Workers find ways to take action to defend and advance their rights at work
Written by: Ned K. on 31 October 2020
Despite high unemployment and higher under-employment, workers across a range of industries are still finding ways to successfully struggle to defend and extend their interests.
Governments both state and federal, and private sector companies, have emphasized health and safety in the workplace and communities to control Covid-19. Workers have picked up on this and are cleverly using the state Workplace Health and Safety Acts to defend and extend their own health and safety in the workplace
There are provisions in these Acts which workers won after years of struggle which enable workers to cease unsafe work without loss of pay and enable safety representatives elected by workers to ban unsafe work.
Sometimes these actions make the headline news of the 24-hour news cycle, such as the construction workers in Sydney recently who ceased work due to unhealthy blocked toilets and the consequent potential for spread of germs to all workers on the site.
Another case that made the news was when two safety representatives at Canberra airport were stood down without pay for alerting the airport to unsafe practices by their contract security employer when a positive-tested Covid-19 person was not isolated at the airport.
There are other examples that do not make the headline 24-hour news cycle, such as process workers in a factory in the food industry who walked off the job to successfully get the employer to fix the air conditioning system in the killing room where poultry are slaughtered on their way to ending up at KFC or MacDonald's as the filling in a chicken burger!
In struggles such as these, the employer's knee jerk reaction has been to try and take some form of disciplinary action against the workers. However much to their disgust, the employers have been unsuccessful because the workers have skillfully exercised their limited democratic rights under health and safety laws. These laws, although with their limitations, give workers more room to move than Fair Work Act where almost all collective action by workers is banned and hefty fines apply if “unprotected action" is taken.
No doubt the employer class, especially the big employers whom governments usually kowtow to, will be looking at these safety laws and lobbying politicians to water them down to make them as feeble for workers as the Fair Work Act.
The limited democratic rights at work contained in the health and safety laws should and will be strongly defended by workers as part of an on-going campaign to defend and extend general rights of workers at work
Print Version - new window Email article