Wednesday, November 26, 2003

11,000 teachers strike in WA

11,000 teachers strike in WA
Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - 11:00


PERTH — Despite heavy rain and a fierce campaign of misinformation by the state Labor government, 5000 teachers attended a rally on November 18 as part of their campaign for a new certified agreement.

The first full-day strike by Western Australian teachers in eight years involved half of WA's 20,000 public school teachers.

In the days leading up to the strike, state education minister Alan Carpenter, education director-general Paul Albert and WA Council of State Schools Organisations president Rob Fry all made statements in the West Australian condemning the strike as unnecessary and being against the interests of students. Carpenter has also claimed that as conciliation was beginning it was unnecessary for the teachers to strike.

However, as Dave Kelly, general secretary of WA branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU), told the rally, the government has been steadfastly refusing to enter negotiations with the AEU, although a framework for conciliation had been agreed to in August.

Under the pressure of the strike, the government approached the AEU and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to initiate conciliation on November 17, with meetings to occur on November 24, 25 and 28 if necessary.

The key issues identified by the AEU have been pay levels for beginning teachers; primary school teachers receiving equal levels of duties other than teaching (DOTT) as other teachers, to allow for class preparation; and reduction in class sizes.

Following Kelly's address, the teachers marched to Parliament House. Contrary to the government's hopes, the marchers received a warm response from passers-by, with motorists tooting and construction workers on city building sites cheering the marching teachers.

From Green Left Weekly #563.


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Andrews plans new wave of attacks on unions

Chris Latham

On November 6, federal Coalition workplace relations minister Neil Andrews introduced a new raft of anti-union legislation in federal parliament.

The federal government's Building and Construction Industry Improvement Bill 2003, and its associated Building and Construction Industry Improvement (Consequential and Transitional) Bill 2003 were both read for a second time. In addition, the Workplace Relations Amendment (Choice of Award Coverage) Bill and a revised version of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Termination of Employment) Bill 2002 were reintroduced into parliament. The new Workplace Relations Amendment (Better Bargaining) Bill was introduced into parliament for the first time.

These new pieces of legislation are central to the Howard government's new assault on the ability of workers and their unions to organise to defend their existing wages and working conditions and to fight for improvements.

The employment termination bill has three aims. The first is to continue the government's attempt to exempt “small business” from unfair dismissal legislation, reducing job security and protection for workers employed by businesses that have fewer than 20 employees. Under the bill, such workers will need to have been employed for six months before having access to any unfair dismissal provisions.

The bill will allow the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) to deal with cases without a hearing, and to halve the maximum compensation that can be awarded to unfairly dismissed workers.

The bill also limits access to unfair dismissal entitlements for all workers — where redundancies are occurring in a workplace, there will be no access to unfair dismissal provisions. If workers find alternative work after being unfairly dismissed, the amount of compensation will be deducted from any back-pay order by the commission.

Most significantly, if passed, the bill will expand the number of workers covered by federal legislation, using the federal government's corporations' power, to include all those workers who are employed by incorporated companies. This represents approximately 85% of Australian workers, up from the 50% or four million workers currently covered.

Workers shifted to the federal system will lose their access to state legislation. If passed, the bill will strengthen the federal government's plan to create a single nation-wide industrial relations system.

The Choice of Award Coverage Bill is aimed at reducing the access of workers in small business to award coverage. When unions attempt to “rope in” workers into the award using a log of claims, it must be demonstrated that the union has at least one member in the workplace.

The Workplace Relations Amendment (Better Bargaining) Bill is aimed at building on the restrictions on protected industrial action passed in 2002. The legislation would ban all industrial action that occurs prior to the expiration of an enterprise agreement. Currently, industrial action taken to resolve issues not covered in an agreement prior to its expiration, is still protected action.

The bill will also empower the AIRC to impose “cooling off” periods during bargaining, which will make any form of normally protected action taken during this period illegal. A “cooling off” period can be imposed where protected action threatens to cause significant harm to any person (in reality, to the profits of an employer) and where suspension of bargaining would not be against the “public interest”.

Application for a “cooling off” period could be made on behalf of, or by, persons directly affected by industrial action or by the relevant federal government minister. The effect of this provision for workers in education, health and the fire services, is that the government can move to revoke access to protected action, greatly reducing their ability to win decent agreements.

The government has also identified the vehicle manufacturing industry — in which the use by employers of “just in time” work practices means industrial action at a single components manufacturer can bring the entire industry to a immediate halt — as a key target for the legislation.

Furthermore, any industrial action that affects parties not directly involved in the dispute will not be considered protected action.

In his speech introducing the legislation to parliament, Andrews made it clear that this section of the legislation is aimed directly at blocking the use of pattern bargaining. However, its effect would be much greater, as any picket line that involved workers not directly involved in the dispute would also lose its protected action status.

The legislation would mean that establishing a community protest line such as at Morris McMahon in Sydney earlier this year would open workers and their unions to AIRC fines and civil suits by the employer.

Labor and the Greens have stated they are opposed to the legislation, and the Democrats have indicated they do not support some provisions in the Better Bargaining Bill.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #562


WA teachers escalate industrial action


PERTH — On November 6, the Western Australian branch executive of the Australian Education Union (AEU) announced that a 24-hour strike would be held on November 18 to support the teachers union's campaign for a new certified agreement.

The strike will be the first full-day stoppage by WA teachers for eight years, and has been called in response to the state Labor government's attempt to take the AEU into arbitration following the union's rejection of the government's second offer.

The strike has also been called in response to the government's attempt to suspend the bargaining period for a new agreement. Premier Geoff Gallop's government claims that the industrial action that is being taken by teachers in support of their campaign is disrupting and adversely affecting the schooling and education of large numbers of students.

However, the industrial relations commission has postponed any decision until a hearing on December 1-3.

Teachers are not alone in seeing their campaign for better wages and conditions being frustrated by the WA Labor government. Since October 23, members of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union (LHMU) who work as cleaners, gardeners and education assistants in WA schools, have been conducting work bans in support of a claim for a wage rise of 15% over two and half years.

According to Sue Lines, acting LHMU state secretary, the government has refused to negotiate with the union, but instead has sought to have the Western Australia Industrial Commission lift the bans.

Members of the Civil Service Association (CSA) have imposed bans targeting government revenue-raising as part of their campaign for a new certified agreement.

On November 7, workers in the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages issued certificates for free. According to the CSA, the public response was so overwhelming that management decided to close the doors of the registry early. Workers at the registry told the union that by midday revenue losses exceeded the registry's maximum daily takings of $5000.

From Green Left Weekly #562.


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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