The Guardian April 30, 2003


Blueprint for union bashing

One of the most important issues facing the trade union movement this 
May Day is the Cole Royal Commission Into the Building Industry. The Howard 
Government is rushing to implement its recommendations.

The Commission in its report is quite open about its objectives of reducing 
the cost of building and construction in Australia. Its recommendations are 
aimed at taking back more than a century of hard-won gains by workers and 
their unions.

The Commission speaks of making a "cultural change" in the workplace. By 
cultural change it means class outlook  the militant tradition of trade 
unions in that industry. To bring about this change the Commission makes a 
number of recommendations aimed at preventing industrial action by workers 
and trade unions, removing the unions from the workplace and eliminating 
collective bargaining, in particular union agreements. On his or her own an 
individual worker has no hope of standing up to an employer.

The Commission devoted 90 per cent of its time to anti-union topics, and 
this is reflected in its recommendations.

At present the big construction sites are 100 percent unionised, and the 
employers and government hate it. In the name of "freedom of association", 
the Commission comes up with recommendations to deunionise building sites 
and release bosses from their obligations to workers.

It does this by attacking trade union rights, particularly where union 
officials have the right to enter workplaces to inspect books, check safety 
measures and ensure that enterprise bargaining agreements are adhered to.

It attacks collective bargaining, in particular pattern bargaining where 
there is an industry framework agreement with the employer body, where the 
union negotiates new enterprise agreements on different sites at the same 
time with similar demands at each site.

The Commission wants to outlaw pattern bargaining and the universal 
application of agreements to all workers on a site. It wants to see 
contractors and sub-contractors competing with each other and driving down 
wages and conditions, with workers employed by different contractors doing 
similar work as others on the same site but under different conditions and 
rates of pay.

Collective bargaining would be replaced by individual contracts, AWAs 
(Australian Workplace Agreements).

It attempts to pit workers against the trade union and its officials by 
portraying the union as a distant third party interfering in their affairs. 
Trade union officials would be banned from holding a union position if a 
union defies a court order to end industrial action.

To achieve these aims the Commission has put forward a host of draconian 
recommendations to break the trade unions and their collective nature.

These measures include abolishing any form of centralised wage fixing, 
deregistration of unions that carry out pattern bargaining, and the 
establishment of a new agency to police the industry.

Unions would lose the right to negotiate enterprise agreements on behalf of 
their members. Prior to every agreement there would have to be a secret 
ballot of the workers to determine who would carry out the negotiations at 
that workplace, leaving workers open to employer bullying and intimidation.

There is a raft of other provisions and penalties against union officials, 
individual workers and their unions. The Cole Commission report does not 
seriously address the corruption and criminal practices of employers in the 
industry, the many safety issues or protection of workers' entitlements. 
The report is a political document for immediate use by the government 
against workers and trade unions in the building and construction industry.

The Cole Commissions $60 million report is a blueprint for an all out take-
back of wages, conditions and trade union rights by the government and 
employers in all sectors of the economy. The government has tackled one of 
the most militant and highly organised sections of the workforce. If it can 
crush the building and construction unions first, then it believes the rest 
will be easy.

The Commission's proposals, welcomed by the government, represent a major 
threat to the union movement in Australia and need to be fought with all 
the might the trade union movement can muster.

March on May Day! If you don't fight you lose!
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