Apprentices picket Democrats
By Maurice Sibelle
MELBOURNE — One hundred and fifty apprentices picketed Senator Lyn Allison's office on November 15 to protest the Australian Democrats' agreement with the government to pass the Workplace Relations Bill.
The majority of the apprentices came from the Electrical Trades Union. They were joined by apprentices from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Engineering Union (building division) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (metalworkers). Students involved with the Victorian TAFE Students and Apprentices Network (VTSAN) also participated in support of the apprentices.
The picket called on the Democrats to break their agreement with the government and stick to their promise to "keep the bastards honest".
Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja had previously been quoted in the Australian as saying that the Democrats had concerns about proposals in the bill to slash young people's pay on the basis of time spent in training. The Democrats led apprentices and trainees to believe that they supported paying apprentices and trainees according to existing principles.
Following the Senate inquiry into the Workplace Relations Bill, Democrat Senator Andrew Murray stated that he agreed with the conclusion of the majority report which recommended that the provisions which discounted wages for time not spent in "productive work" not be enacted.
The Democrats have also agreed to exempt apprentices and trainees from the "no-disadvantage test", which threatens further wage reductions.
Democrat spokesperson Matthew Townsend told the rally that he did not believe that apprentices and trainees would be disadvantaged. He then proceeded to hand out a letter from David Kemp, minister for vocational education and training, to the Democrats which confirmed the suspicions of the apprentices and trainees that wages would be discounted for time not spent in productive work.
Major television networks reported the picket, which was addressed by Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union/ETU secretary Dean Mighell, AMWU secretary Peter Gibbon, CFMEU representative Barry Hughes and Adam Bandt, VTSAN research officer.