Australian workers have had a big win over a conservative government doing it’s best to destroy unions. Since coming to power in 2013 the conservative federal government has been seeking to introduce legislation that would give the government power to deregister unions and union officials they don’t like. They thought they finally had the numbers to get the Orwellian named “Ensuring Integrity Bill” through both houses of parliament.
The law would allow unions to be deregistered for breaches in paperwork, like not having membership databases up to date, as well as actions that are illegal under Australian law but are fundamental rights under international law – like taking strike action in support of sacked workers, stopping work over occupational health and safety breaches or having union officials exercise their right of entry. It’s clear that the proposed law would violate ILO Convention 87, along with others.
While conservative politicians in Australia want the power to closely regulate unions and restrict the rights of workers, they clearly have another set of rules for big business. In the same week as the union-busting law went to parliament, one of Australia’s largest banks, Westpac Banking Corporation, was revealed to have breached money laundering and counter-terrorism laws an extraordinary 23 million times. The government, however, was not seeking more power to “ensure integrity” amongst corporations, to stop this flagrant illegal behaviour, nor to have the bank shut down.
Australian unions denounced the hypocrisy. Workers supported a widespread campaign within Australia y to convince the cross-bench Senators to vote against the bill. PSI and affiliates joined the many who wrote to, tweeted or called the cross-bench Senators urging them not to sign the bill and to respect international standards protecting freedom of association. The international solidarity was appreciated by Australian unionists who finally saw the Bill defeated by just one vote.
The government has vowed to continue trying to undermine workers rights. But the union movement in Australia and globally has vowed to match it with our power of solidarity, passion and genuine integrity.