Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Open letter to delegates to the 2009 ACTU Congress

Dear fellow unionists,

As delegates to this ACTU Congress you have piles of policy before you, but one basic decision to make.

Should you back the ACTU leadership’s support for Rudd’s Fair Work Act or oppose it?

The Congress papers say that “the Fair Work Act sees the end of the direct legislative assault on organised labour” and “represents a substantial, albeit imperfect, transition of the 2006 ACTU Congress policy into legislation.”

That’s just spin! Read the Congress’s own Industrial Relations Legislation Factsheet and the truth comes out (see the basic facts about the Fair Work Act over the page, mainly taken from this Factsheet). Workers are still losing.

The draft Congress Industrial Relation Policy says that the new legislation gives the union movement a chance to “grow unions, protect jobs and advance workers’ interests”.

If the economy were booming we could almost believe this, even though it would still be a recipe for a stagnant union movement. But we’re entering the biggest recession in 70 years, with thousands of jobs already lost and one-and-a-half hands tied behind our backs by Rudd’s law.

If more workers have joined unions since 2006, it’s because the Your Rights at Work campaign was seen as defending their interests. To keep growing we must keep campaigning for our rights, which remain crippled by the Fair Work Act.

It’s high time to drop business-as-usual-don’t-embarrass–Kevin-and-Julia-too-much unionism. This compromised approach gave the vast majority of workers lower wage increases during the resources boom than would otherwise have been the case, and meant that profits and CEO packages skyrocketed (check the Congress Wages and Collective Bargaining Factsheet for detail).

Instead of a vague, feel-good resolution about “campaigning” and waiting for Kevin 2010 to remove the bad bits of the Fair Work Bill, this Congress must adopt two basic positions:

1. For a full-scale, cross-union industrial and community campaign against the Australian Building and Construction Commission, one that will continue until it or any replacement scheme is abolished, and building workers have the same rights as all other workers.

2. For a campaign of industrial disobedience to the most crippling provisions of the Fair Work Act, including its ban on pattern-bargaining, restrictions on the right to take industrial action, restrictions on the rights of unions to organise and enter work sites and restrictions on the contents of industrial agreements.

The November 2008 suspension of charges against CFMEU official Noel Washington shows that workers and their unions can win if they organise to act against injustice. It’s the sort of unionism we´ll need just as much under the Rudd government as under Howard.

Let’s build a campaign now against all that is still anti-worker in the Fair Work Act—beginning with the anti-democratic Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Socialist Alliance National Trade Union Committee

Distributed by Tim Gooden, Secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council (pictured), as a contribution to debate at the 2009 ACTU Congress

Yes, the Fair Work Act is WorkChoices Lite!

Check out the following powers of the Fair Work Act, detailed in the Congress’s own Industrial Relations Legislation Factsheet.

If Malcolm Turnbull introduced such anti-worker industrial laws - which violate International Labour Organisation standards - wouldn’t the union movement be fighting them?

1. The Fair Work Act cuts back unions’ right to organise
  • 24 hours notice of right of workplace entry, restricted access to employee records
  • Bans pattern bargaining, allowing very restricted “multi-employer bargaining” only for low paid
  • No restriction on employers using pattern bargaining
  • Employer right to seek injunctions against unions using pattern bargaining
  • Employer right to challenge the conduct of ballots to frustrate protected industrial action
  • No positive rights for union delegates
  • No positive rights for workers to join unions and participate in their work
  • Almost no recognition of the role of delegates in representing workers in bargaining process
  • No requirement for employers to facilitate union access to workplaces
2. The Fair Work Act prevents workers from improving their living standards
  • Limits award content to 10 listed matters
  • Fails to enshrine in minimum standards: 11 public holidays per annum, a right for parents of pre-school children to part-time work, rights to information and consultation in the workplace, retrenchment pay for employees of smaller businesses, and any guarantee that workers entitlements will be paid first in the case of company failure
  • Restricts matters that can be covered in an agreement, banning enterprise-specific unfair dismissal and right of entry agreements.
  • Allows award modernisation that could result in reduced standards in some industries and occupations
  • Maintains existing AWAs, including ones that would not meet the government’s own standard for fair agreements
  • Allows an employer taking over a company to refuse to employ workers transferring from business being taken over
3. The Fair Work Act keeps penal powers, including those established by Work Choices
  • Requires secret ballots for protected industrial action
  • Preserves the Work Choices requirement that employers deduct strike pay even in circumstances where employees are at work
  • Allows the use of scab labour
  • Doesn´t give workers the right to conduct meetings to prepare for bargaining
  • Increases the penalties Fair Work Australia can apply to “ensure compliance” with its rulings
  • Bans industrial action in support of economic and social campaigns (like that against Work Choices)
  • Bans industrial action even where an employer proposes radical workplace restructuring
  • Keeps the anti-union provisions of the Trades Practices Act
  • Leaves a dispute with the boss to be settled in the normal court system unless the boss agrees to have it judged by Fair Work Australia
4. The Fair Work Act discriminates against different groups of workers
  • Removes “high income” earners from award coverage
  • Leaves contract workers with fewer rights than employees, including no rights to union representation or collective bargaining
  • Allows a longer qualifying period for employees in small business
  • Makes it easier for small business to sack workers
5. The Fair Work Act maintains unions in a weakened legal position
  • Does not actually define the rights of unions
  • Abolishes unions as parties to agreements, which are made between employers and their employees
  • Does not require unions to consent to changes to an agreement, even when the union is covered by the agreement.
  • Fails to enshrine a right for all employees and unions to be informed about the strategic designs of the employers
  • Provides no clarity about where federal or state laws apply, much less enable workers to opt into the federal or state system

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