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April 2006   

Interview: Head On
John Buchanan has been warning that WorkChoices would be a car crash. Now he surveys the damage.

Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
CFMEU Mining national secretary Tony Maher lets fly at the new industrial laws.

Industrial: Vital Signs
In his new book, Craig Emerson argues that destroying unionism will not be in Australia's long term interests.

Economics: Taxing Times
Frank Stilwell argues that there are progressive alternatives to the slash and burn approach to tax reform.

Environment: It Ainít Necessarily So
Don't let anyone tell you that jobs and the environment are opposities, argues Neale Towart.

History: Melbourneís Hours
Neale Towart reluctantly pays homage to Victoria's celebration of the eight hour day.

Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
John Howard is deciding more and more foreign workers should come into this country - without the rights of citizenship, writes John Sutton,

Review: Pollie Fiction
For someone barely 25 years Sarah Doyle has an enviable track record in theatre behind her.

Poetry: The Cabal
Poetry returns to Workers Online with this rollicking ode to employer power.


Democracy in Action
Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's speech to commemorate 150 years of responsible government.

The Westie Wing
There has been activity aplenty in the NSW Parliament this month, reports Ian West.

The Soapbox
From Chaver to Cobber
John Robertson, Unions NSW Secretary, hosting Passover at Sydney Trades Hall discovers the first comrades followed a bloke called Moses.

Postcard from New Orleans
Mark Brenner surveys the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on the regions workers.

The Locker Room
My Country Right Or In Lane Five
Phil Doyle observes the golden shower at the recent Commonwealth Games, and asks what it means for the last great unpredictable drama.

Vale Bill Hartley
Unlike some of his comrades, Bill Hartley never departed from his position as a radical nor did he die rich in assets, writes Bob Scates.


The Cowra Clause
The plight of the Cowra meatworkers is a fitting illustration of the way the new industrial laws will fundamentally shift the balance of relations in the Australian workplace.


 Abattoir Boss Slaughters Andrews

 More Slaughter in South Australia

 Pickets Won't Face Cannon

 Teens Win Thousands

 Praise the Laws

 Where The Bloody Hell Is Our Contract?

 Building Crusade Raids Pockets

 Workers Shows Its Hand

 It's All Yellow, Mine Barons

 Lismore Nine Breaks Ranks

 Uber Bosses Clean Up

 Howard's Skills Solution: Sack Apprentices

 Spineless Companies Block Safety

 Boxall in Sickie Backflip

 Activist's What's On!

 Crap TV
 Social Action
 French revolution
 Fan Mail
 Belly Spreads The Word
 All Out!
 Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
 Help Wanted
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Do You Have a Moment?

CFMEU Mining national secretary Tony Maher lets fly at the new industrial laws.


I'd like to thank John Howard for Work choices. It has reminded people in the labour movement why we were formed, what we stand for and why we hate these Tory bastards so much.

For too long we have been cocooned by an industrial relations system that was a one-stop shop for a fair go. It only a week ago that wages were determined taking into account such things as the cost of living, the economic capacity to pay and something called fairness! Conditions were improved gradually, over time, after exhaustive test cases, and as the country could afford it. Individual workers had access to no cost dispute resolution - they even had the opportunity to have unfair dismissals reversed!

How bloody outrageous. No wonder the HR Nicholls Society decided this edifice of even handedness had to go.

Thanks to Work Choices we now know that John Howard does not want employees to have a fair go, fair pay, or fair treatment at work. Howard is like the emperor with no clothes. We can now all see just how mean he is. And the innocent victims are lining up to point it out.

Take a moment to consider the winners and losers in this debate.

Work Choices will;

screw workers,

stuff the economy; and

devastate families.

Apart from that it's a terrific idea.

Of course, employers stand to make immediate and substantial gains. Why is anybody surprised by the outrageous conduct at Cowra Meatworks? It's precisely what the legislation was designed to do.

Let's look at the probable impact of Work Choices from some different perspectives. Lets consider the industrial, economic, social and political ramifications.

Industrially, Work Choices is designed to destroy unions, gut the Commission and put everyone on individual contracts.

There can be no doubt that Howard has deliberately sought to assure the Liberal party of political dominance by crippling/destroying the bedrock of the ALP - the unions. Work Choices is 1700 pages of detailed regulation of unions. It's not deregulation at all. It is not prohibiting outrageous union behaviour, it is criminalising the ordinary activities of a workers representative in a civilised society. For example, sanctions apply to any official or delegate for simply asking that employees be dealt with fairly. Every facet of union activity is severely curtailed if not altogether prohibited.

The Act has been tripled in size but reduces employee rights to a third. Go figure. It's all this stuff regulating unions that takes up the space.

Ever since the Conciliation and Arbitration Court convicted HR Nicholls of contempt of court, radical employers have campaigned for the abolition of the Commission. Wasn't it funny hearing Nick Minchin apologise to the Neanderthals of the HR Nicholls Society for not carrying out their full extremist agenda.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that they've gutted the AIRC and put the State Tribunals in the intensive care ward. The Commission won't be ordering employers to pay award rates any more - there won't even be rates of pay in awards - and they certainly won't be directing employers to treat employees fairly

The Industrial Commission lost it's stripes as independent umpire in 1996. It became the ball boy. 10 years later it has lost its role on the playing court altogether and has been relegated to the dressing sheds of the employers with strict instructions to spike the water bottle of the unions.

Individual Contracts will become compulsory at every workplace as employers so decide. Nearly every new coal mine opens with AWA's being a condition of the job. So much for choice! Don't be surprised that many more workers sign them. This will no doubt be trumpeted as employees voting with their feet. It is simply coercion. The real test will be the thousands of case studies of workers losing pay, penalty rates, public holidays etc. The Cowra meatworks example shows the devastating impact of the combination of the unfettered power to sack with the ability to offer lower wages and conditions.

Economically, Work Choices is meant to be the next big boost to productivity and a virtual job machine.

But that just doesn't stack up.

Originally the Government denied having done any economic analysis on Work Choices. One FOI request later it turns out that Treasury says productivity growth may be 'suppressed'.

This should come as no surprise because the same thing happened in Western Australia and New Zealand.

In WA in1994-96, 5% of employees had individual agreements below the award rate. By 1998 this had grown to 25%. On top of that 54% of those abolished penalty rates and 40% abolished overtime rates. Productivity fell.

People don't work harder for less! Funny that.

For employees, Work Choices will mean many are ripped off, exploited or intimidated. You don't have to be a practitioner of the dismal science to know that loss of job security will result in reduced consumer confidence. This will dampen demand in many areas and slow the economy.

The impact will vary according to the economic strength of the sector. There will be an immediate impact in areas where the wages bill is the primary cost. Hospitality, retail, light manufacturing. Additionally any sector facing competition with China will be the first to attack workers. John Howard has staked his next election on the gamble that this won't happen. He has a more generous view of employers than I do.

Socially, you have to say there is much social engineering in Work Choices. It will create an underclass of low paid insecure employment which will expand rapidly. Attempts to compete with China and India on labour costs are inevitable because of this legislation. The Welfare to Work changes will exacerbate the Work Choices effect. 'Take the AWA job on lesser terms or you lose your dole etc.' The effects on our society will be enormous.

As a nation it was once settled that we didn't want to be a low wage country. We have never wanted to compete on wages with Asia. We want to be the clever country, and we have been. Howard has dropped the ball on skills development and wants us, or at least sectors of our economy, to start competing on wages.

If you think we have social problems now, wait until more and more Australians cannot find stable employment, get a living wage, afford a house, provide for their children.

Politically, the ramifications of Work Choices are at their brightest. Obsession clouds political judgement. Howard wants so much to deliver for Mr. Nicholls and his extremist business mates, that he has made a great error in judgement.

It can be summed up this way - Australians won't let Howard get away with it. It's unAustralian.

1. Unions will adapt and survive. There won't be much opportunity to use the union bogey man. Unions will box clever.

2. Business won't be able to help themselves, they will screw workers. Hello Cowra meatworks, are you still with us.

3. Australians want institutions of fairness, as the game gets uglier and uglier we will want the umpire back on the court

The ACTU and the Government both know what the Australian public think of Workchoices. The ACTU polling shows that

72% of voters support unfair dismissal laws that protect workers.

59% of voters believe that "the Government's new IR laws alone are a strong reason to vote against the Government" at the next federal election.

70% believe that individual contracts give too much power to the employer.

68% agree that the new laws are strong evidence that John Howard governs more for corporate Australia than for ordinary working families.

60% agree that collective bargaining means better job security for workers.

66% believe that the laws are a threat to every working family.

According to Nick Minchin:

"Poll after poll demonstrated that the Australian people don't agree at all with anything we're doing on this - we have minority support for what we're doing,"

Minchin said "The fact is the great majority of Australians do not support what we are doing on industrial relations, they violently disagree."

There isn't much doubt what Australians think about Work Choices.

What do I really think about Work Choices?

John Howard and his Work Choices laws have reinvigorated the unions, given us the opportunity to be advocates for all workers, and will show that IR and unions are vote winners, not vote losers.

Not really the result intended by Mr Nicholls.


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