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Issue #1743      August 10, 2016

Union rights

Take it to the streets!

With the election results confirmed, the Turnbull government is set to get on with the Abbott government’s agenda. Union-busting tops the list of anti-worker measures. In particular, their sights are set on destruction of the militant Construction Division of the CFMEU, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Transport Workers’ Union and any other union that dares to fight for its members.

Police, ambulance and worksafe staff at the UC hospital building site where a crane is lying on its side. (Photo: Rohan Thomson)

The tragic death of yet another worker on a construction site in Canberra last week is a grim reminder of just how dangerous construction sites are and the importance of trade union rights and trade unions in ensuring the safety of workers.

The 62-year-old construction worker died after a mobile crane rolled over at the University of Canberra public hospital worksite in Belconnen. This is one of a number of recent accidents or near-miss accidents involving cranes in the ACT.

The death took place just days after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) raided the offices of the Construction Division of the CFMEU in Canberra. (See Guardian “Another union busting weapon”, 03-08-2016, #1742)

Following the raid of its offices in the ACT, the CFMEU issued a statement, saying that it makes no apology for negotiating enterprise bargaining agreements for its members under the Fair Work Act.

“The CFMEU will defend the rights of construction workers to bargain for wages and conditions and condemns the use of the ACCC by Malcolm Turnbull’s government to undermine these rights.”

The government is using every weapon at its disposal to break workers and the trade union movement, essentially to prevent them from keeping workplaces safe and maintaining wages and working conditions. It wants bosses’ unions or no unions at all.

The lower the wage rates, the longer the hours, and the short-cuts on safety requirements serve one purpose – driving up private profits at the cost of lives, workers’ safety, wages and entitlements.

The use of the ACCC marks a heightening of the assault on trade unions and union rights and the criminalisation of legitimate trade union activity.

The construction industry is one of the most dangerous with fatality rates on major sites seven to ten times higher than for all other workers. Infrastructure construction has the highest fatality claim rate in Australia of 13.6 deaths per 100,000.

The aim of the Abbott/Turnbull government’s Australian Building and Construction Commission bill and its Registered Organisation is to criminalise legitimate trade union activity in the industry, intimidate union activists and bankrupt the unions and their officials.

The Registered Organisations Bill sets out to impose stringent requirements on trade unions that go beyond those of corporations, including the restriction of political involvement and actions. It would establish a special Commission to police trade union financial activities.

Unlike the Australian Securities and Investments Commission which is supposed to police corporate law, it would be generously funded for hounding the union movement.

These two bills, the trigger for the double dissolution bill used to spark the recent election, are set to come before Parliament when it resumes this month.

Backfired

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull set out to rid the Senate of cross-benchers through electoral reform instead of waiting until the next general elections that were due in September.

This meant all Senate positions, instead of half were up for election, which halved the quota required to be elected. As a result the government lost three Senate positions and the minor parties and independents gained three. Labor came through with an additional Senator and the Greens lost one in South Australia where Nick Xenophon’s Team won three.

Turnbull’s strategy backfired badly. The knives are still out for him in his own party. The Coalition have the slenderest of majorities in the Lower House.

The Coalition needs 114 votes in a joint sitting to pass the bills. In the House of Representatives it can rely on former Liberal Party Independent Cathy McGowan, giving it at least 77. Adam Bandt and Bob Katter have taken a stand against them. Andrew Wilkie at this time is an unknown.

In the Senate the Coalition has 30 of the 76 positions. Labor has 26, the Greens 9, One Nation 4, the Xenophon Team 3. There are four Independent Senators – Jacqui Lambie, Derryn Hinch, the Liberal Democratic Party’s David Leyonhjelm and Family First’s Bob Day. The Xenophon Team also have one MP.

Turnbull can count on the support of David Leyonhjelm and Bob Day, from the far right of politics. They are members of the “New Right” HR Nicholls Society which is pushing hard for the legislation. That brings the total to 109.

Jacqui Lambie previously opposed the bills, but has since expressed some concerns over the CFMEU. Her position is unclear.

The government still has to find another five votes. One can only speculate on how One Nation, the Xenophon Team and Hinch will vote. Xenophon has indicated support conditional on the acceptance of certain amendments. The One Nation vote might even be split.

There is little time left to campaign against the bills and expose the political agenda behind them.

These bills along with proposed changes to the ACCC and plans for a new industrial relations system are aimed at destroying the trade union movement. They must be defeated, through lobbying cross benchers and in action on the streets.

Next article – Editorial – Census 2016 – danger in the era of “big data”

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