The right to withdraw labour is a fundamental human right

ACTU secretary Sally McManus
Editorial comment

Responding to the order made by the Australia Fair Work Commission yesterday over its decision to order members of the Rail Bus and Tram Union in Sydney, to not go on strike next Monday and to lift their overtime ban, has brought to attention the difficulty that unions and their members have with an industrial relations system, become increasingly skewed to favour the employer.

Yesterday’s article in The Pen was restricted and is therefore republished at the bottom of this page.

Not since the days of the master Servants act of the nineteenth century, has such a one-sided system been in place.

It marks a significant restriction of the democratic right of workers to have say in the conditions of their employment.

To suggest that there is equality before the law is nonsense. Big employers have the economic muscle and connections to impose their will, which means that the employment relationship is not one between equals. Unions emerged because of this. Only through acting together can workers be heard.

The Fair Work Act and the institutions that administer it, are designed to restrict this right. Nothing proves this more convincingly, than the rarity of orders made against employers, for bringing economic harm to those who work for them and providing an unsafe workplace.

The union peak body in Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, released the following statement yesterday.

ACTU statement

Today’s decision by the Fair Work Commission to suspend the action by train drivers is further evidence of the broken rules in Australian workplaces that are driving down wage growth.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions today noted that the right to withdraw your labour is a fundamental human right, that is denied to most Australian workers, most of the time.

Quotes attributable to Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary:

“The basic right to strike in Australia is very nearly dead.

“Rail workers followed every single rule and law, and still the Minister of the day can get an order to cancel bans on working excessive overtime.

“When working people and their union go through every possible hoop and hurdle and are still denied these basic rights, it is no secret why so many workers haven’t had a pay rise.

“Working people’s wages in Australia are so stagnant because the rules are stacked in the favour of the employers.

“We need to change the rules, because Australia needs a pay rise.


Sydney rail workers push ahead with industrial action

Photo from AAP: Transport Minister Andrew Constance lashing out at the union
Contributed from New South Wales

Sydney’s rail workers decided to go on strike, in a major escalation in their dispute with Sydney Trains.

Nearly 6,000 members of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union will walk off the job on Monday. They have also put in place an overtime ban, which started today (Thursday 25 January).

The dispute is over dissatisfaction with an offered pay deal and ongoing overwork. A big part of the problem is a new timetable that includes 1.500 extra bus, train and ferry trips, without employing the extra people needed to cover them. Consequently, those who are there have been forced to work longer hours and lose days off, under declining working conditions.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union state secretary Alex Claassens told the media the industrial action was about, “people being able to have their days off.

“Anybody that runs a business knows you can’t continually run it on overtime, and if we’re running a railway that requires people to work overtime, we’ve got real problem,” he said.

The dispute goes to the Fair Work Commission today.

In a press release, the union has called on the minister to intervene and do what must be done to end the dispute.

Alex Claassens said, “Members have made it clear that the offer put forward yesterday is not good enough, and that negotiations will need to continue before there is an offer that is up to scratch”.

“The onus is now on the Minister to bring the dispute to an end tomorrow by meeting the legitimate concerns of the workforce which is straining daily to keep the system operating under enormous pressure.

“Strike action has always been a last resort and I remain hopeful that we can make progress over the next 24 hours.

“It’s disappointing that we’re in this position. The Transport Minister has unfortunately let it get to this. He could have averted this issue a long time ago, simply by putting forward a fair and reasonable offer for the workers back then.

“There’s no doubt that a ban on overtime work will cause disruptions on the network and that’s because the Transport Minister has allowed our services to get to the point where they’re reliant on people working their rostered days off in order to keep our trains running.

“While these disruptions are regrettable, they are merely a sign of things to come if the Minister continues to run down the public transport system.

“No one wants our transport system to run smoothly more than the workers themselves do. We’ll keep commuters up-to-date with all the information we can.”

3 Comments on "The right to withdraw labour is a fundamental human right"

  1. If the Fair Work Commission has ordered the Train, Tram and Bus Drivers back to work they should comply… maintain the Overtime Ban and begin a campaign of ‘Lightning Stoppages’, ‘Work to Rule’ and ‘Go Slow’ tactics… along with ongoing ‘Equipment Safety Checks’ and strict, ‘to the letter’ observance of OH&S Regulations… more than one way to ‘skin a cat’, and stay within the Law

    • John Murphy is correct. The work to rule is legally complying with agreements undertaken. However, if the NSW Government itself breaks these legal agreements then a General Strike may be the only way forward.

  2. Perhaps it is time for the Union Movement to show some solidarity and instigate similar lightening strikes across other industry areas of Government? Broaden the campaign to highlight the loss of the basic right to strike and direct the campaign at the Fair Work Commission itself.

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