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Abolish all of Work Choices

The ALP won the November 24 federal election because of the Your Rights at Work campaign against the Howard government’s hated Work Choices law.

But, while pledging to “tear-up” Work Choices, Labor’s actual proposals fall well short of this promise.

Labor must fulfill its commitment to working people by abolishing all aspects of Work Choices, and doing it now!

Kevin Rudd and workplace relations minister Julia Gillard owe a big debt to the hundreds of thousands of working people who took to the streets over several years in opposition to Work Choices.

The time has come to repay that debt.

What Labor’s ‘transitional legislation’ says

On February 13 Julia Gillard introduced Labor’s first industrial relations bill: it was promoted as a bill that would begin the job of “dismantling” Work Choices. Labor’s Workplace Relations Amendment Bill will stop bosses from making new Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs—individual contracts), but it falls well short of abolishing Work Choices.

First, the Amendment Bill will stop bosses signing up workers to AWAs—but only from the date the bill is passed. With the Coalition still in control of the Senate, that could take months, and thousands of workers have already been put on AWAs since Labor’s election win.

Labor must backdate the abolition of AWAs – it has the power and the message would be clear to the bosses.

Back date the abolition of AWAs to the date of the ALP’s election victory—November 24, 2007

Labor’s IR legislation will replace AWAs with a new “transitional” AWA clone, the Interim Transitional Employment Agreement (ITEA) available to all bosses who have just one worker already on an AWA. It also doesn’t give individual workers the right to opt out of an existing AWA to take up an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) or the award.

Abolish all AWAs – no ITEAs! Allow workers to opt out of an AWA and move onto a union negotiated agreement or the award.

Abolish all of Work Choices

The Rudd government is planning to leave the rest of Work Choices in place until it introduces its “new” IR system in 2010. This means two more years of these rotten laws! And Labor is certainly not planning to restore all rights lost under 11 years of Coalition rule, which began with the 1996 Workplace Relations Act.

  • Unfair dismissals stay: Rudd is not considering restoring access to unfair dismissal provisions for workers in smaller workplaces (with less than 100 employees) until 2010. And even then, Labor will not restore the pre-Work Choices system – but will introduce a “new” system, which will emphasise “conciliation” (with the bosses) and make compensation harder to win.

  • Workers’ right to organise crippled: The Rudd government will also keep many of the restrictions on unions’ activities introduced by Work Choices. Gillard is on record as saying that protests, like the magnificent Your Rights at Work demonstrations would be illegal under a Labor government, while strikes would only be legal during the bargaining period for a new contract!

  • No award stripping: Labor has introduced a series of 10 minimum standards of employment. These minimum standards provide a very flimsy “safety net”. In the interests of greater “flexibility” and “productivity”, it is also mandating the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) to begin “award simplification”.

hat means stripping awards and forcing workers who want to keep basic conditions, to negotiate with bosses at an enterprise level to do so.

How to really tear up Work Choices

To “tear-up” Work Choices, Labor must:

  • Defend workers’ right to organise
  • Abolish the concept of “prohibited content” from EBAs. Unions must have the freedom to include any and all content in an EBA.
  • Abolish all restrictions on unions negotiating industry-wide (pattern) bargains. Wages and conditions that can be won by strong workplaces must be passed on to all.
  • Abolish the restrictions on union officials’ right of entry to workplaces.
  • Abolish the requirement for a secret ballot before strike action.
  • Abolish fines for workers and unions engaged in “unprotected” industrial action. Defend the right to strike!
  • Abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission – no secret police for the building industry.
    Reinstate strong awards for all workers Awards must include The protection of all penalty rates, loading rates and allowances, full wage indexation and protection of shift arrangements and rosters
  • Prohibit state governments using Work Choices against public-sector workers In November 2007 the Victorian Brumby Labor government used Work Choices laws to dock the pay of the state’s nurses, showing that Labor governments are willing to use draconian laws against workers. It also intervened to try to force the nurses to stop their industrial action, even though it was “protected”.

  • No ministerial interference in industrial action and no use of Work Choices by Labor governments

Working people need a political alternative to Labor

Working people in their millions marched, campaigned and, finally, voted for an end to Work Choices. Yet all the newly elected Labor government seems willing to do is to tinker around the edges. Labor’s promised “new” system is no better than Work Choices “lite”

Working people need our own party, a party not funded and beholden to the big end of town, a party committed to guaranteeing workers’ rights.

Socialist Alliance is committed to building such a party. We have already made a start.

If you agree with the need to abolish all of Work Choices and to make the workplace fair for working people, you should join us.

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