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Issue #1796      September 27, 2017

“Change the Rules”

WA Campaign launch in Perth

On September 21, at Unions WA in Perth, national secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, launched the Change the Rules national campaign to reassert the need for fairer laws to protect the wages, conditions and rights of workers.

Sally McManus and Meredith Hammat: rule changers.

Meredith Hammat, Secretary of Unions WA, opened the event and introduced two speakers who demonstrated how broken the laws are. Laws which are supposed to protect the working lives of people in Australia are instead being used by employers to undermine our wages, conditions and rights.

The first speaker was National Tertiary Education Union acting president Jo-Ann Whalley from Murdoch University. Murdoch has just suffered the termination of an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) covering 3,500 workers.

“By the time they applied for the termination of the agreement, which is an unprecedented move, they had only agreed to one of our clauses, whereas we had agreed to more than 10 of theirs,” she said.

Whalley came from a union family where her father was an underground coal mining worker. She does not want to see the EBA being subsumed by the award with a 17 percent cut in wages as a legacy her generation of unionists wants to be remembered by.

Whalley reminded the meeting, “Unions are about working together and unity.” All around Australia, and even the world, workers and their unions have come out in support of the NTEU members at Murdoch.

Considering the progressive left-wing ethos upon which Murdoch University was founded more than 40 years ago it seems ironic Murdoch University was chosen as the site to kick off this approach to screwing the workers out of their wages and conditions.

The next speaker was Sita, a union delegate and member of the United Voice negotiation committee at Crown Casino in Perth. She had a part in the hard-fought campaign in 2016 to ensure that workers at Crown did not lose their weekend penalty rates through the (Un) Fair Work Commission’s decision to cut weekend penalty rates in the hospitality sector.

Speaking from the floor was also a union delegate from the Griffin Coal mine where an EBA termination resulted in workers’ wages being cut by over 30 percent when they were put back on award wages and conditions. He said it would be a difficult fight in the future.

Against this backdrop Sally McManus launched her appeal to unions. “Are we going to be the generation who fix these laws?” she asked.

McManus said WA was chosen as the place to launch the campaign because “in Western Australia there are some of the most aggressive employers in the country”. This was not news to the many trade unionists who are on the front line with them on a weekly basis.

She went on to list the ways we can see the rules are broken. When 40 percent of workers are in insecure forms of work and the minimum wage is $37,000. When there are millionaires who pay no tax – not even the Medicare Levy when every other worker in this country pays their taxes and levies.

She went on to say the rules are broken because of 30 years of neoliberalism and since 2008, more wealth has accumulated to the top two percent. The experiment in trickle-down economics has not worked. Wages and productivity have effectively been decoupled, leading to a flatlining of wages while corporate profits continued to grow.

While the International Monetary Fund and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia call on workers to demand higher wage increases to stimulate demand and production the Turnbull government is stifling the ability of workers to do so by the aggressive attack against unions using laws which punish organised labour.

The message resonated; if you hurt unions you hurt working people.

Sally McManus concluded by asking all there to vote on the resolution presented at the meeting to commit to the Change the Rules campaign through action such as making sure union members complete the Change the Rules Survey, to recruit workers in the workplaces and become involved in the campaign in their local community. The resolution was passed unanimously and with acclamation.

The Communist Party of Australia supports the Change the Rules Campaign and asks members to actively become involved in the campaign through their workplaces and communities.

Next article – Taking Issue – Terrorism and futile US wars

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