Australia: Employers using Labor’s laws to impose lockouts

Published on WSWS, by Terry Cook, 11 January 2010.

Lockouts of Sydney casino workers in the opening days of the new year underscore the increasingly aggressive use by employers of their new powers under the Rudd government’s “Fair Work” legislation to suppress industrial action.

Since Fair Work Australia came into operation on July 1, companies have gone on the offensive, confident of the Labor government’s support and the commitment of the trade unions to enforce the new laws. 

Tabcorp’s Star City Casino locked out members of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU) on January 8 and 9 for entire shifts after they held one-hour stoppages in a long-running dispute over a new enterprise work agreement. Workers were similarly locked out on January 1.

The stoppages, involving dealers, security workers, house keepers, chefs and food and beverage employees, were part of a limited protest campaign devised by the union after workers twice overwhelmingly rejected management pay offers during eight months of negotiations.

The company’s latest offer of a 9 percent increase over three years, with only 2 percent awarded in the first year, is subject to trade-offs including the removal of shift loading on sick leave, a reduction in the rate of sick leave accrual and the removal of guaranteed dealer career progression.

The union is now calling for 10.5 percent over three years, including 3 percent in the first year, with no trade-offs. On average, the workers are paid just $22.70 an hour, plus any applicable loading, to work in the onerous conditions associated with shiftwork in a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week industry.

Despite the management’s actions, the LHMU, which boasts a membership of 120,000 in many key enterprises, as well as Tabcorp’s Treasury Casino in Queensland, has no intention of challenging the industrial relations laws. Along with every other union, the LHMU has endorsed the Fair Work Australia (FWA) regime, claiming it is more “fair” and “balanced” than the previous Howard government’s WorkChoices laws …

… There is no doubt that more lockouts are being prepared. Andrew Douglas, managing director of Douglas Workplace and Litigation Lawyers, told the SmartCompany web site last month that some employers who saw industrial action on the horizon were actively planning lockouts, putting contingency plans in place to ensure their business was not interrupted, and then launching lockouts immediately after industrial action. He said it would become more commonplace for employers to use short, abrupt lockouts.

As the economic conditions worsen, employers will increasingly use the industrial laws to the full to suppress industrial action and ram through drastic changes to pay and conditions. Any struggle by workers against these actions will require a rebellion against the unions, which function as industrial policemen for employers, and a political fight against the Rudd government and its anti-strike laws. (full text).

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