ACTU was right to attack WorkChoices, says Lawrence


ACTU was right to attack WorkChoices, says Lawrence

The incoming Secretary of the ACTU believes the Federal Government should apologise to the trade union movement over its claims that the effect of WorkChoices on workers was being exaggerated.


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The incoming Secretary of the ACTU believes the Federal Government should apologise to the trade union movement over its claims that the effect of WorkChoices on workers was being exaggerated.

In an interview with Laurie Oakes on Channel 9, Jeff Lawrence said that when the ACTU started its anti-WorkChoices campaign ‘the government said to us that we were making up stories about the disadvantage to workers’.

‘But in fact we now know that John Howard and the government knew that workers would be disadvantaged by WorkChoices and despite that, they pressed on with the legislation,’ Lawrence said.

‘So, I think that the government owes the ACTU, Greg Combet and Sharon Burrow, and particularly all those workers who were disadvantaged and actually had the courage to tell their case, it owes all of them an apology for what’s been done.’

‘Good’ relationship with ALP

Lawrence said that if a Labor government was elected later this year he expected the ACTU would have a ‘good’ relationship with it, but it ‘won’t be the same as occurred under the Hawke and Keating governments’.

‘But we have our points of view,’ he said. ‘We will be putting those to a Labor Government and we expect that we’ll be listened to just like other members of the community will be listened to.’

No seat on Reserve Bank Board

Lawrence said he did not expect a seat on the Reserve Bank Board, as has been the case with previous ACTU secretaries Bob Hawke and Bill Kelty.

‘I think circumstances have changed,’ he said. ‘The Reserve Bank is independent. It will remain independent under a Labor Government. I think the important thing is for the trade union movement to have its say in the broader community. I don’t think seats on boards are really necessarily the way that that happens.’

Rights at work campaign will continue

Lawrence said the current Your Rights At Work campaign would continue after the election regardless of which side won.

‘It is our view that we need to continue that campaign,’ he said.

Oakes: ‘Even after the election?’

Lawrence: ‘It’s essential, I think, that the trade union movement puts its view of the sort of society that it wants, into the public arena.

Oakes: ‘Irrespective of who wins?

Lawrence: ‘Irrespective of who wins Laurie. The circumstances, of course may well be different. What we need to do might be different, but I think it’s essential that that sort of campaign that we’ve undertaken continues. I think it’s been a very good campaign. We’ve shown that there are really key aspects of Australian society that need to be preserved and in particular, the level of equality that we’ve had, so I think it’s really essential that we continue to make our case.

Oakes: ‘Now, is that a kind of threat to an incoming Rudd government, that you’ll continue a campaign so they’d better not step out of line?

Lawrence: ‘No, no, not at all. It is just simply saying that we have a vision of Australian society, we’ve got a vision of the industrial system, and we’ll continue to argue for that.’

Rogue union officials

Asked whether Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd was right to get rid of rogue union officials from the ALP, Lawrence said that is ultimately a matter for the party and the application of its rules.

‘The union movement reflects industry and the unions that I think you’re referring to operate in tough industries and so, therefore, I think the job of the ACTU is to defend those unions and to defend those union officials when their rights are actually being attack and we’ll continue to do that,’ Lawrence said.

Oakes: ‘Would you expect a Labor Government to adopt a more tolerant attitude towards unions and union behaviour than the current government?

Lawrence: ‘I would expect a Labor Government to implement legislation which is fair and reasonable. The Construction Legislation, for example, is not fair and reasonable. It’s repressive and so is WorkChoices. So, that’s what I expect and anticipate a Labor Government will do.’


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