The upcoming Federal Election gives meatworkers the chance to get rid of the Howard Government and its vicious, unfair industrial relations laws.
Joe Hockey, Howard's IR Minister, says that Australians have never had it so good. "Australians are on average working fewer hours, they've got more flexible workplaces than ever before and they're earning more money than ever before", Hockey says.
Meat workers, like all other workers, know that this is nonsense. Simply lies.
The Howard Government IR Laws, "WorkChoices" that Hockey administers encourages employers to take from workers the wages and conditions they have struggled for years to obtain. This is the deliberate intention of the legislation. A recently published biography of John Howard makes it clear that this intended effect was well known and understood by Howard and his Cabinet when they determined to bring in this legislation. Many employers in the meat industry have used Howard's legislation to attack the conditions of meatworkers.
As well as encouraging employers to cut penalty rates, overtime pay, holiday loadings, redundancies, rostered days off and other work allowances, this legislation also:
removes protection from unfair dismissal for almost all workers.
It is removed completely for workers whose employers employ fewer than 100 workers. For those where more than 100 workers are employed, the unscrupulous employer can say any dismissal is for "operational reasons",as was done at the Cowra Meatworks. "Operational reasons" covers almost any reason to get rid of a worker and also allows it to be done without the payment of redundancy.
makes many ordinary Union activities illegal
for example attempts to reach agreement with an employer about how to deal with dismissals.
- reduces the power of the Industrial Relations Commission
This forces simple disputes such as underpayment of wages to court at considerable expense and delay
-changes the way minimum wages are set.
It is now done by the Government's hand-picked Fair Wages Commission, which recently awarded a wage increases of $10 per week and $5 per week, the lowest increase in many years.
-As bad as these provisions are at the heart of the legislation is the preference that it gives to individual Australian Workplace Agreements over collective agreements, particularly Union agreements. Workchoices gives individual agreements the right to override any collective agreement even if the collective agreement has just been agreed to.Aworker can be legally coerced into signing an AWA before being able to start work at a workplace that has a union collective agreement which is still operating. A worker already employed under the collective agreement can be conned out of its protection regardless of how long the agreement has left to run. Individual agreements however bind the individual worker for their entire length and cannot be replaced by a collective agreement during this time. Getting workers off union collective agreements and on to non union individual agreements is what the legislation is all about. . The basis of the Australian industrial system until now has been working for wages and conditions that have been achieved through workers and their unions using collective bargaining.The conditions were then guaranteed either by way of Awards ormore recently by way of a collective agreement It is by this means that Australian workers have been able to improve their way of life. What the Howard government wishes to achieve through Workchoices is to eliminate unions from the process and transfer the majority of workers onto individual agreements.So that an individual worker has to negotiate one out with the employer and their advisers.The Howard Government and those they represent understand well the truth of the words of the union hymn "Solidarity for Ever", "what on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one".Once a workplace is signed up to an AWA, Workchoices prohibits a union official from entering even if all the workers at the site are members of the union.In other workplaces the union official's right of entry has been severely restricted. .As part of this campaign of transforming Australian workplaces so that the employer can increasingly impose their preferred conditions on the workforce
-The Howard Government, their friends in the media and various employer bodies have attempted to vilify the trade union movementThey wish to portray trade unions as beyond their time whose members are stood over and abused by leaderswho are desperate thugs intent on destroying jobs and the Australian economy.This rhetoric is not new .But an increasingly desperate government is currently spending tens of millions of taxpayers money trying to get voters to believe it.And their friends are helping them. According to a recent editorial in The Australian newspaper trade unions are "organizations designed for conflicts and conditions that existed before Australia federated",that is before 1901. No doubt the writer of that piece along with the papers owner Rupert Murdoch wishes that workers did not achieve the conditions that were won throughout the 20th. Century by the the trade union movement.It is precisely those conditions ,none of which were willingly conceded,but had to be fought for, some over many years,and at great cost to many workers ,that Howard and his supporters now wish to take back. It is precisely that unions have been successful thatWorkchoices was introduced .These people believe that the more often you repeat the same lies some will begin to believe them.
The truth of what the Trade Union Movement has been able to achieve is there for all to see.
- A5day working week Monday to Friday as normal;
- Annual Leave 1then2,3 and now 4 or 5 weeks and 171/2% loading;
- Sick leave; Long service leave;
- Overtime payments;
- Shift work;
- Paid public holidays;
- A38 hour week or 36 or 35 hour week with rostered day's off;
- Compassionate leave;
- Meal breaks;
- Worker's compensation and make up pay;
- Redundancy payments ;
- Casual loading;
- Unfair dismissal protection;
- The right to union representation right of entry of union officials;
- Continuing improvements in Occupational Health and Safety ;
- Introduction of health and safety representatives
- and many others.
All achievements of the Australian trade union movements.
As Gough Whitlam said when accepting life membership of the Australian Labor Party in April this year, "History will record with disbelief that the major effort of an Australian Government in the first 7 years of the 21st century was devoted to the dismantling of one Australia's oldest secular institutions integral to all it's history and values, the Union Movement of Australia."
The "Your Rights at Work"campaign run by the A.C.T.U. has been highly successful in publicising the way employers have greedily accepted the Howard governments invitation to reduce their employees wages conditions and rights.This campaign and the election of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to the leadership of the A.L P.has meant that there is now a realistic chance that a Rudd Labor Government can be elected.
. Howard has been forced to introduce a so-called "fairness" test. This is no more than a pre-election gimmick, currently being advertised at taxpayers' expense. The "test" is basically meaningless.
- It does not apply to anyone already on an AWA - about 2.5 million workers.
- There is no protection from unfair dismissal.
- Most employers are exempt from the test, including those in regional or country areas. That includes most businesses in the meat industry.
- Any employer in "difficult economic circumstances". Every meat industry employer will argue they are covered by this.
- The level of fairness applies only to the base rates of the Federal Award, and to make sure that it has no effect, the Workplace Authority will speak only to the employer to ensure that any agreement passes the "fairness test"..
But this gimmick ,the millions of taxpayers dollars, and the escalating smeer campaign do not appear to be working.
Consistent polling over a number of months confirms this. However 16 seats need to be won, which is a very difficult task.
In March 2007, Howard told the Australian Parliament that "Australian working families have never had it so good." He pleads with the electorate to look at the booming economy.
As the grandfather in the ACTU TV advertisement says, "These are meant to be prosperous times, so why is it my grandson has less rights at work than I had?"