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September 2006   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
The ACCC is the latest state agency to turn its guns on the construction union. National official, Dave Noonan, discusses the implications.

Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
With new laws looming for “independent contractors”, Foxtel subbies have had the carpet pulled from under their feet, writes Nathan Brown.

Unions: Industrial Wasteland
A group of inner-Sydney veterans appear to be working to strip their families of retirement incomes. Jim Marr records their desperation.

International: Two Bob's Worth
German and British workers are participating in business decisions while WorkChoices locks Australians out of the conversation, writes Anthony Forsyth.

Economics: National Interest
John Howard claimed that interest rates would always be lower under a Coalition government than under Labor, Neale Towart crunchess the numbers.

Environment: The Real Dinosaur
Economic ignorance remains at the top and the critics are oblivious says Sol Power

History: Only In Spain?
The experiences of self management during the Civil War have been the one positive factor to come from that tragic event, and the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation thrives today.

Review: Clerk Off
Nathan Brown draws solace from some fellow social misfits.

C O L U M N S

Legends
Westie Wing
MLC Ian West ventures beyond Macquarie St and into the desert of the eco rats.

The Soapbox
Testing Times
Former RLPA secretary and Newcastle Knights prop, Tony Butterfield, fires up over dawn raids.

Obituary
Dare to Win
The union movement has lost an inspirational leader of working men and women, writes Jeana Vithoulkas

Fiction
Tommy's Apprentice
Chapter Two - Tommy’s Tale.

E D I T O R I A L

Justice, Applied Liberally
To think, Phillip Ruddock used to be a liberal.

N E W S

 Boss Gives Dad the Finger

 Amber's Law Pulps WorkChoices

 Westfield Flogs Good Deal

 Building Workers Spooked

 Bankers to Train Assassins

 Astroboy Blasts Off

 First Global Deal Docks in Germany

 Bans Stop the Press

 Deportation for Pay-To-Work Tradesman

 Telstra in Bush Bloodbath

 Boss Punts Assaulted Teen

 Ballots Stuffed By WorkChoices

 Howard in a Spin

 Extras – The Waterfront.

 Activist's What's On!

L E T T E R S
 Please Don’t Go
WHAT YOU CAN DO
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International

Two Bob's Worth


German and British workers are participating in business decisions while WorkChoices locks Australians out of the conversation, writes Anthony Forsyth.

TWO major developments in Australian business in recent week - the crisis in the car manufacturing industry, triggered by supply firm Ajax Fastener's parent company entering into administration; and Amcor's restructuring announcement, with the loss of 200 jobs - have focused attention on the vulnerable position of Australian workers in corporate insolvencies and restructures.

Ajax employees had to occupy the factory to ensure their interests were considered in talks over the company's future between the administrators, major car companies and other businesses in the supply chain. Why did the workers have to take such extreme measures? Because workplace and company laws in Australia provide them with few rights to be informed and heard when companies face insolvency, or restructure their operations through closures, relocations or retrenchments.

Employers have some legal obligations to consult with unions about mass redundancies, but the WorkChoices amendments have significantly narrowed these provisions. Further, the Industrial Relations Commission has been removed as a forum for resolving these types of disputes.

Under the corporate law framework, employees are treated as unsecured creditors with minimal opportunity to influence the outcome of administration processes. The general employee entitlements and redundancy scheme offers limited protection (although the Government's announcement this week of a doubling in the maximum amount of redundancy pay under GEERS to 16 weeks is welcome).

In contrast, the industrial relations systems of many European countries ensure that workers' democratic rights of participation in decision-making do not stop at the factory gate or the office door. In Germany, these rights are reflected in the legal provisions for information, consultation and negotiation over business restructuring issues through "works councils":

· German law requires companies with more than 20 employees to disclose to the works council proposals for "substantial alterations" to the business, such as reduced production, transfers, closures, mergers of business units, changes to technology or production processes, or redundancies - anything that could entail "substantial prejudice" to the employees.

· Management and the works council then have to negotiate a "reconciliation agreement" about the proposals, dealing with the extent and timing of the changes or whether they should occur at all.

· If changes to the business are to proceed, then a "social plan" must be implemented - this could cover financial compensation for affected employees, longer notice periods before dismissal, or retraining programs.

· Where agreements cannot be reached, conciliation procedures apply, or ultimately, the Labour Court can make a ruling.

· In larger German companies (more than 100 employees), employees also have the right to regular provision of financial information about the business through the "finance committee" of the works council - including quarterly progress reports, and an explanation of the annual balance sheet.

The European Community's Information and Consultation Directive also provides employees with information and consultation rights in respect of proposed business restructures, although these are not as extensive as those operating under German law. Most importantly from an Australian perspective, Britain has recently implemented this EC directive.

Like Australia, Britain has not traditionally adopted formalised mechanisms for worker participation in firm decision making. However, business interests, unions and employees alike have embraced the concept of partnership in recent years in Britain - recognising its potential for delivering productivity gains for the enterprise, and job security and other benefits for employees.

The German, EC or British laws do not provide all the answers, and they would need to be modified to suit Australian circumstances. One option might be to adopt something like the German provisions for negotiation of a "social plan" when restructures are proposed, or insolvency threatens the viability of a business. In the latter case, employees could have the right to negotiate with the administrators.

These overseas laws at least provide a starting point for a much-needed debate, in light of WorkChoices' stripping away of the rights of Australian workers, about what a framework for restoring those rights should look like. At the core of that framework should be a recognition of the democratic rights of employees to participate in making decisions that fundamentally affect their interests.

Dr Anthony Forsyth is a senior lecturer and director of the Corporate Law and Accountability Research Group at Monash University's department of business law and taxation, and is an associate of the Australian Institute of Employment Rights.

This article first appeared in the Melbourne Age


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