“The right to withdraw labour is the only thing that distinguishes a free
worker from the slave.”
—Clyde Cameron, Labor Minister in the 1972-75 Whitlam government.
After Kevin Rudd was elected as ALP leader, he promised that a
federal Labor government would “tear up Work Choices”.
Instead, Rudd announced an industrial relations policy to the National
Press Club on April 17 that would retain significant parts of Work
There are just a few concessions to workers —the abolition of
Australian Workplace Agreements, some tightening of unfair dismissal
provisions and restoration of some basic conditions like penalty rates,
overtime and public holiday pay.
The right to strike almost destroyed
But Rudd’s policy attacks the most important democratic right of
workers—the right to strike. Workers will only be allowed to take
industrial action in the bargaining period for a new enterprise
agreement. Employers will be able to do whatever they like during the life of an
agreement—victimise delegates, restructure the workplace, maintain
unsafe work sites—but workers won’t be allowed to strike in their own
defence. There is no mention of any penalty against employers for locking
workers out of their jobs or replacing them with underpaid workers.
Rudd will only allow legal industrial action after a secret ballot
conducted by an independent body. It can take weeks to get “the
umpire” to conduct a secret ballot for protected industrial action—
giving employers plenty of time stockpile goods or contract out work to
weather industrial action.
No “pattern bargaining”
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.
Restricted unfair dismissal provisions
Rudd’s new policy will reinstate unfair dismissal laws but only after
workers serve a lengthy probation – 12 months for workers in
businesses with 15 employees or less, and six months for workers in
larger businesses. As always, ruthless employers will sack workers just
before their probation runs out.
Rudd’s speech has betrayed the thousands of unionists and
community activists who have been campaigning for a Labor victory
because of its commitment to rip up Work Choices and AWAs.
The thousands of activists involved in the Your Rights At Work
campaign have not thrown their heart and soul into this campaign just
to get a watered down version of Work Choices.
All unionists need to call on the ALP to:
• Honour the commitment made by Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd
and Julia Gillard to “tear up” Work Choices;
• Restore all workers’ rights which have been stripped away by
the Howard government under Work Choices and the
Workplace Relations Act; and,
• Enshrine the right to strike in ALP industrial relations policy.
We need our unions to respond by immediately making plans to
mobilise for the repeal of Howard’s anti-worker laws and the full
restoration of workers’ rights. Socialist Alliance has already pledged to help build the broad
union and community alliance that has powered the fight against
Work Choices and to also reject the Rudd-Gillard “alternative”.
Authorised by Dick Nichols, 23 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale NSW 2007.
Printed by New Course Publications, 23 Abercrombie Street, Chippendale NSW 2007.