define('DISABLE_WP_CRON', true); Women face challenges to hold onto rights at work against blackheart Howard 26/6/2005 | Chris White Online

Women face challenges to hold onto rights at work against blackheart Howard 26/6/2005

Women face challenges to hold onto rights at work against blackheart Howard 26/6/2005

Before WorkChoices: Speech ACT Unions Rally Liberal Party Convention Canberra

‘All workers are asking for is human dignity;
not to be treated as commodities;
not to be treated as servants
or worse as slaves to whatever the corporation or government wants.
All workers are asking for are human rights.’

I pay respect to the Ngunnawal people to their elders past present and future.


I have been asked to make some comments about how women workers will fare under Howard’s plan.

Howard wants to use his Senate powers for new labour laws to unjustly:
a. Keep unions out of workplaces and reduce workers’ bargaining rights;
b. Abolish unfair dismissal laws for 99% of workers;
c. Change the way minimum wages are set to make them lower;
d. Use individual contracts to undercut existing rights and conditions;
e. Remove conditions from awards;
f. Reduce the powers of the industrial umpire to set fair minimum conditions; and
g. Take away the limited right to strike, protected action.

All of these changes will adversely impact on and discriminate against women workers. But first the economy and the labour market and women.


A key issue is labour shortage. Howard calls upon more women to come into the labour market. One example is that sole parents will have to seek part-time work when their youngest child turns six. Howard had the nerve to spin this as designed to boost ‘sole parent’s self-esteem’ to the Liberal Women’s Conference on Friday.

But for women as carers, paid work has to be worth their while, decent work, fair work. The government is putting up more barriers leading to greater inequity for women, with lower pay, fewer entitlements, less job security, no chance of equal pay and a lack of support for women combining work and motherhood.

No increase for paid maternity leave is likely; this is not a minimum in the Howard plan and removed from award allowable matters. It will be more difficult to negotiate if you have not the power. So far, in AWAs, individual contracts, 93% do not have paid maternity leave. And not for casual women workers. Childcare costs are not going down; some families pay $110 a day.

Blackheart Howard wants more women in the workforce, but not with industrial fair play. Howard’s ‘spin’ is the family unit is most important. What a hypocrite. Howard’s Liberals are not supporting family values.


Minister Andrews is re-introducing many Bills, defeated in the Senate. These undermine the Australian fair go for all at work. Andrews argues that free market forces should rule and not so-called ‘outdated’ norms of industrial fairness. But the principle of fair play has lasted for over 100 years. Howard’s plan is most reactionary, back to the 19th century.

With less protection, the 3.6 million Australians who live on less than $400 a week, the working poor, a majority of women, will be worse off with lower wages and conditions. Those affected will be casuals where more women are employed with little job security.

Women already have to deal with the difficult work/life collisions and there will be no assistance. There will be a deepening inequality in work, including wages between men and women.
The hardest hit will be those not in unions…again many women. Although the good news is there are more women joining unions.


The removal of unfair dismissal rights of workers business with less than 100 employees is an outrage. What does management like more than money- power.

There are some bosses who are little Hitlers and sadists who will be free to fire at will. Bosses will be able to rule with fear in workplaces and get away with the bullying of women. This is the experience already of unions and Working Women’s Centres. Many women in precarious jobs are most vulnerable.

Howard’s big lie is that harshly sacking workers will create jobs

Minister Reith admitted to me proudly that this was his invention; that this was ‘all politics’. His press secretary made it up. He inverted the reality of workers being sacked unfairly and increasing the unemployed, with the big lie that it was creating jobs! There is no evidence that this is the case.

Only in union organizing will there be some hope against unfair dismissals.

Howard is also taking away the rights of workers in small business for some redundancy pay; again hitting women workers.


Individual contracts, AWAs will be massively pushed. AWAs cover less than 3 percent of the workforce because workers vote for collective agreements. Employers will enforce an individual contract: sign up or else you won’t get the job. Individual contracts are used to de-unionise workplaces and drive down take-home pay, taking away penalties.

Women already do worse than men in individual bargaining. It will be worse for women and the gender gap between men’s and women’s pay will widen.

A feature of individual bargaining is flexibility: but flexibility for whom? One example is your right to enjoy public holidays. Employers will come and say you are working on the public holiday, not with penalty rates but adding a day later in the year. But the more this occurs, the less is the public nature of the holiday, less community functions and family outings. More working at Christmas, Easter, Queens Birthday, Labour Day, and Canberra Day will see the slow demise of public holidays. People don’t want this flexibility. More AWAs individual contracts will mean losing family friendly working hours.


This year’s $17 minimum wages case will be the last. More than 60% of award only workers are women. Minister Andrews says minimum wages are set about $70 a week too high. His assertion that the AIRC lacks economic rigor is a lie. Read the decision first to see there is no adverse employment impact of the Safety Net wage increases.

The so-called Fair Pay Commission will be a fraud and will over time force down minimum wages below the rate of inflation and will mean the loss of the Australian tradition of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. This is at the heart of the Australian way of life. No government should be swayed by the agenda of big business and undermine our tradition of fairness and the economic security of working families.

The removal of the no-disadvantage award test will mean employers are free to negotiate non-union agreements below minimum award rates. Again women who already do worse out of enterprise bargaining, will have their conditions driven down.


A large number of women workers are under the State systems that are going to be taken over by Howard’s moves. The states are friendlier to women workers and families, attempting equal pay and with fair unfair dismissal systems. The hostile take over will disadvantage women workers.


Minister Andrews is promoting more contract labour. This is more freedom for the employer to contract based on master and servant doctrines. Employers get workers to sign a contract saying that they are not employees and are not entitled to basic minimums and workers compensation. Unscrupulous labour hire firms will exploit contract workers.


Minister for Workplace Relations Kevin Andrews is described in the media as an ‘unpretentious, quietly spoken, deeply Christian man with his modest working class background.’

But he betrays hundreds of years of Christian values of fairness in the workplace and support for union rights. Beware his ‘spin’ re-cycling Reith’s big lie of ‘more jobs, better pay’ for workers. Howard’s plan is really only for big business, at the expense of working families.

Ex-Judge Paul Munro at the Canberra IR Conference last week perceptively named Kevin Andrews as ‘Howard’s alter boy with the stiletto knife’ – ready and eager to stab workers and the industrial umpire in the stomach.


Next Andrews attacks a fundamental human right – that of associating in a union. Collectively organizing around workplace grievances and being able to freely bargain collectively to protect and advance your occupational, economic and social interests is a basic ILO right agreed to by Australia in ILO Conventions.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the tripartite UN agency responsible since 1919 for setting basic minimum workplace standards called Conventions that Australia voluntarily agreed to implement.

The ILO accepts that ‘labour is not a commodity’, is ‘against forced labour’ and for ‘social justice at work’. Countries should not gain economic advantage by the exploitation of their workforce.

The ILO promotes ‘fair competition’ businesses abiding by international minimum labour standards. The government is to further undermine the ILO freedom of association for union collective bargaining. Andrews is taking Australia below ILO minimum standards. This is a most dangerous.

Sharan Burrow ACTU/ICFTU President at the 2005 ILO June Conference explained:

“There is no question that the current laws in Australia offend ILO Convention 98 in that they permit employers to make the obtaining of a job, the obtaining of a benefit of employment, and the continuation of a job, dependent upon employees abandoning their right to collectively bargain.

This is not a benign and unintended consequence in our laws. It is government policy that individual bargaining should over-ride collective bargaining, and lock out collective agreement making.

Sharan Burrow gave three recent examples.

• Just last week a group of young workers in NSW had their employment transferred to a company that would only employ them on a “take it or leave it” individual contract basis.

What power do young workers have to stand up to an employer when the consequence is their job and thus their livelihood?

• Earlier this year we saw a group of mothers employed to pack mushrooms on a casual basis, sacked for refusing individual contracts that saw their pay change from hourly rates to piece rates and a drop of 25 per cent.

In this case, they had the union and the protection of a legal right to prosecute under “unfair dismissal” protections – a protection the Government proposes to abolish for all workers in enterprises where less than 100 people are employed…. 99% of Australia’s workplaces.

• A group of clerical workers, mostly women, in a company dependent on State Government contracts felt so strongly that their rights to bargain collectively were being denied that, with the support of their union, they took the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission and asked for a formal ballot in their workplace to be conducted. 83% of these workers said they wanted to bargain collectively and be represented by their union. The employers refused and deliberately set about to discriminate again union members with the denial of back pay if they did not sign an individual contract. Sharan Burrow stepped in and negotiated on behalf of the union.

It wasn’t the law that protected these workers; it was the union movement with simply the power of persuasion.

Australia has a rights based approach – but for employers!

It is hard to believe that a Government in a democratic nation would be so determined to dismantle collective bargaining.”
And collective bargaining is going to be made more difficult.


Howard is to remove the basic worker’s right to strike as a last resort. But strikes are declining to an historic low. Strike waves are not a public problem.

In 2003, 88% of stoppages lasted two days or less. Even if there was a strike wave, legal suppression in a democracy is not warranted. In the 1970’s, penal sanctions against strikes did not work due to union campaigns.

The ACTU is campaigning against Howard’s plans to increase opportunities for employers to sue or fine workers who take industrial action.

The ILO has recommended Australia take steps to protect the right to strike.

The right to strike is one of the essential means available to workers and their organisations for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interests. These interests not only have to do with obtaining better working conditions and pursuing collective demands of an occupational nature but also with seeking solutions to economic and social policy questions and to labour problems of any kind which are of direct concern to the workers.

Already under Howard’s 1996 Workplace Relations Act, the limited right to strike as protected action is precarious. Minister Andrews is to commit further breaches of ILO obligations to allow the freedom to take industrial action. This is as follows:

1. Strengthening employer rights to stop strikes. Union protected action will be suspended leaving it unprotected and unlawful.
A new power for third parties affected by industrial action to intervene to stop strikes. As any business deals with third parties, and there is inevitably some impact, then protected strikes will be stopped. Andrews particularly unfairly targets nurses, teachers, university lecturers and public servants over legitimate union bargaining.
There is also to be a prohibition of all strikes during a Certified Agreement.
Pattern bargaining strikes across employers, within an industry will be made unlawful, with new sanctions. Australia is the only democracy to make industry strikes unlawful.

2. Compulsory pre-strike ballots will be so complex that any technical breach, however minor, makes the strike ‘unprotected’. Andrews does not cite any cases of abuse. Nor do union leaders force workers to strike, a conservative myth. Andrews recycles ‘spin’ that compulsory ballots promote ‘democracy’, but no evidence compels this ‘lack of democracy’ allegation.


Although I have focussed on women workers, I want to look at a predominately male militant building and construction industry. Howard’s spin is to ‘promote respect for the rule of law on building sites.’ The opposite is the case, the undermining of civil liberties and the rule of law respecting workers rights. The government has a specific legislative regime repressively targeting building and construction workers and unions. It outlaws entirely the right to strike. This takes Australia further out of compliance with ILO standards.

After a biased Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, there is the draconian Bill now in Parliament where:
∑ There is a complete prohibition on ‘industry or pattern bargaining’, in an industry where this is prevalent and practical;
∑ Makes Project Agreements for industrial standards across the building site unenforceable;
∑ Has a very wide definition of ‘unlawful industrial action’;
∑ Imposes an impractical, obstructive process of secret pre-strike ballots and a US style recognition ballot, but with no employer obligation to bargain in good faith;
∑ Reduces union access to building sites with impossible restrictions on the right of entry and impeding the ability to lawfully organise;
∑ Weakens award safety nets;
∑ Stops agreements from encouraging unionism, e.g. the recognition of union delegates;
∑ Establishes a draconian new enforcer, the Australian Building and Construction Commission with extensive powers to police union officials and apply penalties, irrespective of the views of employers.

The Minister increased penalties to $110,000 for unions and $22,000 for individuals, to give questionable retrospective operation to fine future union action. These proposals will result in more widespread and intensified protest strikes. The building unions have a militant history and are leaders in political protests.

Workers in a democracy should have ILO minimum protection for political protest strikes. See The Right to Politically Strike? Evatt Foundation website


Howard’s aim is to make legitimate union conduct unlawful. This is the undermining of civil liberties for citizens. ‘Law and order’ in the workplace is the government slogan for the suppression of workers’ rights.

A recent national survey shows public opinion is against Howard’s plan for radical reactionary changes to workplace relations.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said:

“With seven out of ten working people (69%) believing the changes will create more fear in the workplace, the Prime Minister is wrong to dismiss the results of this opinion poll and does so at his own political peril. The survey shows Government plans for major changes to workplace relations are severely out of step with the opinion of ordinary working people. The poll found –
• 62% believe wages will be reduced under the Government’s workplace changes.
• 64% believe the changes will reduce job security.
• 69% believe the Government’s changes will create more fear in the workplace.

And Howard likes his politics to rule with fear.


Blackheart Howard accuses us of being Chicken Littles – “the sky’s going to fall in” – but it’s not the sky, but the floor – the floor of workers’ rights.

All of this is an absolute disgrace for ANY REAL Liberals. This is all going way too far. What happened to the humanitarianism in the Liberal party?

All workers are asking for is human dignity;
not to be treated as commodities;
not to be treated as servants
or worse as slaves to whatever the corporation or government wants.
All workers are asking for are human rights.

The founder of Australian liberalism Alfred Deakin accepted these human rights, when supporting the 1904 Conciliation and Arbitration system recognizing unions and peacefully settling disputes with a living wage and workers rights. He outlined his liberal philosophy:

‘that it is based on a humanitarian interpretation of the principles and obligations which form the very basis of a civilized society. It leaves to opponents the creed whose God is greed, whose devil is need, and whose paradise lies in the cheapest market.’

Where are the Deakinites today? Not in the Liberal party. Or are there some delegates who can stand up to Howard, have the guts to defend ordinary workers and their rights just like real liberals did 100 years ago?


The good news is that the more people understand all this, the angrier they get. On the optimistic side women workers are already leading the fight to defend your rights at work. Sharan Burrow ACTU leader is prominent; all over the world. Unions now have more women organisers and officials.

There is already widespread concern, so we can build on this. A recent poll showed 55% support a union campaign against the industrial relations changes. Over the years a continuing union and community and political campaign will build on these vital issues at work. You have a right to protest.

Find out in greater detail how the Federal Government changes to workplace laws will affect your rights and living standards. The ACTU and campaign is underway- TV ads are on. Campaign materials, flyers, fact sheets, posters and stickers are at ACTU website Get involved in whatever way you can in this new national campaign. Your Rights At Work – Worth Fighting For

Chris White is researching new labour laws.

Women workers will be worse off under WorkChoices

Women workers will be worse off under WorkChoices


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