Year zero industrial relations

March 10, 2006

The Howard Government’s Finance Minister, Senator Nick Minchin has begged forgiveness from an extreme right wing big business group because the Liberals industrial relations changes don’t go anywhere near far enough. In a secret address to a HR Nicholls Society[i] conference last week – which itself was imaginatively titled “Lets Start All Over Again”, with all its Pol Pot overtones of wrecking Australia’s industrial relations systems, and leaving, well, nothing in their place – the senior Cabinet Minister stated that “we need to seek a mandate from the Australian people at the next election for another wave of industrial relations reform.”

This is even before the most radical, pro-big business and anti-worker industrial relations legislation in Australian history has been implemented. At least they say they’ll actually seek a mandate this time – industrial relations weren’t mentioned by the Liberals before the last federal election, and with good reason.

He was also correct when he stated in his speech that “Poll after poll demonstrated that the Australian people don’t agree at all with anything we’re doing on this – we have minority support for what we’re doing. 
The fact is the great majority of Australians do not support what we are doing on industrial relations, they violently disagree.”

Despite this, and to the cheers of the Society’s members, Senator Minchin told the conference that the Liberals would be pursuing further changes, including abolishing the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and what’s left of awards. It’s law of the jungle stuff.

He also admitted that most of Cabinet found the Workchoices legislation just about incomprehensible and that it was full of unintended consequences.

The Howard Government’s laws, which will come into effect later this month, have already removed unfair dismissal rights from 3.5 million workers. It is now easier for employers to force workers onto individual contracts that undercut take home pay and remove conditions. The Government has abolished the award safety net, and is allowing employers to remove conditions like overtime pay.

Our Humble Leader John Howard has of course tried to distance the Government from Senator Minchin’s comments. But remember his rock solid assurances that his Government would “never, ever” introduce a GST, or that Saddam Hussein had assorted weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) lying around, and all his other “non-core” promises?

Thankfully, firefighters will remain within the NSW industrial relations system for the time being. But that doesn’t mean we will be totally quarantined from Workchoices.

Corporations covered by the federal laws will be able to seek orders against our Union if any industrial action we take may cause them loss or damage. If those orders are ignored it would constitute contempt of court, attracting penalties by way of fines (both on the Union and individual members), sequestration of assets or imprisonment. It may also provide the basis for proceedings for suspension or cancellation of the Union’s registration.

Of course, if the Liberal Party wins the next state election in 12 months time, it is their stated policy to hand over industrial relations to the federal government, and all bets with regard to our wages and conditions will be off. Our Union is working on contingency measures to try and protect our entitlements should this occur.

Craig Harris,
State Secretary

[i] The HR Nicholls Society is an extreme right wing organisation which was started some 20 years ago by big business and their fellow travellers in the law and academia, including one Peter Costello, who used to make his living as a barrister appearing for companies who used the common law to gain massive damages from unions and their individual members who dared to take industrial action to defend their wages and working conditions. The Society’s aim is the total deregulation of the labour market.




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