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December 2006   
F E A T U R E S

Interview: Flying High
The Australian international Pilots Association has rejoined the ACTU and president Ian Woods is taking it into new airspace.

Unions: TUF on Toll
As transport giant Toll expands across the region, unions are working together to boost their bargaining power, writes Jackie Woods.

Industrial: Forward to the Past
Anti-union building laws draw their inspiration from a century ago, writes Neale Towart

Economics: Debt and the Economy
Household debt is at record levels. Interest rates are rising. Production of real things is not increasing. The military generates most demand. How long can it go on?

Obituary: The Charlatanry of Milton Friedman
Evan Jones busts some myths about the grand-daddy of free market economics

Environment: Low Voltage
Nuclear Power and Prime Ministerial Pronouncements are seriously short of a few volts, writes Neale Towart

Legal: The Fair Deal
Anthony Forsyth proposes a social partnership agenda for Australia

Review: A Little History
The Little History of Australian Unionism is exactly that; fifteen thousand words on the topic, writes Rowan Cahill.

C O L U M N S

The Soapbox
Address to the Nation
ACTU secretary Greg Combet's speech to the National Day of Action

Parliament
The Westie Wing
Ian West recalls a time when the earth was flat, unions ran the country and Honest John Howard was the workers’ best friend.

Health
Sick System
Punitive IR laws and a commercially-driven workers compensation scheme are conspiring to bully injured workers, writes Dr Con Costa.

E D I T O R I A L

Seven Year Itch
For the past seven years, over 335 issues, Workers Online has been chronicling events in the labour movement and passing our judgments on all things union.

N E W S

 Global Campaign for Jailed Iranian Union Leader

 Bully Tactics Can’t Dull Protests

 Which Bank Slashes Work Rights?

 Sunday’s The Day For Future Rallies

 Carmel Saves Job, Loses Bonus

 Case Dismissed: No Justice in WorkChoices

 China (S)trains Procurement Policy

 Contracts Out on Sole Traders

 Car Companies Do The Dirty

 Historic Case Restores Security

 Final Hurdle for Medibank Sell-Off

L E T T E R S
 One Reader, At Least
 Boss With a Heart
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Parliament

The Westie Wing


Ian West recalls a time when the earth was flat, unions ran the country and Honest John Howard was the workers’ best friend.

When word hit the street that the NSW Government was introducing a policy to protect the basic rights of workers on government contracts, the Prime Minister was quick out of the boxes to denounce the idea. Member for Mitchell, Alan Cadman, asked him a Dorothy Dixer about "how increased business regulation in New South Wales will damage the Australian economy". The Prime Minister jumped up to deliver his scripted and hackneyed rant against unions. "[The policy], if implemented, would be a return to the dark old days of ultra-domination by unions in Australian workplaces," Howard screeched. "I think it would be a very bad thing if we went back to the days when the unions ran this country, and what the Iemma Government is reported as proposing in New South Wales is nothing more than a return to old-fashioned union thuggery and intimidation." As with most of Howard's rhetoric, omission and exaggeration give his game away. The NSW Government's procurement policy does not signify a shift back to the mythical days when unions somehow ran the country. (I wish someone told me I had so much power when I was a union official, I would have banned the Liberal Party.) Rather modestly, the policy restores the right of workers in businesses with State Government contracts to be represented by unions, as was the case before Work Choices - laws specifically designed to remove this privilege. Tellingly, the Prime Minister neglected to mention other significant protections in the policy. Under the policy, businesses will be required to:

  • comply with minimum conditions provided by state awards, including pay rates and entitlements such as overtime and loadings for working on weekends and public holidays, sick leave and holiday pay;
  • meet statutory requirements such as occupational health and safety and workers compensation;
  • supply information to the NSW Office of Industrial Relations demonstrating compliance which will be backed up with workplace inspections; and
  • have industrial disputes regarding compliance referred to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission for conciliation and arbitration.
Although it is against federal laws to refuse to consider businesses that use AWAs, the AWAs must meet the minimum pay and conditions under the NSW award standard. With good reason, the Prime Minister shied away from talking about any of these articles of the policy. It would not be a good look for the self-styled "best friend Australian workers have ever had" to be denouncing a policy returning minimum rights to workers. It would also not look good reminding people of who it was that took away the right to overtime and loadings, sick leave and holiday pay. So instead, Howard resurrected the spectre of class warfare; the same spectre he constantly accuses unions and Labor of summoning. The closest he came to revealing his own ideology came in the last line of his answer. "It would represent bad regulation that would drive business away from New South Wales and, if it were repeated around Australia, would do a great deal to pull back the strong economic performance of this country of which the OECD reported so glowingly overnight," Howard said. This is the other scare tactic Howard uses. He attempts to scare the kids by saying protecting workers rights would produce a strike of capital; businesses will run overseas if the Government dares to foster an environment where fair and just wages and conditions are applied. In the first instance, I've never seen a business that was afraid of money and if a contract is going, they will bid for it. Secondly, it speaks volumes of the type of economy Howard wants for Australia. The Howard economy is one that forgoes investment in skills, research and development and industry and competes on the basis of low wages. Howard believes that instead of being part of the economy, workers should be sacrificed at the altar. The ardent monarchist is certainly making a strong bid to be the first President of the banana republic. He fails to realise that workers are the most important part of the economy. Workers need to be invested in through wages, conditions and training, similarly to investing in updating and maintaining equipment. This contributes to the health of the economy -not the race to the bottom on wages. Howard's industrial policies put Australia in the same league as developing countries. The NSW Government's procurement policy is a small but vital step towards restoring minimum rights for workers. But the real challenge will be removing Howard and saving future generations from a low-wage, low-skill economy. In the meantime, thank goodness for a NSW State Government that is prepared to say no to Howard's self-indulgent, one-sided, un-Australian, compassionless and jaundiced view of what's left of our egalitarian society. If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]


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