- 19 December 2013
Posted 19 December 2013
By Brian Boyd Secretary VTHC
The mouth pieces for the corporate sector in Australia, The Australian and AFR newspapers, have suddenly discovered that the decisions to close Ford and now more recently Holden (GMH), has nothing to do with the boardrooms of the multi- nationals in Detroit, USA.
It has now become fashionable to run opinion pieces and editorials that claim that the Enterprise Bargaining Agreements (EBA’s), negotiated fairly and legally by the Vehicle Division of the AMWU, are the real problem!
Years ago (in the 1980s and 1990s) these same newspapers, and big business they represent, harangued and cajoled the Hawke-Keating government to amend the IR laws to make enterprise bargaining the centre piece of Australian industrial relations. The then industry-wide award system was deemed “old hat” and “restrictive” to “economic growth”.
Unions that had enough coverage in certain industries and services adapted to the changes. In other areas some unions didn’t do so well. The creation of non-union enterprise agreements and individual contracts were thrown in to the mix. A lot of work and struggle went into trying to protect hard won wages and conditions within the ‘new’ system.
Now we have big business, 25 years on, bleating about ‘EBA rates” being “too high” and “out of alignment”. The underpinning ‘Award rates’ they now argue, apply instead!
Enterprise Bargaining outcomes in the automobile industry agreed to by the employers are now deemed to be full of “workplace perks”.
The hypocrisy of these criticisms knows no bounds. They are hoping we haven’t got a long memory. We have.
The losing of key elements of this country’s manufacturing base, on the watch of Abbott and Napthine, is the real issue that deserves to be focused on.
- 31 October 2013
Posted: 1 November 2013
Back in 2001 the U.S declared war on Afghanistan after the terrible events of September 11 in New York and Washington.
Australia was quickly thrown into the conflict by the then PM John Howard. During the lead up to the invasion there was much public opposition to the war plans.
A year and half later, in 2003, the invasion of Iraq occurred. Again anti-war protests occurred. A quarter of a million people demonstrated in Melbourne alone, prior to Iraq being attacked by U.S forces.
It is noteworthy to question the little public scrutiny in Australia about why we went to Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place. With the main parliamentary political parties, the L-NP and ALP, both pro-war and pro –U.S, it has been difficult to generate robust debate. This despite over two-thirds of Australians believing the wars were not worth it!
Two years ago the invading forces left Iraq. That country remains in turmoil and bloody chaos, with an isolated, corrupt government clinging on in Baghdad.
Now that the decision had been made to get out of Afghanistan - Australia’s ‘official’ involvement was declared over by PM Tony Abbott (accompanied by ALP federal opposition leader Bill Shorten) on the 29/10/13 – the spin is pouring out of Canberra.
No serious commentator is being “optimistic” about this wretched country’s future after 12 years of conflict.
Abbott says it’s a “bitter-sweet end”. This claim has been described as trying to put “the best face on” a mission that was “poorly-defined”. With hundreds of thousands of Afghans dead or maimed, with Australian causalities at 40 dead and 261 wounded and the cost so far put at $7.5 billion, more critical analysis is certainly warranted. The various Australian governments of the last 12 years will find it difficult to sell that the whole exercise was a success on any measure.
In hindsight some commentators venture that the invasion of Iraq was “an unhelpful diversion” from tackling al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Unhelpful!
Simply the rush to war, through invasion of other countries per se, is unhelpful. The mass anti-war mobilisations of over a decade ago were right all along.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Australian troops in Tarin Kowt - “Australia’s longest war is ending, not with victory, not with defeat (sic), but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that is better for our presence here “(emphasis added). No one should rush to ask Mr Abbott his definition of ‘defeat’. Putting aside the menace of the Taliban, who can claim propping up the imposed Karzai government is ‘hope inspiring?’
The anti-war movement is also not against members of the Australian military forces sent to war. They are however ‘anti’ the politicians who send them to wars of aggression.
The anti-war movement is not supportive of repressive regimes. They are opposed to the imperialpowers that selectively attack countries to suit their economic and geo – political agendas.
There are so many repressive regimes around the world that the US, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia would be at war with most of the globe on a never ending basis!
Not forgetting that many of these regimes were set up and promoted by these powers in the first place!
War should be purely defensive and a last resort eg defending the nation state against direct hostile aggression. Historically however imperial wilfulness makes it the first resort, every time.
It is good that Australian troops are coming home from Afghanistan.
Hopefully we don’t have to listen to or read too much ‘twaddle’ from those who sent them far away, to the other side of the globe and put them in harm’s way.
Two newspapers that have been in favour of the war in Afghanistan for 12 years have recently published material that damnstheir desperation to justify the sacrifices and costs incurred:
The Australian (30/10/13) under the headlines:
“THREE-QUARTERS OF AFGANISTAN ‘TOO DANGEROUS’ FOR RECONSTRUCTION - EXIT TO CREATE NO - GO ZONE.”
It published in part:
“More than three-quarters of Afghanistan will be too dangerous for civilian reconstruction project overseers to access by next year - including all of Oruzgan province where most of Australia’s aid money is invested – an independent oversight committee warned.
“The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a US congress-created body designed to oversee and audit $US96 billion ($100bn) in relief and reconstruction projects, sounded the alarm yesterday over the impact of the 2014 NATO and coalition troop withdrawal on aid projects in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“Significant portions of Afghanistan are already inaccessible to SIGAR, other inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office, and other US civilians conducting oversight, ” SIGAR chief John Sopko said in the letter.
“SIGAR believes this constraint on oversight will only worsen as more US and coalition bases close.”
“The office released a series of maps showing civilian oversight access to billions of dollars worth of reconstruction projects has already shrunk from 68 per cent in 2009 to 45 per cent of the country this year.”
Comment: This information runs contraryto what the Australian government has been saying to the Australian public for the last five years, that the situation in Afghanistan wasimproving all the time!!
The AFR (30/10/13) in an editorial headed:
“THE AFGHAN WAR WAS STILL WORTH IT.”
It published in part:
“If the Australian Forces and the rest of the International Security Assistance Force have done enough to persuade the Taliban militants that they cannot win against the Afghan Government once foreign forces withdraw, and will have to negotiate some kind of lasting political settlement – then our troops will still have changed history for the better”.
“Many commentators now compare Afghanistan ..with the South Vietnam that Australia also helped to defend: [ie] puppet government, shaky local army, implacable enemy attacking from cross-border havens, and inevitable defeat. But the Vietnam era had other outcomes, too. In the mid 1960’s, south-east Asia as a whole was deeply unstable. Ten years later, after the US had held the line in Vietnam for as long as it could, the era of the Asian economic tiger had been born and the region’s future looked very different. The parallel can be overdone, but sometimes the result of history is not what seems obvious at the time.”
- It is a big “if” that a ‘lasting political settlement’ is possible in Afghanistan. But another “if” comes into play. If a “lasting political settlement” doesn’t occur after 2014, will the AFR editorialise the war was wrong and the sacrifice of our troops wasn’t worth it?
- It is also amazing for the AFR to buy into the Vietnam/Afghanistan comparison debate, especially by claiming that the U.S’s 10 year war in Vietnam “held the line” and thereby helped create “the era of the Asian economic tiger!”
The Vietnamese actually won the war and, after the peace, got on with rebuilding their nation – no thanks to the U.S carpet bombing the whole country for years!
It is obvious the AFR editorial writer has no knowledge of the destruction of war per se and has definitely no sense of history in terms of wars won or lost, especially the Vietnam War.
- 24 October 2013
24 October 2013
By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary
There was a very small article on Page 7 of the Melbourne Herald Sun last week (17/10) that should have been front page news.
The three sentence story told all Victorians what they already know, that electricity prices for domestic use have “soared” up to 22% in the past year. This is almost ten times the nations’ inflation rate.
On average, it was revealed that power bills have gone up from $240 to $350 over a year. A recent Victorian Essential Services Commission (ESC) report stated that over the last five years the average annual electricity bill has risen by 65%!
Seriously, this is a scandal and a disgrace.
More than 20 years ago the then Kirner State Government began the so called ‘corporatisation’ of the Victorian State owned power industry. Unions at the time said this was preparing for the full privatisation of electricity generation and distribution. Protests occurred. Mass meetings of thousands of power workers in the Latrobe Valley were held, condemning the move.
The Government said corporation would make power cheaper for consumers. Job losses started to occur by the hundreds.
By 1993, after only a year in office, the conservative Kennett Government went into full privatisation mode of both the electricity and gas industries. Again, the mantra was that access to electricity and gas under private ownership would make gas and power bills cheaper. More job losses occurred as the sale of assets occurred, this time in the thousands.
Two decades on and many price rises later for these essential services, we can see the political promises were a fallacy. Regardless, there are still many Politicians spruiking the message that the so-called “open, free market” is the best way to get cheaper prices……
- 01 October 2013
By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary
1 October 2013
What has the George Brandis Affair over parliamentary expenses and the Chevron Oil Company have in common, read on…..
The media is not vigorously pursuing (so far anyway) the country’s new top law officer – Federal Attorney- General George Brandis – over possible beaches of parliamentary expenses regulations.
Brandis went after former federal parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper over a similar issue. He also spent a lot of time chasing alleged rorter, ex-union official Craig Thompson. He was full of moral outrage during his parliamentary speeches.
The media for weeks and months, with many front page stories, pursued Slipper and Thompson with an enthusiasm akin to a hungry dingo chasing a hapless rabbit – no quarter given.
The alleged breaches by Brandis and his parliamentary colleague Barnaby Joyce, concern both of them attending a private wedding function, with the taxpayer picking up the tab. Other politicians were also apparently present and there is a hunt on for the full guest list!
Like Slipper and Thompson the allegations of wrong doing concern a few thousand dollars, all up.
Brandis, as soon as the two year old ‘offences’ became public, paid the money back to the federal Department of Finance.
While not admitting any guilt, Brandis said he was returning the money “to remove any uncertainty in favour of the taxpayer”.
In turn Mr Joyce, who was not as quick to put his hand in his pocket, went public and said he would be “happy to reimburse costs related to any ambiguity”.
Not commenting on the rights or wrongs of Slipper or Thompson, why didn’t these two conservative politicians at the time, simply offer the two individuals the opportunity to repay any possible mis-use of funds?
The new, developing Brandis/ Joyce ‘Code of Conduct’ seems to include an ‘escape clause’. This implies that there are now circumstances where, after an official or MP is publicly pulled up about questionable expense claims, a repayment can occur without further recriminations. This would only require the wayward individual putting forward ‘a removing an uncertainty or ambiguity’ defence!
Seriously it is more than ironic that, three weeks after the federal election, Abbott’s head kicker against Slipper and Thompson, should be put in the “fiddling expenses” frame.
But there are many more financial controversies bubbling away that deserve scrutiny. And they don’t deal with a few thousand dollars. They deal in millions and billions of dollars.
One current issue worth looking at illustrates the contrast.
For a long time now a major legal battle has been occurring in the courts between the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the huge U.S. oil multinational, Chevron. This is occurring with not much fanfare.
The ATO is claiming that Chevron has avoided millions of dollars in tax by shifting profits off-shore.
The court case comes as the Tax Office tightens the net around multinational companies using aggressive tax strategies to move profits overseas presumably before tax is calculated. The ATO’s claims go back to 2003 and relate to inter-party loans between Chevron Australia and its US parent company, Chevron Corporation, following a restructure of the company when it merged with Texaco in 2003.
In an appeal statement last year, Chevron argued it had dealt “at arm’s length” with the subsidiary, which handled $US2.5 million in loans from the US parent company to Chevron Australia. Chevron Australia repaid the loans with interest totalling $US1.5 billion between 2003 and 2007!!
The case is expected to be the first big court battle between the Tax Office and a foreign multi-national over transfer pricing rules, which related to the prices charged in trade between different parts of a global business.
It is an area where the Tax Office has suffered legal defeats in the past, prompting a tightening of the laws last year, which Chevron and other companies fiercely opposed. This fierce opposition must have happened behind the scenes.
The Tax Office has stepped up its offensive on corporate tax dodging, with a record number of audits of large or multinational businesses suspected of shifting profits overseas planned for this financial year.
The Chevron anti-tax liabilities activities bring back memories of how James Hardie Industries moved its headquarters to the Netherlands a few years ago, to try to reduce its asbestos related diseases responsibilities.
When you look at how millions of Australian workers’ pay their taxes every year, mainly without complaint, and you see local TV ads by Chevron claiming how they are good for Australia…. you wonder.
Contrast the reporting given to the Slipper and Thompson affairs, with a very small article in the business section of a newspaper, to what Chevron has been doing for 10 years, you wonder even more.
- 24 September 2013
By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary
Tuesday 24 September 2013
The current Victorian Government has made much about setting up the so called Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).
Recently IBAC, which started formally in February this year, joined with the Victorian branch of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPPA) – a body representing public servants, to put on a symposium (18/9). The topic was “Corrupt Conduct and Investigations”. Over 300 senior representatives of Victoria’s government departments and agencies turned up.
Key IBAC personnel participated on the day:
Alistair MacLean, CEO IBAC
Kirsten Lacey, Senior Education Officer IBAC
Vanessa Twigg, Professional Legal Advisor IBAC
Simon Peak, Deputy Commissioner IBAC
Not in attendance, but overseas, was IBAC’s Commissioner Steven O’Brien.
Major presentations were given by:
Dr Claire Noone, Executive Director Consumer Affairs Victoria, Department of Justice
Professor Adam Graycar, ANU
Dr Peter Frost, COO Victorian Auditor – Generals Office (VAGO)
Paul Eate, Executive Director (S&C), State Services Authority (SSA)
Scott Aitkin, Special Counsel, Madgwicks
Steven Mumford, Victorian Ombudsman Office (V.O.)
David Wolfe, Local Government Inspectorate
Jim Mulholland Vic Pol, Professional Standards Command.
There was much talk of “abstract” compared with “concrete” meanings of corruption. A major statistic put forward was that 5% of the global economy now involves bribery and fraud. Public sector corruption was defined as “unauthorised trading in trusted authority”.
At one point in the presentations, IBAC’s target base was described as “public servants, teachers, nurses, police, local councils”. Although a number of illustrations of corrupt-like activities went to higher examples like J.P. Morgan, the RBAs Note Printing arm and even Jeff Shaw (Liberal MP for Frankston), there was a lot of emphasis on anecdotes concerning the behaviour of individuals. Research was also put forward about how the community viewed corruption.
Professor Graycar presented statistics that claimed the public perception was that the most corrupt of institutions in society were 1. Trade Unions 2. Media or 3 Political parties (!) This should be of great concern that unions should be mentioned in such a fashion at on IBAC Conference!
When Professor Graycar presented information from a Victorian public servants survey it was revealed their main collective view was that corruption was “not on their radar”.
IBAC CEO Alistair Maclean when addressing the symposium said he was pushing for an updated “integrity framework for the Victorian public service”. He claimed that corruption erodes trust and undermines the free market! No suggestion that corruption in fact could be a function of the free market, given the earlier statistic concerning the global economy!
He gave some prominence to the original Proust report that was the forerunner to setting up IBAC.
MacLean’s reported that IBAC has a covert, surveillance capability, can intercept all communications, enter premises and do searches. It can have private and public hearings, its officers can carry firearms and act on their own motions of inquiry. The IBAC can also co-ordinate with other enforcement bodies and even “lend” its coercive powers to these bodies! He said the IBAC will be trying to find gaps in “intelligence gathering” in terms of serious corruption, within Victoria.
The symposium was told that Brendan Murphy QC oversights IBAC’s activities. Maclean said he wanted to dispel some myths about IBAC.
It has been not set up for “witch-hunts” and it is not “secretive”. This is said just after he outlined all of IBAC’s draconian powers, minutes earlier.
A little later he says in answer to a question, that while ICAC in NSW does mainly public hearings IBAC will not be doing this! He insists again that the IBAC is “not cloak and dagger outfit”. This would be a wrong perception, he insisted.
Maclean says there is a need to promote IBAC like its NSW and QLD counterparts.
In the Victorian Public service many didn’t know about the integrity departments with their own wider agencies.
There was a perception the risk of corruption was small. Over half of public servants surveyed believed they would be victimised if they reported corruption, especially those within line agencies.
They thought bribery was the worst thing yet was the least activity occurring within their workplace.IBAC’s view is that each government department and agency should not abrogate their own integrity responsibilities and expect IBAC to do everything! Complaints that are poorly documented, are about bad service delivery or are vexatious, will be referred back.
IBAC has also an education and prevention function capability. Currently this is being run out only in the area of local government, through Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).
IBAC is accountable to the parliament, is in the “establishment phase” and is “somewhat immature”. It has just finished its first Annual Report (10/2/13 – 30/6/13). This will be on the website soon. The Oversighting chain was described as the Ombudsman -> VAGO (Victorian Auditor-General’s Office) -> Local government Inspectorate -> IBAC.
It was reported that VAGO does 30 performance audits per year but cannot comment on government policy objectives, when these are done.
Specifically it is stated that VAGO can’t “follow the dollar”. For example if the delivery of a government service is via a private sector contract, then the details and expenditure within the contract cannot be evaluated!
This is occurring more and more. Private companies delivering government services is described as “a glaring gap”, in the audit process. The VAGO spokesperson said forcefully at the symposium it needed to be able to follow the taxpayer dollar and suggested VAGO could share information with IBAC. VAGO went so far as to say an effective integrity chain is not in place at the moment.
There was also a segment on “workplace culture” at the symposium and various examples were discussed.
Overall it was early days but there is the potential for concern about what direction(s) IBAC might take, especially against individuals in the Victorian public sector workforce.
- 16 September 2013
By Brian Boyd VTHC Secretary
16 September 2013
The headline front page of the conservative, pro-big business national newspaper – The Australian said it all: “Stocks hit five-year high as global investors reconsider Australian shares – Economy rides Abbott victory”.
It’s ‘all about the economy, stupid’ a politician said some time ago. This adage is only half right.
It’s all about who runs/controls the economy. That is big business, international finance, multinational corporations.
The political process in Canberra via successive governments is used to ‘fine tune’ regulations, laws and the tax system on behalf of this economic power block. That’s why the conservatives rant against ‘red tape’ e.g. OHS laws, ‘green tape’ e.g. environmental protection policies, corporate tax e.g. mining tax, and the biggest obsession of all, industrial relations laws e.g. workers rights at work and collective bargaining.
The federal election result and the shambolic lead up to it, was a side show to this main game. Simply for nearly two years now, via their media supporters, big business has wanted, no demanded a change of federal government. After 2007 the same big business interests were content to work with and promote the Rudd/ Gillard government. But when this administration began to unravel, in their eyes, they ‘jumped ship’! Big business wants everything on their terms.
International investors have been flooding into Australia since the election. The stock market hit “a five year high”.
Just after the election, departing, U.S. Ambassador Jeffery Bleich as he left Canberra, spoke about the “massive investment” from the US being made into “Australian resources projects’.
The Property Council of Australia didn’t hesitate on calling on the newly elected Abbott government to initiate policies that would immediately attract foreign investment in the nations’ building industry. Tax minimisation schemes and lower thresholds for debt were urged as first steps. But the big ticket item for the property tycoons was insisting Abbott act, with haste, in revamping the ABCC to attack building workers hard won wages and conditions and their ability to act collectively through their unions.
Conservative State governments like QLD, NSW, Victoria also pushed, on behalf of big business interests in their respective jurisdictions, for Abbott to open up more opportunities for mining projects.
In the SMH (12/9/13) under the heading: “Get out of our way on huge mines, Abbott told”, journalist Johnathon Swan reported that QLD Premier Campbell Newman was demanding federal ‘red’ and ‘green’ tape be by-passed to open up the Galilee Basin.
It was reported this area, 400 km inland from the Great Barrier Reef, contained “potential coalmines that would dwarf anything ever developed in Australia” [so far]!
It was revealed that besides international companies, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer also have “significant interests” in the area.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell is also keen to dig, dig, dig. However a major multinational mining company Glencore Xstrata has somewhat compromised his ‘expansion’ campaign. Recently it was revealed GX had badly damaged a major public State Conservation area near Newcastle. ‘”The environmental disaster” was under investigation because the company’s mining lease had been breached. Although the damage occurred back in October 2012 it was not revealed publicly until August this year! The O’Farrell government has been very slow in taking the action it is required to under the law. Is this a sign of things to come?
The mining resources boom is far from dead as some conservative commentators tried to make out over the past year.
After the federal election, sections of the media revealed that there has been a “surge” in iron ore exports. The measure has been the increase in demand for the super ships to carry the commodity between Australia (Pilbara) and Asian markets. Fortescue Metals, Rio Tinto and BHP were reported to be “ramping up exports”.
Was there a capital strike in place all along?
It was reported just 7 days after the election, in The Australian – under the headline: “End of resources tax battle welcomed, mining chiefs hail new hope for certainty”, that there will be “a new phase in the mining cycle!”
One newspaper after the election went so far as to claim there had been “the Tony Abbott Dividend”. That is $25 billion had been added to the value of Australian companies!
In contrast it was revealed at the same time that workers weren’t faring nowhere near as well as big business.
The jobless rate amongst Australians has recently reached “a four year high”, to nearly 6%
Many employers, in the two months lead up to 7 September, sacked more than 20,000 people with many full-time jobs particularly disappearing.
Employers have not let up with what they want out of Tony Abbott. A NSW Business Chamber spokesperson, Stephen Cartwright, demanded a quick review of the Fair Work Act, with others calling for an end to having to always ‘navigate’ wage scales, awards, penalty rates and unfair dismissal structures. Overall it was reported that small to medium size businesses, like their big business counterparts were demanding: “industrial relations changes are the only ones that really matter”!
The Australian editorial on the 14/9/13, under the headline: “Labor Leaders fiddle while union reform task burns….a distracted ALP is ignoring the reasons for its defeat”, obsessed: “Until Labor reduces the power of the union movement, it cannot reclaim its place as a party of the mainstream”.
In the next sentence the frothing editorial writer then reports that unions only cover 20% of the workforce. Why the desperation to deny organised labour a voice!
And who could claim the Liberal/Nationals are anywhere near “mainstream” on the matter of IR?
Everyone knows they are the parties of big business, unabashed.
Simply the conservative forces want to end once and for all a key source of socially progressive ideas and polices for working people - active and membership based unions.
The voting patterns of the last Federal election tell the tale of how much disillusionment there is amongst many ordinary people. This especially affects the major parties. Over two million voters, either didn’t register to vote or cast a valid vote!
Voter distain affected many key electorates.
You don’t have to be a political tragic to be able to draw lessons for this scenario.
Some commentators have strongly suggested many parts of the electorate “weren’t so much voting for the Coalition” as against the poor state of parliamentary politics per se. As a further illustration of this point there was a large vote (nearly 21%) who only ticked boxes for minor parties or independent candidates.
Big business and the corporate sector are out there in full voice demanding their day of reckoning, as they see it.
In response working people and organised labour must become disciplined and defend workers’ rights at work.
- 02 September 2013
2 September 2013
By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary
40 years ago this year a military coup, backed by the U.S.’s C.I.A, overthrew an elected government in the South American country of Chile.
Prime Minister Allende was killed in the military takeover. In the immediate aftermath, thousands of people were rounded up. A ‘watch-list’ created during the preceding years, by the CIA, military and the Chilean secret police (DINA) was used methodically to make sure any activist left of centre, involved in such things as the Chilean union movement, the arts, environment and a myriad of other social causes didn’t escape the net.
The conservative estimate was that over 3000 people were executed. Many more were gaoled or went into exile.
Military rule would continue for over two decades. Other coups happened in places like Argentina around the same time (the casualties in that country were over 30,000 murdered).
Recently archival material has been released in the U.S. confirming the CIA’s role in a 1953 coup in Iran, that saw the ultra-right wing Shah installed over a previously elected government.
In 1979 an Islamist clerical ‘revolution’ overthrew the Shah, to the chagrin of the US. Over 30 years on the current Iranian government gives the US many foreign policy headaches. Some analysts today trace back such problems to the US’s original interference back in 1953. If the Shah hadn’t been such a ruthless autocrat the basis for the 1979 Islamist takeover may have been avoided.
Similarly the current crisis in Syria has seen sustained world-wide opposition to U.S. military intervention because of the human misery arising from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lies about WMD that ‘justified’ the invasion of Iraq in 2003 are particularly haunting Barak Obama and David Cameron. Cynicism about motives is everywhere.
There are many lessons to be drawn from what happened in Chile in 1973. Economic uncertainty and the greed of the corporate multinationals are the parents of reaction and coups.
The recent exposès of WikiLeaks (Julian Assange) and Edward Snowden clearly show the creation and maintaining of ‘watch lists’ are alive and well.
Don’t forget Chile in 1973….
- 28 August 2013
By Brian Boyd, VTHC Secretary
28 August 2013
The federal election is not far away but the employer peak bodies and now individual corporate heads can’t stop pushing an increasingly aggressive anti-worker agenda.
Big business even plant stories in the media that Abbott is ‘too soft’ on IR. They provoke some of his shadow cabinet colleagues to push the envelope for more anti-worker, anti-union laws when he becomes Prime Minister.
Abbott’s IR spokesperson Eric Abetz seized on the woes of the Holden car maker and called on all employers to insist on “common sense” from their workforces and cop cuts to pay and working conditions to ‘save jobs’! Abetz said all wages need to be linked to ‘productivity’.
The Chief Executive of the building materials company Fletcher, Mark Adamson said recently, in his British accent, that Australia needs: “a dose of Margaret Thatcher”. (A reference back to the 1980’s when the then arch-conservative British Prime Minister used thousands of police to attack coal miners and other workers).
Adamson said he was “surprised” at established wages and conditions here and advocated a “freeing up” of labour laws.
Chevron Australia managing director Roy Krzywosinski said Australia had to get its “policy setting right” and “fix industrial relations” or risk losing billions of dollars of investment in the energy/LNG sector. Abbott’s answer was to set up a working group to oversee the return of the ABCC and the setting in place of other anti-union machinery to assist the corporations like Chevron.
Master Builders Australia Chief Wilhelm Hernisch and Manufacturing Australia head Sue Morphet joined in the corporate call on Tony Abbott to do more. Abbott replied “I want Australian workers to be amongst the best paid in the world, [but] you’ve got to be among the most productive in the world”, he insisted.
He went on to condemn the conditions of some Fly-in, Fly-out (FIFO) workers who get time off to see family and friends, saying such industrial agreements are now “not conducive to making Australia an attractive place to invest and to create more jobs”. [In other words he wants working conditions in our resources sector to resemble what happens in places like Dubai. There Indian and Pakistani workers on major projects work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and return home to their villages every two years!]
And what about those hundreds of thousands of Australian workers who have nothing to trade with respect to the so called ‘productivity more wages’ formulae?
If you are, for example, a childcare worker and you deal with 20 children a day in a small crèche, five days a week. What do you do to get a pay rise? Squeeze more children in? Ask the parents if the children can come back over the week-end?
Boral chief executive Mike Kane joined in the anti-worker bashing by lamenting that even the limited industrial rights that Australian workers possess was too much. “Anywhere else in [the] developed world…illegal activity would be stopped immediately”, he told a corporate gathering recently.
And the anger towards the union movement's campaign to expose how 457 visa workers are being used by employers to undermine hard won wages and conditions, seems only increase as the federal election looms.
The conservative media went into a frenzy when the visa fees went up from $455 to $1035. But the real anger was about how the vast increase in 457 labour over recent years, had been exposed. Not exposed in itself but exposed as a sham. The 457 scheme was supposedly for filling jobs that could not or were not being filled by local labour. In addition, when a 457 visa worker took the job he or she would also be paid in full the wages and all entitlements applying within Australia. This has not been the case for a long time.
Many of the reactionary commentators who get a run in a mainstream media often report the rant that union workplaces are down to less than 20% coverage. Yet this doesn’t stop pages and pages being written about ‘union power’ and ‘union excesses’.
The Abbott IR policy is all about tightening union right of entry into workplaces, not higher wages. Abbott at his Sunday 25 August 2013 election launch revisited his conservative heroes of Reagan, Thatcher and Howard, in his speech.
Working people do not want Tony Abbott to be their Prime Minister. It hurts most of them to see what is in front of them and what could happen after September 7th.
The Australian Financial Review gloated over the Holden situation in South Australia.
“Welcome to your pay cut”, was the headline of a feature article.
The journalist predicted (off just one company’s situation) that the days of all workers having a say about their own wages and conditions “are over”! Worse, he wrote, employees (not Holden’s but across the board) are so “anxious to keep their jobs”, they are [going to] offer reduced conditions! How absurd. What a stretch for a mainstream newspaper, yet anything goes in the psychological war being conducted against working people.
The following week, in the back of the papers of course, a conservative newspaper quietly reported: “Companies wary but profits are holding steady…corporate activity is starting to pick up…”
Where’s the economic crisis demanding that Australian workers be screwed down to the bone?
Workers are entitled to ask such questions and more importantly defend their wages and conditions.
- 06 August 2013
6 August 2013
By Brian Boyd, Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary
Millions of words, kilometres of video and countless photos appear in the mass media constantly depicting the antics of our federal politicians of all persuasions. The first half of 2013 has been particularly obsessive.
Jibes and counter-jibes, differences often separated by a millimetre, are analysed to death. Personality traits, what clothes certain parliamentarians wear, even down to tie colours, are given exaggerated coverage. Cartoons lampoon individual characteristics.
Some commentators immerse themselves in endless scenarios of who said what and dwell about what a selected quote really meant or can such and such a politician really be believed this time!
The reality is much more basic. Millions of ordinary working Australians, union members and non-union alike, go to work every day and sell their labour and abilities to earn wages and salaries to make a living.
On the other hand, big and medium size businesses and enterprises manoeuvre to maximise profits. One of the ways often deployed in this endeavour is to try to cut the wages and salaries and reduce other hard won working conditions of the employees. The organised, unionised segments of the labour force work to protect the value put on work and even grow the take home pay of their memberships.
This struggle is a constant in the nation’s economy. It’s a fundamental dichotomy - a fair entitlement of labour’s worth in contrast to the profit maximisation of capital.
The shenanigans of Canberra don’t often tackle this basic economic disparity in a proper fashion.
The mainstream media’s focus on how politicians spin their words and play act to gain attention would have everyone believe it’s all about personalities. Sometimes it may rise to the level of which representative of the mainstream political parties looks and sound more trustworthy, more believable.
But below the surface of the hullabaloo, the huffing and puffing, chest beating, magazine puff pieces and the willingness or otherwise of family members to be used for photos shoots, the fundamentals of how this great country is faring, are glimpsed from time to time.
Only a week ago the Business Council of Australia (BCA) released its pre-federal election blueprint – a 190 page Action Plan for Enduring Prosperity.
Parts of the media stopped momentarily obsessing about Abbott’s and Rudd’s endless commentary about themselves and decided to promote what big business wanted. It couldn’t be helped but the real agenda, as far as the business class was concerned, was revealed.
Simply the BCA wanted more freedom to make, more profit. 93 demands on what they wanted the next incoming federal government to do, were documented.
One newspaper described the plan as “a prudent economic narrative” and “eminently responsible” and suggested Rudd and Abbott should “step beyond the Punch and Judy politics of modern electioneering”, and take it seriously.
This gratuitous advice to the politicians, about behaving more seriously, is rich given that same newspaper and many other publications, are regularly out to do each other, selling the Punch and Judy mentality!
The same newspaper commented the BCA plan could achieve “full employment, a strong society and reasonable distribution of wealth and income” (emphasis added).
The newspaper also went on to highlight a key BCA aim - a call for a boost in productivity by having “a shake-up of the Fair Work Act”. This demand was described as “admirable pragmatism” by the BCA.
Another newspaper said the BCA’s plan “deserves serious attention” and highlighted its call to free up the labour market with the need to look at “the extent to which the high minimum wage (sic) prevents new labour market entrants from gaining initial experience”. It went on to also highlight the BCA wants ‘to improve workplace laws’ – this is code for more restrictions on workers being able to collectively organise and bargain via their unions.
The BCA is so cocky it even promoted the spreading of the GST to fresh food, health services and education, unabashed on the thousands of dollars this would add to ordinary household annual bills.
A business newspaper ran a front page headline: “Pro-union workplace laws are ’ridiculous,’. Huge mining company Rio Tinto spokesperson David Peever repeated the often stated lie, since 2009, that access to workplaces by unions needed to be “bought back into balance”.
Peever knows all too well how onerous current right of entry provisions have been for years.
Many mining companies, including Rio Tinto, have used every trick they can to prevent workers in the resources sector even having basic discussions with their unions.
A recent modest alteration to the right of entry code, access to lunch rooms, if a suitable location is not agreed, is not an unbalanced scenario, as unions well know. Yet the employers and the conservatives went berserk when this came in back in June.
What really got up their noses over the Fair Work Act Amendment Bill 2013 was the fact that the Gillard/Rudd government, after 2007 had made promises to big business and apparently “commitments” were given that the WorkChoices – like elements concerning right of entry, carried through into the Fair Work 2009, would never be altered.
The ILO ‘committee of experts’ has consistently ruled that both the WorkChoices and FW Act provisions on ‘right of entry’ have always been in breach of ILO organising rights conventions.
Off the back of the regular public debate about finding ways to improve national productivity, the Australian Mines and Metals Association also recently revealed the employer’s real agenda. They demanded Kevin Rudd take immediate action to overhaul workplace laws. The AMMA argued so called workplace reform was needed to improve flexibility and reduce costs. Again all code for being able to casualise workers and pay them less.
Back in July another newspaper highlighted another big business organisation pushing the real agenda in the national political framework. The need for more restrictive, blatantly anti-union legislation was identified by the Australian Industry Group (A.I.G.) as its - “No 1 Policy priority for the next federal government”. After surveying over 300 members the A.I.G. organisation found I.R. changes and cutting red tape (e.g. OHS requirements) was what most employers wanted.
The facts are that current I.R. laws are so restrictive workers cannot take basic action to protect or promote their day to day interests whenever they arise.
Recently maritime workers involved with the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ ferry between Melbourne and the ‘apple isle’ couldn’t legally take any action to support sacked fellow workers. Their union was tied up in the courts. Community activists came into help but also faced court action.
The current IR laws in this and countless other basic disputes at workplaces across the country are faced with legalised minefields.
The employer associations are trying to dominate the public narrative, especially leading up to the federal election. They try to link the national interest to their interests. Pro-employer changes to the Fair Work Act is their obsession. They have achieved many legislative changes in their favour for the last 20 years and they still want more.
In enterprise bargaining discussions they don’t want to talk about job security initiatives: they want to “tightly define” issues in EBA’s; they don’t want workers to be able to take action over wider social and community issues that affect them; they don’t want unions to have a say over protecting established wages and conditions when greenfield projects and enterprises are being contemplated; that sacked workers haven’t got any rights to seek redress if unfairly treated; that if a company wishes to transfer or restructure all or parts of its business, claims to protect establishes hard won wages and entitlements of affected workers, cannot be pursued.
This wish –list alone illustrates the real agenda: turning Australian workers into virtual unrepresented slaves.
Some employers are so determined to create a labour market dominated by them that they even attack their political party of choice, the Liberal Party.
The AMMA recently was critical of Tony Abbott’s current I.R. stance, because he won’t openly support the return of individual contracts.
Steve Knot CEO of the AMMA said the ALP “has gone backwards” since 2013. He added; “Ironically, the Coalitions improved workplace relations score is largely due to the party’s pledge to uphold policy promises originally made by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard in 2007”!
Before the federal election announcement, for September 7, made on Sunday 4/8/13, Kevin Rudd tried to have a high level summit (24/7) of business and union representatives to discuss the “national competitiveness agenda”. The BCA wasn’t interested in giving public recognition to the ACTU, saying: “Australia has come a long way from 1980’s and there are many more stakeholders in the productivity and competiveness picture than just unions, who don’t have the influence or the coverage of the workforce that they once had”.
It is a contempt of organised labour of the highest order. The union movement is still the biggest industrial, social and democratic structure in the country, regardless of the drop in overall coverage in recent decades and far more representative than the various big business associations.
These big business associations are like ‘broken records’ in their persistent rants to curtail workers’ rights at work.
The have achieved too much in this area and want more.
Recently for example it was reported that weekend work has trebled over the past 20 years, from 12 percent of workers in 1993 to 33 percent today, Australian Bureau of Statistics data has recently shown. Work is killing off the hard won Australian weekend and depriving family time. Australians are now three times more likely to work weekends than they were 20 years ago – that is one in three workers spends Saturday or Sunday on the job. Australians spend more time in the workplace, rather than in the backyard or on the beach with family and friends. And one in four workers is on call or on standby. Leisure time is often disturbed with messages and emails from the boss!
Hours of work, insecure work, casualised work are only part of the overall ongoing attack on workers’ rights.
How far will the employers push to further fragment and atomise the workforce? How far will they push the next federal government to have IR legislation to further curtail the collective bargaining rights of workers?
There are big challenges ahead for the organised union movement.
It must be united and have an independent agenda as its starting point.
Unions should not compromise their abilities to put workers first.
- 28 June 2013
1st July 2013
By Brian Boyd VTHC Secretary
Key parts of the union movement for a long time have campaigned for “asbestos free workplaces”.
Australian unions in certain industries have fought particularly hard to firstly win recognition of the inherent OHS dangers of asbestos products in the workplace and secondly to convince employers that it should be safely eradicated from workplaces where it exists.
This has not been an easy struggle and it is ongoing.Often those in charge of workplaces have pleaded how costly it is to remove asbestos. Governments, employers and workplace owners have had to be forced to take action only when a situation has become so dire e.g. when a Melbourne suburban primary school playground, littered with building fragments containing asbestos fibre, has been discovered after some demolition work was done incorrectly, or earthworks for a new building has uncovered asbestos products from an illegal dump that occurred decades earlier.
Back in the 1980s Victorian building unions, supported by a number of other unions, placed a permanent ban on asbestos products being used in all new construction. A broader policy of calling for the eradication of existing asbestos products in established buildings was also introduced.
An asbestos removal industry was soon born in Victoria, with unions and some progressive employers working together to conduct the removal practices with the highest standard of OHS regulation.
More than 30 years on, the battle to tackle the industrial asbestos legacy continues.
Over the years the campaign has not diminished and the call by unions for a systematic approach to the issue remained quite vocal. Peak union bodies were moved to demanding a better, more co-ordinated program to make sure asbestos products can be steadily reduced from specific workplaces and the wider environment.
The union campaign for an “asbestos free” Australia, moved a great step forward in June 2013.
For years the union movement called on the Australian Government to conduct an asbestos management review. The ACTU and key unions joined with the Cancer Council Australia in convening a national Asbestos Summit in 2010. Asbestos victim support groups from around Australia also participated.
The Summit Declaration included a call for an Asbestos Free Australia by 2030, the establishment of a comprehensive review and prioritised removal of asbestos, starting with government owned buildings. The government established a review within months, chaired by former ACTU Assistant Secretary, Geoff Fary.
The ACTU, the VTHC and the wider union movement were active in the conduct of the review. Many unions also participated in the Review, making well researched and worthwhile submissions.
The necessity of establishing a stand alone ‘Agency’ in order to effectively drive implementation of a national asbestos eradication plan, was a major outcome of the review.
The requirement for a dedicated ‘Agency’ was met on the 20/6/13 when the Gillard ALP Government achieved final passage through the Senate of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Bill.
The Agency will come into existence on 1 July 2013 with 10 staff. Significantly, the voice of working people will be heard by virtue of representation on the Agency’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council, which provides advice and recommendations regarding implementation of the Plan. The Agency will implement the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, who has steered the passage of this legislation through the federal Parliament, noted that: “Australia is the first nation to progress towards the ultimate elimination of asbestos-related diseases…Creating this independent agency and developing the National Strategic Plan is part of the Gillard Government’s consistent track record of action to tackle the scourge of asbestos and the culmination of three years’ work”.
It should also be noted that Liberal Senator Eric Abetz on the passage of the Bill praised the Australian union movement, saying “I commend the Australian Trade Union movement, which has taken a very proactive role in dealing with the issues of the hazards of asbestos. It would be fair to say that, without their active campaigning, things may not have progressed as far as they have and as quickly as they have. The coalition commends this bill to the Senate”.
The important thing is for the union movement not to rest on its laurels. The Agency must be supported. It is hoped that it will be left alone to do its job and not be subject to future political interference. 2030 is not far away in terms of the amount of eradication work required.
The cost of this mammoth task, especially since it must be done properly and safely will be a major issue for the country.
The recent scandal of the Telstra NBN roll out with asbestos safety breaches occurring in many parts of the nation alone illustrates that the new agency will have its work cut out.