IFJ Unions Back Journalists in Day of Action Over Australia’s Legal Threat to Rights At Work

The International Federation of Journalists today warned that the plans of the Australian government to introduce repressive new industrial relations’ legislation will dramatically undermine the stability and quality of workers’ rights in journalism and turn the clock back to “an age of intolerance in the workplace when press freedom is compromised by social injustice.”

Tomorrow the IFJ and its member unions around the world will join global protests over new laws that represent drastic cuts in existing rights of union representation, collective bargaining, minimum employment standards and protection from unfair dismissal.

“These plans if they become law will extinguish a tradition of fairness at work that has lasted for generations,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “At the same time it will create a new vulnerability in the newsroom, undermining the social and professional status of journalists and putting unacceptable pressure on quality of media content and journalism.”

The IFJ and its member unions are contacting Australian diplomatic missions around the world in co-operation with other global union federations tomorrow following a call for solidarity from the Australian Council of Trade unions.

“Journalists all over the world will be concerned at what is happening in Australia where the government appears determined to turn the clock back,” said Aidan White. “When press freedom is compromised by social injustice in the workplace e it is a tragedy for journalism and for demo

Key parts of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Bill 2005 includes setting just five minimum conditions set down by government covering minimum wages, basic holiday, parental and carers’ leave, and hours arrangements that will not guarantee penalties for excessive overtime. Other previously negotiated arrangements in collective agreements may be abandoned. The new rules will also:

• Remove protection from unfair dismissal for all workers in workplaces employing less than 100 workers and pushing workers onto individual employment contracts;

• Place heavy restrictions on trade union activities, including on the right to talk with workers in their workplace;

• Impose extremely narrow limits on the matters which can be the subject of collective bargaining. Unions can be fined $30,000 if they seek to reach agreement with employers on unfair dismissal, union training leave, use of subcontractors and a range of other matters;

• Remove the right to public holidays for many workers, and weakened provisions for annual leave;

• Allow the government to stop industrial action if it decides the action is detrimental to the economy, and legal provisions concerning industrial action will be heavily biased in favour of employers.

The IFJ’s affiliate in Australia, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance says the proposed changes could dramatically reduce protection for members’ working rights. The union plans to campaign for an extension to current agreements to allow them to continue to operate under current legislation. The union aims to target agreements that expire during 2006 so that they can include some matters barred under the new legislation, they can embrace all existing award clauses and to prevent them from being terminated unilaterally by the employer at the expiry of the agreement.

“Australia’s great industrial relations traditions are being threatened by a doctrinaire government that is intent to weakening the rights of employed workers,” said White. “When this happens in media it will undermine morale in the workforce, create an unfair balance in favour of employers’ interests and in the process it will undermine the capacity for independent and vigorous journalism.”

React now! Click here for the Draft letter of protest to the Australian Prime Minister