The Guardian 16 March, 2005

The Andrews/Howard offensive
against trade unions and workers


With control of the Senate after July 1, the Howard government is set to embark on a two-stage assault on the trade union movement and Australian workers.

Workplace Relations Act toughened

  • Australian Industrial Relations Commission's powers reduced

  • Awards stripped back to very basic conditions:

  • a minimum wage rate only

  • no job classifications and career paths

  • no overtime, shift work or overtime penalty rates or casual loadings

  • no ordinary time hours of work (eg 35, 38, 40)

  • no parental, bereavement, compassionate or jury service leave & make-up pay

  • reduction in public holidays, including loss of union picnic day

  • no specified notice periods for working hours or shift changes

  • no award long service leave or superannuation (fallback on legislated minimum)

  • loss of provisions covering accident make-up pay

  • limits on casual employment

  • limit redundancy pay

  • bonuses and allowances removed

    Once removed these conditions would then have to be won all over again in each individual workplace. (This list is a guide based on a composite of sources, final details have still to be released.)

    Enterprise Bargaining Agreements:

  • life of EBAs extended from 3 or 4 to 5 years (no chance to adjust future agreed wage rises in line with inflation)

  • EBAs to be stripped back to strictly employer-employee workplace matters

  • limits on ability of AIRC to find disputes and settle disputes

  • Australian Workplace Agreements:

  • AWAs to take affect from date of signing

  • government allocating millions of dollars to assist bosses in forcing AWAs on workers

  • "no disadvantage" test (already a farce) virtually wiped for AWAs

  • Industrial action virtually outlawed:

  • secret ballots compulsory before taking "Protected Action" (conducted by AEC)

  • cooling-off periods preventing continuing "protected" industrial action

  • Suspension of industrial action on application of any third party affected by the action

  • prohibition of pattern bargaining

  • industrial action in support of agreement which is part of pattern bargaining is "unprotected"

  • prohibition of industrial action if claim does not pertain to the employer-employee relationship (in the narrowest sense of the word)

  • Union rights curtailed:

  • significant restrictions on the Right of Entry and overriding of state laws

  • restrictions on right to donate to political parties (this won't apply to corporations!!)

  • increase in penalties for breaches of the Act, an award, EBA or an order of the AIRC or court

    Minimum Wage

  • A single minimum wage determined by economic experts wage rate could be reduced or frozen depending according to economy, not workers' needs

  • Kneecapping Building and Construction unions

    A taste of what is to follow for all workers

  • All industrial action during life of an EBA is outlawed

  • Industrial action in support of new agreement prior to expiry date of existing agreement unlawful and "unprotected"

  • individual workers and union officials face fines of up to $22,000

  • unions face fines of up to $110,000

  • court may order workers, officials and unions to pay uncapped compensation to any person affected by the unlawful action

  • these provisions retrospective to March 9, 2005

  • Pattern bargaining outlawed

  • Payment related to industrial action incurs fines of $33,000 for workers, $110,000 for unions and employers

  • Australian Building and Construction Commission (replaces Taskforce) to spy on workers and unions, ensure workers are not pressured to join a union or take industrial action (i.e. do the government's and bosses' dirty work)

  • Provisions to stop site EBAs extending to contractors and subbies

    Independent contractors

  • Measures to prevent unionisation of contractors and subbies

  • New laws to ensure that awards and EBAs do not apply to independent contractors

    Less protection from unfair dismissal

  • Increase fees for unfair dismissal applications (put them out of reach)

  • Remove powers of states to deal with most unfair dismissal applications

  • Exempt small businesses from law

    Workers in small businesses lose rights
    (Workplaces with 20 or fewer employees)


  • No protection from unfair dismissal

  • New process of arbitration outside of AIRC

  • Strong push to enforce AWAs

  • Direct "negotiations" between individual workers and bosses

  • OH&S: education and advice replace prosecution

  • Abolition of redundancy payments where less than 15 employees

  • Extend application of more sections of Trades Practices Act to trade unions

  • Heavy financial penalties and possible jail sentences where trade is restricted

    National industrial relations system (using corporations law)

    (Covers commonwealth employees and all others employed by constitutional corporations possibly 85-90 percent of employees)

  • State industrial relations systems dismantled

  • No state awards for workers employed by corporations

  • Override power of states to deal with unfair dismissal applications

  • Ban bargaining agents fees under state laws

  • Rights of workers to transfer existing EBA (continuity of employment, wages and conditions) with transfer of business limited

    Free go for employers

    Once most of the above is in place, corporations law tried and tested, and the model for life without the Workplace Relations Act trialed on small business, the government plans to take the big leap and completely abolish what remains of the centralised award system that has given trade unions official recognition and a host of rights (in return for some concessions on their part) for the past 100 years.

    Workplace Relations Act abolished

  • No Australian Industrial Relations Commission

  • No Awards or EBAs

  • No legal recognition or registration of trade unions

  • Loss of legal rights of trade unions eg

  • no legal right of entry

  • no legal right to represent workers

  • no legal right to collective bargaining

  • only legally enforceable contracts are under corporations law

  • No such thing as "protected action"

  • Unions, officials and individual workers subjected to thousands or millions of dollars in common law damage claims related to industrial action

    Legislated minimum conditions ( la Kennett and New Zealand)

  • minimum annual leave (without loadings) possibly 3 or 4 weeks

  • 5 days sick leave, public holidays

  • minimum wage (possibly determined by "independent" body of government economists)

  • 3 weeks annual leave

  • possibly several other basic conditions

    Workers subjected to corporations law

  • Employment contracts between workers and employers (eg Rio Tinto, Coles, Telstra) treated in law as contracts between equal partners

  • Only redress for workers for justice is through court system (costly, lengthy procedures)

    Company workplace unions

  • Focus will be on workplace and individual

  • Some employers may choose to set up their own unions

  • Heading towards US system where workers vote on bargaining agent or deal with employer on an individual basis with no union

    Unions stand on own feet

    Trade unions will loose the many legislative rights that have been conceded by the state, but that does not mean the end of trade unionism in Australia.

    Unions will have to fight to hold onto everything workers have now. Future gains will be through their own organised strength. Nothing will be handed on a plate through a commission.

    Individually workers have no hope of standing up for their rights.

    United workers will have the power to defeat the Howard/Andrews and employers' offensive.

    So let's start now in strengthening the union movement and defeating their agenda.

    Anna Pha

    Back to index page