International support needed

Workchoices & international standards

Sharan Burrow

Mr President

The Australian government is now a serial offender of the very principles that sit at the heart of decent work - core ILO standards. With the passage of the Workplace Relations Amendment (WorkChoices) Act 2005 ("the WorkChoices Act"), Australia's longstanding failure to comply with its obligations under ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise) and 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining) has been substantially exacerbated.

Emily Connor, a childcare worker and a single mother in her early twenties has no rights. Sacked from her childcare centre because the employer didn't like her. Hard to believe but true, and despite the affection of the children in her care, the distress of their parents and the anger of her work colleagues there is no redress. Where national law fails, unions often step in to bargain for protections, but, sadly, there will be young Emily's in too many occupations because her union is prohibited from negotiating any mitigating procedures against unfair dismissal provisions in a collective agreement. In fact, the union can be fined $33.000 for just putting the matter on the bargaining table.

Since 1997 the ILO's Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations has repeatedly observed that Australia's legislation, as reflected in the Workplace Relations Act 1996, ("the WRA") falls well short of meeting the requirements of Conventions 87 and 98. The WorkChoices Act amends the WRA to further limit the possibility of effective trade union activity and collective bargaining. The Australian government has not only ignored repeated requests by the Committee of Experts to amend the law to address its concerns, it has shown contempt for the ILO and its processes by legislating the precise opposite of what was requested of it.

Convention 87: Freedom of Association and protection of the Right to Organise

The Committee of Experts' concerns about Australian compliance with Convention 87 have centred on the right to strike, an integral corollary of the right to bargain collectively. In particular, the Committee has been critical of Australian law in the following respects: industrial action cannot be taken in support of multi-employer agreements; the matters which may be the objectives of indus