[This is the beginning of something broader.]
Open letter to ALP conference delegates Reject Work Choices! Defend the Right to Strike!
After Kevin Rudd was elected as federal Labor leader, he promised that a Rudd government would “tear up Work Choices”.
So we were shocked to hear Kevin Rudd announce to the National Press Club on April 17 that a Rudd government would keep key elements in Howard’s Work Choices legislation, in particular the attack on the right to strike and the ban on industry-wide (“pattern”) bargaining.
Rudd uses the rhetoric of “fairness” and “balance” between the interests of employers and employees. But there is no balance in what he has announced.
First, the right to strike for the promotion and protection of workers' social and economic interests is an internationally recognised human right. Rudd’s proposal that workers would only be allowed to strike during the bargaining period for a new enterprise agreement—and only as a result of a secret ballot run by an external agency—is totally unjust.
Under both Rudd’s and Howard’s IR regimes, it is illegal for workers to respond with industrial action to unfair management actions such as the victimisation of union activists, restructuring of the workplace or unsafe work practices.
Even protected industrial action would not be automatic. Workers could wait weeks for the electoral commission to conduct a secret ballot, giving an employer plenty of time to stockpile goods or contract out work. Employers can also appeal against union applications for secret ballots, possibly preventing workers from even having the right to vote for industrial action
Rudd made no mention of any penalties for employers who lock out workers or sack workers and replace them with cheaper workers. The restrictions are all on the workers’ side.
Second, Kevin Rudd says “employees … will not be able to strike in support of an industry-wide agreement.” This means that workers in more weakly organised workplaces who have only gained improvements through industry-wide campaigns will continue as second-class citizens on minimum wages and conditions.
Any union that tries to improve the position of workers in such workplaces will be threatened with penalties—like Work Choices. This too is a blatant breach of international labour standards.
Kevin Rudd is not “tearing up” Work Choices. He is creating Work Choices Lite.
We therefore reject the industrial relations policy announced by Kevin Rudd at the National Press Club and call on ALP conference delegates to vote against Rudd’s IR policy and draft an IR policy which enshrines the right to strike and restores all workers’ rights which were stripped away under Work Choices and the Workplace Relations Act.
Signatories (positions for purpose of identification only):
Dean Mighell, Secretary, Southern States Branch, Electrical Division,
Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union.
Chris Cain, Western Australian Branch Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia
Jamie Doughney, Victorian State President, National Tertiary Education Union
Jim Casey, Senior Vice-President, Fire Brigade Employees Union
Joan Doyle, Victorian Branch Secretary, P and T Group, Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union
Ian Bray, Western Australian Assistant Branch Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia
Greg Hardy, Victorian Secretary, Mining and Energy Division, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union
Chris White, former Secretary, United Trades and Labour Council (South Australia) and now Canberra-based labour law researcher
Tim Gooden, Secretary, Geelong Trades Hall Council
Margaret Donehue, President, South West Trades and Labour Council
John Parker, Secretary, Gippsland Trades and Labour Council
Susan Price, President, University of New South Wales Branch, National Tertiary Education Union
Andrew Hall, Section Secretary, Electoral and Employment Regulation Section, National Councillor, Community and Public Sector Union
Jeremy Smith, President, University of Ballarat Branch, National Tertiary Education Union
Carol Williams, President, Monash University Branch, National Tertiary Education Union