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Border protection - saving Australian workers from third-world conditions

By Peter Lewis - posted Tuesday, 12 August 2003

The High Court's decision that Australian labour laws should apply to cargo ships plying our shores could be the first shot in the fight back against the excess of corporate globalisation.

This is the case of the Australian seafarers who barricaded themselves on board the CSL Yarra, a ship running freight between Australian ports, when their Canadian owners re-flagged the ship to the Bahamas and announced it would replace its workforce with Ukranians who would be paid Third World wages.

The High Court last week ruled that workers employed directly and exclusively to service Australia should have the benefit of Australian award wages and conditions.


In doing so, the High Court has blown the whistle on the creep of free trade, which has seen the jobs of Australian factory workers, clothing workers, IT workers and even call-centre workers exported to nations where the absence of an award safety net make their wages significantly lower.

If the maritime unions had lost this case, how long would have been before hotels, building developments and resource companies were also seeking exemptions?

The decision should not be overstated but it is significant for a few things: (i) our highest court has found there are limits to the global labour market and (ii) our national government argued vehemently that this shouldn't be the case.

To those of us who were sickened by the base wedge politics of the last federal election it is a bitter irony that the Howard government is such a champion of economic globalisation.

Indeed, in bilateral talks with the US it has been Howard who has been blocking the Bush Administration's (albeit reluctant) push for the incorporation of global labour standards.

During the last federal election campaign, the MUA ran some newspaper advertisements that asked the simple question: "why does John Howard want to keep one boat out and let all the others in?"


Like so much of that campaign, the message was swamped by the mass hysteria induced by the Howard Government's campaign to "secure our borders" by illegally blockading the Tampa, fabricating the children overboard affair and lying doggo while more than 300 asylum seekers drowned.

But the words ring true long after the panic of northern invasion from terrorists masquerading as the victims of the same despotic regimes that sponsor terrorism evaporated into the whiff of political rhetoric that it always was.

The fraud of John Howard is that while he makes great play of keeping our borders protected from foreigners, he actively supports companies that want to export our jobs offshore.

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About the Author

Peter Lewis is the director of Essential Media Communications, a company that runs strategic campaigns for unions, environmental groups and other “progressive” organisations.

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