you would expect at least one person to be in favour of John Howard’s industrial relations laws, wrties Rachael Osman-Chin.

History: Women, Unions, Banners and Parades
Trade union banners reveal more about union history than their male designers and makers intended, writes Neale Towart.

Women: Relaxed and Comfortable?
Suzanne Hammond from WEL argues there are many hidden nasties in WorkChoices for working women.

International: The Last Social Democrat
A trade union leader's victory marks beginning of class politics in Israel, wrties Eric Lee

Review: The Corpse Bride
Come to a world where decay, loss and broken dreams are everywhere - and it's not the Federal Senate.

Culture: Tony Moore Holds His Own
In his new book, Tony Moore argues that today's generation of political leaders has much to learn from Bazza McKenzie.


The Soapbox
Whitefellas - You Just Can’t Trust ‘Em.
Racial stereotyping is a bad business. That said, Graham Ring has discovered a segment of society that drinks too much, behaves unreliably and can’t seem to adapt to change. Sadly, the conclusion is inescapable…

The Locker Room
Phil Doyle slices one into the car park.

The Westie Wing
Ian West makes a midnight dash to Workers Online, slides his State political report under the door, then heads back to the Macquarie Street Chamber of Horrors…


A Free Vote
This week’s charade of the Senate amending the Howard Government’s workplace laws raises fundamental questions about the sort of democracy Australia has become.


 Read His Lips: WorkChoices Too Much

 Joyce A Christmas Goose

 Workers Leave Boss in Tool Shed

 Costello Chokes On Asbestos Compo

 Telstra Hangs Up on Former Staff

 Bank Check on Bras

 Bill of Work Rights on Agenda

 Funny Film - Scary Message

 Sign Of the Times

 Unions Chip In for Lauren

 Company Raids Own Ship

 Activist's What's On!

 Million Mum March
 Pension Pinching
 John Bares All
 Radicalising Yoof
 Tom A World Away
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Ethically Lonely

At a forum in the Australian Stock Exchange sponsored by big end of town solicitors, you would expect at least one person to be in favour of John Howard’s industrial relations laws, wrties Rachael Osman-Chin.

And with Professor Mark Wooden, a tried and true free market evangelist, sitting on the panel, you would expect arguments in favour of the federal government's agenda to get some support.

But not one of the corporate types gathered to hear the discussion in the ASX auditorium said anything when the panellists asked for at least one person to argue in favour of the changes.

Nobody took a pot shot at ACTU president Sharron Burrows, fresh from delivering an 85,000 email petition to Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce asking him to block the WorkChoices Act, as she railed against the injustice of Howard's plan.

"These laws meet few, if any, test of ethics," she said before outlining how workers on individual contracts earn less than other workers on average already, once you take out highly paid managers and CEOs, and how many ordinary Australians depend on the penalty rates and overtime that will soon disappear to pay off their mortgages.

An audience filled with expensively coffered hair dos and brief cases listened carefully to Edmund Rice Business Ethics head Dr John Sweeney talk about how the change will allow poor management to flourish.

"When an employee shows signs of no coping, for example taking too many sick days and not being productive when they are there, instead of helping them, an employer might just sack them," he said. "So we have another manager who is learning to manage less, to be less creative in dealing with problems."

He also predicted that under the new law average workers would become subject to the stress and lack of job security that high-level managers currently deal with, but without big executive salaries to compensate for it.

"There is little prospect of those high level remunerations being replicated," he said.

But still not a murmur from the audience, even when he declared the planned IR laws to be immoral.

"I like the free market for cars and fruit, for things that do not have an intrinsic value," said Dr Simon Longstaff, executive director of the St James Ethics Centre, adding that as humans have an intrinsic value the unfettered marketplace is not an appropriate framework to measure their value.

"When we come to vote at the next election we have to ask ourselves do we believe these laws will advance the least advantaged of us?" he said. "I fear the answer is no."

The closest anyone got to supporting, or at least not outright rejecting, Howard's IR laws was Professor Mark Wooden, who stated he was no fan of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's current role in setting minimum wages.

He liked the idea of a group of economists, such as those who will make up the new Fair Pay Commission, setting them instead, but added that if he was one of the Commissioners he would simply increase minimum wages to match increases in the consumer price index.

"It would save the salaries of a lot of part time Commissioners," he joked.

But having said that, he questioned the logic behind the scrapping of unfair dismissal laws for corporations of up to 100 employees and agreed with Dr Sweeney that John Howard's changes would encourage poor management practices.

"We should not assume the forces of the market will discipline employers to treat their employees well," he said.

Still no reaction from the audience.

"Well I guess I will have to play devil's advocate," said host and well known TV economics commentator Michael Pascoe, throwing forward the argument that an aging population may mean that in years to come employees will have the upper hand in bargaining due to a scarcity of workers.

In reply Sharron Burrows told a story of an employer she recently spoke to who wanted to deal with a current shortage of workers in his industry by bringing in people from South East Asia on a short term basis but paying them half what he would pay Australians "because there is no point sending them back as millionaires to their own country."

"I told him that the union movement would never, ever support such an idea," she said, adding that for some reason the Federal government think Australia is supposed to be ashamed of its decent level of living standards for average workers.

Again, not a word of dissent from the audience.

Scanning the dark suits for a flicker of anger, Dr Simon Longstaff asked if anyone wanted to argue in favour of the new laws.

Eventually a hand went up.

"Well, the purpose of the laws is to gut the union movement because it is a major source of funding for the Opposition," said the man.

Once again, the entire room was in agreement.


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