Unions plan massive protest

Sydney, November 14:

Australian workers will stage the biggest protest in the country’s history tomorrow, bringing major cities to a halt over planned labour reforms, trade unionists warned today. The proposed new labour laws, which cut the power of unions in favour of individual workplace contracts, were passed by the lower house of parliament last week and go before the Senate later this month. They are being promoted by the conservative government as a means of creating jobs and boosting the economy but critics argue they will instead cut workers’ pay and rights to holidays, rest breaks, bonuses and allowances. Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Sharan Burrows said the demonstrations “will be the biggest ever protest and the start of a people’s movement against these laws”. The Australian Industry Group (AIG) of employers said in turn the rallies would be unlawful and encouraged its members to take action against any employees who attended.

Unionists predicted a turnout of hundreds of thousands of protesters. “I just dont think, when the chips are down like this — when we’re talking about our fundamental way of life, about certainty around our living standards, our family lives — that people will be cowed,” Burrows said, “There’s no doubt there’s growing opposition, there’s a deep anger and concern out there.” Prime Minister John Howard has pledged to use his coalition government’s new majority in the Senate to push through the laws despite opinion polls showing they have hit his popularity. He was forced to launch a major advertising campaign costing tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to convince the public the changes are vital to maintain Australia’s economic prosperity.