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03 March 2014

Abbott's green army will be paid poverty wages

Do you remember when Tony Abbott said before the election his 15000 green army of the unemployed 'to fix the environment' would be paid half the minimum wage? Me neither.

Here is what Bianca Hall says in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Under legislation introduced by Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday, green army participants, who will be aged 17 to 24, will work up to 30 hours a week.

Young people who fill the green army's ranks will be paid about half the minimum wage, earning between $304.20 and $493.70 a week.

The wages compare with $622.20 a week for the minimum wage and the basic rate of $250.50 a week for a single person getting Newstart, or the dole. The scheme is modelled on John Howard's Green Corps, and will be an alternative to work-for-the-dole programs.

The green army will undertake manual labour like cleaning up creeks and waterways, planting trees and putting up fences. A government of vision might have developed a very fast train network across Australia as part of a wider program to address climate change and tax the rich to pay for it.

The Abbott government is not a government of vision. It is a government of the one percent. Its only real focus is profit for business.

That is clear from the conditions under which the green army will be employed. Bianca Hall again:

Green army members will be exempt from Commonwealth workplace laws, including the Work Health and Safety Act, the Fair Work Act and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act.

In other words they will be workers on poverty wages without any basic protections. As Greens MP Adam Bandt said: Only Tony Abbott could create a 'workforce' where the workers aren't legally workers and have no workplace rights.

The US low wage model comes to mind.

And guess who will be targeted for conscription into the green army? Bianca Hall again:

The government will target indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, gap-year students, graduates and the unemployed.

Target means conscript. Those to be conscripted are the dispossessed, the poor, the disadvantaged and, the government hopes, the powerless.

There are a number of reasons for the Government setting up its green army. First it will cut the official youth unemployment rate, currently 12.4%. Second it will give the impression of doing something about climate change without actually doing anything substantial.

Third and most importantly from the point of view of the Abbott government it will create a sub-class of low paid workers and over the medium to long term put downward pressure on the wage rates and conditions of other workers, especially those on or around the minimum wage.

This is not a one-off. This radical right Government wants to drive down wages and cut conditions to restore or increase profit rates. It has a range of policies to do this which, apart from a green army on poverty wages without basic protections, includes the Royal Commission into union 'corruption', the attempt to re-introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission to criminalise all union activity in the building industry, the attacks on penalty rates, the shrill rhetoric about the lack of productivity increases and a wages 'explosion'.

In fact productivity gains are at high levels with almost all of the gains going to capital, and wage increases last year were below inflation, the lowest wage increases in over a decade. The truth won't stop Abbott and co attacking workers and their unions to continue and accelerate the shift in wealth to capital from labour that has been the hallmark of previous ALP and Coalition governments since 1983. Less wages for us means more profit for them.

The jobs slaughter across manufacturing, aviation and the public sector also puts downward pressure on wages and conditions.

The global fall in profit rates across the developed world is the driver for these attacks.

Can we resist a green army on poverty wages and all the other attacks on workers and unions? Yes, but it would involve more than talk from the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It would require action, industrial action.

Rank and file workers will need to organise that, often against their elected officials. Unions talking to job destroyer Alan Joyce at QANTAS won't work, unless workers cut off the flow of income to the company and bargain from a position of strength.

Can unemployed workers and others being conscripted into the green army organise and fight back against this rotten exploitation? Absolutely. Will they? Well, since they aren't covered by industrial laws, withholding their labour won't be illegal.

If there were a lead from the ACTU and other unions, perhaps they would take action, supported by other workers industrially and financially. If not, then the downward spiral of wages is likely to accelerate under the impact of Tony Abbott's slave wage green army.

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