Rights at Work

Defend Your Rights at Work

John Howard's introduction of the misnamed 'Work Choices' legislation in 2005 in the wake of an unprecented $55 million taxpayer-funded saturation propaganda advertising campaign must rank as one of the most breathtakingly fraudulent and despicable acts perpetrated by a Government of any modern democracy against its own people.

At a stroke of a pen, guaranteed entitlements that previous generations had taken for granted were removed: penalty rates for overtime and for working at anti-social hours, meal breaks, the right to refuse to work on public holidays and on weekends. The most basic right of all, the was removed for workers in enterprises employing less than 100 workers, which would encompass the majority of employed workers in this country. Without this right, no other legislative protection counts for anything. Anyone who insists upon safe work pracitces, who resists sexual advances or even simply points out an 'error' in their pay statement may find themselves in a matter of weeks summarily dismissed with no explanation offered. Indeed Peter Mares put such a case interviewed the then Industry Minister was interviewed on "The National Interest"

"Job-destroying' unfair dismissal legislation?

The case for these laws have been, not untypically for these times, markedly Orwellian. The very name "Work Choices" conceals the reality that all choices save the 'choice' of being able to quit one's job is being taken out of the hands of employees.

When these laws were first being argued, John Howard habitually prepended the seemingly oxymoronic adjective 'job-destroying' whenever he referred to the unfair dismissal laws. They were said to be 'job-destroying' because employers who might have otherwise taken on workers would have been dissuaded from doing so by the existence of such laws. Statistical analysis has shown that the number of additional jobs that might not have been created if the Unfair Dismissal laws had not been removed, would have been negligible, and could therefore hardly justify the removal of such a basic right.

If we were to take John Howard's argument to its logical end, then any obligation upon employers could be construed as 'job-destroying'. Superannuation, Payroll Tax, Occupational Health and Safety Laws, laws to protect the environment, laws against child labour, etc, etc.

Workers to trade off annual leave for cash?

Other stances by Federal Government spokespersons stand in seeming contradiction to their supposed record of economic 'achievemet'. An example is the provisions for workers to trade in their entitlement to annual leave or even meal breaks (Can't cite the source heard it on Radion during the early stages of the debate). The argument once given by Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was that some workers might need the extra money more than the time off work.

This would surely pose the question: What work in 2005, after years of ostensible prosperity and wages growht would want less, rather more time off work? In reality, there probably a good many workers in John Howard's Australia, who are so cash-strapped, that if given the choice of trading away some of their annual leave entitlements in return for cash, would do so. This surely casts into question the measures of inflation and the Gross Domestic Product which economists use to substantiate their claimms of real wages growth. One of the most glaring omissions from inflation measures has since 1999 been housing. So the growing inability of greater numbers of ordinary Australians to obtain such a basic necessity is no longer taken into account when real wages growth figures are cited.

With such crippling mortgage levels it should be little surprise if some workers would were to choose cash rather than time off work, but whether or not this were to be the actual wish of the workers, we can expect that many such agreements will be offered in future to workers on a 'take it or leave it' basis.


But, be warned, in some workplaces, the mere act of joining a union, let alone participating in union activities, could lead to victimisation and dismissal. The fact that it is illegal will count for little when most employers have the right to dismiss any employee with giving a reason.

Doug Cameron: guest workers threaten Australian wages and conditions

Radio Australia has NSW Senator-elect and former national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, Doug Camereon as warning that experiences overseas show that guest workers push down wages and conditions for all workers. He said Australia should not have a two-tiered immigration system.

"I don't think this can simply be an economic analysis, this has to deal with the social consequences of what you do as well," he said.

"Overseas - in the UK, the US, Europe and in Asia - problems with migration schemes are there and we just can't sweep it under the carpet."

The Melbourne Age reported Doug Cameron as also against plans to bring in Chinese labour to work on major national infrastructure projects. He warned that this could undermine efforts to develop engineering and construction skills among young Australians.

Senator-elect Cameron's claims were disputed by Paul Howes the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union and by The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's chief executive, Peter Anderson.

Peter Anderson told, "Very few employers would see scope for the creation of a migrant labour force to the exclusion of local workers."

"It would probably be more costly. We need to bring in people who can adapt, with long-term language skills. Business prefers a stable labour force."

However, this has not been the experience of many of Australia's IT workforce, who have found in recent years found themselves systematically discriminated against in favour of overseas IT professionals.

The opposition leader, Brendon Nelson, said he does not support a proposed unskilled guest worker scheme.

See also: of 15 May 08

" id="UnpublishedLetter">Appendix: unpublished letter to Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper

Dear editor,

If the Pacific Island guest worker scheme works, as Steve Lewis ("Guest workers a foreign policy challenge", 16 May) claims it will, it will, in effect, be an apartheid labor scheme. If it breaks down as many fear, it will result in a further permanent increase to our population and make worse all the resultant problems which fill the pages of the Courier Mail almost every day of the week - traffic congestion, housing unaffordability, the water, health and eduction crisis and the ever growing financial costs of fixing them.
If we accept claims about there being a labour shortage, then why don't, we instead of further degrading our quality of life, change our priorities as a society. For example, must we dig up all of our mineral wealth now, when it is clearly making global warming worse? Indeed reducing our mineral exports and generous foreign aid programs, including aid for birth control, would be far better ways to help Pacific islanders.
James Sinnamon

The Courier Mail's letters sub-editor told me, when I phoned her on Sunday 18 May her, that my letter sent on Friday 16 May did not address the issues raised in an article in favour of the proposed Pacific Island guest workers scheme in Friday's Courier Mail (I am unable to find the article on the web unfortunately).

The letters sub-editor said that mine was the only letter she received concerning this question, which I found surprising. I asked if she were to receive other letters on the question which she deemed to be more suitable, would she print them. She said she probably would.

No other letter was published as of Tuesday 20 May. It is striking that in the Courier Mail, as opposed to the Australian, which has been stridently pushing the immigration barrow, there has been no coverage of the issue of immigration or guest workers since Steve Lewis's article was published on Friday as far as I have been able to detect.

Nothing fair about this "fairness test"

AWAs arrive faster than they're processed, and increasingly, they fail the fairness test. 6 September, there was a backlog of 110,000 AWAs awaiting vetting; 9 November - the backlog was 142,000.

MP Hockey's office "assures" me that "the Workplace Authority is doing everything possible to ensure agreements are processed in a timely manner." [6 November, letter]

MP Hockey should tell that to the many hundreds of thousands of hard-working Australians covered by backlogged AWAs.

Instead, PM Howard, master of spin, asserts, "I think what it indicates is the fairness test is working." [10 November, Sydney Morning Herald]


Nearly 50% of AWAs fail to provide sufficient information. Any car manufacturer with that failure rate would be out of business! Nearly 15% of AWAs required amendment or further information. We would prosecute any bank for such an error rate! Fully 1% of AWAs failed
out-right and were cancelled. We would sue any medical professional with that failure rate!

As usual, those who can afford it the least suffer the most at the hands of this Government. While employers have 14 days to "pay the required backpay," that happens only *after* the Workplace Authority has made its decision on the AWA. With the huge backlog, requests for further information, and amending AWAs, this process takes MONTHS.

AWAs and the fairness test have created a bureaucratic nightmare. "I give this rock solid guarantee our policy will not cause a cut in the take home pay of Australian workers." [PM Howard, 7 July 2005, ABC]

Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of workers whose AWAs have been knocked back for failing the fairness test.

Judy Bamberger,
O'Connor ACT

Contact information below.

Judy Bamberger
O'Connor ACT 2602
+61-2-6247-6220 (work and fax)
+61-2-6247-4746 (home)
+61-404-062-926 (mobile)

See also