FURTHER DETAILS about Labor’s new IR laws confirm that the new government will retain the bulk of WorkChoices. Legislation will be introduced into parliament before the end of the year.
As Victorian Trades Hall secretary Brian Boyd commented, we are seeing “Rudd and Gillard bend over backwards to please the corporate sector”.
At the heart of Labor’s capitulation to business is its decision to retain the extreme anti-strike laws introduced by WorkChoices. Unions will have to hold a secret ballot and give employers three days notice of any industrial action—allowing them time to organise scabs to make the strike ineffective.
It will remain compulsory for workers to be docked four hours pay for any industrial action outside protected bargaining periods. Even emergency stopwork meetings to discuss employer safety violations or the announcement of sackings will cause workers to lose half a day’s pay.
Julia Gillard made a great deal of Labor’s new pledge that unions will be able to apply to pattern bargain across an industry for low-paid workers. But if unions apply to do so any industrial action in support of their claim will be banned.
Right to strike
Without the right to organise and strike unions will remain powerless in the face of efforts by employers to hold down wages and conditions, and cut jobs.
That means the Howard-era restrictions on basic union activity—such as holding union meetings at workplaces or union officials gaining access to worksites—must also be scrapped.
These include Labor’s plan to retain the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC)—established in order to make it near impossible for unions to operate in the building industry.
The ACTU has criticised the new measures for failing to reintroduce binding arbitration to force employers to make agreements with unions. Instead there is simply a requirement to bargain in good faith.
In effect this means employers will be obliged to meet unions and discuss their claims, but nothing more.
However binding court orders will still be available to stop strike action threatening the economy or causing bosses “significant harm”.
Labor has also bent over backwards to please small business owners with its new unfair dismissal provisions. Unfair dismissal rights will be reinstated for some workers—under WorkChoices these rights were abolished at businesses employing less than 100 people.
Under Labor workers at a business with fewer than 15 employees will have no rights to unfair dismissal for their first 12 months’ at an employer. After that an employer must only give a single warning to a worker and provide them a reasonable opportunity to improve performance before they can be sacked.
Labor has stuck to its promise to remove the prohibitions on agreement content under WorkChoices that meant things like union training leave could not be included in agreements.
But again this has been watered down to exclude anything which infringes “management rights” such as bans on particular suppliers and any other social clauses such as reducing a business’s contribution to climate change.
Fight for rights at work
Unionists need to reignite the Rights at Work campaign in order to pressure Rudd and Gillard to completely tear up WorkChoices.
Building support for the campaign against the anti-union ABCCC can be the first step in this.
The threat of Victorian construction union official Noel Washington going to jail for defying the commission needs to become a major flashpoint in the fight for real rights at work.
Every workplace should be holding a meeting on the commission and sending a delegation to the mass union rallies against the ABCC in December.
Mass union rallies against the ABCC will be held on Tuesday December 3 in Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney and Perth, as Noel Washington faces court.
Download a petition and more information about the ABCC at www.rightsonsite.org.au
By James Supple