Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And So This Is Christmas

So now that the Victorian State election is behind us, and Victoria's new Premier has emptied the Parliamentary liquor cabinet into the bin and refilled it with a stock of mineral water, we can perhaps return to the Federal political scene.

You remember that scene, right? The Federal scene is the one with that angry bloke who doesn't like foreigners and the girl who giggles a lot and likes footy. And The Mad Katter, you wouldn't want to forget him. And Federal Politics is where all the big sexy stuff is located; foreign affairs, defense and pots and pots of your tax payer dough.

So yeah, let's flick channels and catch up on all the action that's been going on in Canberra over the past six weeks or so:

Which is to say, there hasn't been a lot.

Christmas seems to come early in Canberra and not much occurs for weeks either side of it. Julia went overseas, Tony went for a therapy session on the ABC 'Insiders' program and everyone else fled the capital, glad to get away from the place and home to their families for the holidays.

Which is nice for them. But it's probably worth noting that not everyone in Australia is so fortunate.

For, as reported by the Victorian newspapers yesterday, workers at 'Australian Paper's' Gippsland mill have been told that they will be forced to work over Christmas. Not even that actually. To add some sort of linguistic insult to injury, what they have been told is that they will be forced to 'volunteer' to work over Christmas.

Now, if you're like me and you immediately think, 'Well that's not right, you can't be forced to volunteer for something, where's my dictionary?' let me explain how it works.

When the previous collective bargaining agreement was signed at the mill, between the company and the workforce, it was included that the mill would remain open on Christmas and Boxing Day's but that only workers who volunteered would work on those days. Those that did volunteer would get a handsome hourly rate and a few slices of dried up turkey roll for lunch. Everyone else would get those days off to stuff their face and argue with their family, as is traditional (and maybe watch Australia get belted in the cricket, which is not). The company had more than 200 workers volunteer to work and all appeared to be well.

But the problem arose, and continues to arise, when it was noted that not enough workers had volunteered in the powerhouse and recovery boiler sections of the mill. The mill is unable to operate without these sections being adequately staffed.

And so 'Australian Paper' had an ingenious solution. Force their employees from those sections to work. When it was pointed out, by the CFMEU, that their enterprise bargaining agreement specifically said only volunteers would work over Christmas, 'Australian Paper' agreed... And then announced their 'compulsory volunteering' plan.

Now if you're like me and you immediately think, 'Hang about, they can't pull this sort of shit, didn't we have an election a few years ago to stop this sort of stuff, where's my Your Rights At Work pamphlet?' then you'd be right... and wrong.

Right in the sense that the 2007 election was fought largely over Industrial Relations and that the voters in this country rejected John Howard's more extreme 'Work Choices' in favour of Labor's more moderate policies. The new Labor Government then set up a new IR body, 'Fair Work Australia,' to serve as an independent umpire and intervene in disputes between employees and those employing them.

And wrong because when the CFMEU took 'Australian Paper' to 'Fair Work Australia,' FWA found in favour of the company, ruling that AP could force their workers to volunteer over Christmas if they deemed that necessary. Further, they also ruled that any required workers who failed to attend work over Christmas could be prosecuted for conducting an illegal strike and could be fined up to $6000.

Which is really too depressing to consider, and leaves open the possibility that John Howard really did win the 2007 election after all (something I thought had only existed in his and Tony Abbott's fevered minds).

And what have we heard about this from our elected representatives in Canberra? Some of whom purport to be from a 'LABOR' organisation? Quite a few of whom talk endlessly about protecting workers rights and safeguarding workers rights and sticking up for workers rights? Well, as of this writing, let me sum up what we've heard from them:

Meanwhile, negotiations between the two sides continue.

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