The Liberals have run a scare campaign to make industrial relations the biggest issue of the final week of the campaign. John Howard, Tony Abbott and Robert Doyle have been banging the drums for 4 days. Here is a collection of IR-related material from our recent sealed sections.

UNIONS PULL THE PLUG AT AUNTY
Melbournes most powerful radio broadcaster, ABC 774 morning host Jon Faine, finally woke up to the issue of industrial relations on Wednesday morning and opened his program interviewing Liberal leader Robert Doyle about the fact that despite 3000 pages of evidence at the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry relating to Victoria, the Bracks government had failed to make a single submission.

Lo and behold, at 11.15am on the same morning Jon Faine pulled the plug because of a compulsory stopwork meeting at the ABC demanded by the MEAA and the CPSU

It was on this very day in the election cycle back in 1999 that Jon Faine conducted his famous cup of tea interview with Jeff Kennett which some commentators later said influenced the result.

Unfortunately, the unions also appear to have pulled the plug on Auntys website, but when the staff return to work to cover the election
click here
to listen to that famous interview.

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Sealed section November 27

MELBOURNE’S MEDIA MISS THE IR STORY

Crikey’s IR editor, HR Nicholls, reports that the Bracks Government’s efforts to hush-up the looming IR crisis has been aided by a compliant media:

No wonder the Melbourne media has dismissed the Liberals’ desperate attempts to drum up Industrial Relations as a circuit breaker in their disastrous Victorian election campaign.

The meeja has largely ignored IR as an issue, even as it grows into a significant problem in Victoria, highlighted by damning evidence of institutionalised corruption during the Cole Royal Commission.

So why should they pay anything more than lip service to Robert Doyle’s desperate arm-waving over the issue now – even when it’s sitting under their nose.

Just yesterday, the meeja trooped out to Melbourne’s docks to witness the Prime Miniature unveiling the latest whiz-bang customs technology – a multimillion dollar X-ray facility designed to keep out weapons, drugs and refugees.

If hacks present for the pic-fac had done some digging, they would have discovered the site was a hotbed of Byzantine industrial warfare; the kind that has made Victoria the nation’s least productive work environment.

Initially a CFMEU site, trouble began when the militant AMWU muscled their way in on the pretext of supervising qualified Chinese technicians brought in to assemble the Made In China machinery.

Work ground to a halt while the unions conducted a demarcation arm wrestle, using “safety issues” as the usual charade, resulting in a compromise costing the project developers the price of accepting an overmanned closed shop.

Needless to say, news the PM was to open the site was kept from the unions, lest they throw an anti-Howard stunt. And so, the PM was quickly spirited through the site in case his presence upset the union bosses. Democracy in action.

Although IR is the only clear point of difference between the two major parties, The Age has not seen fit to provide much debate about it. Labor has promised to re-introduce its Fair Employment Bill. While the bill is supposedly concerned with protecting outworkers, its scope actually means that it brings ALL consultants/contractors under its umbrella as well. This is a real point of difference.

The Age has hardly mentioned the case of Sazeriya, the Japanese equivalent of McDonalds. Curious, since it is such a fascinating story. Despite what the company says, the main development will now not occur in Victoria. The company have a gutful of unions in Victoria. NZ looks like the new destination.

Tim Pallas had crisis meetings with Sazeriya last week to try and keep a lid on the situation.

The repercussions of Sazeriya are being watched carefully in the Japan, where Sazeriya is a stock market darling. While most Japanese firms are shrinking, Sazeriya is actually expanding. Sazeriya could have been a huge market for primary industry in rural and regional Victoria; its needs are enormous.

They went to the Bracks Government to arrange a deal with the unions before they set up operations. The problem is Monica Gould saw them make a deal with her own NUW, not the AMWU which regards it as their patch. Worst of all, nobody bothered to tell the AMWU. When they found out eventually, things just blew up. This is all about Bracks Government bumbling.

When Sazeriya exits Victoria, expect them to dump on the Government in a major way. They’ve brought a ton of money and followed all the unwritten rules of doing business in a Labor state – only to have Bracks mess it and entangle them in a destructive union turf war. News about Sazeriya’s difficulties is already making its way around Japanese business circles.

To be fair to The Age, IR has been too difficult for most of the TV journalists. Messrs Broadbent, Magazanik and O’Donohue have viewed IR as not worthy of significant coverage. It’s not surprising that with the Libs running on IR as their major issue they’ve been dismissive. After all, how could something be such an important election issue if they’ve failed to cover it for the preceeding three years?

The real story about IR is that rather than fighting, companies much prefer to slink away quietly. It’s hardly surprising that the companies are complaining about having their names used in the Liberal advertising – especially when they look at the polls and see another eight years minimum of Bracks in store.

With the polls all pointing to a landslide/massacre, it will be interesting to see whether The Age abandons its role as Steve Bracks’ babysitter and starts to apply some serious scrutiny to this damaging situation.

With the Libs on the verge of being reduced to a soccer team, it will be incumbent upon them to do more.

– HR Nicholls.

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Second sealed section November 27

THERE IS NO IR CALAMITY

A union worker called Henry Higgins writes:

Your “HR Nicholls” lives up to his hero’s name. That IR rant sounds like Reith on speed. You need to inject some balance into the debate. There are hundreds of good news stories where unions have bargained fairly and maturely with employers securing better conditions for thousands of people …you don’t hear of them because they are no fuss, even handed, totally decent union-employer
workplace deals.

Saizeriya is a mess – but the perpetrator has been dealt with by the unions and lost his job, and is also facing court soon. As for the Cole Royal Commission: there has been no finding of “institutionalised corruption” – the findings are not out till January 31 and most of the allegations are UNTESTED evidence, because the union lawyers were more often than not denied the chance to cross-examine witnesses. You might do well to examine the Cole Royal Commission’s media unit – one of the most expensive, well-resourced in living history.

They package up untested witness statements (not evidence, just untested claims) and send off these prepackaged delights to journalists many of whom unquestioningly run them as “fact” because they are too lazy seek out the other sides of the story or simply don’t understand IR, the workings and rules of a Royal Commission (much slacker than normal court procedure) or just don’t understand the political climate. At least the Fin Review (Ashley Crossland) has done a proper analysis of this spectacular 60 million dollar Howard-Abbott circus.

As for the Liberal IR ads, they are a disgrace.

Henry Higgins

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Second sealed section November 27

WHY THE AGE IS GOING SOFT ON IR

Dear Crikey,

One point missed by HR Nicholls in his neat summary of the media avoidance of the IR debate is the ‘Fairfax Experience’. The AMWU, CFMEU and ETU have focussed on a few major projects over the past three years. As an observer, it seems the union strategy has been simple (simplistic) and (short term) worker focussed. In a period of low construction activity, extend the life of these jobs, and the number of workers on site, and the allowances added on to negotiated project rates. The standout projects that have been subjected to union attention are easily identified through the AIRC hearing
listings, and include Federation Square, Orica’s Chlor-Alkali facility in Laverton, the Saizeriya project and the Age Tullamarine facility. The Age has from time to time reported on the troubles experienced by each of these projects, except for Tullamarine. It’s not rocket science. While the scheduled completion date for the Tullamarine facility continuously slipped, substantially as a result of productivity issues, we were still receiving colour supplements in our Age skiting about the state of the art facility and what it could do for us all (especially advertisers).

The transcripts of the AIRC hearings relating to the Tullamarine facility give a little of the flavour of the troubles on site, but most of the details of Fairfax IR management on that job are hidden from public view, as Union demands are conceded rather than risk further disruption on site.

Cheers

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Second sealed section November 26

DODGY LIBERAL ADS

The Victorian Libs are copping a shellacking for their dodgy ads where they specifically blame union bosses for the decision of numerous multinationals to close Victorian plants and move them interstate or overseas.

The ABC’s Jon Faine really hacked into the Libs on Tuesday morning which is the first time he’s decided that IR is a issue in the campaign.

The Libs got their mate from the Sunday Herald Sun, former Kennett spinner Donkey Dave Wilson, to beat up a scare story about IR – then feature the phoney “splash” on their dodgy ads as “news”.

A flight of capital out of Victoria (just look at the list of companies trying to sell electricity assets) is a big issue that has gone largely unremarked in this campaign but the Libs were wrong to go with these ads.

Victorian unions have played strongarm tactics over the past three years so you can imagine that no major employer wants to get them offside by leaving these ads unchallenged.

Six companies have now come forward asking that their name be removed but the Libs are holding firm, obviously believing that at least this gets people talking about IR.

Peter Fray

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