The Guardian 9 November, 2005

The struggle ahead workers have their say:

"We have to step up the campaign"

Burt Blackburne, Victorian Assistant Secretary of the Communications Division of the CEPU, believes the campaign against Howard's new Industrial Relations Legislation is a life and death struggle.

The respected St Vincent De Paul Society has analysed Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show nearly half the Australian population (8 million) is attempting to survive on $21,000 per annum or less. Many of these people are in families where one or more persons are working. In August this year the Medical Journal of Australia reported that around 1,500 Australian children aged 14 and under die each year because of socio-economic disadvantage.

A special report for the New Zealand Health Minister earlier this year examined the period in which workplace change was introduced along similar lines to the Howard Government's Legislation. It found that widening inequality had contributed to rising mortality rates and had created gaps in life expectancy between high and low income groups.

These laws can and will be stopped. In the late 1970s early 1980s when the conservatives last controlled the Senate our union representing then Telecom (now Telstra) workers successfully defended members' wages and conditions in the face of dangerous anti-union laws.

In 1998, Howard and company attempted to destroy the Maritime Union of Australia. The battle was fought and won by unions and community groups defending workers' rights. This meant defying laws, mass pickets and huge demonstrations of workers including the 80,000 people in Melbourne.

ACTU and Victorian Trades Hall campaigns have seen union memberships grow and we need to build on this goodwill. If we want our rights we have to fight for them. Faced with a political crisis and massive public opposition, a government can be forced to back off. We have to step up the campaign to stop this injustice.

For Mark Hayward, a delegate for the LHMU at the Royal Perth Hospital:

The new IR legislation will have its worst effects at the next round of negotiations for new enterprise bargaining agreements sometime next year.

This means that workers have to get organised and prepared for the fight to retain working conditions achieved over the last 150 years.

The reality is that most government employees currently enjoy collective agreements but many of these are about to expire not long into the near future.

It is at this point that the struggle will begin and the need to get organised is a must or we loose.

I'll be there with my fellow workers on Tuesday November 15 at the National day of community protest at the Perth Esplanade from 12 noon.

Andrew Freedman is a shop steward at Ensign Linen Service and member of the LHMU Miscellaneous Division. He believes John Howard is right when he says that WorkChoices will change the culture of Australian workplaces, a change for the worse.

Take my workplace, Ensign in Melbourne, an industrial laundry owned by Spotless. By far the majority of employees are Australians with English as a second language and have been employed by the company for a considerable period.

Conditions of employment have not been great but have steadily improved due to a high level of union activity on site. This has sometimes been difficult due to Spotless taking advantage of every change in the law to maximise profits. The workers know that this generally means a stripping down of conditions in the workplace and are aware that the collective approach is the only way to defend their rights at work.

They are also aware that to negotiate AWAs with the boss puts them at a disadvantage from the outset because of difficulties with language.

In order to preserve the collective approach that the WorkChoices legislation is meant to undermine, the members asked the union to push for two things a recognition of the award as it stood as of June 1, 2005 and agreement that no AWAs will be introduced on site.

After much wrangling and notice of protected action the company gave in to our demands. We are aware that this is only the beginning of a long struggle that can only be fought by keeping the union strong and active in the workplace, and these important victories put us in a much better position to combat the anti-worker legislation that WorkChoices really is.

Vinnie Molina, a cabinet maker by trade and currently an organiser in the Construction and General Division of the CFMEU in WA, believes that the changes have to be seen as part of the whole.

The Social Welfare reforms, the IR changes and the anti-terror legislation must be seen as part of the efforts by the big multinational corporations that are behind the Howard Government to drive Australian working conditions and wages to third world levels.

There are some industries that will be affected more severely because of low levels of unionism and the skill levels required to perform the work.

In other industries such as construction, particularly in the commercial sector where the level of unionism is high and jobs are booming with a shortage of skilled labour, the possibilities of defeating the legislation become real and achievable.

The attack on the CFMEU and other construction unions has become a priority for the Government to succeed in its adventure to drive wages and conditions to lower levels for the multinationals to be able to increase their already huge profits.

The workers and the community now have no choice but to fight the new laws with every means available in order to retain what has been achieved by workers over years of struggle.

Back to index page