Susan Price

The strengthening links between unions and the US Occupy movement will be expressed in mobilisations across the US on November 17. N17 has been called as a national day of action for Occupy and the labour movement, and a range of protest actions and stay-aways will take place across the country. It will also mark the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Union links to the Occupy movement in Australia are still in their early days. However, the US example shows that there is much common cause to be found.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce grounded all Qantas aircraft, locked out Qantas workers, and disrupted the travel plans of thousands of passengers, including visiting heads of state, on October 29. The lock-out sparked a successful application by workplace relations minister Chris Evans to Fair Work Australia to end the lockout and stop industrial action by Qantas unions. Fair Work Australia handed Joyce an effective weapon against the unions — the termination of legal, protected industrial action that members of the unions had voted for.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is in line for a salary increase of 71% at the airline’s upcoming annual general meeting, but Qantas staff continue to battle the company for job security and decent pay. The proposed increase will bring Joyce's annual salary package to $5 million.
Victorian postal workers have won a two-week moratorium on unsafe delivery methods while attempting to resolve a health and safety dispute with Australia Post that started in August. Their union believes Australia Post is preparing to roll out the system across Australia. About 44 posties were stood down without pay by Australia Post at its Airport West and Mount Waverley Delivery Centres in September, after they refused to carry out a new delivery system that increases risks to health and safety on the job.
The day after the Barry O’Farrell Coalition government was elected in NSW in March, NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said he wanted action in the first 100 days of the new government. He said business wanted O’Farrell to cut government spending, sign up to the weaker federal occupational health and safety laws (OH&S), appoint a Small Business Commissioner, establish Infrastructure NSW, and produce the first report card on the progress of the Pacific Highway upgrade.
In a show of anger against the attacks on workers rights by NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, 12,000 public sector workers stopped work and rallied outside NSW parliament on June 15. The protest was organised in just over a week, and several unions, including the Nurses Federation and the fire fighters took stopwork action on the day. In spite of constant rain, the rally spread out for more than a block along Macquarie Street and into Martin Place.
A bill attacking the rights of NSW public sector workers pushed by the O’Farrell Coalition government are set to pass through the upper house on June 14, with the support of Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party. It can then be put through the Liberal dominated lower house on June 15. The anti-union bill is a draconian measure. If passed, it will give the state government the power to unilaterally set the wages and conditions of public sector workers.
National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) members at Macquarie University in Sydney took rolling industrial action across four faculties during the first teaching week of semester. The industrial action was part of a campaign for a new collective agreement for academic staff. Three hundred staff and students rallied on March 3 to hear about the bargaining impasse. Issues of concern for staff include overcrowded classes, lack of facilities, workloads, budget cuts and job security.
The secretaries of eight NSW unions have signed a letter to the NSW Greens urging them to “commit to an upper house preference swap with Labor” at the upcoming NSW state election. The unions represented include the Communications Electrical Plumbing (Telecommunications and Services Branch), the Construction Forestry Mining Energy union (Energy and Construction divisions), the Maritime Union of Australia national office, the Fire Brigade Employees Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Services Union and the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers’ Union.
For communities affected by Cyclone Yasi and the recent floods across Queensland, Western Australia, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, it will be no comfort to hear that the Fair Work Act provides little protection for workers from unscrupulous employers. Many bosses will choose to stand workers down without pay if their business is affected by these natural disasters. At the height of the Queensland floods, state Workplace Rights Ombudsman Don Brown told ABC Online on January 21 that employers have the right to not pay workers for time off caused by the floods.

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