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The WorkChoices Zombie

Bring It On

Let’s put aside the irony of a Liberal government, the preacher of the ills of ‘big government’, spending $45 million to reach its expensive Royal Commission tentacles into the operation of trade unions. Let’s put aside the obvious political nature of such a witch-hunt, designed to reduce the power of unions to negotiate on behalf of workers, a seek and destroy mission with the pincer-movement aim of a) benefiting employers at the big end of town, b) reducing unions’ capacity to contribute funds to Labor election campaigns and c) to discredit Labor MPs with union backgrounds. For now, putting these contradictions and political trickery aside, which are so wholly obvious to us but strangely not apparently obvious nor interesting to commentators in the mainstream media, let’s instead look at the Trade Union Royal Commission’s findings in relation to the lives of those people the commission paradoxically claim to represent the interests of; workers.

Using my own situation as a worker and union member as a representative case study, I note with alarm that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has proclaimed the findings of the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) as justification to fight an election over industrial relations. Clearly Turnbull thinks that there is a large enough problem in the trade union movement, a movement just as separate to the operations of government as a private company, that he’s pushing this problem to the top of his government’s agenda. The handful of bogey-man union officials who have been cited in the TURC findings as having acted not in the best interest of workers, are now the government’s enemy number one. As a union member, I don’t like to hear about my union funds being used to fund union officials’ extravagant lifestyles, nor do I appreciate reports of criminal activity, which appear to be almost entirely confined to rogue elements in construction unions. But, as a worker and a member of a young family, a woman, a parent to a young child who has childcare and then her whole education in front of her followed by a job search, a mortgage holder, a South Australian, a buyer of groceries, a daughter of aging parents, a wife to a husband who works in the manufacturing industry and a member of a society experiencing the scary and increasingly apparent effects of climate change, I must admit, the conduct of a few dodgy union officials in industries I don’t work in, whose conduct hasn’t been proven to adversely impact the conditions of workers they represent, is about as high on my list of ‘what is the government doing about this?’ priorities as the fate of Johnny Depp’s girlfriend’s court case over the illegal entry of small dogs.

And even if I did care deeply about the conduct of some dodgy union officials in the construction industry (which I don’t), I care a thousand times more deeply about those union officials having the freedom to do their job to help safeguard the safety of workers on construction sites. I’m pleased there are union officials stopping work when they see risks to workers, because it’s blatantly clear that if the union officials didn’t care, no one would. This is because it’s obvious that many construction employers care far more about the speed of their profit making than they do the safety and wellbeing of their employees. So if it wasn’t for the unions stepping in to insist on safety, far more accidents and deaths would occur. I would have thought a responsible government would be more concerned about safety on construction sites than the isolated actions of a few bad apple unionists. Especially after that very same government were so upset about the deaths of four insulation installers that they held a Royal Commission into a government program that funded the private companies whose unsafe work practices led to the tragic deaths of workers. Another Royal Commission aimed at hurting the Labor Party; do you see a pattern forming here?

I notice a day after the release of the TURC findings, the ABC News Radio poll asking ‘In your experience, are unions riddled with ‘deep-seated’ and ‘widespread’ misconduct?’, after 3,466 votes have been cast, found 74% said ‘no’.

Web Poll Unions TURC

This result suggests I’m not alone in my perception of the TURC findings as more of a political statement than the experience of union members.

As a worker, it would be wholly irrational for me to congratulate, or indeed vote for a government vowing to smash the power of unions. As a worker in an economy with stagnant wage growth, it would be counterproductive for me to encourage my government to give employers, who already hold an elephant-on-a-seesaw-unequal position of power in the Goliath-capital battle with David-the-workers, any more power to define my working conditions. Because let’s face it, not every employer wants to pay the minimum wage, without penalty rates, minimum entitlements and no chance of a pay rise. But enough employers do (take a look at 7-eleven) so that the entire wage structure of the country would be pulled down without unions pushing back against the floodgates. When former PM Tony Abbott said WorkChoices was dead-buried-and-cremated, workers always knew that it would only take a second-term Liberal government 5 minutes to resurrect the WorkChoices zombie from the grave; a zombie whose bite is fatal to workers’ rights.

Therefore, if Turnbull wants to play this game and if he is really serious that dodgy union officials are the biggest threat facing our country, and his highest agenda item in an election, I echo Bill Shorten’s words on hearing Turnbull’s plans: BRING IT ON. And so say all of us.

This post was originally published at John Menadue – Pearls and Irritations: JohnMenadue.com/blog


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  1. Heather

    Been a member of various unions all my life. They have been the best support and have valiantly fought for my and others rights. I will always support the unions.

  2. brickbob

    I think a lot of workers are under the impression that since the Unions have successfully negotiated good wages and conditions for them they can rest easy and just sit back and enjoy them, but of course nothing could be further from the truth.

    As fast as the Unions improve the working conditions the faster a lot of the employers will tear them down,so i urge all workers to support and join a Union,dont sit back on your laurels and think everything will stay the same because as we are seeing they wont.

    Stand up and fight for your rights at work,because if you dont,they will diisappear in a nano second.”””

  3. townsvilleblog

    I can only support the suggestions of the previous two contributors to this post. The LNP are going all out to try to besmirch the standing of unions because they know that the unions are one of the only organizations who will stand against their unfair push to lower wages in this country, just ask yourself could you live on $50 less per week, not many could. We pensioners are having to initiate cutbacks in the face of this LNP government’s attacks on pensioners, we survive on $300 per week. We have bills to pay, mortgage/rent electricity petrol food and everything else that ordinary people have to pay, insurance and registration fees. Unless you want to go backward, vote LNP last on the ballot paper, please, if you don’t do it for yourself, do it for your parents or your grand parents. The last union I was a member of was the ASU and their treatment of me in the face of a bad boss was exemplary, they were so good.

  4. Faye Cox

    Townsville, I am a member of the A.S.U. and have found their protection of workers to be exemplary also.
    I am always frustrated by those who say that “I don’t need a Union because they get me the benefits anyway” . It’s like addressing a brick wall. Some workers just don’t understand that the benefits that they enjoy can be taken away without Union support.

  5. flohri1754

    Hear, hear to the column and all the comments. It is certainly true that too many “ordinary people” currently are taking for granted the pay and conditions they (hopefully) enjoy …. such things only exist so long as a constant defense is made of them. All corporations and companies and businesses are in existence to make profit — that is their only mandated reason for existence, Decent, “living” wages eat into those profits, so of course said organizations will ALWAYS be trying to decrease those wages. Hence the vital need for effective ” combinations” or unions of the salaried to work to preserve wages and conditions. A never ending struggle, one side cannot surrender else it will be trampled by the other.

    Another VERY good article on much the same lines into today’s CANBERRA TIMES by the estimable Richard Denniss:


  6. Matthew Oborne

    Dead Buried cremated, written in blood sounds more like Voodoo than a catholic!

    The Liberals Have had this obsession of leaving workers at the mercy of employers to the point where it is unstoppable, unions need Labor to stop being afraid of cementing union power, It is bad enough that we have a Liberal government and the usual suspects like health and education lose funding but to have them go after organisations apart from government like unions is an extreme abuse of power.

    Labor wont win this election going through the motions or just fighting the Libs on workers rights they need to have a bigger grander vision for unions retaking their position in our lives again and for people to have the better conditions that give opportunities and make lives more than just drudgery.

    Everyone has the right to be in a union and unions have a legal right to strike says most QC’s

    unions bring democracy to workplace tyrannies.

    Simply put if your job has you in fear because of pressures that are manufactured to keep you from asking for too much then a union needs to sort them out because Frankly that is what they are meant to do and we need make no apologies for that.

  7. diannaart

    Hear! Hear! Victoria.


    The Federal Government has vowed to re-introduce legislation re-establishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission and wants it passed by the end of March next year.
    Mr Turnbull warned he was prepared to fight an election if Parliament did not support the measure.

    As Victoria said, “bring it on Mr Turnbull, bring it on!”

  8. Keith

    Not only was the Royal Commission used by the neo cons as a means to break down Labor; but also, to be used as an election lever to bring in Work Choices.
    They need an election as soon as possible to keep some distance from an election and break down of the vehicle manufacturing industry.
    The budget is blowing up and that is a further reason to have an election early.

    But, where is Labor?

  9. trishcorry

    Hear Hear! Bring it on! There have been two periods of my life when I have been genuinely scared and worried about our future because of the Govt and that was during the period of Work Choices and under the Campbell Newman Govt.

  10. stephentardrew

    Staunch unionist even when a manager. Great support and counter too corporate greed and malfeasance. The few bad apples are not representative of the large movement.

  11. JeffJL

    Victoria. Good article. (Always compliment before complaining {sigh}). I wish people like Mr Shorten would not use the phrase “Bring it On” following George Bush’s use of it during the Gulf War II. Too many bad after effects.

    @Keith. From what I have been reading on Twitter (check out Brendan O’Connor’s twitter feed) they are trying but are being edited by the MSM.

  12. lawrencewinder

    Good commentary….Malcon made a shambles with the Godwin Grech beat-up… Malcon has stuffed up the removal of the incompetents, Briggs and Brough, Malcon is only a legend in his own mind and the NBN will be his epitaph but the whole sordid ruling rabble need removal before this nation can go forward.

  13. Chrispen

    Unions bashing is similar to the anti-vaxxers stance. they haven’t seen the bad times so see no need for protection.

  14. Sen Nearly Ile

    wow turnball?????. The anal/isis shows the ABC gets about 14% and 26% of them think dyson is right. How depressing???????????? Little billy has a lot to do with being seen to support the unions.
    Is he up to putting an argument like Victoria on the commercial TV???????

  15. Wayne Turner

    Spot on article.

    Notice how the attack against workers rights and unions always comes up when the Liberal party are in. AKA the anti-worker party Libs.

    Turnbullsh*t = A better speaking idiot Abbott.

    Same Libs,different misleader.

  16. Jexpat

    Considering how things worked out with George Bush II, “Bring it on” may not be the best choice of “fighten’ words.”

    I suppose it’s better than Labor right’s ever present cry of “we agree in principle!” or the Meg Lees Di Natale wing of the Green Party shouting: “bring us more wine from the poisoned chalice.”

  17. Michael

    I haven’t come across the “dead-buried-cremated” tag, attributed to one of our iconic Rhodes scholars, for a while – but when it was first pronounced it seemed to me to be a safe bet that as cremation after burial would be close to an impossibility that at the appropriate time in the future when (work choices, etc, etc) would be re-introduced the design of this sequence would be relied on as an obvious impossibility (haw, haw, haw) with an invitation to all of us silly people to look through the gate of yet another politically provable unbroken promise.
    What I am trying to figure out (a) why this was not made obvious before, (b) steps not taken to correct the sequence not least for the likes of me, and (c) I do hope I haven’t blown this carefully laid plan.

  18. RosemaryJ36

    Dead – buried – cremated is a possible option if one allows for exhuming the corpse before cremating it – and Abbott’s supporters are hoping to exhume him. If they succeed, the stench would probably result in a rapid incineration!

  19. Wun Farlung

    I urge everyone here to talk up Union values with anyone that says ‘Unions have never done anything for me’ or parrot the LNP/IPA line

  20. seawork

    Fine by me to stop union payments to pollies but all payments from anyone including corporations must also be stopped

  21. Michael

    At least they can claim they are in the workforce by following their own mantra of “work for the dole” – and chosen for their generosity in the dispensing of our common wealth and prove that they are unfulfilled in life and all they need to do is follow the program of “democracy for sale”.
    What’s wrong with us voters??

  22. Tony Rabbit

    If only this government went after all the corrupt workers in the high finance sector!

    Then again, Labor did also vote against a RC in it, so what hope will we ever have!

  23. Anomander

    Why is it when ordinary workers joining a union to collectively bargain for better safety, pay, conditions and entitlements – this is a bad thing that undermines our economy and makes us less competitive?

    Yet, when groups of business people join together to form their own lobbying groups, to push their own agenda, like eliminating penalty rates or the minimum wage – that’s a good thing which can only help drive the economy?

  24. JeffJL

    @Terry2. My back of the envelope calculations make it about 10,000 people using the loop hole (5 days a week at $150/day). [Thinking about it the 10,000 will be very conservative. I was working on the gov providing the full amount but that cannot be checked. No demonisation campaign here though unlike if they had been unemployed. They were just business people swapping kids.]

    My spider sense says that Kay is probably hitting the typewriter now coming up with a response.

  25. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Unions v NON-unions. No argument.

    Unions win out. Ged and Dave are great stalwarts for Aussie workers.

    But, my question is what about NON-workers who WANT to be workers in meaningful employment that meets their expertise, qualifications and skills? Even OMG! Mature-age women or inexperienced, unaffiliated people.

    NOT so much passion expressed.

    This is one reason why my belief in organised unions/Labor is waning worryingly.

    They pay lip-service to the languishing poor on welfare who WANT employment but that’s where it goes. Piss weak.

  26. captainwise

    Another ripper from Victoria, she really has her finger on the pulse with this one.
    Keep them coming in 2017 Ms Rollinson, your insight from the perspective of ordinary folk may just reach some of those non thinking non aware and not engaged people who vote in blinkers.

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