Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

WorkChoices: Never Again?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has revived their anti-WorkChoices campaign in the lead up to the next federal election. The ACTU is asserting Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has “shamelessly vowed to resurrect the core elements of WorkChoices, the policy that was so resoundingly rejected by Australian voters less than three years ago”.

The Howard Government’s WorkChoices industrial relations legislation has gone down in Australian history as one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation ever introduced. It brought hundreds of thousands of angry workers out onto the streets and ultimately led to the federal Coalition’s 2007 electoral defeat.

At the time, those workers who took to the streets to defend their industrial rights were told that a Labor Government would ‘rip up’ the viciously anti-worker legislation, and reinstate our hard won workplace rights. The solution to WorkChoices, said the ACTU, was to vote Labor.

Almost three years on, it’s clear to all that the Rudd-Gillard Government had no such intentions. Clear to all, that is, except the ACTU.

Recognising the electoral influence of the initial ‘Your Rights at Work’ campaign, the ACTU has dusted off the old commercials and worn rhetoric for another round. The message “WorkChoices: whatever the name, never again” insinuates that an Abbott Coalition Government would reintroduce WorkChoices under a new name.

While it is true that Abbott has made implications along these lines, the ACTU continues to ignore one key factor. WorkChoices has already been given a new name: “Fair Work”.

To the horror of many, when Labor came to power it took the WorkChoices legislation, tweaked it a little, and repackaged it as their own Fair Work Act.

Far from reinstating workers’ rights, the Fair Work Act retains many of the worst aspects of WorkChoices; harsh restrictions on the right to strike, restrictions on union right of entry to workplaces, no unfair dismissal protection for many workers, and a form of individual contract that overrides a collective agreement.

Australia is the most difficult country to take strike action among the Advanced Capitalist Countries. Every time a union attempts to strike or support another union the bosses get support from the courts to stop it.

But rather than exposing Labor as a party eager to carry out the interests of bosses, the ACTU remains intent on building up a straw man in Abbott. Again, they tell us the solution is to vote Labor, even while we have a Labor Government continuing attacks on workers’ rights and introducing further anti-worker laws.

The Labor Party has proven it is a party that represents the needs bosses before those of working people. No long-term gains can be made by rallying behind Labor in the upcoming election. Industrial rights are best won on the industrial front, where the collective power of workers is strongest. We require a political alternative to Labor and a serious industrial campaign that is directed against the government of the day if we are to defend and extend workers’ rights.


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