Page 4804 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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government has boasted about the death of the closed shop. Well, now it will boast the death of freedom of association and the rights that this entitles.

The federal government’s paranoia about union members has led it to introduce secret ballots for industrial action. Clearly, the federal government has taken a leaf out of the United States book of IR, where secret ballots are used not to provide employees with privacy of choice but, rather, to give employers more time to intimidate workers. There is no hiding the ideological agenda of the federal government. I equate this to the quest of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, in search of his precious.

First, the federal government experimented with the waterfront—and, like Gollum, they failed miserably. The federal government achieved little but to galvanise the union movement into action, into community engagement. The second experiment was on construction and building workers. Gollum learnt from his first attempt not to get overexcited. The federal government learnt not to let employers do the dirty work. So they set up a royal commission—and what did it return? Very little. To their credit, unlike Gollum, the federal government, particularly the Prime Minister, had patience. They waited until they could use and abuse majority. In fact, Prime Minister Howard has waited since the early eighties when he was then Treasurer.

I think they got a little greedy. They could not limit their Gollum-like fingers to construction and building industries. They wanted to spread their precious to all workers. Well, Gollum met his end as a result of his blind desire for his precious. And, similarly, I believe that WorkChoices will be the undoing of the federal government. It will be their undoing because this legislation will do a number of things. Firstly, like the waterfront dispute, this point in our industrial relations history will prove to be a time of unification of the union movement and the broader community. Already, we have seen this with the national day of action, with online petitions by thousands of men and women pledging to continue the fight up until the next federal election.

Secondly, these changes will force good employers to adopt bad practice in order to compete. Should one employer offer substandard AWAs, and in doing so reduce the flow-on cost to customers, the competing good employer will have to do the same, simply to ensure ongoing employment. Thirdly, and despite all of Mrs Burke’s claims, this legislation will have a negative impact on workers and their families.

It has been two months since I gave notice of this motion. But we will not have to wait another two months to see how appalling employers will choose to use these changes. In Monday’s media there were reports of 36 tradesmen being sacked from a construction site at Lake Cowal goldmine. Their offence? They asked for holidays over the Christmas period. It stands to reason that a government that would wish to abolish the notion of the weekend would allow under their legislation workers to be sacked for asking for holidays at Christmas.

All I have spoken about this morning relates to the losses for those already in the work force. But I believe that the greatest abuse of government is not WorkChoices alone. WorkChoices cannot be seen in isolation; it has to be seen next to its sinister cousin, the welfare to work bill. By forcing welfare recipients onto substandard AWAs, we will see the growth of the working poor. These new or returned members to the work force will have to survive on lesser conditions of employment than is the current standard. The

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