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April 16, 2006

As we know the Howard Government's 'new workplace relations system' is designed to bring fundamental change to the way in which Australian wages and conditions of work are negotiated. It radically alters the institutional framework within which Australia has sought to provide for economic security, and it seeks to redefine the kinds of values and social goals that are given concrete expression in our industrial relations structures.

What sort of change is this? A little story about the effects of the IR legislation, courtesy of Richard Glover in the Sydney Morning Herald, which shows how the employers are able to use their power.

Glover mentions the case of the 70 coalminers in Queensland.

They arrived at a new job, only to find the accommodation was infested with fleas and feral cats, and built atop an overflowing septic tank which had contaminated the site.They refused to work until the fleas and cats were removed and the flow of raw sewage staunched - a process which took three days. For this act of unreasonable self-regard and luxury-seeking, the Government's Office of Workplace Services has been suing these 70 workers for $20,000 each in fines for unlawful industrial action; with their union fined $100,000. The Government agency backed off this week, no doubt disliking the glare of bad publicity.

The point is that this is legal under Workchoices. It shows how just far the power in the labour market has shifted to the employers. Workchoices is designed to permit, or even to encourage, a reduction in the terms and conditions of employment, and it provides legal cover for employer to exploit these possibilities.

As Greg Combet observes:

WorkChoices is very nasty legislation. It is the wrong economic strategy for Australia. It encourages exploitation, not enterprise. It will undermine the security of working families. The government has failed to make the case that the laws will create jobs, lift productivity or improve living standards....[This law delivers] extraordinary workplace power to business and diminish the rights of every Australian employee. The essential aim of the new workplace laws is to allow businesses to unilaterally determine the pay and employment conditions of employees - free of interference from unions, collective bargaining, awards, industrial tribunals and workers themselves. By this, it is intended that the market will more efficiently price labour.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:44 AM | | Comments (0)