The Guardian 26 October, 2005

Long service leave battle won
but industrial war still to be won

Tony Maher, General President,
Mining & Energy Division, CFMEU

As the Howard Government unleashes its $100 million tax-payer-funded media propaganda campaign to con Australians on its repressive new industrial relations laws, our union has won its first battle in what is shaping up as a dirty and bitter IR war.

The Howard Government has retreated on attacking the coal industry’s long service leave entitlements following our union’s public campaign to fight them all the way on this issue.

Its cave-in followed the launching of an industrial campaign that included full page advertisements in the national and regional press backed up by overwhelming rank and file support for a campaign of industrial and community action in defence of our existing entitlements.

Our rank and file voted massively in favour of national industrial action if needed. In a national ballot of every lodge throughout the coal industry, only four people were opposed to a campaign of industrial action.

Further, the rank and file voted overwhelmingly in support of a levy to raise $1 million to resource the campaign.

No one should be under any illusions about Howard’s intention to destroy our existing long service leave entitlements.

On May 26 this year Howard said: "Matters that are already covered by other legislation — including jury service, notice of termination, long service leave and superannuation — will be removed from awards".

This would effectively have halved coal mineworkers’ existing long service leave entitlements and also removed portability. It would have cost our members and their families hundreds of millions of dollars.

We immediately responded with our This is not reform, Mr Howard, It’s Highway Robbery campaign.

ABC TV’s 7.30 Report took up the long service leave issue focusing on coal mineworkers and nurses, who also stood to lose their above community standards entitlements.

Gunnedah miner and Northern Central Councillor Ross Whitaker was featured on the 7.30 Report and did a great job of explaining the losses facing the coal mineworkers.

The union launched national press ads that sparked wide media interest and community support and generated a positive response from many Federal politicians across the political divide. We wrote to all other political parties with representatives in Canberra, including Family First Senator Steve Fielding. We outlined the unfairness of this attack on workers and our families and pointed put the damaging impact it would have on our communities.

We followed this up by organising a delegation of rank and file mineworkers from NSW and Queensland to go along with their wives on October 5 to meet MPs and Senators in Canberra and brief them face to face on the damaging effects this attack on long service leave would have. Howard cancelled that week’s scheduled sitting of Parliament. Plans were then made for the delegation to attend the following week.

However, on Sunday the 9th, Howard gathered all his big business mates to brief them on the IR package and then launched the taxpayer-funded government propaganda media campaign.

But as the smoke was clearing it became clear that Howard had retreated on our long service leave entitlements. They are to remain intact.

While our Union’s determination and ability to fight the attack on long service leave were the main factors in forcing Howard to back off, we were fortunate that the current mining boom provided us with the substantial industrial muscle to do so.

But we needed to have the guts to do it and our rank and file showed that we have what it takes.

With this long service leave battle victory under our belts we cannot afford to be under any illusions of the depth of the other challenges facing us in Howard’s industrial war.

Acknowledgements: Common Cause (abridged)

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