Workers losing under Labor's IR laws

May 9, 2009

The federal Labor government's pre-election promise to abolish anti-worker Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) has once again been exposed as a lie.

AWAs are alive and well at the Austral Bricks plants in Melbourne's outer suburbs of Craigieburn and Summer Hill.

AWAs are individual, non-union agreements introduced by the previous Howard Coalition government to undermine collective agreements and drive down wages and conditions.

Austral Bricks has a two-tier workforce. Some employees are covered by enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs). Others are on inferior AWAs or their replacement — the Interim Transitional Employment Agreement (ITEA).

The company introduced AWAs in 2007 under the Howard government's anti-union Work Choices legislation.

Stephen Roach, branch secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) Brick Tile and Pottery Industry Division told Green Left Weekly there was a collective workplace agreement on the site.

Despite this, new employees have had to sign up to AWAs or they don't get the job.

"There was nothing voluntary about this, it was a condition of employment", he said. The five-year AWAs will not expire until 2012 under Labor's Fair Work Act.

Roach said four Austral Brick workers on AWAs and two on ITEAs had been told they could not move to the union agreement. Their employer refuses to approve it.

Company managing director Lindsay Partridge told the April 26 Age he opposed the change because "they've made an agreement, the same as any contractual arrangement, and they need to honour it".

A CFMEU comparison has exposed the fact that workers on AWAs at the plant are more than $7000 worse off a year. The shortfall is due to a lower hourly rate and no penalty rates for overtime or weekend work.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says more than half a million workers in Australia are still on individual contracts.

In Labor's new Fair Work industrial relations regime new AWAs are prohibited. However, this small concession is offset by a clause that allows existing AWAs to continue beyond their nominal end date.

Employers were also allowed to push workers onto ITEAs if they had just one worker on an existing AWA.

Austral Bricks has refused to negotiate with unions. It has made no secret of its anti-union bias.

Partridge told the Age: "Modern management is all about
relating one on one with your employees. There's no room in modern management for a union."

Roach said he didn't share the ACTU's euphoric claim that Labor's new legislation had turned the tide in favour of workers.

He said Labor misled the public in the lead up to the 2007 federal election.

"They left the clear impression that would rip up Work Choices and deal with those terrible AWAs, neither has happened", he said. "This government talks with a forked tongue, according to a North American Indian saying."

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