Talking union

Wednesday, July 10, 1991

BRISBANE — As a result of the Accord and enterprise bargaining, "the rank and file have less say in union affairs than ever before," Transport Workers Union Brisbane branch secretary Hughie Williams told an all-day seminar on June 30. Williams said transport workers had suffered losses of jobs, conditions and wage levels, and "officials at the top level have lost touch with the membership." The seminar on the future of the wages system was sponsored by the Democratic Socialist Party, the Socialist Party of Australia, the New Left Party and a number of individual union officials.

CANBERRA — National accounts figures for the March quarter, released on July 2, showed that real household disposal income per head in Australia was $13 less than in the same period last year. This reflects sharply rising unemployment and falling wages. According to OECD figures released in May, average private sector wages in Australia are now among the lowest in the Western world — higher only than New Zealand, Greece, Portugal and Turkey but lower than Spain and Ireland. However, a lower cost of living in Australia partly compensated for this.

MELBOURNE — More than 6000 shop employees marched on Parliament House in protest against the Kirner government's decision to allow Sunday trading by major retailers. The plan is to allow trading on only 10 Sundays a year, but workers fear this is the thin end of the wedge. They expect pressure to cut penalty and overtime rates. The Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association does not propose to take industrial action, but will challenge the decision in court.

On July 5 the ABC stood down 80 workers for refusing to sign an undertaking not to take further industrial action against job cuts. They had been participating in the Public Sector Union's campaign of rolling stoppages against a management decision to cut 165 jobs in television.

The Electrical Trades Union exempted its members in the public transport sector from its July 3 national strike against proposed nationwide changes to the electrical licensing system which it says will result in a "licence to kill". The changes would allow tradespeople who are not electricians to do some electrical work. In return for the exemption, the Victorian government promised to review the changes.

Through a campaign of work bans and direct campaigning, local government workers forced their employers to drop their attempt to place garbage collectors and other workers on individual work contracts. Brunswick Council, for instance, proposed to sack its garbage collectors and subcontract the job to a private waste

disposal company. Council managements agreed on July 4 to withdraw their application before the state Industrial Relations Commission and to negotiate on pay claims.

The 12-day strike by 1100 workers at Ericsson Australia's Melbourne plant ended on July 4. Employers agreed to pay a 2.5% wage increase plus productivity payments worth 4.5% and a 1% increase in superannuation. This coincided with agreement along the same lines in a national metal industry pay deal. The deal will have to go to the IRC for ratification.

PILBARA — Robe River mining company has taken the Seamen's Union, the Merchant Service Guild and the Institute of Marine and Power Engineers to the High Court in an attempt to break the last bastion of compulsory unionism in its iron mining operation. It wants to sack all its full-time tugboat operators and replace them with workers who would do other duties as well as operating the tugs.

SYDNEY — The right and left factions of the 80,000-member Federated Clerks' Union appear to have called a truce for elections in September. According to reports, the right will not challenge left incumbents in Victoria, South Australia and central and southern Queensland in return for a left hands-off policy in NSW, Western Australia, northern Queensland and Tasmania. The deal is understood to be part of a bid by the FCU to become the basis for a professional, administrative, technical and clerical union under the ACTU's amalgamation program.

Waterfront employers have gone back to the IRC with a revised wage deal with unions. It provides for a 2.5% rise plus an additional productivity-linked rise and new job classifications worked out in negotiations personally steered by Bob Hawke. Like the metal industry deal, it now bears little resemblance to the Accord Mark VI claim. Hawke has promised the unions that if the IRC rejects the deal again the government will legislate it into effect.

Metal unions and employers have signed an agreement for a pay rise of 2.5% or $12 weekly. Those able to strike productivity deals could get another 2% in October and 2.5% in January. A claim for a 3% superannuation rise has been deferred pending the outcome of an ACTU request that this be legislated in the federal budget in August. Unions have agreed to make no extra claims outside national wage adjustments before next June 30. The deal must go to the IRC for endorsement. Metal industry employers expect the full rise will eventually reach about 60% of the industry's workforce.

The annual conference of the NSW Teachers Federation gave the Greiner government a month to reconsider changes to the teacher appointment and transfer system. Mass

meetings and strike action will follow if the government doesn't agree. The union also agreed to oppose Liberal and National candidates in any by-elections, and to support 800 staff whose jobs are threatened in the Education Department head office.

WOLLONGONG — In the same week that BHP announced a record $1.423 billion annual profit, the company said it would do away with up to 4000 jobs from its Port Kembla, Newcastle and Whyalla operations in the next two years.

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