Labour bites

Black lung back

A fifth case of black lung disease has been confirmed in Queensland, prompting suggestions the numbers so far are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’. The potentially fatal disease, which can affect coal workers, was thought to have been eradicated in Australia, until new cases were discovered in Queensland’s coal industry last year.

CFMEU State Mining and Energy Division President Steve Smyth said the latest man to be diagnosed with black lung had submitted documents for a worker’s compensation claim this week and his Xrays and scans had been sent to the United States for further examination.

Apart from the five confirmed cases of black lung so far, there are another five ‘potential cases’ in which the patients are waiting for the results of tests. The Union has called for a public inquiry to examine a range of issues including why in the 21st century Australia does not have qualified people that can read Xrays to the required standard. (Source ABC).

Unions unite for quality

UK teachers’ unions are urging the government to ward off a “national crisis” in the profession, warning that increasing numbers of pupils face being taught by unqualified staff.

In an unusual joint submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body, the pay review body for England and Wales, six unions have combined to call for pay increases above the 1% annual level the Department for Education is seeking to offer over the next four years.

The letter highlights widespread concern within education over looming problems with recruitment, as schools report difficulties in attracting and retaining staff along with the squeeze on school budgets, which remain frozen in England despite being expected to fund pay increases.

“They must accept that we are facing a national crisis, not ‘a challenge’ in teacher supply, which means more children will be taught by teachers not qualified in the subject they teach,” argues the submission.

“The public sector pay policy of the past five years has depressed teachers’ real earnings to the extent that recruitment and retention are being seriously harmed” the letter concludes, saying that the Department’s published data “has failed to capture the scale of the crisis”. (Source: The Guardian)

Freedom of choice or freeloaders

The US Supreme Court is poised to deliver a significant decision regarding organised labour in the USA. In a closely watched case brought by 10 California teachers, the court’s conservative majority seemed ready to say that forcing public workers to support unions they have declined to join violates the First Amendment.

The Court will consider whether government workers who choose not to join unions may still be required to help pay for collective bargaining. Under California law, public employees who choose not to join unions must pay a ‘fair share service fee’ also known as an ‘agency fee’ typically equivalent to members’ dues. The fees, the law says, are meant to pay for collective bargaining activities, including the cost of lobbying activities. More than 20 states have similar laws.

Unions say the teachers’ First Amendment argument is a ruse. Non members are already entitled to refunds of payments spent on political activities like advertising to support a political candidate. Collective bargaining is different, the unions say, adding that the plaintiffs are seeking to reap the benefits of such bargaining without paying their fair share of the cost.

The larger threat, the unions and their supporters say, is that a decision in the plaintiffs’ favour would encourage many workers who are perfectly happy with the work of their unions to make the economically rational decision to opt out of paying for it. (Source: NY Times)

Chipping away

Workers at the successful Covered Bridge Potato Chip Factory in Canada are organising a boycott of their product, saying it’s the only way to gain traction in an ongoing labour dispute over pay and seniority.

“That’s why the people approached us to unionise,” said Carl Flanagan, a national UFCW representative. “It was all about the favouritism, so that somebody who’s been here five years should not get less hours than somebody who just started a month ago.”

With chips still coming off the assembly line, workers hope the boycott will steer negotiations back to the bargaining table.

The picketing employees hope they can get back to work soon. (Source: CTV Atlantic)

Compiled by John Quessy
IEU Secretary