Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Time for the unions to break with Labor

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“However the government wants to dress this bill up, the reality is that this bill will enable small business to dismiss employees unfairly and allow employers to be able to dismiss new employees unfairly.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was a quote from the Greens, one of the left union leaders, or even the Socialist Party when the Rudd Government’s Fair Work Bill was being debated in Parliament earlier this year. It’s actually a quote from Deputy PM and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard attacking the Howard Government’s Work Choices Bill.

The irony is that her comments are just as relevant to her own industrial relations legislation, the Fair Work Act. It seems that while in opposition Labor supports unfair dismissal laws covering all workers, but when in power they don’t.

The Australian newspaper carried an article from an ex-union official, now bosses representative, Grace Collier, where she explains to employers that: “Part 2-4, Division 2, of the Fair Work Bill, only allows collective agreements to be made between employers and employees. For the first time in our history, a union official’s legal power to sign collective workplace agreements on behalf of workers has been removed. Breathtaking in its significance, this is something John Howard failed to achieve”

Not only has Labor kept the majority of Howard’s unfair dismissal laws, but has also keep limitations on the union’s right of entry, the right to strike, and still allows individual contracts in the form of Individual Flexibility Agreements (IFA’s) and existing AWA’s. They have also proven their commitment to the continuation of specialised attacks on construction workers.

While Labor got elected on the promise of ‘ripping up’ Work Choices, all they have actually done is change a few words and given it a new name. Labor’s Fair Work Act, in fact, has more restrictions on workers’ rights than Howard’s earlier IR legislation, the Workplace Relations Act (1996). What does this tell us about Labor’s allegiance to big business?

The reality is the Labor Party is just as capable of implementing the desires of big business as any other capitalist party. While many union leaders told us that all we had to do to get rid of Work Choices was elect Rudd, very little has changed. Despite this, the majority of Australian unions still hand over members’ money to the same party who are attacking our rights at work!

The Rudd Government is using the economic crisis as an excuse to cut back on our living standards. They called for a ‘measured’ decision from the Fair Pay Commission. We ended up with a minimum wage freeze at a time when ordinary people are struggling to keep up with rises in rent, food, transport and childcare. They also have spent billions of dollars propping up business profits while people are losing their jobs.

The Labor Party in no way represents working people. It is a party that represents the interests of the big business elite. They have proven that they will not hesitate to put the cost of the economic crisis on ordinary people.

The best way the unions can challenge Labor is to withdraw their financial and political support. This support should be going towards progressive groups and campaigns which could form the basis of a new political party. With a socialist program and the backing of the trade unions, a new workers’ party that unequivocally represents the interests of working people can challenge the status quo of Labor and Liberal support for capitalist interests. The building of such a party is an urgent task.

By SP reporters


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