The Guardian December 13, 2000


Stacking the AIRC

by Anna Pha

Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith has not made a secret of his 
contempt for or desire to destroy trade unions and the award system. And, 
just as Senator Richard Alston hand-picked new members to the ABC Board* 
with the aim of destroying the public broadcaster from within, Reith is 
stacking the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) with 
employer representatives who have a history of opposition to trade unions 
and industrial tribunals.

Reith made no pretence of appearing to choose his appointees from both 
"sides" of the fence. (The tradition is to appoint even numbers of former 
employer and labour representatives along with government officers.)

Robert Cartright, one of four new senior deputy presidents, has built his 
reputation with the union-busting CRA and more recently as employee 
relations director of Telstra.

He is one of group of ex-CRA managers, known as "Reith's Rambos", who are 
doing the front-running for Reith's anti-union program at the ANZ, BHP, 
Commonwealth Bank and elsewhere.

Cartright shares Reith's contempt for the AIRC, trade unions and collective 
bargaining, and has fought hard to exclude trade unions and sideline the 
AIRC.

At Telstra, Cartright allegedly sought to give preference to workers on 
individual contracts during the retrenchment of 10,000 employees. The case 
is currently before the courts.

He tried to convince Telstra employees that they no longer had any right to 
their entitlements  that they had to cop what the boss handed out.

Also appointed to the AIRC is Leslie Kaufman who proved his anti-union 
credentials as a barrister for the Kennett Government and in representing 
Hoyts in a series of legal challenges against award coverage for Hoyts 
employees.

The third appointee is a former head of the South Australian Employers' 
Federation, Matthew O'Callaghan, who currently works for the Liberal South 
Australian Government.

The fourth is barrister Brian Lacy who was an assistant director of the 
Fraser Liberal Government's industrial policeman, the Industrial Relations 
Bureau.

The AIRC and its predecessors have for almost 100 years been the means for 
the arbitration of disputes and for determining and enforcing minimum wages 
and conditions for workers in a centralised system of legally binding 
awards.

The system it has administered was based on collective bargaining, 
recognition of trade unions and limited trade union rights, along with the 
use of compulsory conciliation and arbitration.

While very much an instrument of the state favouring employers, the AIRC 
has provided workers and their trade unions with a certain level of 
protection.

Reith is working, step by step, towards a system without trade unions, 
without collective bargaining to where workers are completely at the mercy 
of their bosses.

He has already considerably weakened the powers of the AIRC, stripped back 
awards, largely decentralised collective bargaining and had many workers 
forced onto individual contracts.

The four new senior deputy presidents and the Reith-appointed president, 
create a leadership with no commitment to the historical underpinning of 
the AIRC.

It is their intention in the short term to convert the workings of the AIRC 
into a mechanical process of finding in favour of employers and 
systematically imposing individual work contracts in place of collective 
agreements.

As Reith assured employers during the Maritime dispute: "We're on the side 
of making profits. We're on the side of people owning private capital."

*His most recent appointment, Maurice Newman, has impeccable Liberal 
Party/capitalist credentials: chairman of Australian Stock Exchange, 
chairman of Deutsche Bank Australia, close confidante of PM John Howard, 
chair of Treasurer Peter Costello's financial advisory panel.

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