17 08 2010

By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary
17 August 2010

We didn’t rally around the country leading up 2007 to see anti-union reactionary Tony Abbott become Prime Minister, three years later!

When you cut through all the media hype and mis-information the issue is clear cut – it’s a No vote for Abbott.

Because the union movement’s highly successful campaign to see off John Howard (2005-07) has left an indelible impact on the electorate’s psyche. The undermining of rights at work by Howard’s WorkChoices laws was over the top. His hatred of workers being able to get together at work and collectively bargain dripped from his 1000 plus pages of draconian regulations. It wasn’t a de-regulation of the labour market as claimed. It was over–regulation, aimed at stopping workers having the effective right to organise.

The Gillard Fair Work Act 2009 saw only the partial return of those lost rights.

Most unions have spent the last year or so adapting to the Fair Work Act, the so called Award Modernisation process and OHS ‘harmonisation’. All very time consuming and often frustrating.

In the lead up to this federal election the employer associations have not been shy in putting out publicly their wishlist for IR changes – all of these demands hark back to increasing WorkChoices–type restrictions on workers collective bargaining rights – including stricter right of entry rules for unions and more limitations on industrial action.

The national union movement is more circumspect. Some national union leaders argue they don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ or “attract unwanted publicity” during the election period. This hasn’t earned them any ‘brownie points’ with the rank and file.

New Federal IR Minister Simon Crean told a recent ACTU Executive (20/7/2010) that he believed the Federal Government had ‘got the balance right’ on IR and that the Fair Work Act was not up for more changes.

The ACTU leadership has made a few brief statements about the need for a second term IR agenda in the lead up to the federal election.

New ACTU President Ged Kearney said she wants ‘a second round of workplace relations law changes that would give greater protection to union delegates, scrap the Australian Building and Construction Commission, allow industrial action in pursuit of pattern bargaining and expand wage deals to include clauses on non–workplace matters such as climate change and business practices’ (The AFR 5/7/10).

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence recently said: “The fact is we still have a system that doesn’t provide for free bargaining. It still doesn’t provide for bargaining to take place in an appropriate way.” (The Australian 13/7/10).

Also at the recent ACTU Executive a comprehensive pre–federal election resolution was passed. It included strengthening workers’ rights and extending collective bargaining:

“The Executive recognises there is more work to do to secure and improve the rights of working Australians.

While the Award and NES safety net is critical, collective bargaining will be the primary means by which improvements in workers’ wages and conditions will be achieved. This underscores the need for fair bargaining laws that respect the rights of workers to organise and be represented by their union, to have access to their union at work, and (subject to the better off overall test) to bargain freely about relevant matters.

Unions will campaign to ensure:

· The good faith bargaining system operates effectively (including access to multi-employer bargaining where appropriate) and collective bargaining rights are exercised across the workforce.

· The workers have effective rights to take protected industrial action if they choose.

· Workers have access to effective means for the settlement of disputes or grievances at work.

· The Award and NES safety net are secured and improved.

· There is recognition of the role of delegates, and they receive better protections and support (including the right to training).

· The views of workers are accorded the respect they deserve and there are improved rights to workplace consultation.

· The end to the discriminatory laws for building and constructions workers with the repeal of BCII Act and abolition of the ABCC.

· Stronger measures to reign in bogus contracting and improvements to the rights at work of independent contractors and home-based outworkers.

· Stronger protections for health and safety and no diminution of workers’ compensation.

· Pay equity for women workers, who saw the gender pay gap widened under the former Coalition government for the first time in 25 years.

· Greater job and income security, starting with the 100% protection of entitlements.

· Family friendly workplaces, including rights for employees to request work arrangements which allow them to care for families.

· That all levels of Government support quality Australian jobs and only purchase goods and services from corporations whose behaviour meets the highest standards, including respect for rights at work.

· Problems protecting the rights of 457 visa holders and migrant workers are addressed.

· The union movement is not asking the Gillard Government to legislate to do the unions work for them. They simply need a freer bargaining and organising regime, consistent with long standing ILO conventions so they can do what unions do – work for their members, free of draconian, pro-employer laws.

· Minister Crean said “he supports the ILO conventions”. It wouldn’t be difficult to amend the Fair Work Act to comply.




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