The Guardian July 26, 2000

Diabolical employer arguments

There is no end to the dirty tricks used by employers against trade 
unions as they attempt to defend jobs and fight for the survival of the 
union movement.

Patrick Stevedores attempted to wipe out the MUA by restructuring the 
company and then sacking its entire workforce, replacing them with non-
union scabs. A number of other employers have attempted to implement the 
same tactic or variations of it. Some have siphoned off their assets to 
send the companies into bankruptcy and so dishonour their obligations to 
pay workers their accumulated leave and other entitlements.

The latest diabolical tactic being widely practiced is to assert during the 
course of negotiations that unless workers accept lower pay, longer hours 
of work, reduced working conditions and the like, the company will go broke 
and will close and sack the entire workforce.

Some unions have signed what are called "survival agreements" which have 
provided for the maintenance of union coverage but with substantially 
worsened conditions. The simple argument put to workers is  accept these 
worsened conditions or you will be out of a job!

The Financial Review (17/7/00) recorded that in negotiations last 
year, Kerry Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd struck a deal for the 
Crown Casino complex which cut the salaries of new employees by as much as 
$5,000. Crown argued that the reduced pay for some workers was necessary 
because of high salaries offered to "high quality staff" and that this had 
eaten into their profit margins. The FR claims that the Liquor, 
Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers' Union accepted the deal as being in 
the members' interests to ensure that the Casino remained "financially 

This is a game that employers can easily play  claim that things are 
going bad, pay huge salaries to the high-flyers and CEOs, claim that 
competition with another company, either in Australia or overseas, is 
taking their market, and then demand that "its" workers make a sacrifice to 
keep their jobs. The end result of this game is to have workers working for 
next to nothing while allowing unlimited work hours and whatever conditions 
an employer might wish to impose  all in the interests of keeping a job. 
But what sort of a job is this and what sort of a living? 

Unless this game is countered by the trade union movement, Australian 
workers will be faced with a virtual "race to the bottom" of the wages and 
working conditions ladder.

How can the trade union movement counter this?

On an enterprise level it is essential that union negotiators be fully 
briefed on the structure and profitability of a company. Why should a CEO 
be paid hundreds of thousands or even millions by way of salary package and 
be given stacks of free shares while workers are done in?

Secondly, it is essential to break away from enterprise bargaining and 
return as quickly as possible to industry-wide (pattern bargaining) and/or 
to the centralised industry award system. With one industry-wide agreement 
or award it becomes more difficult for employers to pit workers against 
each other, claiming that unless wages and conditions are reduced a rival 
company, whose workers have accepted reduced conditions, will send the 
company to the wall.

Thirdly, because many companies have overseas operations and play the same 
game at an international level, it is essential to rapidly consolidate 
consultation and cooperation between international trade union bodies. 
These include the Trade Union Internationals and the international trade 
union federations. This sort of solidarity and cooperation has already been 
seen in the MUA dispute and in the current campaign being run by trade 
unions against Rio Tinto. The Rio Tinto campaign has broken very important 
new ground in international trade union planning, cooperation and joint 
action. Incidentally, what came to light as a result of comparing notes in 
the Rio Tinto campaign was the difference in conditions being applied to 
the workforce in different countries by the Rio Tinto monster.

Workers are increasingly sceptical and unhappy with some of the "deals" 
which have been made and which they feel they have been forced to accept. 
There is another way.
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