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Uncertain Times Revisiting 1834 with the Howard Industrial Agenda Linda Gale, Federal Industrial Officer Australian Education Union.

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Presentation on theme: "Uncertain Times Revisiting 1834 with the Howard Industrial Agenda Linda Gale, Federal Industrial Officer Australian Education Union."— Presentation transcript:

1 Uncertain Times Revisiting 1834 with the Howard Industrial Agenda Linda Gale, Federal Industrial Officer Australian Education Union

2 1834 – a little history In 1830 an English agricultural worker earned 9 shillings. In 1831 this was cut to 8 shillings. In 1832 it was cut to 7. In 1834 the rate was cut to 6 shillings. A group of agricultural labourers formed an association and agreed to accept nothing less than 10 shillings. This act of solidarity was a direct challenge to the landowners. 6 leaders of the agricultural workers society were convicted of sedition and transported to Australia. Public outrage was so great that only two years later they were pardoned. Now we know them as the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and they represent a key moment in the history of workers’ rights. They fought for, and eventually won, for all of us, the right to form a trade union and to stand together for a fair wage.

3 2005: The political environment Successive conservative victories based on: Fear - War on Terror; flood of “boat people”; gang violence; paedophilia; sexual and cultural diversity... looking for “strong” government and “traditional values” Debt - Record levels of personal debt; concern about interest rates... looking for responsible economic management. Vilification - squashing of dissent; union-bashing; rise of the shock jocks; racial violence re-emerging; anti-feminism; rise of nationalist and religious extremism; Teacher = 1970s leftie dinosaur. Weak Opposition – relatively conservative Labor Party, and other parties (Greens, Democrats) very small.

4 A little constitutional law The powers in the federal constitution which allow regulation of Industrial Relations include: the industrial power - for conciliation and arbitration to prevent and settle interstate industrial disputes. the Territories power - to regulate all matters with respect to Territories. specific powers for some industries: telecommunications, shipping, airports, etc. the power to enter international treaties (eg ILO) the corporations power - to regulate all matters with respect to trading corporations other powers voluntarily referred by a state (eg Vic IR)

5 The federal legislative agenda Use of the corporations power to create a single national IR system – overriding the state systems. Concept of “trading corporation” under federal constitution. Regulatory divide between public and some private school systems in states. Probably doesn’t extend to most state government public sector employees.

6 One Big System? A single national IR system should mean: Greater uniformity of conditions across the country; Less wasteful duplication of effort in structures and personnel to deal with IR; Greater simplicity for employers and employees operating in more than one state or territory. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

7 But … the federal system Howard will set up is anti-worker and anti-union. It will not just be one big system, but one big, bad system.

8 Key items on Howard Agenda Industrial Relations Reduce conditions in existing awards Empower employers to dismiss unfairly Individualise bargaining through AWAs Undermine the role of the AIRC Create a new Fair Pay Commission Make industrial action more difficult Restrict workers right to access their unions in the workplace De-unionise the workforce

9 Key items on Howard Agenda Education and Social Policy Ongoing funding squeeze Encouragement of private schools Shifting cost to students and families Increasing managerial power Instrumentalist view of education Attack on teaching profession Attack on social safety net (welfare, health, etc)


11 Some details of the new IR laws Industrial action – secret ballots will be required before industrial action; – suspension of industrial action if any individual (eg parent or student) is affected; Bargaining –agreements can be up to 5 years duration; –no union right to intervene in AWAs and non- union agreements; –individual contracts (AWAs) to override collective agreements; –“no disadvantage” test reduced to meaningless level.

12 Some details of the new IR Laws Awards – exclude independent contractors from awards – further reduce allowable matters and strip awards back Individual rights – right for union members to access the union in the workplace will be limited –Unfair dismissal claims no longer available for most workers –Can be forced onto individual claims -AWAs

13 Nicholson of "The Australian" newspaper:

14 A “Fair Pay and Conditions” standard Minimum Wage to be set by new “Fair Pay Commission” Four other minimum standards: –4 weeks annual leave (but can be 2 weeks) –8 days sick leave per annum –Unpaid parental leave (haven’t said how much) –38 “ordinary” hours per week (meaning what?) This becomes the new “safety net” against which all agreements are to be measured.


16 What are AWAs? Individual version of “certified agreement” Usually offered as pattern contract, with no room for negotiation Becomes a confidential document Overrides the award Will now also override any collective agreement Can last for 5 years, during which you have no right to opt out Can survive the employment relationship


18 Why AWAs are bad for schools Undermine collegiality Build suspicion and resentment among colleagues Take time and resources away from the real work Cannot regulate collective interests Cannot be used to pursue public interest No equality of bargaining power with huge departmental employers



21 Funding blackmail Federal industrial agenda imposed by placing conditions on funding: Values posters and flagpoles; individual contracts (AWAs) must be offered; performance pay systems mandatory; more use of labour hire / independent contractors. no time release for union workplace representatives; facilities made available to private providers; Harebrained schemes (reading vouchers) Imposition of standardised testing, differential “super- teacher” bonuses, quartile reporting, budget penalties on poor-performing schools, etc. Public reporting of staff absences, whatever the reason.

22 Impact on School Communities Students’ and parents’ work and unemployment experiences will be harsher Increased micromanagement from DEST, despite rhetoric about local management. Fundamental shift from state to federal. Direct attack on working conditions: –Casualisation –Conditions cut –Conflict

23 Impact on School Communities Staff stress/anxiety Ongoing funding squeeze. Damaged collegial relationships Greater insecurity in the community and fewer social services to help with that Direct attacks on public education, values, cultural tolerance and understanding… Demands for instrumentalist curriculum Attacks on the professionalism of teachers and principals

24 Impact on School Leaders Threats to your working conditions: Pressure to take individual contracts (AWAs) Attempts to separate school leaders from other staff – undermine collective interests (More) workload pressures from constant jousting between state and federal ministers over reporting, accountability, etc. (More) workplace stress due to anxiety / uncertainty / breakdown of collegiate relationships

25 Implications for bargaining Federal system will be union-hostile Some workers can stay relatively protected in state systems Flow-on implications for all from those remaining in federal system Federal blackmail through funding conditions will also impact everywhere Likely to be more confrontational workplace disputes as no access to effective arbitration

26 Be ready for much more industrial conflict. Workers will need to win increases on the ground – the Commission will not be much help. Early and strong industrial action more likely. Ongoing need to defend quality public education. Strong focus on workloads protection in face of Federal change agenda imposed through education funding mechanisms. Continue strengthening community/parent understanding of why we are taking a stand.

27 Overview Australian workers are looking down the barrel of 6-8 years of industrial nightmare. Education workers have advantage of strong unions and large workplaces. Skills shortage may give us bargaining power - but may also provoke governments to more draconian or just plain silly measures. Public education workers can probably weather the IR Laws, but the federal funding conditions will hit us hard.

28 What is it all for? The claim: necessary reform, productivity and wages growth. The reality: –Destroying unions and isolating workers into individualised bargaining; –Increasing employer power –Cutting wage costs –Removing critical thinking from all levels of education The objective: a de-unionised, atomised, compliant workforce.


30 Our priorities must be: To look after ourselves and each other Build teamwork and collegiality in schools; Ensure staff know their rights; Respect the right of the union to organise in the workplace; Find imaginative ways to resist the government’s agenda where it damages education or education workers; Encourage staff to join the union; Be proud to be union;

31 Our priorities must be: To look after our students and our communities Explain to parents and caregivers why we think the educational and industrial agenda of the federal government is bad for their kids’ education; Talk with students and parents about the workplace environments students encounter in their paid work. Refer students to unions and other support services if you know they are having work problems; Be aware of industrial disputes affecting parents and the local community. Extend support; Lead in the community by speaking to the media, rallies, public meetings – take every opportunity to engage with the community about why this stuff is bad.

32 Back to the Future? 170 years ago, 6 men from Tolpuddle stood up for the right of working people to combine together in trade unions and demand a living wage. For most of Australia’s history, the right of workers to join together to negotiate our working conditions has been respected. Now our federal government is determined to tear that down. They want to take industrial relations back 170 years, and to shape an instrumentalist education system to support that harsh new world of work. As educators and leaders, we must say NO!

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