Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Across Australia more than 100,000 people have rallied to protest against the federal government’s controversial Workchoices workplace reforms. According to estimates by police, the largest rally was held in Melbourne where more than 80,000 people were thought to be in attendance. The earlier protest in Sydney attracted some 30,000 protesters.
Smaller protests were held in other cities throughout the country.
At most rallies, members of the opposition and union leaders addressed the crowd, criticising the Howard government’s changes. Under the Workchoices system, centralised wage fixing was abolished and meal breaks, holidays and working hours became negotiable. Businesses with less than 100 employees were also given increased powers to dismiss workers. Unions and the opposition claim that the system will reduce worker’s rights and wages.
Australian federal opposition leader, Kim Beazley attended the Melbourne rally where he addressed the crowd. He said those who attended the rallies were patriots who were standing up to defend the Australian lifestyle. “This is a battle for ordinary Australian life,” he said
“This is a battle for Australian families. It’s also a battle for basic dignity in the workplace.
“You are the people that made this nation what it is.
“You are the builders of this nation. You are the true Australian patriots.”
Mr Beazley again promised that a government under his leadership would abolish the reforms.
“When we get into office in 18 months time, we will rip up these laws,” he said.
“Then we are going to put in place laws based on true Australian values.”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), which represents a large number of employers in Australia said the total number of protesters across Australia was less than 150, 000 and labelled the protests as a day of “inaction”, despite unions calling for a “day of action”.
Peter Hendy, chief executive of the ACCI said the turnout figure is less than 10 per cent of the membership of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, which encouraged workers to participate in a “national day of action” to “protect rights at work”
Mr Hendy said only 2 percent of Australian workers participated in the protests.
South Australia Unions secretary, Janet Giles said the protests showed the dislike ordinary workers have for the laws.
“What today’s demonstrated is that the momentum of this campaign is not waning, that union members, workers, community members are out today again to say we’re still determined to campaign against these laws,” she said.