Union summer school

Issue 

By Melanie Sjoberg

ADELAIDE — Around 80 people left the Adelaide Hills with concrete campaigning plans following the third SA United Trades and Labor Council (UTLC)-organised Summer School on February 26-28.

Among the speakers was Kathryn Heiler from the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training. Heiler showed that more than 30% of workers are now putting in more than 49 hours per week. Only 36% of workers are putting in "standard" hours, she said, with another large proportion employed on a part-time or casual basis.

Heiler described how most sectors, including the traditionally strong union areas of mining and manufacturing, have dramatically increased their proportion of casual labour. Australian Bureau of Statistics' data indicate that 70% of workplaces now use casual labour to some extent. There has also been a marked increase in the percentage of workers employed by contractors.

A workshop following Heiler's presentation discussed strategies for tackling these trends, including organising training sessions for unionists and placing the shorter working week on the agenda for enterprise bargaining agreements. The UTLC is planning a public meeting on March 16 to broaden the discussion.

The SA Liberal government's efforts to align state industrial relations legislation with the federal Workplace Relations Act was also criticised. The government's proposals will lead to greater inequality, encourage employers to use more exploitative contracts, hinder union organising and undermine the role of the industrial relations commission.

A workshop decided that a unified campaign against the proposals is necessary. Most participants agreed that relying on the ALP or Democrats to block the legislation in the upper house would not be effective.

One disappointing aspect of the summer school was the under-representation of blue-collar workers and elected union officials. Participants were predominantly women activists from the public and service sector unions.