By Jonathan Strauss
The Richard Court government has introduced a Industrial Legislation (Amendment and Repeal) Bill which launches a new attack on workers' right to organise in defence of wages, working conditions and social rights.
A concerted anti-worker campaign has been a feature of the Liberal government. It has introduced individual work contracts (with higher pay increases recently being offered to teachers to take them), privatisation, sackings in the government sector and reduction of common law compensation rights. The government has paid for advertising directed against union pay campaigns and attempted to break comprehensive union coverage, as in the recent Stateships stevedoring dispute, when wharfies and maritime workers resisted the introduction of non-union labour through strike action.
The new legislation includes measures to:
- Prevent unions entering premises or inspecting pay books unless there are union members in the enterprise. Unions will not be able to expose unsafe working conditions or underpayment to non-unionised workers.
- Automatically deregister unions seeking to shift members to federal awards. Other unions will then be ordered to cover these workers, with dues paid to the losing union to be refunded. The deregistered union will lose coverage forever.
- Force unions to establish separate funds for political campaigning. Individual union members will then need to elect to contribute to these funds annually, and may stop contributions at any time.
- Allow employers to choose the superannuation funds for employees, unless they specifically nominate a fund themselves. Workers will not then be able to change their fund without employer agreement.
- Make secret postal ballots compulsory for all industrial action. The ballots will be organised by the Industrial Relations Commission.
- Enforce loss of pay for a union's officials when any members of the union lose pay due to industrial action.
The initial response from the WA Trades and Labour Council was fairly muted. Its strategy consisted primarily of educational work in the unions and seeking support from employers in opposing the legislation.
Some local employer organisations and the West Australian have come out in opposition to some of the proposed measures. Local business has already had an experience of the possible costs of a sharp confrontation between the labour movement and the Court government in the recent wharf dispute. But their expressions of concern have not extended to the defence of workers' right to organise for industrial and political campaigning as they see fit and according to rules which they determine themselves.
Workers need to look primarily to their own strength if they are to defend their interests in the fight against the legislation. Indeed, a result of exercising this strength is the relative caution shown by employers.
TLC secretary Tony Cooke has now proposed a rally for August 22. The labour movement will have to arrest the decline in campaigning represented by the reduced size of the demonstrations over the last two years against the Court government's attacks.