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Issue #1636      April 30, 2014


March for workers’ rights

May Day is a day belonging to the workers of the world, a day for the working class to celebrate its many fine achievements and to focus on the struggles ahead. There is no shortage of challenges, with workers and trade unions under attack around the world. In Australia, the Abbott government has launched an all-out war on the trade union movement.

The government offensive includes increased powers for the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

The ABCC Bill extends coverage to any resources platform in the creation of an exclusive economic zone or in the waters above the continental shelf and any ship, in the same zone or waters travelling to or from (or both to and from) an Australian port and to transportation to building sites such as by rail, plane or truck.

This means the Maritime Union of Australia, the Transport Workers Union and other unions such as rail will come under the ABCC. Community and trade union pickets are outlawed. The right to strike is all but completely outlawed and penalties for breaches increased from $51,000 to $170,000 per day per offence for trade unions and from $10,200 to $34,000 for individuals – workers and trade union officials.

In addition trade unions, officials and workers face the ongoing risk of being sued millions of dollars for damages. The aim is to smash trade unionism and rid building sites of militant workers by intimidation and bankrupting them.

There are a number of other dangerous provisions in Abbott’s ABCC legislation that criminalise legitimate trade union activity but the most the media does is repeat the lies about “thuggish” and “violent” trade union behaviour and ignore the criminality of employers who do not pay benefits and put workers’ lives at risk.

The union movement is facing the fight of its life. The Abbott government and its employer mates are out to destroy the trade union movement. Survival requires the maximum unity of all unions and the building of strong relations with and support from the wider community.

What better day than May Day to affirm which side we are on and commit to building and strengthening the trade union movement and its relations with the wider community.

A tax on the sick

The introduction of a $6 copayment will have to include the sick and pensioners, the elderly and frail i.e. the high end users, or it won’t make any money. It is therefore a tax on the sick.

Some GPs will not bother to collect the copayment, but will have to push through much quicker the elderly and those with chronic or complex illnesses.

Other GPs who already charge their well-off patients will see the bulk billed patient as second class because they will derive only a “half payment” from Medicare. There will be pressure to spend more time with their private paying patients or to drop bulk billing altogether.

Other GPs will try and collect the $6 – although it will tie up their time with collecting money and issuing tax receipts.

Either way, bulk billing will eventually fade out – especially as there is predicted to be a long-term freeze on the Medicare rebate as part of the $6 co-payment.

But the big question, especially in the minds of the state premiers and state health ministers, will be the sustainability of the public hospital system if patients start deserting their GP and turning up to free public hospital emergency department.

Will the federal government be offering to guarantee compensation to the state governments for the increased costs to the state budgets – or will they be expected to privatise the emergency departments, and eventually the hospitals – as people turn up sicker and later in their illness.

The $6 co-payment has enormous ramifications for all of the health system – and the implications for our free public hospital system are just as great as they are for bulk billing. The Abbott government’s drive to to a US-style private health system must be met with strong public opposition.

Next article – Upper Hunter coal mine to run aquifer dry

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