Sunday, November 20, 2011

ALP National Conference 2011 needs to Clear the Way for Genuine Reform

above:  The 2011 ALP National Conference is swiftly approaching.  Below are a series of motions/proposals that could be crucial in reviving Labor's heart and soul: reaching out to voters, and giving Labor a chance in 2013.

By Tristan Ewins

Dear friends;

The following below are a series of motions that I am trying to have adopted in substance at the 2011 Australian Labor Party (ALP) National Conference this December.  While not exhaustively addressing the issues I am concerned with, the most important change Labor must make is to drop its commitment not to increase the tax intake as a proportion of GDP.  Even a small increase in the Federal tax take of 1.5% of GDP would bring in new funds in the vicinity of $20 billion a year.  This could be a modest progressive tax rise which nonetheless could deliver very significant reform of this country's welfare state, social wage and public sector. 

Without change here Labor will lack the flexibility it needs to implement the kind of genuine and robust reform that alone can win back voters' confidence.  The prevailing policy straight-jacket means Labor cannot initatiate substantial new initiatives (eg: the National Disability Insurance Scheme) without defunding other important programs.  (for instance, there are much tougher eligibility rules for the Disability Support Pension - even affecting people whose job prospects are very significantly reduced by their disability.)

For a reforming, progressive Labor government we need to do more than 'tread water' when it comes to the welfare state and the social wage.  There is desperate need for more funding for Aged Care - where our most vulnerable are facing degradation, loneliness and untold suffering.  And the National Disability Insurance Scheme will cost many billions if it is genuinely to serve its purpose.

Bill Shorten, in particular, was at the forefront of the push for the NDIS.  Now he needs to take the lead publicly to ensure Labor raises new funds to implement the program as soon as is possible.  And also to fund stop-gap measures in the mean-time - so Labor is seen 'to deliver the goods' well before the next election.

The Greens, meanwhile, are talking about incorporating dental into Medicare. And Labor's best chance of achieving re-election will be to meaningfully and extensively address the Cost-of-Living crisis where it comes to energy, water and housing stress. 'Cost-of-Living' is the mainstream issue that will 'make or break' Labor at the next Federal election. 

The plight of the unemployed must also be addressed with reform of the punitively-meagre "Newstart Allowance".  And all this must also involve billions in new funds if Labor is to achieve its object - and win over voters.  Labor needs to show substance in the face of an electorate sceptical about half-measures and spin.

Finally Labor needs to reconsider its policy of privatisation, looking to the market forces which see privatised energy, water and infrastructure costing consumers more than would have been the case had these remained in public hands.  This is as a consequence of higher borrowing costs, the need to internalise profits into cost-structures, and the lack of market power of small consumers.  A long-term re-orientation to the mixed economy, with strategic re-socialisation - is where Labor must therefore position itself.  Efficiencies, meanwhile, can be retained as a consequence of co-operation with unions - sharing the benefits of increasing productivity where possible. Increasing public housing supply to create downwards pressure on housing affordability could also be crucial.

I will be working through the Left to try and have the substance of the motions represented below  adopted, even though there may need to be re-wording. (without change of substance)  Whether or not these proposals actually get to Conference is uncertain, though.  I am hoping figures such as Shorten - in Labor Unity and Doug Cameron on the Left  - will take these kind of proposals seriously, and indeed take the lead publcily in advocating the cause.  Again: Shorten needs to apply the same principles of decency and compassion he has applied to the NDIS more broadly - and especially into Aged Care where the need as especially dire.  And Cameron's high-profile and leadership could bring these concerns 'into the public eye' ahead of Conference.  My hope again is that they and other relatively progressive figures will see the need to adopt the substance of these proposals on a cross-factional basis.

For other Labor activists, MPs, officials who are interested in running with these proposals please let me know.  I probably will not be at Conference (I am not a delegate) - but I am passionate about these causes.

The draft motions are below.


Tristan Ewins  (Left Focus)

Motion: Enabling an expansion of progressive taxation as a proportion of GDP to fund crucial social programs

The Australian Labor Party 2011 National Conference adopts the following position.

The ALP National Conferences adopts changes to the ALP National Platform enabling an increase in progressive taxation as a proportion of GDP by the Labor Federal Government. 

While not binding the Labor federal government to increase the overall rate of taxation as a proportion of GDP,  the ALP National Conference  supports changes in the National Platform to make this possible at the government’s discretion. 

 The 2011 ALP National Conference supports this position so that the government will have the flexibility to make the necessary decisions to fund crucial policies and social programs.

 To pay for a wide variety of initiatives the 2011 ALP National Conference is open to the prospect that Federal progressive taxation be expanded during the current term of government by as much as 1.5% of GDP. 

 The 2011 ALP National Conference supports this position underscored by a desire that significant new funds (overall and proportionately) be dedicated towards a mix of initiatives in the fields of aged care, mental health and the incorporation of dental care into Medicare.

In addition to this, the 2011 ALP National Conference states its desire that such new funds be dedicated towards ‘stop-gap’ improvements in disability support and services, including Carer’s pensions – well ahead of the actual full implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  (which the government anticipates will take many years)

The Conference states its desire that such new funds also be dedicated towards very significant Cost of Living measures to tackle housing stress, increased energy and water costs, and other stresses upon average and lower income individuals and families.  The Conference supports this position on the understanding it is essential to reconnect with mainstream working class Australia which is struggling under these Cost-of-Living pressures.

The Conference supports this position on the understanding that Labor needs to ‘deliver the goods’ by implementing very significant new policy initiatives in order to secure the confidence of the electorate, and re-inspire its own organisational and core support base.

Moved: Tristan Ewins

Motion:  National Aged Care Guarantee

The 2011 ALP National Conference supports a change in the ALP’s National Platform to mandate the implementation of a Universal Aged Care scheme along similar lines as the proposed National Disability Insurance Scheme. (NDIS)   

 The Conference supports this position on the understanding that our aged citizens’ rights and humanity should be respected fully at the time when they are most vulnerable.

The Conference will specifically support a scheme which provides for the following, financed by a progressive ‘insurance levy’ along similar lines to that considered for the NDIS.

a)      That all aged Australians, including those in high intensity care have provided for them heating, air conditioning, dental and broader health care, and nutritious and varied food . 

b)      That staff numbers and the skills mix be improved in Aged Care facilities with mandated standards for all facilities, including ratios for registered Aged Care nurses, and other aged care workers.  Apart from anything else this is necessary to ensure all residents eat properly, are regularly turned when necessary to prevent bed sores, are promptly assisted in instances such as incontinence, and are engaged socially by staff.

c)      That Aged Care workers receive decent and better wages, subsidised training, recognised career paths, all of which are necessary to attract the best quality carers to the sector.  And in accordance with this, that Aged Care Nurses receive pay rises so that their remuneration is closer to nurses working in other sectors.

d)      That new mandated standards be phased in to ensure genuine opportunity for privacy for aged Australians in care, including private rooms.

e)      That the costs of Aged Care be gradually and increasingly socialised, with initial emphasis on ensuring distributive justice for poor and working class families – that they are not forced to pay a devastating effective ‘flat tax’ through the sale of their homes, or by being forced to take out equity against their homes. 

f)       That as part of this approach the costs of low-intensity care also be socialised for poor and working class families – so that residents are not forced into high intensity care because of financial pressures when not appropriate.

g)      That additional funding be provided for community and family advocacy groups to ensure greater accountability and provide protection for vulnerable residents who may not be able to stand for their own rights because of dementia and other debilitating conditions.

h)      That the elderly be treated with dignity and respect in the broader public health system and not be forced into nursing homes at short notice and without consultation simply to free up beds. 

i)        The other initiatives be implemented to ensure meaningful quality of life for aged care residents.  This to include: pastoral care, facilitated interaction between residents, opportunity to enjoy television, radio, internet access (for those interested), outings, and other forms of recreation; as well as enjoying a variety of surroundings, including access to gardens.

j)        That much greater financial and other support be provided for Carers, to make it viable for the frail and aged to remain at home and in familiar surrounds as long as possible if that is their desire.

Moved:  Tristan Ewins

A Mixed Economy to Contain Cost-of-Living Pressures

The 2011 ALP National Conference notes that Cost-of-Living pressures are impacting severely upon average and lower income Australians.  In particular the Conference recognises pressures in the areas of  energy, water, user-pays mechanisms for transport and other infrastructure, and housing stress. 

While supporting broader initiatives to tackle this Cost-of-Living crisis, the Conference notes that the problem has arisen in part as a consequence of past privatisations. 

The Conference notes the following:

Private enterprise for energy, water and infrastructure passes on a higher cost of borrowing to consumers, while also having to internalise the cost structures involved in paying dividends to private investors in the sectors concerned.   

Investment in new infrastructure also has to be sourced by the enterprises concerned, with the consequence that again costs are passed on to consumers. 

Competition is also sporadic as many feel uncomfortable ‘shopping around’ for energy and water.

And finally, small consumers do not have the market power of large enterprises, with the consequence that where they do not bargain collectively, they are discriminated against on price.

The Conference also notes arguments that privatisation can drive productivity, but asserts that productivity gains can instead be made with the co-operation of unions – on the understanding that workers share in the benefits of increased productivity.

 This being the case the Conference supports a position of altering the ALP National Platform to reflect these facts, and to mandate the following action.

a)   In-principle commitment to the future re-socialisation of energy and water concerns, as well as public finance and provision of essential infrastructure.  (this is important in containing Cost-of-Living pressures for Australian families, including user-pays mechanisms that act effectively like ‘flat’ - ie: regressive - taxation.) 

b)  Also to tackle Cost-of-Living pressures, the Conference will support and advocate a change to the ALP Platform to mandate a very significant increase in public housing stock.  This is important to increase supply, hence making housing more affordable – especially for those in need.

Moved:  Tristan Ewins

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chris White on Qantas, employer lockouts, and the Fair Work Act

Above:  Alan Joyce is not very popular these days amongst the Australian trade union movement...

In this article Chris White gives his opinion on the recent Qantas lockout in Australia, and the changes he thinks are necessary to the Fair Work Act to prevent lockouts, and protect the right of workers to take industrial action.

Chris White is the former Secretary and Assistant Secretary of the United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia and remains active in the Australian labour movement. 

His blog is here:

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, Board Chairman Leigh Clifford from Rio Tinto, Richard Goodmanson Board member and former Rio Tinto Director, and Dr John Schubert a director of foreign multinational BHP-Billiton and former President of the Business Council of Australia (the BCA is the peak body for multinational corporations) not surprisingly militantly employed rightwing anti-union practices with the corporate union busting legal firm of Freehills.

They were most incensed by pilots wearing red ties –unionism! Baggage handlers were stopping for short periods and on TV marching with placards through the airport.  Engineers had responsible limited bans. None were in force on the day of the lock out during so-called ‘good faith bargaining’.

Qantas' aggressive lock out power was to defeat legitimate workers’ industrial action.

The very powerful corporation secretly planned after the AGM to ground the airline without notice to anyone, disadvantaging the flying public and politically challenging the Gillard government.

The lock out was in response to legitimate job security claims


Now from the ASU

And see this re: the engineering alliance


Many unionists now say that employers ought not to have the right to lock out.

An amendment to the Fair Work Act FWA that removes the lock out must be introduced.

The more powerful corporations instead are to be required to negotiate a collective bargaining settlement with their workers.

Qantas management tactics shows why the lock out ought not to be available in any reasonable collective bargaining system.
The unions had to go through technical process requirements, applications to FWA for protected action, ballots with members voting in favour and technical notice processes and constant negotiations. If unions make any technical defect, Freehills seeks that the industrial action is  “unprotected” and huge fines threatened.

However, Qantas management simply plans that after the AGM we will immediately ground and lock out.

Now the Fair Work Act FWA (the same as WorkChoices) allows this management tactic. The FWA has no requirement for the employer to give notice to lock out, nor balloting of shareholders at the AGM and certainly not the processes forced on unions for strikes. This is a serious process deficiency and yet another rule for the 1%.

For our collective bargaining system to work for employees against the more powerful corporations, lock outs ought not to be allowed at all.

Some nations prohibit lock outs on the basis that they tilt bargaining power too far towards employers.  

The International Labour Organization ILO principles and most labour relations systems are based on the widely accepted reality that employers have the greater power over their workforce.

In any decent labour law, the lawful right to strike is necessary to afford some ability of workers and their unions to counter that employer power. The lock out as shown with Qantas denies any such balance: the effectiveness needed for workers to bargain in their interests. Gillard claims balance – but this is just spin.

In any case, most employers legally reserve lock outs as a genuine option of ‘last resort’, rather than the Qantas ambush of ‘first resort’.

Some labour relations systems require notice and some balloting of their shareholders. The principle is some notion of ‘proportionality’ to govern the usage of lockouts.

But not in Australia. Our right-wing corporates with their law firms are gearing up to emulate the Qantas tactic against any industrial action.

Unions’ experience is that disputes are not resolved by the lock out but by sitting around the table negotiating an outcome, a real agreement. At the end of the dispute and the industrial action management and their workforce have to continue to work with each other.

Unionists remember. There are long-term consequences.

Workers are in a difficult position facing the lock out. Here is a film of a US workers’ struggle against Rio Tinto’s lock out:

See: -

For a reference on Australia lock out read ‘Lockout Law in Australia: Into the Mainstream?’ Dr Chris Briggs University of Sydney acirrt working paper 95.

Suspension only

My next point is to support suspension only of the lawful strike - what the Qantas unions wanted.

The Qantas tactic forced the Minister’s application for an order to terminate protected industrial action rather than suspend it.  

Suspension first means no industrial action - here I believe the unions suggested 120 days. At the end of that negotiating period if no agreement is reached, then protected industrial action can resume.

Fair Work Australia due to the lock out instead terminated all action. The parties are now in a FWA conciliation process for 21 days.  If no resolution is reached, FWA imposes an arbitrated outcome on Qantas and unions and the workforce. We shall see what happens. 

See: Shae McCrystal University of Sydney

The FWA provision is rarely used even when the economy is significantly damaged. On the day I did not believe union action was causing significant damage to the economy, now held to be the case by FWA. But due to the lock out FWA said such action was enough threat to the economy and terminated both actions.

I believe it would have been fairer if the lock out had been terminated and the unions’ protected action suspended.

There are alternatives

The Fair Work Act has alternative devices as well as the lock out for Qantas to halt the limited lawful union industrial action. As I write I watch the Senate hearings and Senator Doug Cameron asking Joyce about alternatives and why he did not ask Fair Work to intervene rather than to lock out.

For the employees’ right to strike to be effective, their protected action has to be allowed – to mitigate against the power of the corporations - and ensure a settlement between the parties. 

The ability of employers or the Minister to halt protected action ought not be available because it undermines the effectiveness of strike action as a bargaining tool.

Any reasonable collective bargaining regime has to have employees and their unions be able to organise and strike – which we would prefer to be without government interference.

Political dictatorship

I comment about Abbott urging what he would have done, now trumpeted widely by the political right, namely to use section 431 - unprecedented direct Ministerial power to stop a strike.

PM Gillard in the Fair Work Act (FWA) retained WorkChoices’ many repressive measures to stop lawful strikes and this included s431.  I repeatedly argued that all restrictions on the withdrawing of labour have to be repealed for an effective freedom for workers to take industrial action without being ordered back to work.

The FWA sections terminating a lawful strike require at least an independent hearing with evidence and merit submissions before the umpire or a court makes the order – hence the reality of the weekend Fair Work hearing.

But in section 431 of the FWA, the Minister simply has to form an opinion about damage to the economy and then proclaims the termination of protected action - no independence, no evidence, no merit argument, no process is required – simply the Minister not liking a strike and employers asking him to stop it.  

This political power to affect the lives of workers and their right to collective bargaining and to strike is an outrage.

I criticized Howard for introducing s431 into Work Choices after lobbying by the rightwing mining corporations such as Rio Tinto. Gillard should not have been retained it in the FWA. It has not been used and rightly would be subject to legal challenge. Section 431 breaches existing international standards.

Only a political dictator would use it. Abbott is proud to say this is how he will act. Section 431 and indeed all of the Work Choices anti-strike provisions have to be repealed.

On 71% Joyce salary increase, the Gillard government’s reforms to CEO salary rises is proved to be inadequate and again this Parliament has to act.

Overall what Qantas does is how corporations work in this capitalist crisis outsourcing jobs and why workers and their unions reasonably resist.

See useful further comments by Ben Eltham here

Again - for Chris's blog see:

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