Boeing Australia Employee Contracts
The Hon. IAN WEST: My question is addressed to the Minister for Industrial Relations. What action has the Government taken to assist in resolving the long-running Boeing industrial dispute in Williamtown?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: I thank the Hon. Ian West for his question and acknowledge his ongoing interest in this very important matter. The industrial dispute at the Boeing maintenance plant at Williamtown air base near Newcastle has dragged on for more than 160 days. Some 27 aircraft mechanical engineers at the air base have been seeking to negotiate a collective agreement with their employer, Boeing Australia Ltd, which, in turn, simply refuses to participate in the negotiation process. The New South Wales Government is greatly concerned about the inadequacy of current Federal industrial relations arrangements to resolve this matter and the impact on the workers and the families involved. That is why the Iemma Government has stepped in and referred the matter to the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission under the ministerial reference power of the State Industrial Relations Act. I have asked the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission to inquire into a number of issues, including the potential economic impact that this dispute is having on the region and the State and the possible health and safety concerns—
The Hon. Robyn Parker: Tell us how many workers are on individual contracts?
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: The Hon. Robyn Parker thinks it is good that the company is starving Australian families. I acknowledge that interjection and thank the honourable member. The Hon. Robyn Parker agrees with the Prime Minister and supports Boeing rather than Hunter Valley workers, who are doing the right thing by their families and standing up to that multinational company. We find faults in the law all the time. I have also asked the commission to report on whether it can take any action to assist the parties in resolving this dispute.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. John Ryan to order.
The Hon. JOHN DELLA BOSCA: This step is necessary because of the failure of the Commonwealth Government to resolve this matter. It is a national disgrace and a clear example of how the industrial relations system will be managed under the Howard Government's brave new world of workplace relations: conflict will rule over co-operation, bullying will take the place of negotiation and intimidation will take the place of fairness. But it is a national disgrace that the Boeing company has the unqualified support of the Prime Minister of this country. We could talk about loyalty, treachery and sedition—that is a valid debate. But what about the lack of loyalty, the treachery and the sedition displayed in undermining the working conditions of Australian families in this disgraceful way?
Although it has the power, the Howard Government has consistently refused to intervene in this matter—indeed, it has prevented the Australian Industrial Relations Commission from attempting to resolve the dispute. John Howard has declared that Boeing is "within its rights" and that the dispute "is not the result of an unfair law or perfidy by the company". The Government has actively supported one of the world's largest and most powerful corporations in a one-sided battle with Hunter Valley engineers and their families. This disregard for both the rights of a work force and the principles of conciliation is exactly the sort of industrial belligerence that the Commonwealth is trying to force upon all workplaces through its new legislation.
Australian workers and their families expect protection from such needless conflict and they deserve to have an independent umpire resolve unfair contests. Our work force should have the democratic right to choose to bargain collectively, as it has done for a century. However, seeing the Commonwealth's radical agenda as a green light, Boeing Australia Ltd has decided to deny its work force this fundamental right—which its American workers enjoy. These are the sorts of workplace relations that Mr Howard wants to impose on all Australians.