(OT?) Australia - Industrial Relations Chaos - we name the guilty parties

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This article may help understand Industrial Relations in Australia, year 2000 style...


IR chaos: we name the guilty parties
Wednesday 9 February 2000

THE Bracks Government has been copping it in the neck in recent weeks for its handling of industrial relations. Specifically, Labor has been under attack for its lack of early action in the troubled power and building sectors.

The central charge is that the Government was reluctant to intervene in the disputes because ministers did not want to upset their "union mates". By not taking immediate steps to stop industrial action, Labor's critics would have you believe, the state is returning to the "bad old days" of Cain and Kirner.

It is true that the Government's initial response was inadequate. As the disputes bubbled along, the Government insisted that the state had no role because Victoria's industrial relations powers had been handed over to the Commonwealth in 1996.

But it had been clear for some time that the disputes could escalate, in the process becoming a serious political problem for Steve Bracks. As the disputes raged in the public arena, continually claiming that the state's hands were tied was not going to cut it. A more substantive political and policy response was needed.

In the end, the chaos resulting from last Thursday's rolling power blackouts forced Bracks to intervene. By this week the Premier had demonstrated that he was capable of showing strong leadership, using the threat of sanctions to force striking Yallourn Energy employees back to work.

Nevertheless, the fact that power restrictions on industry and households remain in place allows the Premier's opponents to assert that Labor's big-stick approach was "too little, too late". The message from the Liberal Opposition - grateful for a political lifeline - is that the disruption is a sign of times ahead. Indeed, some Liberals are talking already about reviving the "Guilty Party" campaign for the next election, the plan being to substitute the billboard pictures of former Labor ministers Tony Sheehan and David White with scary mug shots of prominent left-wing union leaders.

But before the court of public opinion decrees that Labor has fallen hostage to the trade union movement after just 112 days in office, there is value in looking beyond the usual culprits.

Take Jeff Kennett. The former Premier last week used his only media appearance since being vanquished from public office to claim the unions were exerting too much influence over Bracks.

His comments were made in the context of the industrial unrest in the construction industry over the union campaign for a 36-hour week. Yet it was Kennett who as Premier sat down with the union leader, Martin Kingham, and negotiated the Federation Square agreement, now regarded as the benchmark for the shorter-hours campaign.

In the power industry, it was Kennett who was happy to take the kudos when the coalition's sale of Victoria's electricity assets led to a reduction in state debt, and applause from the business community for getting the state budget back on track. But you never heard much from Kennett about the massive job losses that flowed through the La Trobe Valley as a result of his privatisation policies. Nor does he have much to say about the private operators when they seek to put the interests of foreign shareholders before the objective of guaranteeing supply to local industry and consumers.

And what about Peter Reith? The recent conduct of the federal Workplace Relations Minister shows that he remains more than ever committed to shameless political opportunism, rather than making a constructive contribution to policy debate in Victoria.

Ever ready with an anti-union, anti-Labor sound bite for morning radio, perhaps Reith could use some of the legislative powers at his disposal to bring the warring industrial parties together. Don't hold your breath for Reith the peacemaker.

Finally, the conduct of the building industry employers warrants closer scrutiny. The construction companies are crying out for the State Government to intervene in the industry as unions seek to secure lucrative deals on Melbourne's big projects and then to ensure the gains flow through to the rest of their members. These are age-old tactics, implicitly encouraged by the major employers when they decide a pragmatic cave-in is preferable to a blow-out in costs from overdue projects. Yet suddenly, with Labor ascendant in Spring Street, the same employers want the Government to step in and stop the unions.

It is these companies and Reith who promote a system that encourages the current industrial environment. Supposedly committed to enterprise bargaining, they support a legislative regime where the bigger companies and the stronger unions are bound to prevail. Then, when things don't go their way, they have the audacity to seek to camouflage their ideological position. When they scream for government intervention, it is largely one-sided. When did you last hear them calling for government involvement when a union or a group of employees was up against a rogue employer?

Bracks is some way off demonstrating that he has a successful political strategy to manage the union movement. How the Premier deals with Labor's union base will be a recurring theme during his first term. But let it be recognised that those making the loudest noises from the sidelines do not always have the cleanest hands.
Ewin Hannan is state editor of The Age.


Notice how the big end of town boys play rough. Who do you think will get hurt most?

Regards from Down Under

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), February 08, 2000


The real scoop: Thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Hegelian dialectic. As applied to politics: TPTB create a problem. Sheeple cry "fix it". TPTB "solve" the problem by more rules, regulations, and taxes -- causing another problem. Rinse and repeat.

They figured a great way to get snoops into any suspicious household -- looking for power wastrels.

-- A (A@AisA.com), February 08, 2000.

Who gives a flying fudge about Industrial Relations in Australia!

Stop cluttering this forum with this silly stuff. Stop it !

-- (ben217@aol.com), February 08, 2000.

I agree, Pieter, why don't you stop trying to outdo Jenkins as the the most irrelevant poster of nonsense.

-- Mr. Sane (hhh@home.com), February 08, 2000.

Yes, you blokes are right. TB2000 is a Y2k calamity house only. It's no place for global interactivity. It's no place for understanding the new paradigm signage. Wonderful to watch your contributions to our international community. I bow before superior intellect. Amen.

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), February 08, 2000.

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