• Short Summary

    Sydney. For twenty-four hours, the buses were off the roads - the tracks were empty,?

  • Description

    Sydney. For twenty-four hours, the buses were off the roads - the tracks were empty, and there wasn't a train running through the length and breadth of New South Wales. The ferries were tied up, in the Harbour - but the car parks were full.

    The rolling strikes which have paralysed Australia's transport systems - state by state, city by city have been a direct reaction to the gaoling of a union official for contempt of court. In a wider sense, they're an attack by the unions on what they call the penal clauses of Australia's labour laws - Pay and conditions in each industry are decided by an independent arbitrator and are incorporated in what is known as an award: Employers can apply to have a clause placed in that award banning strikes. that's where a higher court with judicial powers comes in. And that's where the penal clauses come in. If there's a strike or the threat of a strike, the employers can ask this higher court to prohibit the union from engaging in any ban or limitation on work. If the union persists, the court has the power to fine the union. If the fine isn't paid, they can call the union official to appear before them, and fine him or send him to gaol for contempt of court. Since these penal clauses were introduced in 1956, they've been under continuous verbal and occasionally industrial attack by the unions.

    The chairman of the Australian Council of Trade Unions - the Australian equivalent of the T.U.C. has said that they were deliberately inserted in the laws to provide the employers with the highest degree of preferential economic power by destroying or nullifying the industrial strength of the workers organised in their trade unions. He's maintained that they deny the right to strike, that any attempt to exercise it is used as an excuse to bankrupt the unions through excessive fines and extortionate legal costs. The supporters of the penal clauses say that without these sanctions then, the laws would have not teeth, and that one might as well scrap the arbitration system. Some of the bigger unions say they wouldn't mind. They might do as well for their members through collective bargaining with the employers. Smaller unions which get the most benefit from the arbitration system, and have the least power to make effective use of collective bargaining are nevertheless just as vocal in their criticism. All this is little consolation to the Australians who had to walk to work.

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    Media URN:
    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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    Available on request
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