Get Australians registered to vote on 'WorkChoices'

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Solidarity with Australian trade unions

Voter registration campaign

July 2007

The TUC has been asked to assist the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in encouraging Australians in Britain to register to vote in the forthcoming Australian election. This email explains the issues, and sets out the action which unions need to take.

Background

Australia will have a federal election before the end of 2007. The date of the election is likely to be between October and December 2007. This election is the first test of John Howard's Government's infamous 'WorkChoices' legislation, which is doing serious damage to Australian workers' rights.

'WorkChoices' undermines collective bargaining by promoting individual contracts, cutting overtime pay and wages, annual leave, sick leave, affecting work-life balance, unfair dismissal and more. At the same time, it restricts the ability of unions to defend their members, and the new so-called Fair Pay Commission is undermining minimum wage rates in Australia.

'WorkChoices' will be a key issue in this year's elections. And Britain will be key to the election outcome.

There are over 300,000 Australian voters working in the UK, many in highly unionised sectors like teaching and health - indeed the polling station with the highest number of votes cast in the Australian elections won't be Melbourne or Sydney, but London - at the High Commission on the Strand!

Knowing that many Australians abroad are not supporters of 'WorkChoices', John Howard's Government has changed the arrangements for registering to vote overseas. Instead of the traditional system where you could register for a week after the election was called (people are obviously more likely to use their right to register when they know an election is underway), now, Australians need to have registered before the election is called, and before all the public campaigning is underway.

So we need to urge Australians who are members of unions to register their vote, so they can have a say on 'WorkChoices'. (Studies show that Australians abroad are likely to vote 7:3 against 'WorkChoices'.)

Why is this an issue for British unions?

First, the number of Australians who are members of unions - we have a duty to make sure members can exercise their right to vote, wherever they come from. And many more union members have close relatives in Australia, so they will have an interest in what's happening there.

Second, the 'WorkChoices' legislation - condemned at the ILO - is bad for our trade union sisters and brothers in Australia and we owe them our solidarity.

Third, it could be bad for us, too. If governments around the world see John Howard getting away with 'WorkChoices', then others may follow.

What should unions do?
  • If they have any way of identifying or targeting Australians (anyone who was born there or has Australian citizenship can register to vote, and they don't lose their right to vote here if they do), contact them directly. Send them the voter registration forms or direct them to: www.aec.gov.au
  • Consider putting an article in the union journal, covering the impact of the 'WorkChoices' legislation, the need to register to vote to have a say, and details of how to do that - for further information sources, see below.
  • Consider putting an item on the website doing the same.
  • As voter registration has to be done by post or by fax (a further restriction is that it cannot be done online although the form can be downloaded), consider letting members use their local union office fax machine to send in their form.

Unions should also consider communicating with members with close relatives in Australia. They could help persuade their relatives to vote against the 'WorkChoices' legislation, by letting them know how unfair 'WorkChoices' is and reminding them what similar legislation did to the UK in the 1980s.

Further information
  • Find out more about 'WorkChoices', including strong human interest stories, illustrations etc, at the ACTU 'Your Rights at Work' website: www.rightsatwork.com.au
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