Chris White

One key issue in the Australian Council of Trade Union's “Change the Rules” campaign is the right to strike.

We campaign for parliament to repeal all the penal powers against industrial action from Work Choices that are still in the Fair Work Act and then to enact the lawful right to strike. Full Stop.

Workers and their unions need strong labour law reforms. Two of many changes I urge can be adopted by the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia and the federal government’s Fair Work Act Review are:

1. Amend the Fair Work Act to repeal the penal powers and have an effective right to strike.

2. Amend the Fair Work Act to restrict casual and other forms of precarious work to a limited period. Then require employment contracts for ongoing, more permanent work. Fair Work Australia should have the power to order the transition to more secure employment contracts.

The Fair Work Bill (FWB) being decided in the Senate will be weakened by Labor’s deal with the opposition and independent senators, which further delivers the corporate agenda to undermine gains for workers’ rights.

Former PM John Howard’s blandly named Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) remains under PM Kevin Rudd. It is prosecuting Victorian vice-president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Noel Washington, who faces six months’ jail for not answering questions about a union meeting.

The right to strike is always agreed in principle. “We won’t remove the right to strike”, the Work Choices ads said. Employers agree — subject to restrictions to protect their class interests. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) policy is for the workers’ right to withdraw labour without sanctions.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) could not be clearer: “The right to strike is one of the essential means available to workers and their organisations for the promotion and protection of their economic and social interests” (1983).

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