The Guardian 3 August, 2005

International unions condemn IR plans

The Union Network International (UNI) has written to the Prime Minister John Howard expressing its alarm at the government’s drastic changes to workplace laws. UNI General Secretary Phillip Jennings has told the Prime Minister that the proposed changes "will place Australia in further breach of fundamental labour standards" and "would leave Australia at the bottom of OECD countries with respect to protection of basic workers’ rights".

UNI is one of a number of global union federations, in this case representing 15 million members in over 140 countries working in white collar clerical and administrative and professional occupations generally and in the finance, information technology, communications, retail and printing industries in particular. The Australian Services Union (ASU) is an affiliate to UNI with respect to members working in these occupations and sectors.

UNI’s letter to the Prime Minister says that the Australian Government’s proposed changes, which greatly diminish workers’ rights in this country, will also damage Australia’s reputation and standing in the international community.

Australia, like most developed as well as developing nations, is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations which sets international standards for employee and trade union rights, including the right to bargain collectively, as well as standards dealing with terms and conditions of employment — such as parental leave and unfair dismissal protection — and occupational health and safety.

All countries have a say in this standard-setting process and then, if they choose, ratify the decisions of the ILO and implement them in local laws. Australia has ratified many ILO Conventions, including one on Termination of Employment rights, which has underpinned workers’ rights to protection against unfair dismissal.

The ACTU has taken many complaints about the Howard Government’s industrial legislation laws to the ILO. UNI’s letter now points out that Australia will be in further breach of these fundamental, world-recognised rights and international obligations, if it proceeds with its draconian IR changes.

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