The Guardian April 5, 2000


Howard Government a global pariah

The Australian Government is fast becoming a global pariah because of 
its dogged determination to flout international humanitarian standards the 
ACTU said last week after the Government rejected calls by the 
International Labour Organisation (ILO) to change its industrial relations 
laws.

On March 30 the UN body voted to request the Howard Government to make 
changes to its Workplace Relations Act and Trades Practices Act following 
complaints of anti-union discrimination over its role in the 1998 Patrick 
waterfront dispute.

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has been investigating 
complaints against the Government from the ACTU, the Maritime Union of 
Australia, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the 
International Transport Workers' Federation.

The complaints are of:

* Anti-union discrimination.
* Interference with strike and boycott action.
* Restrictions on picketing.
* Violation of collective bargaining rights.
* Interference with the rights of affiliation with international workers' 
organisations.

The ILO will ask the Government to amend the 1996 Workplace Relations Act, 
saying it "noted with concern" that linking restrictions on strike action 
to interference with trade and commerce could impede legitimate strike 
action.

They also request that the Government take "necessary measures", including 
amending the Trades Practices Act, to ensure that workers can take sympathy 
action in support of a legal strike, and also take "necessary measures", 
including amending legislation, to ensure that Australian Workplace 
Agreements (individual contracts) do not undermine the right to bargain 
collectively.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said the latest breach of international 
standards would fuel the growing perception that Australia was out of step 
with world opinion.

"This is yet another breach of faith to the Australian people", he said. 
"Australia was one of the founding members of the United Nations. Now this 
government is consistently acting against UN conventions."

The UN is currently investigating Australia for serious breaches over 
racial discrimination, alleged migrant detention centre abuses and 
mandatory sentencing.

"The evidence against Peter Reith's Workplace Relations act is mounting", 
Mr Combet noted. "The criticisms of his secret individual employment 
contracts demonstrates just how unfair his system really is.

"No doubt the Howard Government will ignore and ridicule these latest 
criticisms from the ILO. What the Government should do is immediately act 
to bring Australia's industrial laws into line with international 
standards."

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