Raych got through the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday before she was halfway through breakfast and announced that there was no news. Later in the day we found out why: the journalists and other workers went on strike Wednesday afternoon, over Fairfax’s plans to introduce AWAs and cut 35 production jobs.
That’s subeditors! My first job in Australia was working as a Fairfax subeditor so I felt a bigger-than-usual burst of solidarity. Unfortunately by the time I found out about it the Industrial Relations Commission had ordered them back to work. You see, it’s illegal in Australia to strike during the life of an employment agreement. The Fairfax strikers risked $6000 personal fines for walking out in the first place. Further strike action has been explicitly banned by the Commission for three months, and the penalties for contempt of court are larger.
Inside sources tell me there is much seething anger at the Herald, not least among the most senior journalists whose jobs are not at risk, but whose pride in their product has already been dented by a previous round of restructuring and the consequent declining standards. They must have known the IRC would ban the strike as soon as Fairfax took them there, and I suppose the goal was to send a short, sharp message. Even so, there was some discussion of defying the Commission, but the personal consequences would have been big.
Still, it seems inevitable that sooner or later a strike will happen somewhere that runs up against these new laws, where the anger will be sufficiently deep to provoke a defiance of the IRC. Labor’s new industrial relations plan does not roll back anti-strike law. We are stuck with it until conditions are ripe for a new Clarrie O’Shea.