Unions step up ad blitz over IR laws
May 31, 2006 – 3:39PM
Unions will renew their advertising blitz against the federal government's new industrial laws as the workplace watchdog investigates a second abattoir's employment practices.
The meatworkers' union said the Office of Workplace Services (OWS) and immigration officers would travel to Naracoorte, South Australia, later this week to examine claims foreign workers at the town's Teys Brothers meatworks were given preferential treatment.
The OWS confirmed it was looking into the Naracoorte claims but would not say whether it would pick it up as an investigation.
“OWS has been notified and is reviewing whether it's an appropriate matter for the office to investigate,” a spokesman said.
The Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union (AMIEU) said foreign workers on temporary visas had had their hours at the abattoir increased, while Australian workers saw their shifts and pay reduced.
The claims, raised in parliament by Opposition deputy leader Jenny Macklin, were dismissed by Prime Minister John Howard as “completely wrong”.
“Teys Brothers employs its Australian and overseas workers on the same Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs),” Mr Howard said.
“AWAs of both Australian and foreign workers alike include provisions where workers can be legally stood down on days where there is insufficient work, and where this occurs, both Australian and foreign workers are stood down and they are not paid.
“There is no discrimination, I am told, between the Australian and the foreign workers.”
AMIEU organiser Graham Smith said OWS and immigration officers were due to conduct interviews in Naracoorte on Friday as part of an investigation into the complaints, meaning the matter was far from settled.
“They wouldn't be going down there if they didn't think there was something in it,” Mr Smith said.
The Naracoorte claims follow the leaking of an OWS report on the Cowra abattoir dispute in March, in which 29 workers were sacked and offered their jobs back on lesser pay and conditions.
The plight of the Cowra workers, who eventually were reinstated, galvanised union opposition to the government's WorkChoices legislation and embarrassed it just as the new industrial regime came into effect.
Unions signalled their intention to highlight the unpopular workplace laws in the lead-up to the election, as ACTU secretary Greg Combet announced a multimillion-dollar TV campaign.
The ad campaign, to begin next month, will include new advertisements as well as some aired during the past year, and will coincide with nationwide union rallies.
“We are going to continue to campaign against these IR laws and keep the pressure up on the government,” Mr Combet said.
“Ultimately our goal is to have these indiscriminate laws repealed to ensure decent rights for workers.”
The ACTU said the draft OWS report into the Cowra dispute showed it was legal under the new workplace legislation for companies to sack employees to save money.
“This report now confirms what we and other unions have been saying about these laws all along,” Mr Combet said.
“The laws allow large businesses to sack workers for `operational reasons' without sitting down and trying to work things out with them.”
OWS director Nicholas Wilson said the report was not (not) final and the investigation into the Cowra dispute was continuing.