A major theme of the convention was the threat to workers and their unions presented by the Howard Government, which introduced extreme industrial relations legislation between 2004 and 2007, cutting the pay of Australian workers. As early as 1996 the Howard Government implemented the Workplace Relations Act, later known as Work Choices.
The union produced a short dramatisation of these dangers to the workforce, showing how the ‘bosses’ were conspiring to end all manner of penalty rates and replace them with contract work. It was now imperative to get rid of this government and its open warfare on unions and workers. The ‘bosses’ are replicating British laws used against seamen. These are radical anti-labour and anti-union policies.
The union also points out the government’s lethargic response to climate change, and why this was another reason why the government had to go. The Labor Party, on the other hand, has a strong agenda for the cleaning of energy, for low emission technology and the replacement of coal based generation of energy, with the necessary and substantial investment in green technology.
The video presents evidence of the intense bullying tactics employed by the Howard Government against workers and unions. For example, it has persecuted mine management, and has bullied the building industry by passing laws requiring workers to appear when summoned for interrogation. If they fail to do so, they are left open to threats of imprisonment. These laws force workers to co-operate and to not divulge the reason or content of such interrogations. A six-month imprisonment can ensue. In Western Australia, 107 workers were thus charged for taking industrial action. Another example presented is of workers who were charged $28,000 each in the construction industry for their “illegal” industrial action. They therefore need to raise the consciousness of Australian workers as to their loss of rights.
The union delegates warn that their struggle is one of survival this time, and financial assistance for the cause must be secured, so they can leave the next generation all the entitlements they have fought for, and the generations before them have fought for. This is not a campaign to revitalise the Labor Party, or to help it get elected. This struggle is about getting rid of the Howard Government and its agenda of intimidation of the worker.
Author: J Bird, 2023