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Issue 2, 26 August-7 September 2013

Workers refuse to be starved into submission

Photo: Mark Phillips/ACTU

Show of defiance: Hundreds of people turned out in central Melbourne on 16 August in support of 75 workers at the Yallourn power station in the Latrobe Valley, who have been locked out of their workplace since June.

Apprentices score in wage victory by MARK PHILLIPS

APPRENTICES will have up to an extra $145 in their wallets following a major decision by the Fair Work Commission that recognises they have been underpaid for far too long. A Full Bench of the FWC on 22 August awarded significant pay rises to first and second year apprentices as well as people who start apprenticeships as adults. New apprentice pay scales to come into effect from the start of next year will see the wages of a first year electrician rise by $108, a carpenter by $72 and a hair dresser by almost $145. The decision is the result of a case run by the ACTU as part of the review of Modern Awards.

Unions had argued that apprentice wages had failed to keep pace with the changing nature of the workforce, which now has more people beginning traineeships as adults, rather than straight out of school. The low rates of pay have been blamed for the abysmal apprentice completion rate of about 50%, which was acknowledged by the Commission in its decision. “The modern Award safety net should better reflect the reality of the current day apprenticeship intake,” it said. “It must also take into account relative living Continued on page 4


26 August-7 September 2013

Australia Votes 2013

A threat that’s too big to ignore


HE other day I filled out that political compass thing ABC Online is running, in which you can, to use their words, “[a]nswer a short series of questions to discover how you fit in the Australian political landscape.” One question they ask is what issue you consider to be most important in this election campaign, and I was a little bit surprised when I found myself ticking the box about workplace relations. I had it in my head that IR was less important now than it was in 2007 when WorkChoices loomed large, but it only took that small prompt from the questionnaire to wake me up. I really am of the view that there is an umbilical link between decent workplace relations and civilisation, and that we undermine the former at the risk of the latter. As tempting as it will be for some to dismiss this as a kneejerk leftist position from someone who simply doesn’t understand the problems businesses face, it isn’t. I grew up in a small business family and have owned a number of small businesses myself. All of these have been in the retail sector with long trading hours, and I’ve had to confront the issue of penalty rates, the whinge-of-the-day of various professional business lobbyists. So, unlike most of those at right-wing think tanks who pontificate about the virtues of free markets and the glories of small business, I have actually invested my own hard-earned cash in various ventures, and know what it is like to take those risks and face the problems that arise, including the ones to do with paying your employees. The truth is, the pressures are so great in that environment that you are tempted to cut whatever corners you can. So if the IR regime gives you absolute power to negotiate the pay and conditions of your workers, with little regulatory expectation of basic conditions, you are likely to take advantage of that. This is not to call my fellow small business owners shonky, or immoral; it is just to recognise a basic human disposition. We tend to place our own interests ahead of those of

others. Of course, the argument from business is that the Fair Work Act has swung the pendulum too far in favour of workers, but there is no evidence to support this. As Matt Cowgill among others has shown, the constant whining about a wages breakout or hits to productivity, and other claims that suggest that somehow workers are living it up at the expense of their employers is, at best, exaggerated; at worst, pure nonsense. This is even true in regard to industry claims that penalty rates are destroying the hospitality industry. Business lobby group Too Big Too Ignore is all over the media suggesting shops are closing because of “unviable” overtime pay rates and Award conditions. Again, as Cowgill shows, this simply isn’t supported by the evidence: “You’d think that if the modern Award had made food and beverage workers too expensive to profitably employ, then employment in that industry would fall, or at least grow more slowly than total employment across all industries. That hasn’t happened.” he has written.. Running a small business is tough and it involves huge sacrifices, sometimes for little financial reward. I understand in my bones the motivations and frustrations of being self-employed and why sometimes it seems like you are being taken advantage of. But I am completely over business lobbyists and media mouthpieces spouting rent-seeking nonsense that amounts to nothing more than a claim for a bigger share of national income. I am even more over Tony Abbott pretending he will not reintroduce WorkChoices-like legislation. The pressure on him from business will be immense, and if there is one thing we know about him, it’s that he bends in almost any breeze. Still, don’t look for WorkChoices under another name. It will be WorkChoices under no name. There won’t be a major announcement or any big-ticket package. Changes will happen by stealth, one piece of legislation at a time. But the result will be the same.

by TIM DUNLOP Political commentator

You could win a copy of Tim Dunlop’s forthcoming book The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience. Find out how by reading his column on the website


Want to know more or get involved? Contact our newsdesk by email at or phone (03) 9664 7266. Or get in touch by Facebook ( or Twitter (twitter/thisworkinglife). Editor: Mark Phillips. Responsibility for election comment is taken by Dave Oliver, Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, 365 Queen Street, Melbourne 3000.

26 August-7 September 2013


At Work

Pilbara mine workers unite to take on Rio Tinto by MARTIN WATTERS

“The alliance will herald a new era for workplace representation in the Pilbara after Rio ruthlessly exploited our differences 20 years ago, something they will not be able to repeat with the two unions working together” - Paul Howes

LET’S SPREAD IT AROUND Join the campaign to make the mining boom work for all Australians. Take action at:

AUSTRALIA during the last ten years has witnessed one of history’s greatest mining booms. Thanks to record demand from Asia, the extraction and export of our wealth of resources has transformed our economy. At the heart of the boom are the tens of thousands of mining industry workers – workers who have been on the frontline of massive workplace upheavals to cater for the boom. Shifting the 455 million tonnes of Pilbara iron ore each year are approximately 38,000 workers. Many of these are employed on a fly-in, flyout (FIFO) basis. Employers argue FIFO offers the “flexibility” of working in the outback and living in Perth or other cities across Australia. But in reality, workers have little choice. Accommodation in mining towns is scarce and expensive. Studies show FIFO tears at the social fabric of mining communities. It’s no picnic for workers either. Workers’ camps can become hotspots for alcohol and drug abuse. FIFO workers report higher rates of depression and anxiety, both from workplace stress and the isolation from family and friends. Earlier this year the body of a Rio Tinto employee who died in his temporary accommodation went four days before being discovered. Industry is quick to counter any hardships by highlighting the wages mineworkers can earn. But earn it they do – the work is often hard, dangerous and dusty. Standard WA mining rosters can be up to 14 days of 12-hour shifts followed by a week off – not talking into account travel time at the start and end of each shift – producing an average working week of 56 hours, or 84 hours a week in ‘on’ weeks. Suffice to say, Pilbara mineworkers have had little options for union representation. The biggest employer in the Pilbara is Rio Tinto, which operates 14 iron ore mines, three ports and 1400km of rail network. Like many employers in the region Rio is aggressively and unabashedly opposed to workers unionising. The majority of those employed at the multina-

tional’s Pilbara operations currently work without the option of having a say in their working conditions. During his time as Rio’s iron ore boss in 2011, current CEO Sam Walsh said greater unionising of Pilbara iron ore operations would threaten the country’s productivity and export performance. Productivity is often cited by big business when pushing for greater industrial relations deregulation, but like much of that debate, Walsh’s claim is a furphy. Mining companies are typified by their love of the unsustainable quick fix and this is what happened in the non-unionised Pilbara when workplace change was simply imposed rather

Photo: Alistair McGuinness

than negotiated with workers. Workforces that bargain collectively are much more likely to take a long-term view, bargaining for hours allowing them to have a career and a family life. This is what happened in the more unionised mining operations of the NSW and Queensland coalfields, where productivity growth over the last 20 years has usually bettered that of the mostly non-union metal ore mining industry with its higher employee turnover rates. Perhaps the real reason Sam Walsh sought to scaremonger about unions was that 2011 was Continued on page 4


26 August-7 September 2013

Continued from page 1 needs of adult apprentices. ” a boost to skills, some employer groups standards and the needs of workers who However, the Australian Manufacturing immediately criticised it. must within the community be considered Workers Union said while the FWC had The chief executive officer of the Austo be low-paid. We consider that the pres- accepted the reality that lifting apprentice tralian Chamber of Commerce and Indusent rates of pay in the awards do not pro- wages would help to attract and retain try, Peter Anderson, said it was “a body vide a fair and relevant safety net for ap- trade apprentices, it missed the mark by blow” to the capacity and confidence of prentices and that an increase in the first not including all current apprentices. employers to offer new apprenticeships. year rate is appropriate.” AMWU President Andrew Dettmer “Dramatically increased employment Before the decision, a first year ap- noted it would only apply to new appren- costs will cruel the capability of employprentice carpenter would get a base rate tices beginning their training next year, ers to take on apprentices in an affordable of $317.75 a week – boosted by some al- and not to current apprentices. And no way,” he said. “Increasing the costs of lowances – while a 20-year-old fast food adjustment had been made to the age at employing an apprentice not only impacts worker on the junior Award rate would be which an apprentice is deemed to be an employers, but destroys the opportunities on $599.49. That’s a difference of $281.74. The pay rise will see pay Current Future rates for first year apprenticrate rate Increase es rise to 55% of the relevant Award rate from as little as First year hairdresser $253.47 $398.31 $144.84 35% in some industries. Peo$289.68 $398.31 $108.63 ple starting apprenticeships First year electrician over the age of 21 will be en- First year carpenter $325.89 $398.31 $72.42 titled to 80% of the rate of a First year beauty therapist $325.89 $398.31 $72.42 tradesperson. “This is a great outcome Source: ACTU calculations based on current Award rates; All amounts per week for current and future apprentices and for the broader economy,” said adult, which is still 21. for many young people want to develop a ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver. “Almost Mr Oliver said fixing the apprenticeship career in the trades.” half of people who embark on apprentice- system was crucial to lifting productivity But the Commission did not accept ships don’t complete them, with the very and preventing future skills shortages. this argument, and said any cost increase low wages a major factor contributing to “To boost skill levels, we need to in- would be offset by the benefits of a more drop-outs. crease participation and completion rates skilled workforce. “Current wages see apprentices barely in vocational education and training. “We have come to the conclusion that able to meet living costs; they are con- Raising apprentice pay is an important the rates of pay for apprentices may be siderably less than other job options and part of the solution.” increased without having a significant barely more than the Newstart allowance. But while unions praised the decision adverse effect on business or the national There is also little recognition of the as delivering both some wage justice and economy,” it said.

What the new apprentice pay rates will look like

Continued from page 3 the first year in two decades unions had regained a foothold in the Pilbara, with the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) striking an agreement to cover Rio’s rail workers. The CFMEU hopes to go further in their historic pact with The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) to bring back collective bargaining choices for all workers in the Pilbara. The two unions have joined forces to form the Western Mine Workers Alliance, and will also draw inspiration from AWU members at Rio’s Bell Bay aluminium smelter in Tasmania who won collective bargaining rights for the first time since 1994. AWU National Secretary Paul Howes conceded one reason unions were shut out of the Pilbara was demarcation differences between the CFMEU and AWU, which Rio infamously exploited to its advantage during a bitter anti-union crusade in the early 1990s.

“The alliance will herald a new era for workplace representation in the Pilbara after Rio ruthlessly exploited our differences 20 years ago, something they will not be able to repeat with the two unions working together,” Howes said. CFMEU General President Tony Maher said Rio should not feel threatened, given the trend for members to push for long-term sustainable work practices during bargaining. “Rio likes to talk about offering a direct link with its employees,” Maher said. “But this will be the first time in 20 years that Pilbara mineworkers will have a say in their working conditions. “For two decades workers have been denied the option to collectively bargain something they should be able to take for granted in a modern workplace. “We’re committed to ensuring productivity as it means long-term job security for our members. Rio should welcome that.”

26 August-7 September 2013



Photo: flickr/cadillacdeville2000

Abbott is singing off O’Farrell’s songsheet

By playing down his plans for workplaces until after the election, Tony Abbott is adopting the tactics of Barry O’Farrell in New South Wales. Voters could be in for a nasty shock, writes Mark Lennon


ORKERS in New South Wales could be forgiven for feeling a pretty unsettling sense of déjà vu at the moment. A Liberal leader is on the campaign trail, and he is going out of his way to reassure everyone that if he takes office, there will be no negative impact on workers. Tony Abbott promises that jobs won’t be lost, rights at work won’t be stripped away, entitlements won’t be cut, and protections won’t be weakened. But NSW voters heard this exact same lullaby in very recent history. It was sung by Barry O’Farrell during the 2011 election. Yet what happened when Mr O’Farrell took office is exactly the same as always happens when the Liberals are allowed to pull the levers of power. Workers get hit hard. NSW voters were not told in 2011 that the workers compensation safety net would be cut away, meaning those injured at work will face life-shattering expenses. They were not told that 15,000 public sector jobs would be slashed, devastating individual lives and local economies. Nor were they told that wages for police, for nurses, for firefighters – and for all other public sector workers – would be capped at levels below inflation.

Voters were not told in 2011 that public assets like our ports and power infrastructure would be sold off to the private sector. And they were not told that the state’s independent workplace umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission, would be critically weakened. None of this was mentioned at all on the campaign trail – indeed, most of it was emphatically denied. At least Tony Abbott, by comparison, is being up front about a few of the attacks on workers he will introduce, such as reintroducing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), whose sole role under the Howard Government was to harass and intimidate union members on construction sites. He is upfront about the fact that the superannuation guarantee rise that is scheduled for next year (from 9.25% to 9.5%) will be halted. And he is upfront about a review of the Fair Work Act, which is overwhelmingly likely to swing power back toward employers. Voters in NSW have every right to cast a pretty jaundiced eye at Tony Abbott when he starts denying previous positions he has held and contradicting his senior frontbenchers. When he says that penalty rates are not in his sights. When he says award conditions won’t Continued on page 6 6 What happened to the ‘unity ticket’?

26 August-7 September 2013


HIS election is no ordinary contest when it comes to the education of our children. What is at stake is the future funding of every school in the nation. It is about whether or not our schools have the resources necessary to give each child the attention and support they need. It is also about whether we are able to tackle our biggest problem in education: the powerful link between poor outcomes and disadvantage. Right now what students achieve at the school depends far too much on where they live, what their family income and background is and whether they have a disability. This is such a significant problem that the landmark Gonski Review last year warned Australia would slip further behind as a nation unless it was addressed. The review recommended an urgent investment in schools and the introduction of fairer, more equitable funding arrangements. The Federal Government has acted on these findings through the creation of a new funding system which passed into law in June. It has also signed six year Gonski agreements with NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the ACT. Two-thirds of the funding in those agreements is delivered by the Federal Government and one-third by the state or territory government. The total federal investment is $10 billion over six years. The Coalition and Tony Abbott, on the other hand, have consistently opposed action on the Gonski Review, dismissing its findings within hours of the release of the final report. They have variously described Gonski as a “con”, “unaffordable” and said it was “a myth” that public schools were underfunded.

With that in mind, it was a great surprise to see the Coalition do a major backflip on this issue two days before the election campaign started. Abandoning his previous position, Mr Abbott announced he would match Labor’s funding of schools over the next four years. The Coalition, he declared, was now on a “unity ticket” with Labor and the whole thing was now a non-issue. But when you look closely at what Mr Abbott announced, you see a fundamental difference remains. The Gonski agreements run for six years. The majority of the funding comes in the last two years. Only $2.8 billion out of the $10 billion committed by the Federal Government is delivered within the first four years. That means Mr Abbott’s commitment is for less than one-third of the total funding committed by the Labor Government. Worse, for those states that have not signed up, the Gonski funding is guaranteed for one year only and there is no obligation on those governments to match the investment. Mr Abbott has also given no commitment to stick with the Gonski funding model under which money is distributed according to the needs of students. It all adds up to bad news for schools and students. Instead of the bipartisan support for Gonski funding we have division. Instead of long term certainty for schools there is uncertainty. We have publicly called for Mr Abbott to go further before the election and commit to the full six years of funding. A failure to do so will speak volumes about the Coalition’s commitment to the future education of our children.

Continued from page 5 be cut. When he says that halting the rise of the superannuation guarantee will only be ‘temporary’, and that he will eventually continue with Labor’s incremental plan to get it to 12%. And when he says he will retain the power of the Fair Work Commission. In fact, it should now be abundantly clear to NSW voters what Mr Abbott and his Liberal team will do if he wins office. He will use the O’Farrell playbook: rather than charging through the front door with a WorkChoices-style plan all at once, his attacks on workers’ rights and conditions will carried out one-by-one. WorkChoices by stealth. The Liberals will always dance to the tune of their backers and natural constituency – big

business. And big business is certainly not shy about declaring what they want to see: scrapped penalty rates, a slashed minimum wage, the abandonment of collective bargaining, and the eradication of the Fair Work Act in favour of WorkChoices Mk II. It is deeply disturbing to think of the pincer movement NSW workers would be caught in should Mr Abbott win in September. They will find themselves simultaneously attacked by Barry from Macquarie St and Tony from Canberra. We need to ensure that there is some sort of balance. Otherwise the next few years could be tough indeed for working people in this state. Mark Lennon is Secretary of Unions NSW


What is Gonski?

The Gonski Review was the most comprehensive review of school funding in 40 years. It recommended an urgent increase in school funding and a change in the way it was distributed to a fairer, more equitable system. In response to the review, Labor introduced new federal funding arrangements which will, for the first time, see funding distributed according to the individual needs of students. There will be a base level of funding for each student, plus loadings to cover disadvantage.

What is Labor promising?

Six year Gonski agreements have already been signed in SA, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT. Negotiations will resume after the election in WA, NT and QLD. The total financial commitment is $10 billion.

What is the Coalition promising? Honour Gonski agreements for four years. Give money to WA, NT and QLD for one year. Negotiate a new national funding system with states. The total financial commitment is: $2.8 billion.

Take action at: www.igiveagonski.

26 August-7 September 2013


Ask Us

Can I be made into a casual without my consent? by RIGHTS WATCH

Substantial changes can only be made to your working arrangements through mutual consent

LISA asks: I work full time at a dermatology clinic. We’ve just been informed that the owner of the practice is going to be travelling overseas a lot for work. While he’s there he’s going to close the practice rather than get someone to come in. This means that we won’t be having any work at that time at all. He’s also said that while he is in the country he won’t have the surgery open five days a week any more, but the hours will vary and therefore we’ll all be casual. This is going to start in a month’s time. This has come as a huge shock to us all, as we all have financial commitments including mortgages and rent in Melbourne is expensive. I’ve been here for 11 years – surely he can’t do this? This must be unbelievably stressful for you and your colleagues. Whereas some Awards and agreements contain arrangements for periods of shutdown (eg. if a business closes over the Christmas period) your boss is suggesting something different.

Essentially he wants to dismiss you all and rehire you as casuals. Substantial changes such as this to working arrangements can only be made through mutual consent. You don’t mention how many of you work there. If there are more than 15 of you, those who have been there for longer than 12 months may be entitled to a redundancy payment (as your permanent job no longer exists.) Otherwise you might want to explore making an unfair dismissal claim. Time is of the essence though as you have 21 days to make a claim. Why don’t you give the Australian Unions team a call? They can go through with you what your rights are and what entitlements need to be paid out (for example any accrued annual leave or long service leave). You might also want to get a bit of legal advice. Jobwatch, which is a service for Victorian workers can be contacted on 9662 1933 or 1800 331 617 (if you live in a regional area). I really hope this gets resolved for you all.

What is the best way to resign? GOT A PROBLEM AT WORK? You’ve come to the right place. Share your workplace issues with our other readers and get free advice from the Australian Unions helpline if you have a problem with your pay, entitlements, health and safety or anything else at work. Phone 1300 4 UNION (1300 486 466).

JASON asks: Hello, I’ve been at a company for less than a year and I want to resign. How much notice do I legally have to give? We get paid on a weekly basis. Also once my manager accepts my resignation letter, what happens if he tells me to leave straight away? Will I still get paid for the period of notice I provided? If you’re casual there’s no onus on you to give your boss more than a couple of hours’ notice. The flip side of this is that your boss is under no obligation to give you a warning either. Having said that, if you want to put them down as a referee for any future employment it would pay to keep in mind that you don’t want to leave them in the lurch by just not turning up any more. If you’re permanent the situation is different. Unless your Award or agreement says otherwise, you will need to give your boss the same amount of notice you would need to receive if they dismissed you. Under the National Employment Standards as you have been there for under 12 months this

would be one week. Your boss could decide that you don’t have to work out your notice but if they did they would still need to pay you for the week – even though you don’t actually work it. There are two things it’s really important to bear in mind when giving notice. Firstly, if you don’t give the required amount of notice, your boss may, under your Award or agreement, be entitled to with-hold some of your wages or accrued annual leave to make up the difference. To be on the safe side, double check exactly what your obligations are. The second thing to remember is you might want to give your boss more than the required notice, so as to not inconvenience them. This is very admirable of you but bear in mind that if after acceptance of your resignation you are told to go straight away, your boss is under no obligation to pay you out any more than the notice set down in your Award, agreement or the NES. If in doubt – perhaps be a bit cautious. Good luck in your next job!

Working Life 26 August 2013  

Edition 2 of the Working Life print version. For daily news and information:

Working Life 26 August 2013  

Edition 2 of the Working Life print version. For daily news and information: