Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Australia: huge rallies against Howard anti-union laws

According to trades union estimates, 546,000 trades unions members joined rallies opposing the anti-union legislation which the Howard government is proposing to introduce. Green Left Weekly reported that in several locations resolutions were passed, calling upon the ACTU to organise nation-wide industrial action against the new laws, and upon the Labor opposition to commit to repealing all Howard's anti-union laws, and vowed to strike if any worker is penalised under these laws.

However, Greg Combet, ACTU General Secretary, speaking at one of the rallies did not call for a campaign of action to stop the laws being introduced, but a campaign to overturn them (before they have been introduced!).

See the fact sheet about the proposed law below, and Combet's speech to one of the rallies.
The Facts

Beneath all the glossy advertising are proposals that will unfairly curtail your rights at work, cut the amount of time you can spend with family, and erode your job security.

1. Make it easier for workers to be sacked

The Coalition is attacking job security, leaving 3.6 million employees vulnerable to unfair dismissal. It wants to:
Abolish all unfair dismissal protection for people working in workplaces with less than 100 staff.
Change workplace agreements so they no longer have to contain minimum award redundancy standards.
Make sure workers who are made redundant or retrenched due to the 'operational requirements' of a business will not be able to claim unfair dismissal, no matter what size their workplace.

Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s abolition of unfair dismissal protections.

2. Allow employers to put workers onto individual contracts that cut take-home pay and reduce minimum standards

The Government wants more employees pushed on to its AWA individual contracts so that employers can:
Single out employees, forcing new working conditions on to them one at a time.
Have more control over your working hours and make more people casual.
Get rid of work rights like weekend, shift and public holiday rates; overtime; redundancy pay and allowances.

Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s plan for individual contracts.

3. Change the way minimum wages are set to make them lower

The Government wants minimum wages in Australia to be lower. This will reduce the living standards for many people who are only just keeping their heads above water. To achieve this the Government wants:
To stop the independent umpire – the Industrial Relations Commission – from setting minimum wage rates.
Minimum wages to be set by a so-called “Fair Pay Commission” tasked only with ensuring the economy is competitive – not with balancing the dual needs of a strong economy and wage fairness.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s plan to lower minimum wages.

4. Replace the award safety net with just five minimum conditions

Most of the minimum pay rates and working conditions we take for granted are guaranteed in State or Federal awards, which also underpin workplace agreements. The Government’s new laws will:
Take away any requirement for agreements to be consistent with award rights, and strip down agreements to just five minimum conditions: a minimum hourly rate, 10 days sick leave, 2 weeks annual leave (2 weeks of which can be cashed out), unpaid parental leave and a maximum number of weekly working hours.
Preserve the 38 hour week in theory - but not extra pay for overtime, weekends, shift work or public holidays. There will be no rostering limits on when you will be asked to work these hours.
Remove protection for important rights like: limits on when you can be required to work, overtime pay, weekend or night work rates, work related allowances and annual leave loading.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s proposal to replace the award safety net.

5. Restrict Australians' access to unions and make it harder for employees to bargain as a group with their employer

The Howard Government’s plans will affect everyone’s right to get help when they need it most. The Government wants to make it harder for unions to protect and represent employees by:
Making it harder for employees to ask unions to make workplace visits.
Making it harder for unions to legally take industrial action when negotiations break down.
Increasing penalties for unions and workers.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s attack on unions and collective bargaining.

6. Reduce the powers of the independent Industrial Relations Commission

The Government wants to weaken the powers of the independent umpire in the workplace by stopping it from setting minimum wage rates or considering new award conditions. It will do this by:
Taking away the role of the independent umpire is a recipe for more disputes and lower workplace standards.
Download a Fact Sheet about the Government’s attack on the Industrial Relations Commission.

Visit the website

Address to the National Day of Community Protest, 15 November 2005
ACTU 15 November 2005

Greg Combet, ACTU Secretary, addresses union members and the community on the campaign to protect workers' rights.

Today, by rallying in such huge numbers, we declare that working people will not be denied a central place in Australia's future. Working families built this country. They fought and died for it. They do not deserve to have their rights at work taken away.

The Government's laws are motivated by ideology - the articles of Liberal Party faith - the prejudices of the Prime Minister. We face these laws simply because the Government has won control of the Senate and has the power to do what it wants. And in the next couple of weeks the Government will abuse that power and ram these laws through. When it does so it will not signal any set-back for our campaign. Rather, it will signal the start of a determined, relentless effort to overturn these laws and put in their place decent rights for the working people of this country. That is our goal.

You have already heard the main ways in which the laws attack worker's rights. Let me give you some more specific examples. Building workers have been especially targeted. They risk gaol for standing up for their rights. I am concerned for them and their families. The most important thing unions do on building sites is protect the safety of workers. And yet the Government wants to smash the building unions. It will put lives at risk.

I want the Prime Minister to know something right now. We will hold the Government to account for the human cost of these laws. Just as we supported the maritime workers when they were targeted, we will support building workers and their families. All of us face risks under the new laws - even for doing bread and butter union work.

It will be illegal to ask for workers to be protected against unfair dismissal when negotiating an agreement - and there's a $33,000 fine just for asking.
And there will be a $33,000 fine for asking for union involvement in a disputes settlement procedure.
A $33,000 fine for asking for the right for people to attend union education courses.
A $33,000 fine for asking to protect jobs against contracting out.
A $33,000 fine for asking for a commitment to collectively bargain.
And a $33,000 fine for asking for anything else the Government might like to ban.

These are scandalous abuses of democratic rights. But we will not be intimidated. Unions must continue to stand up for people. As a union leader let me make this clear. I will not pay a $33,000 fine for asking for people to be treated fairly. Because the Government has gone too far.

On such a fundamental issue we must look the Government in the eye and stare them down.
I will be asking other union leaders to do the same. We must be disciplined and responsible. There is no place for foolhardy or reckless behaviour. But we must also be firm in our resolve to stand up for people.

It is true that it will take time for some people to be affected by the laws. But the rights of every person will be diminished. And for many the change will come quickly - particularly the most vulnerable. When these laws have done their job there will be only five minimum standards to protect people. The award safety net will be gone.

To get anything above the five minimum standards the Government wants you to negotiate an individual contract. We all know what that means - take what's on offer or get lost. No negotiation. No choice.

John Howard should have the guts to come out and say what he's really up to - to argue his case.
Instead the Government spends tens of millions on slippery, deceitful ads. The claim that people's rights will be protected by law is the most expensive lie ever perpetrated in Australian politics.

It would be a mistake for anyone to be conned by their ads, to think 'I'll be alright - it won't happen to me'. Even the best employers can be driven by competition to force down labour costs using individual contracts. Why, during a 14 year economic boom with record business profits, do Australian people have to be put under this pressure?

We will never compete with China and India by driving down labour costs. We will simply end up with an army of working poor and widespread inequality - a society like the United States. That's not the sort of society unions want to see here.

A decent democracy should be improving opportunities for people, reaching out to those who need a hand, and ensuring that basic rights are protected - making Australia more fair not less. Unions believe in fairness and justice, in prosperity for all not just the few, in people having a say at work. We believe these are democratic rights - rights that are worth fighting for. And fight we will. We will fight until we win.

We will campaign for as long and as hard as it takes to overturn these laws. Anyone who thinks our campaign will fade away had better think again. These past months have only been the warm-up to the main event. The real campaign starts now. After the Government rams these laws through Parliament we will work right up to the next election to hold them to account for what they have done.

There are two key things we must achieve in this campaign. Firstly, to build our strength in the workplace so that we can protect job security and pay and employment conditions. Only by sticking together can we achieve this. That is something within our power. Because the laws cannot take away our commitment to each other. If you're not in a union - join - and ask others to join - because the best protection will be achieved by standing together.

The second thing we must do is win the support of the wider community. We must invite Australians to join a movement for change - not just a movement to achieve rights at work, but a movement for fairness and justice, a movement for democratic rights.

We must build a broad coalition of people committed to a better future. Be part of it. Contribute in practical ways. Get involved by registering on our website or by filling out the postcard. Help us raise funds so that we can take the experience of working people into every home with our advertising.

Ask others to do the same. Take the issues into your local community. Lobby politicians. Get active in marginal seats. Put at risk the job security of politicians who don't support worker's rights. Help build a wall of opposition to laws that place business interests above family and community. Because Australia needs to change. We need to reward effort not exploitation. To encourage cooperation not division. To build a sense of community not isolation. Compassion not intolerance. To inspire hope not fear.

I believe that the values for which we stand beat as strongly in the hearts of Australians today as they have done for generations. United by these values, we will not be defeated. We will see off bad laws and bad Governments. We will deliver justice for working people. Let this great event, broadcast across the nation, the largest meeting of working people ever held in Australia, mark the beginning of a movement for change.

I am confident that if we have the courage to stand up for our values, to provide the leadership, to fight for our cause, to reach out to others and invite them to join us, we will win.


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