WFTU Strongly Protests Against Attacks On Trade Union Rights By The Australian Government And Calls For International Solidarity With The Australian Trade Union Movement.

Workers and trade unions in Australia are now facing  jost vicious, renewed attacks on their rights by the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard since the Federal elections on October 9 last year.

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) has for the last 98 years stuck to a formula based on needs in determining the National Wage Case. On Tuesday 7th June,  the AIRC handed down its finding for the last time as it prepares to be replaced by a government-appointed Fair Pay Commission when the new Industrial Relations laws are enacted in the second half of this year.

The Commission handed down a 3.6% increase to Australia’s lowest paid workers. The Government had advocated something like 2%. While welcoming the increase, the Australian trade union movement voiced concerns over the demise of the Commission’s powers and other government proposals.

The elections of 2004 gave the Liberal/National Coalition control of both houses of parliament for the first time in three decades and one its first declarations was to introduce sweeping changes on the industrial relations front in Australia.

One of the principal thrusts of the new legislation is to force workers on to individual contracts called "Australian Workplace Agreements" (AWAs) thus eliminating collective representation. The new legislation will also make on-the-job access to workers more difficult for elected trade union officials.

So far the government, which is now in its fourth term, has had difficulty in persuading workers that these moves are in their interests. Many opted for protection under the State industrial relations system. All States in Australia currently have Labor Party (Social Democrat) Governments.

The proposed new federal laws take things further with all State industrial commissions becoming subject to one federal system. The move has raised the question of State rights and State premiers are proposing High Court challenges. Some conservative opposition leaders have also expressed disquiet about the impact of such a move against the States.

Workers are gearing up for the challenge in all States with a national rally of education workers being held last month. Universities have been placed under funding pressure by the government to adopt AWAs.

Meanwhile the government is taking provocative attitudes in other areas with the Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson vowing to clear out “dark and murky characters” from the Australian waterfront.

Workers around the globe, many of whom gave strong support in the 1997 attack on Australian maritime workers by the same government have condemned these latest efforts by the conservatives in Australia as an attack on universal fundamental rights for all workers.

The World Federation of Trade Unions reiterates its international solidarity with the Australian trade union movement and upholds the  principles Australian workers are defending. The WFTU appeals to affiliates and friends to  declare continuing support. The issues of individual contracts and denial of access for trade unions to their members would be high on the agenda at the World Trade Union Congress in Havana in December this year.