Twenty years ago, our union stared down a fiercely anti-union government and won. When the Oakdale miners lost their jobs and entitlements when the mine operator suddenly went into administration in 1999, we were up against a government that had sent dogs and masked goons on to the waterfront to break a strong union.
The introduction of the Morrison Government’s Ensuring Integrity Bill signals that we are heading towards another major assault on unions’ rights to do their core job of representing members.
The Bill is a politically-motivated attack against Australia’s independent and democratic trade union movement. It aims to introduce more punitive penalties against trade unionists in a range of areas. It would make it much easier to deregister unions and disqualify elected trade union officials – including those who volunteer their time as Lodge officials and as Board and Council members.
We are worried that the coal miners and power station workers who volunteer their time to represent workers on Union governing bodies will be tied up in red tape and face legal action over minor administrative errors – like the Union not submitting paperwork on time.
Under the proposed legislation Officials of the Union can be disqualified over minor breaches of regulation like filing financial records a day late, which can be initiated by just about anyone (like the employer the Union is trying to negotiate a better deal for workers with) and these are much harsher penalties than the rules facing corporations.
Workers should be able to elect their own union leaders without fear they’ll be removed by someone who thinks they’re unsuitable, or that they’ll face stricter legal and administrative requirements than company directors.
Our Division has strong democratic processes and a proud democratic tradition. We have a good track record of addressing problems in governance or behaviour that may occur.
The Ensuring Integrity Bill is due to be voted on in the Senate in the months ahead and with a cross-bench that is largely sympathetic to the Government, it is likely to be passed into law. It will certainly result in costly attacks on unions that will chew up time and money that should be spent supporting our members.
This attack on unions comes as we face major challenges in our industries: widespread casualisation of jobs, cuts to accident pay, efforts to wind back our industry long service leave scheme and continual attempts to cut local jobs. Successful passage of the Ensuring Integrity Bill will make it harder for workers to organise against attacks from employers on their wages and working conditions.
Watch 'Oakdale - 20 years on'
But, let’s not forget that we have stood up to anti-union governments before. The Oakdale anniversary is a timely reminder that organised workers with a just cause and the backing of their communities can force governments to back down – even the nastiest governments with characters like Peter Reith. We have done it before and we can do it again.