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John Passant

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December 2008



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Rudd’s Work Choices

The Labor Government’s Fair Work Australia is just another version of Work Choices.  Rather than ripping up Howard’s anti-worker laws, Rudd and Gillard have kept major parts of it.

None of this is surprising. The Labor Party is the second eleven of capital and governs in the interests of the bosses while giving some tidbits from the table for unions.  Most of the lapdogs from the Australian Council of Trade Unions have woofed down the scraps so far.

Some left-wing unions have seen the reality of Work Choices-lite.  They are planning to go to the International Labour Organisation in Geneva to argue that the Bill contravenes ILO standards. This won’t upset the Government too much.

Unions did the same thing over Howard’s laws and the ILO found they breached various freedom to organise and other principles.  Howard shrugged his shoulders just as Gillard and Rudd will do.

Work Choices outlawed what is called “pattern bargaining”.  This is just spreading good agreements (real wage increases and better conditions for example) from one enterprise to others throughout the industry, backed up by industrial action if needed.  The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union paraphrases a former Industrial Relations Minister in describing pattern bargaining in this way:

The implicit definition of pattern bargaining that underlies the Minister’s speeches might be paraphrased as follows: “ pattern bargaining is the process whereby unions decide on a log of claims and then pursue these claims by way of collective, single company, enterprise agreements. The aim of the process is to achieve uniform (or very similar) terms with more than one employer in an industry, sector, or company group”.

Rudd’s version of Work Choices too bans this type of bargaining.   It does this because enterprise bargaining necessarily weakens workers ability to win better pay and conditions as compared to wider bargaining.  In other words Rudd and Gillard are keeping Howard’s ban so bosses can screw workers more.

The CFMEU again:

When reduced to its essence, the Government’s objection to “pattern bargaining” is founded on its desire to irrevocably shift bargaining power in industrial relations to employers. Pattern bargaining is seen as an obstacle to this aim because it is an effective response by organised workers to a decentralised wages system. The great “sin” of pattern bargaining is that in the Australian context it is has served to increase real wages and preserve hard won conditions for tens of thousands of workers.

There is nothing radical or sinister about pattern bargaining. Indeed, a form of pattern bargaining has existed as long as workers have sought to organise into trade unions, and probably even before. Internationally, pattern bargaining (in a variety of guises) is the dominant wage fixing mode in most OECD nations. The underlying attraction for workers and employers of pattern bargaining is its emphasis on comparative wage justice and a level playing field. These are notions that the government cannot by dint of legislation eliminate.

Now the CFMEU was talking about the previous Howard Government and its industrial relations laws but the logic applies equally to Rudd’s continuing ban on pattern bargaining.

Rudd and Gillard will also keep Howard’s limits on what can be included in agreements.  Thus, for example, employers can’t agree to collect bargaining fees from non-unionists.  Although it is not clear, it is probable environmental and social matters will also be banned from agreements.

Suddenly the free market and the right to contract freely are curtailed when it comes to the workplace. That’s because  the free market (at least nominally) only applies in the realms of production and consumption. From the bosses’ point of view workers have to be regulated in the workplace.  Otherwise industrially strong unions might win real pay increases and  better conditions, and be able to really defend jobs.

One of the main features of Work Choices was that it limited the right of unions to enter onto work sites. Noel Washington, from the CFMEU, had to hold a lunch time union meeting off site to talk to his members. Even then the Australian Building and Construction Commission demanded he attend a meeting with them to tell them what was discussed.  He refused and was charged with a criminal offence under the ABCC Act for doing so.  In a victory for building unions the charges were dropped earlier this month.

Work Choices Lite keeps these entry restrictions in a modified form.  The main point is that it is employers who decide the details of entry of officials.  So this makes it much harder for unions to service members, recruit new members and organise activities in defence of their workers.  Again Rudd and Gillard are on the bosses’ side.

The Bill also keeps Howard’s secret ballots. These are not mechanisms for democracy. Delays through secret ballots conservatise the process and allow the employer, the media and the Government to pressure workers.

Sometimes strike action needs to happen immediately (eg over safety issues the bosses refuse to address). For me, the real democratic alternative is mass meetings in which workers get to hear a range of arguments about striking or not striking and take a decision then and there about how to respond to whatever the issue or issues are.  Those who do not attend are giving proxy rights to those who do and are bound by the decisions.

Work Choices had fines for unprotected action.  The unions seem to be saying the Bill keeps these excessive fines.  Any fine is excessive.   Rudd’s Work Choices also keeps bans on strike pay.

The Bill also keeps Howard’s minimum 4 hour loss of pay for “unauthorised” stop work meetings.  No stoppage to my mind is unauthorised.  This is a way of intimidating workers not to meet on important and suddenly developing issues. Again Rudd and Gillard are on the side of the bosses.

Finally the Government is folding in the Australian Building and Construction Commission into Fair Work Australia from 1 January 2010.  The ABCC has powers that are draconian and do not apply in any other industry.  Building and construction workers should be treated like every other worker.

The reason for the existence of the ABCC is not to clean up the industry – no successful prosecutions of workers came out of the Cole Royal Commission – but to tame militant building unions from winning better pay and conditions.

So Rudd’s Work Choices will keep this abomination till 1 January 2010.  But folding it into another body is not abolishing it.  It is merely changing its name.  So the ABCC will continue to harass and bully and possibly jail workers in the building industry.  Abolish it, not keep it. This Labor Government is on the side of the bosses generally and building bosses – hardly saints – in particular.

All of these measures I have talked about contravene ILO principles.  But is going to the ILO the answer?  As I said before, it won’t upset Rudd or Gillard if the ILO rules their Bill contravenes some basic organising principles.

In 1969 left wing unions organised rolling general strikes (especially  in Victoria) after John Kerr jailed Clarrie O’Shea from the Tramways Union for refusing to pay fines imposed for industrial action.  After 5 days a mysterious benefactor paid the fines. The strikes shut down major industries. The bosses were too scared to use the penal powers and they became a dead letter for a decade.

That’s the way to defeat Rudd’s Work Choices.



Pingback from En Passant » Rudd Labor: anti-union to the core
Time June 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm

[…] is what John wrote in December last year about Rudd’s Work Choices, and the ABCC in particular: Finally the Government is folding in the Australian Building and […]

Pingback from En Passant » The Construction Union – stirrings against Labor?
Time July 4, 2009 at 3:12 pm

[…] For an analysis of why Labor’s Fair Work Australia is Work Choices Lite, read John’s December 2008 article Rudd’s Work Choices. […]

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