Delegates rally against award stripping
By Michael Bull
MELBOURNE More than 1200 job delegates and union officials rallied against the introduction of award stripping at Melbourne Town Hall on July 1. The meeting was organised by the Victorian Trades Hall Council.
The first speaker was federal opposition leader Kim Beazley. Beazley was greeted with a standing ovation from the front rows of the auditorium and was introduced from the platform as "the next prime minister of Australia". Many delegates at the rear were visibly unimpressed by the fanfare and chose to remain seated with their hands still.
In an attempt to regain favour with Victorian workers, Beazley launched the ALP's "10-point rescue plan on industrial relations", then swiftly left the meeting to avoid questions from the audience.
The main thrust of the Labor plan to "fix Peter Reith's industrial relations mess" is to restore the power of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. This "neutral umpire" would resolve disputes "before they got out of hand", Beazley declared, referring to the Coalition's handling of the waterfront dispute. The ALP's package does not include abolishing the Workplace Relations Act, but merely to "review of the act".
Tim Pallis from the ACTU outlined the impact award stripping will have on workers. He called on workers to punish the Coalition at the polls. Part of the official motion read: "This meeting resolves to continue to campaign against the Workplace Relation Act, both industrially and politically. This will include taking an active role in the coming federal election, particularly in the eight key marginal seats currently held by the Coalition in Victoria."
An amendment was moved from the floor by National Tertiary Education Industry Union delegate Susan Price and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union assistant state secretary Craig Johnston. The amendment, which was accepted by the movers of the official motion, read: "This meeting calls upon the Labor Party to commit itself to repealing the Workplace Relations Act and all other anti-union laws in the event of gaining government." The amendment added, "this is a condition to pursuing a political and electoral campaign as outlined in the VTHC motion". The amended motion was passed unanimously.
Meanwhile, the construction division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has reached agreement with the Master Builders Association over maintaining the current award structures.
After an industrial campaign that included two national stoppages, the MBA and the Metal Trades Industry Association agreed to roll the construction award into the enterprise bargaining agreements.
CFMEU Victorian state president John Cummins said this was a significant victory for the union. In Melbourne and Sydney, building workers were in a very strong position to maintain their conditions. In the other states, where the industry is in recession, workers were under much greater pressure to give away their conditions.
The CFMEU's tactic of attacking the building bosses where the union is strongest and holding out for national deals instead of separate statewide deals proved very successful.