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Issue #1737      June 29, 2016

Vote for workers’ rights

From the time of its election in 2013 the Coalition government of Tony Abbott was hell-bent on implementing the former Howard Coalition government’s big business agenda. Just two months after winning office, the government introduced a bill to restore the Howard government’s anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and increase penalties on workers and trade unions found to be in breach of its draconian laws.

Photo: Anna Pha

The Turnbull/Abbott government used this bill as the trigger for the July 2 double dissolution election after the Senate had blocked it – twice.

The government also set up a Royal Commission which proved to be a political witch-hunt into trade unions. The Royal Commission, with the support of a vicious mass media campaign led by the Murdoch mouthpieces, tried to destroy the credibility of trade unions in the eyes of workers and provide justification for the ABCC bill and other union-bashing legislation that was to follow.

The government used the Productivity Commission inquiry into the Fair Work Act and industrial relations system to propose cuts in penalty rates and other anti-union measures.


The ABCC bill is based on the anti-terror legislation.

It sets out to intimidate workers and crush militant trade unionism in the construction industry. The Turnbull/Abbott ABCC is far nastier than the one Howard imposed.

It also ropes in workers and trade unions in areas of the maritime, transport and manufacturing industries. It criminalises legitimate trade union activity and sets out to bankrupt workers and trade unions through hefty fines and legal costs. For example, penalties for “unlawful” industrial action would be increased from $10,800 to $34,000 for workers and trade union officials and from $54,000 to $170,000 for trade unions.

That is three times the size of penalties under the Fair Work Act.

The ABCC and the Fair Work Construction Commission (Labor’s version of the ABCC) put serious obstacles in the path of trade unions attempting to organise and recruit members. They are in breach of basic International Labour Organisation conventions on the right to organise, to belong to a trade union and to collectively bargain.

The ABCC bill narrows the definition of “protected” industrial action, outlaws community pickets with the same massive fines applying for members of the community expressing solidarity by joining such a picket.

The ABCC is provided with draconian powers to summons workers and union officials in for questioning.

There is no right to remain silent, no privilege against self-incrimination and the onus of proof is reversed. In addition, workers may be expected to recall details of events two or more years previously!

Failure to attend an interrogation session, to answer questions, take an oath or affirmation, or produce documents is considered to be a criminal offence – hindering Commonwealth officials under the criminal code – punishable by six months jail. (See Guardian, “The Australian Building and Construction Commission Mark II”, 27-04-2016, #1728)

Penalty rates

The Turnbull/Abbott Coalition government’s plans also include the abolition of penalty rates, the slashing of the minimum wages and minimum conditions, a further gutting of enterprise agreements and the restoration of individual employment contracts.

Already penalty rates have been eroded in some industries, such as where the unions presence is weak or non-existent.

As ACTU president Ged Kearney said, “Workers being singled out for cuts, such as those who serve us in restaurants and shops or who care for our elderly, are among the lowest paid in the economy. For them, penalty rates aren’t extra pay – they help provide the basic income their families need just to get by.”

For low-paid workers, in particular, penalty rates are an indispensable part of their pay packet – sometimes as much as 20 percent or more.

The ABCC bill has serious ramifications for the rest of the Australian workforce.

The Communist Party of Australia strongly opposes the Coalition’s anti-worker, anti-union agenda. It calls for:

  • the defeat of the Coalition in these elections
  • the defeat of the ABCC bill
  • the repeal of the Fair Work Construction Commission legislation
  • right to take industrial action and picket
  • right of entry for trade union officials
  • right to organise and recruit
  • retention and restoration of penalty rates.

Join your union today! Build a strong, militant union movement prepared to fight the class struggle.

Next article – Editorial – The anti-worker state

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