Harper welcomes Australia's anti-labour John Howard to Ottawa

Canadian and Australian prime ministers share similar pro-corporate and anti-worker economic views


Ottawa (18 May 2006) - Stephen Harper, the only major Canadian leader who has failed to sign the Workers Bill of Rights, welcomed one of the world's most anti-labour leaders to Parliament Hill today. Updated

The visitor is Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who has used his latest parliamentary majority to roll back some of the most important labour reforms achieved by Australia's working people in more than a century. He opened a three-day official visit to Canada by addressing members of Parliament.

Outside, a group of noisy Canadian workers protested Howard's afternoon arrival at the Parliament Buildings in a demonstration of solidarity with members of the labour movement in Australia.

John Howard's limousine on Parliament Hill - NUPGE Photos

Canadians are aware of Howard's attacks on working people in his own country, Barb Byers, a vice-president of the three-million-member Canadian Labour Congress protesters attending the rally.

“That John Howard is the first foreign head of government to be invited by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to speak to Parliament sends the wrong signals to ordinary working people in Canada,” said Byers.

“We are asking Mr. Harper: Do you favour these anti-workers policies John Howard has been pursuing? Canadians want to know."

The labour movement in Australia has fought valiantly against the so-called "reforms" that Howard has used his muscle to ram through his own Parliament.

CLC Vice-President Barb Byers on Parliament Hill.
Protesters give Australian prime minister noisy Canadian welcome.
Sean McKenny of the Ottawa and District Labour Council and Toronto MP Peggy Nash address labour rally during John Howard's visit to Parliament Hill.
A clear message.
Paul Moist, CUPE

Among the changes brought about by his Orwellian-named WorkChoices program are the following (more details):

  • Abolition of protection from unfair dismissal for four million workers employed in companies with less than 100 staff.
  • Freeing employers to put workers onto individual contracts that cut take-home pay and reduce employment conditions.
  • Changing the way minimum wages are set, thus allowing them to be lowered in the process.
  • Cutting national employment standards to five minimum conditions.
  • Effectively barring unions from many workplaces and reducing the capacity of workers to bargain collectively.
Condemned by Australian opposition

Opposition political parties in Australia have condemned the changes, which have been compared to the Master and Servant Act of the nineteenth century.

Kim Beazley, leader of Australia's Labor Party, has promised to rescind the laws if elected.

"I am going to rip up John Howard's IR laws," he has said. "Like the overwhelming majority of Australians, I reject John Howard's one-sided agenda to take rights away from working people and skew all the rules in favour of unrestrained corporate interests....John Howard's laws mean less job security, a loss of basic entitlements for working people, and a bigger gap between the well-off and the battlers."

Sharan Burrow, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, adds:

"The laws are not underpinned by a cohesive set of values or policy but instead represent a shortsighted, opportunistic effort to shift the balance of power in our workplaces, and to fragment and weaken workers' collective voices.

"For more than 100 years Australia has had an industrial relations system that has given working people a share of the benefits of economic prosperity when times are good - and ensured that there are decent protections for people when times get tough. This is the system the federal government's workplace laws will destroy. We must not be the first generation of Australians who leaves our kids with fewer rights at work than we inherited. And we will not."

More than half a million Australians protested against Howard's pro-corporate agenda during a national day of protest on Nov. 15, 2005. Among those standing with ordinary workers were state premiers, religious leaders and former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke. A National Week of Action against the changes is planned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) from June 25 to July 1. NUPGE

More information:

NUPGE urges Harper government to restore workers' rightsNUPGE again appeals to Harper to sign Workers' Bill of Rights Workers' Bill of RightsMassive labour protests against harsh new laws in AustraliaAustralian government unleashes attack on labour rights