MOREthan 800 people gathered in Footscray to protest against the Howard Government’s industrial relations laws last Sunday.
The protest was organised by the Western Suburbs Community and Union Coalition and brought together residents and community groups such as migrant organisations, churches, legal centres, workers rights groups, union officials and local councillors.
Federal Member for Gellibrand Nicola Roxon also attended.
Protesters gathered for a protest picnic in Yarraville Gardens, Footscray.
Coalition member Justin Mullaly said it was important that community groups networked as it was these groups that workers would first approach with their concerns and the organisations needed to be informed about who they could turn to for assistance when the IR laws began to affect the community.
Mr Mullaly said most of the new laws stripped workers of their “hard-fought for rights”.
He said the legislation allowed a company employing 100 or fewer workers to sack someone without reason. Awards and penalty rates could also be scrapped under the new laws.
“There is also a movement away from collective agreements to individual agreements with employers,” Mr Mullaly.
“Two workers doing the same work could get different rates of pay and conditions for the exactly the same performance of a task, depending on their relationship with their employer.”
City of Maribyrnong mayor Janet Rice said at the rally that some of the most vulnerable workers lived in the municipality.
She said there were a number of people from migrant and refugee backgrounds who struggled with English and would find it difficult to negotiate their individual contractual agreements with employers.
Cr Rice gave the example of local Sudanese residents who were employed by a factory who agreed to pay them $16 an hour but later paid them only $14 an hour.
“They didn’t know who to go to, they thought they could go to the police to complain.”
Tania Mykyta, managing solicitor at the Footscray Community Legal Centre said she had not as yet been approached by workers to explain the new legislation.
But she said that if there was a demand in the community to have the laws explained she would ask workers rights group, Job Watch, to hold a workshop in Footscray.
Ms Roxon told the Star the only way to overturn the new legislation was to vote the Howard Government out at the next election.
“It will take time for the community to feel the affects of the new legislation and understand what John Howard is doing,” she said.
“Labor is absolutely committed to tearing-up the legislation, it has no good news for Australian workers, and I don’t think it has any good news for businesses either.”
Mr Mullaly said the Labor Party would need to supply a clear statement of support for workers and produce a policy that would nullify the new IR laws to convince workers of their intentions.
Further protests are expected to be held by the Western Suburbs Community and Unions Coalition. A mass rally will be held on 28 June in the city but details are yet unconfirmed.
Inquiries about workers rights: Job Watch 1800 331 617