New report says laws enacted by John Howard violate international labour treaties and conventions
Brussels (8 March 2007) - A new International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) report highlights the negative impacts on workers of the Australian government's anti-labour industrial relations laws, which impose heavy restrictions on internationally-recognized labour standards.
The report strongly criticizes Prime Minister John Howard's industrial relations laws (the so-called 'WorkChoices' act), which makes Australia the only developed country where employers can refuse to negotiate with a union even when employees are union members and want their union to represent them.
The report documents the severe legal limits that are imposed on the basic rights of Australian workers to organize in trade unions and the strict restrictions the laws place on the items that can be included in collective bargaining, violating International Labour Organization (ILO) standards, which Australia has ratified.
Canada is also a major violator of labour standards it has signed over the years in ILO and United Nations (UN) conventions and treaties. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has played a lead role in drawing attention to violations of international labour and human rights standards by federal and provincial governments in Canada.
As for the new ITUC report, it also cites recent evidence in Australia that women’s incomes are falling behind cost of living increases since the introduction of the new laws, and notes that an increasing gap is developing between the wages of male and female workers.
"It is notable that in the six months to August 2006 nominal private sector ordinary time wages for women rose 0.5% for women (meaning that real wages fell 2%) compared to 1.3% for men," the report says. "The Indigenous population, approximately 2% of the total, faces substantial disadvantage and discrimination."
The report laments the imposition of undemocratic and unabashedly pro-corporate Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).
"AWAs are no longer subject to collective agreements during the term of those agreements. This means that an employer is free to offer to all employees, and to require new employees to sign, inferior AWAs even where there is a collective agreement in place binding the employer in respect of all employees. This totally undermines the integrity of any collective bargaining process," it says.
"There have been a number of examples of employers using AWAs to slash the wages and conditions of their workers. A notorious example is a major retail chain which implemented AWAs replacing all loadings and penalties with a 2-cent per hour wage increase, resulting in pay reductions of up to $150 (Australian dollars) per week. Other national retailers have used AWAs to freeze wages or to reduce them to the new minimum rate." NUPGE
• ITUC report on core labour standards in Australia 
• Harper welcomes Australia's anti-labour PM to Ottawa 
• NUPGE labour rights page 
• NUPGE urges Harper government to restore workers' rights 
• NUPGE again appeals to Harper to sign Workers' Bill of Rights