Labour bites

The rules are broken

The need to change industrial relations laws was a focus for speakers at a recent rally marking a year on the protest line at Longford, in what has become one of Australia’s longest running disputes.

It may have been preaching to the converted, but ACTU Secretary Sally McManus focused the attention of a crowd of about 500 supporters of former UGL maintenance workers at Esso’s Longford gas plant, on the need to change industrial relations laws, to outlaw the manipulation of workplace agreements to the detriment of an existing workforce.

At the centre of the dispute is the right for workers to negotiate their own terms and conditions, with UGL having arranged an agreement to be voted for by five casual workers in Western Australia, and then applying it to the Victorian workforce, on a take it or leave it basis.

The workers, some of whom have worked on Esso’s platforms for more than 40 years, are members of the Electrical Trades Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and the Australian Workers’ Union.

Their dispute, which includes a round the clock protest outside Esso’s gas plant, is more than 365 days old, making it the longest industrial dispute in Australia for the past four decades.

“Two hundred and thirty maintenance workers had to go on strike for a year just to keep the conditions they already had,” said AWU secretary Ben Davis from the back of a truck. (Source: Gippsland Times)

The $1m massage

The Fair Work Ombudsman is taking the former owner of a Canberra massage business to court for allegedly underpaying workers by almost $1 million and threatening their families if they spoke out.

Seven foreign workers from the Foot and Thai massage parlour in Belconnen claim their employer, underpaid them by about $900,000 between 2012 and 2016.

It is alleged the six women and one man were required to work an average of more than 65 hours per week but were generally only paid for 38 hours per week.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has also alleged that six of the employees were required to pay back $800 of their wages per fortnight over a nine month period when the boss deemed the shop was not getting enough income and customers.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the workers and their families were then threatened.

“These very vulnerable workers were told that if they complained they would be sent back home, or that their family would be the subject or physical violence or indeed that they might even be killed,” she said.

The Ombudsman has commenced civil legal proceedings in the Federal Court against the former operators of the parlour.

“Among the most shocking allegations Fair Work has seen, James said the workers were all provided accommodation at a house in the suburb of Higgins, where the gates were locked overnight. They were allegedly transported between the Higgins property and the massage parlour in a van each working day.” (Source: ABC News)

As unions decline workplace deaths increase

It’s no secret that the waning power of American unions has contributed to stagnant wages. But a new study suggests that this trend hasn’t affected just worker income. It also may have cost thousands of lives.

The new study focuses in particular on the extent to which state ‘right to work’ laws translate into more workplace deaths. Using mathematical modeling techniques, the study found that the rate of job related deaths among US workers from 1992 through 2016 was 14.2% higher than it would have been if union membership had not been undercut by right to work laws.

That equated to roughly 7300 extra workplace deaths over the 25 year period, according to author of the analysis, Michael Zoorob.

The conclusions of the study, published in the medical journal BMJ, in some respects buck conventional wisdom. Workplace deaths generally have declined over the years, thanks in part to outsourcing of dangerous jobs to other countries, technological advances and a rise in less hazardous service employment.

But after falling below the 4600 level annually during the Great Recession, on the job fatalities have risen since 2013, reaching 5190 in 2016, according to the US Bureau of Labor statistics. (Source: Salon Media Group)

John Quessy