Abbott’s anti-worker bills defeated in Senate

Issue 
Sydney May Day march. Photo: Peter Boyle

The federal government’s anti-union agenda, on behalf of the Australian ruling class, has been further frustrated following its failure to ensure two key pieces of legislation pass the Senate.

On August 17, the Senate defeated a bill that would have reintroduced the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) along with its coercive powers and weakened protections for unions.

According to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), when the ABCC was at its most aggressive in the last years of the John Howard government, workplace fatalities in construction peaked at 48 deaths in 2006 and 51 deaths in 2007, making them the deadliest two years for deaths in construction in the last decade.

The second failure was the defeat in the Senate of the Registered Organisations Bill, which would mean elected union officers would be treated like officers of corporations and undermine their ability to organise and represent their members.

The CFMEU said the bill, if passed, would mean union officials, many of who are ordinary workers in unpaid voluntary roles, potentially subject to multi-million dollar fines for speaking out on important issues such as health and safety. This is the third time the bill has been defeated in the Senate.

Adding to this are positive signs of resistance by workers and their unions against union busting and outsourcing to labour hire and contract workers. Waterside workers in Sydney and Brisbane walked off the job after Hutchison Ports sacked their co-workers by text and email on August 6.

The dispute is now in its third week, and although the company was ordered to reinstate the sacked employees on August 14, community assemblies are continuing in Sydney and Brisbane in support of the workers.

Unionists fear Hutchison’s end game is to bust the union, sack the permanent workforce and hire cheaper contract labour — as was the fate of seafarers employed on the Caltex oil tanker the Alexander Spirit, who lost their jobs and were replaced by seafarers on drastically reduced pay and working conditions, despite a three-week industrial dispute in July.

Workers employed at Woolworths’ liquor distribution centre in Melbourne took wildcat strike action in August over being replaced by labour hire, demonstrating a willingness to self-organise and defy anti-worker laws.

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