Unions vow to continue

Unions have vowed to continue the campaign against the Howard government's industrial relations laws, following successful national protests at more than three hundred venues across Australia and the involvement of more than 264,000 people (with Perth and other WA rally attendances yet to be included).

The ACTU said that significant numbers of workers rallied across Australia today despite intimidation from the federal government and strong pressure to stay at work from many employers.

Under the new IR laws workers can be docked four hours pay for any unauthorised work stoppage and in businesses with less than 100 employees, workers have no protection from being sacked unfairly and can be sacked without warning.

Earlier this week, a Commonwealth public servant, Greg McCarron, was also forced to appeal to a Full Bench of the Federal Court just for the right to use his leave entitlements to attend today's protest against the government's IR laws.

In Melbourne, unions estimate that 60,000 people turned out at the MCG with Sharan Burrow, ACTU President, opening the rally by listing some of the unfair aspects of the new laws including the loss of protection from being sacked unfairly for millions of workers: 'The Howard government wants Australians, to 'sit down and shut up', and take what the employer offers ... You can be sacked without rhyme or reason and you have no right to defend yourself.'

"Kim Beazley received a rousing cheer when he promised that a future Labor government would tear up the IR laws."

'With AWA individual contracts, we are now a nation where employers can say, 'take it or leave it.' It is a fact that every AWA made under these laws has removed award conditions. Overtime pay, penalty rates, public holiday rates - these are all being systematically stripped away,' said Ms Burrow.

Speaking at the MCG rally and to the national broadcast, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said: 'It is undeniable that the longer these laws are in place, the more people will be directly affected. We are not engaging in a scare campaign as we have been accused by the government. Our aim is to win the support of Australian people by telling them the facts.'

Mr Combet revealed that the unions' would embark on a renewed push to overturn the IR laws with a concerted effort to win community support for a change of government: 'We will campaign in the wider community and ask people to vote for change. What we do now is not just for us, but also for our children and for future generations ... I am confident of our capacity to win.'

ALP Leader Kim Beazley addressed the national protest and received a rousing cheer from the crowd when he promised that a future Labor government would tear up the IR laws. Victorian Premier Steve Bracks also addressed the Melbourne rally, saying that the new laws are putting further pressure on working families.

Rocker Jimmy Barnes closed the unions' national rally satellite broadcast to an appreciative crowd with a terrific rendition of his famous song, 'Working Class Man'.

Qld Premier Peter Beattie addressed the Brisbane rally. NSW Premier Morris Iemma addressed the Sydney protest.

Union initial crowd estimates: 264,000 in total (not including Perth and WA rallies): Melbourne - 60,000 people; Victoria regions - 5,000; NSW - 116,000 including 40,000 in Sydney CBD; Canberra - 4,000; Adelaide - 30,000; SA regions - 1,000; Darwin - 2,500, NT regions - 500; Brisbane - 20,000; QLD regions - 25,000.

Fay Gervasoni is a member of the Evatt Foundation's executive committee.

Also on the Evatt site:

Also on the Evatt site about the IR changes: