Australian workers are up in arms over government proposals that threaten labor rights. Filipino migrants show their solidarity by joining protest actions, the biggest Down Under since the Iraq war protests.
BY CAESAR BEN BASAN A. BAROñA
Filipino migrants under Migrante Philippines-Australia joined Australia’s huge workers’ rallies – the biggest in years since the Iraq war protests – against the Howard government’s proposed industrial relations changes.
Around 300 rallies across Australia were held simultaneously on Nov. 15. Participation was estimated from a conservative number of a quarter of a million to more than half a million marchers, reflecting the unpopularity of the proposed workplace changes. This despite the A$50 million already spent by the Federal Government to promote “Work Choices” in advertisements across the country.
One protest observer said: “This is democracy in action, mate.”
The new unified laws being spearheaded by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, are feared to undermine workers’ wages and conditions. Under the proposed radical changes, collective work agreements could possibly be replaced with individual contracts and unfair dismissal laws may be scrapped, unions said. Unemployed people can also be forced into individual agreements under the proposed laws.
The Howard Government claims that Australian industrial relations laws are antiquated, and does not reflect the needs of Australia to be competitive in the changing global economy. Labor markets are perceived by business groups and the ruling coalition to be inflexible and detrimental to economic growth and business flexibility.
The workplace arrangement arrangements, however, have been criticized as an attack on working people. Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, claims: “”This is the Americanisation of our industrial relations system.” In the U.S., minimum wages are pegged at $5.15, at a standstill for 10 years when they were $5.
Migrante members in Sydney distributed leaflets among the rally participants, drawing enthusiastic reactions from Australian workers who were delighted by the sympathetic participation of a migrant community. In the statement, Migrante declared its support for the protests. Migrante denounced the proposed workplace laws because “human and workers’ rights (will be) trampled upon and eroded systematically through the Howard Government’s anti-people and anti-worker legislative push.”
Drawing a parallel from economic policies in the Philippines, Migrante members further stated: “We originated from countries where casualisation of labour, subcontracting and eroded worker’s rights, if not totally absent, are the order of the day. This government economic agenda has only caused further economic ruin and human and worker’s rights violations in our respective former homelands.”
Migrant lamented that with the proposed changes, “egalitarian values and the social contract in which ordinary and working class Australians get a fair share of and benefit from its economic growth and are assured protection in tough and extreme times” will be imperiled.
“We now find that these ideals are fast disappearing and that we must now brace ourselves, together with the rest of the Australian people, to fight, to regain and reaffirm these very basic of people’s and worker’s rights.”
Earlier, on Nov. 10, Migrante members held a prayer vigil in front of Sydney Town Hall. Organised by Migrante, the Philippine-Australia Women’s Organisation PAWA, Action for Peace and Development in the Philippines (APDP), Philippines-Australia Youth Organisation and the Philippines-Australia Union Links (PAUL), the picket was held in front of road and pedestrian traffic in the busy Sydney Central Business District.
The vigil highlighted the cases of alleged human rights violations in the Philippines and the alleged gang rape of a 22-year-old Filipina by U.S. servicemen at Olongapo, Subic Bay on Nov. 1.
Maria Eva Tingson of the Philippines-Australia Women’s Association said “the cases of summary execution apparently by forces of the Philippine Government and the rape of our sister by U.S. servicemen are serious challenges to Philippine democracy, human rights, and sovereignty”.
Ms Tingson emphasised that “Filipinos are losing patience with politicians who claim to be tough on terror and (claim to be) defenders of freedom and democracy, whilst these atrocities are committed by their very forces. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and President George W. Bush will only have credibility if they ensure justice to all victims of human rights abuses and the sexual crimes of U.S. servicemen”.
“But if recent history is any guide, we can expect the Arroyo Government to be weak and servile to the demands of the U.S., and the rape and suffering of the Filipina will be swept under the carpet in the rush to comply with the wishes of the U.S.”.
Edwin Subijano of Migrante called on the Australian Government to demonstrate its policy of engagement with the Philippines. He challenged the Australian Government “to deliver results in the promotion of human rights, accountability and justice.”
“Australia is engaged in ‘counter-terrorism’ training in the Southern Philippines, as well as training Philippine military personnel in Australia. Meanwhile, perpetrators of summary executions in the Philippines – often alleged military or paramilitary personnel – are not brought to justice, but appear immune to prosecution, while witnesses, victims and their families are left to fear for their safety”, he said.
“The Australian Government should seek an end to these human rights abuses, and a commitment from the Philippine Government to bring perpetrators to justice. More than the threat from the terror, the greatest danger for democratic institutions in the Philippines is the perception that the Philippine Government and its agencies are either complicit in the murders, or incapable of ensuring justice is done,” he added. (Bulatlat.com)