Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Collective Bargaining OK for Bosses but not for Workers

This morning’s copy of the Murdoch rag the Advertiser once again features ads for government assistance with collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining has long been one of the basic rights of working people, a right won from the capitalists in bloody struggles of the past.

In Australia, those rights were taken away from many workers when they were forced onto individual contracts, the un-Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), legislated for by the Federal Government.

Australia has rightly been criticized by the International Labour Organisation for destroying the right to collective bargaining by workers.

(Interestingly, the Canadian Supreme Court has just handed down a 6-1 decision confirming that the Canadian Charter of Rights upholds the right of workers there to collectively bargain with their bosses. Australia does not have a Bill of Rights.)

In a piece of breathtaking hypocrisy, this same federal Government is now lauding collective bargaining - for businesses!- to the skies.

Their ad reads in part: “Collective bargaining enables businesses of all sizes to work together cooperatively. Small businesses can benefit by joining together to negotiate with a larger business, who is their common customer or supplier.”

Previously, the Trade Practices Act, 1974, prohibited companies engaging in boycotts as part of bargaining. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission pointed out: “A collective boycott occurs when a group of competitors agree not to acquire goods or services from, or not to supply goods or services to, a business with whom the group is negotiating, unless the business accepts the terms and conditions offered by the group.”

The Government has recently changed the Trade Practices Act to make possible collective bargaining by businesses. Hence the ads.

Don’t expect Labor to do much if it wins office in this year’s Federal elections. As I write, the Party is demanding the expulsion of yet another trade union official in the construction industry where the bosses regularly kill and main workers (see my earlier post on Dean Mighell and the Labor Party). This official had the temerity to resist being thrown off a building site, and had called the building site supervisor a “fucking thieving parasite dog”.

As noted by Charles Power, a workplace relations specialist in, “Far from ‘tearing up’ the Work Choices reforms, the proposals contained in the Labor Party’s ‘Forward with Fairness’ policy paper accept many of the principal features of the Coalition’s industrial relations model.”

See also former South Australian Trades and labour Council Secretary Chris White’s take on Labor policy here.

Australian workers have a proud history of struggle. Some new chapters are about to be written.

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