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Industrial Relations Campaign – a brief

Continue the fight for workers' rights

Fight for our rights…
...the right to belong
...the right to organise
...the right to protections
...the right to strike

The election campaigning is over. The Howard government has been voted out, a great victory for the labour movement and the many others who campaigned so hard to achieve its defeat. The defeat of the Howard government is a political victory for democratic and progressive forces, for the working class and many other victims of the Coalition’s reactionary, backward anti-people policies. It is the first step in a long struggle to reverse several decades of neo-liberal policies, the attacks on trade unions and workers, the criminal neglect of climate change and other regressive policies.

A Rudd Labor government has been elected. The labour movement and the community-based Your Rights At Work campaign were instrumental in the defeat of the Howard government. During the election campaign Rudd and his deputy Julia Gillard issued a policy implementation plan, Forward with Fairness, promising to abolish the Coalition’s WorkChoices laws. Expectations are high that there will be changes for the better in the workplace and for trade unions.

The next step is to rip up and remove altogether WorkChoices and the other anti-union and police-state (so-called anti-terrorist and ASIO) laws that restrict the rights of working people.

Australian Workplace Agree­ments (AWAs) will be phased out – should any other form (eg common law) of individual contract be permitted for workers previously covered by awards? Who should negotiate collective agreements? What basic trade union rights need to be ensured? What role would trade unions play? How centralised should the system be? These are just a few of the pressing issues facing trade unions in the new year.

The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) proposes the following rights as the basis of new IR laws that would improve the position of working people:

The Right to Belong

  • Unrestricted right of workers to join unions
  • Unrestricted right of unions to recruit new members (ACTU to determine coverage)
  • Workers to have the right to access union representatives at any time including during working hours
  • Legally binding guarantees against discrimination because of union membership or affiliation

The Right to Organise

  • The right of unions to exist and be legally recognised as representatives of their membership
  • Union representatives to have the right to unlimited access to workplaces for organising purposes
  • Paid union meetings and trade union training
  • Legislated rights for union and worker involvement in all industrial and OH&S issues in the workplace
  • No limit on conditions included in awards, EBAs, industry or pattern bargained agreements
  • When a condition is attained by 50 percent of the workforce it becomes a minimum legislated standard

The Right to Protections

  • The right to an adequate living wage and good working conditions of employment
  • The right for workers to industry-wide collective agreements and comprehensive awards that apply to union and non-union members alike
  • Abolition of individual employment contracts, including those made under common law
  • Guaranteed wage indexation to keep up with the cost of living plus productivity increases
  • Right to permanent full-time work
  • Protection against the sack; an appropriate union-controlled forum to be set up to determine the validity of any sacking
  • A 35-hour week without loss of pay
  • Five weeks annual leave, 15 days sick leave and carers leave to cater for family and childcare issues
  • Leave loadings and penalty rates to be restored and increased to the highest current levels for all workers
  • Equal pay for equal work
  • Twelve months paid maternity leave
  • Repeal of contractors legislation so that sub-contractors are employed with the same rights and benefits of other workers

The Right to Strike

  • No legal barriers to strike action as the basis of new IR laws that would improve the position of working people

A change of government alone will not bring about the required changes. It will be the strength of the movement in workplaces, on the streets and in the education of workers and involvement of the wider community that will be decisive in delivering workers’ and trade union rights such as those listed above. There is still a great deal of work to be done by the Your Rights At Work groups and trade union movement.

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