Unions take the message to the road

Last year a bright orange bus travelling the state became the focus of the NSW campaign against the federal IR changes. This year the Unions NSW Your Rights at Work bus is again touring the state to raise awareness about the changes and hear the concerns of rural communities.

NSWNA Campaigns Officer Lynne Ridge says the Association will follow the Unions NSW bus through regional areas.

‘A team of Association officers will visit public hospitals, private hospitals and aged care facilities at the same time. We will meet up with the bus each evening for Your Rights at Work community meetings. We want nurses to be involved and to bring along work colleagues, family and friends to these important meetings,’ she said.

For more information contact Lynne Ridge: lridge@nswnurses.asn.au.

Unions NSW Bus Tour
Southern Tour May-June 2006

  • Monday 29 May – Nowra – Milton – Ulladulla
  • Tuesday 30 May – Bateman’s Bay – Moruya – Narooma
  • Wednesday 31 May – Merimbula – Eden – Bega
  • Thursday 1 June – Cooma – Jindabyne – Queanbeyan
  • Friday 2 June – Queanbeyan

For more information contact Rita Martin at the NSWNA: rmartin@nswnurses.asn.au

In short

Workers seek refuge in unions
Union membership jumped 4% in the year to August 2005, with an extra 70,000 workers joining unions according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The ABS data shows that union members earn an average $118 more per week than non-union members.

Howard prohibits love at work
Office romances may be a sack-able offence under the Howard government’s new IR laws, according to lawyers and academics.
Under the old laws employers had to prove a relationship was disruptive, but no longer.

‘People who are in relationships at work need to be more careful than ever that those relationships don’t blow up,’ Flinders University IR expert Professor Andrew Steward told the Sunday Telegraph.

It is believed up to 80 per cent of Australians have had a sexual relationship with a colleague.

More cream for fat cats
CEOs of Australia’s biggest companies are paid six times more than they were earning 15 years ago and take home in one week what the average worker earns in a year.

The average pay of chief executives who are members of the Business Council of Australia – principal cheerleaders of the federal government’s IR changes – ballooned by 564% since 1989-90 from $514,433 to $3.42 million in 2004-05.

The average CEO picks up $65,800 a week, with their total pay now 63 times what the average worker earns against 18 times in 1989-90.

A criminal for defending workers

‘I can’t stomach the idea that you cannot in my position as a union official go into a workplace and include in a contract protection for job security. I will ask for people to be treated fairly, and I won’t pay a fine for doing it.’
Greg Combet (21 March 2006)

When he spoke these words, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet committed the crime of sedition and, if convicted, is liable to a penalty of seven years’ jail as part of the federal government’s anti-terrorism laws.

According to La Trobe University law professor, Spencer Zifcak, the federal government could even use Combet’s remarks to declare the ACTU an unlawful organisation.

‘While Combet would have been found guilty of sedition under the old law, the new law means the ACTU would have also been banned.

The government has given itself far-reaching power to ban organisations under this legislation,’ Zifcak told the Australian Financial Review.

This means that NSWNA officials could also face jail sentences if they refused to pay a fine for asking for fairness in the workplace and the NSWNA could also be banned.

WorkChoices outlaws words too
The federal government doesn’t have to use the anti-terrorism laws to intimidate trade unionists when they stick up for workers’ rights. There is also plenty of legal ammunition in John Howard’s federal IR laws to criminalise speech.

WorkChoices imposes harsh fines on Australian workers or unions who even ask for fundamental rights like job security and fair treatment for employees.

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda says an individual or union that seeks to have some protection from unfair dismissal written into a workplace agreement could be fined $6000 and $33,000 respectively by the government even when their employer wants such a provision in their agreement.

‘It does beg the question, why would the federal government fine someone for asking for fair treatment for workers?’ she said.
The federal government’s laws also provide for fines for workers or unions who seek commitments in agreements that union or OHS representatives will have access to training or that union members be allowed to meet to discuss workplace issues during work time.

‘It’s disgusting a union leader can be imprisoned and a union banned for sticking up for workers. It’s akin to Nazism. The Howard government has eroded workers’ civil rights in a so-called democratic society.’
Stephen Ward, AiN, Lark Ellen Nursing Home.

In short

Fair pay commission will hammer poor, says AIRC chief Howard’s new IR laws will see the minimum wage fall and social welfare fall with it, says President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, Geoffrey Guidice. Mr Guidice says Howard’s new IR legislation could ‘have a significant effect on the incomes of the lowest paid in our community. There would be a slowdown in the rate of growth of minimum wages; that’s what the Fair Pay Commission is for. If those things are to occur, they’ll probably have to be accompanied by a reduction in social welfare, otherwise the incentive to work will reduce.’

Small business says it will hire fewer people
A survey by accounting software giant MYOB has found small business is more confused about WorkChoices and the number of small businesses that expect to hire more staff in the coming year fell from 43% to 32%. ‘These figures appear to be a blow to the federal government, as obviously the reforms are designed to give small business more confidence to employ,’ MYOB Australia General Manager Andrew Fiori-Dea told the Australian Financial Review.

Public sector will be key battleground
The public sector is likely to be the main battleground for the federal government’s new workplace changes, say IR academics drawing on the experience of the Thatcher government in Britain. ‘The most intensive changes will be in the public sector where there are public funds used as a lever to get outcomes that the government wants,’ says John Buchanan from The University of Sydney. ‘[In Thatcher’s Britain] it was basically politically driven, it was not left up to the spontaneity of market forces.’ Early evidence to back this up can be found in the federal government’s own Department of Revenue where the Minister Peter Dutton is refusing to negotiate a union agreement with staff even though 91 out of 105 voted for one. Instead they were offered a non-union agreement that would see some lose $17,000.

The sultans of sack
Moran Health Care’s law firm Fisher Cartwright Berriman, who last month threatened legal action against The Lamp because we dared to report on a downgrading spree of ENs to AiNs in Moran’s aged care facilities, has been telling some of Australia’s leading companies how to take advantage of the federal government’s new IR laws to sack their employees.

According to the Daily Telegraph (page 14, 23 March), around 200 business leaders – including representatives from Coles Myer, Sony and NRMA – turned up to a ‘breakfast briefing’ where they were told by Moran’s law firm that a little known clause in the federal government’s laws allowing employers to dismiss workers for ‘operational reasons’ was ‘a catch-all’ that had ‘slipped under the radar’ and allowed them to sack employees for any business reason.

Operational reasons are reasons of an economic, technological, structural or similar nature, according to Howard’s new laws.
‘Who in their right mind would dismiss somebody for other than operational reasons?’ Fisher Cartwright Berriman partner Ben Gee told the group.