OVERLOOKED in the political brouhaha of the changes in Federal Government leadership last week (April, 2013) was the significant passing by the Senate of anti-dumping legislation. Combined with the re-appointment of manufacturing champion, Senator Kim Carr, to the Industry and Innovation portfolio, Australia's beleaguered manufacturers seem to be joined in a late official charge by government and a major union to secure a more reliable future.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) welcomed last week's passing in the Senate of the Anti-Dumping Improvement Bill, but the union warned that more needed to be done. This ties in with long-running protests by Australian manufacturers that they are not competing on a level playing field, and where access to Australia markets is taken advantage of through certain trade agreements.
Holden chief Michael Devereaux, for example, who is now negotiating closely with unions for concessions to help preserve auto manufacturing in Australia, said imported cars faced a 3 percent tariff here while Australian manufacturers faced tariffs of 35 percent in China and 10 percent on pick-up trucks in the US.
The new Anti-Dumping Commission started this week and CFMEU national secretary Michael O'Connor said this meant the Commissioner would have "more tools to protect jobs from dumping" due to the changes introduced by the Bill.
The union was also of the view that the Federal Government's tightening of the 457 Visa for international workers was another move that would assist manufacturers, although that is disputed by several industry organisations.
The union is also stepping up its Let's Spread it Around campaign to influence Australian government policies at all levels to support manufacturing.
This campaign will now include calls for election commitments from all political parties to implement more reforms to the anti-dumping system.
These further reforms are needed in order to capitalise on the significant improvements that have been made to the system in the last few years, according to the CFMEU.
"The gains that have already been made are a major win for workers." CFMEU's Mr O'Connor said.
"It was only in 2010 that the government was actively considering a proposal by the Productivity Commission to further weaken Australia's broken anti-dumping system.
"This suggestion was absurd, particularly considering nothing was being done to stop the proven dumping of cheap toilet paper from Indonesia and China, the end result of which was the closure of two tissue machines, a pulp mill and over 200 direct job losses in the South-East of South Australia.
"In response, the CFMEU mobilised our 110,000 members around the country, united with other unions whose workers were at threat from dumping and worked with manufacturing employers through an anti-dumping roundtable the unions hosted. This resulted in a shift from one of the weakest anti-dumping systems in the world, to workers now having a level of protection which seemed impossible at the time," Mr O'Connor said.
"The fact that all of the anti-dumping improvement bills have had bi-partisan support has been a positive, however sensible amendments which would have helped the Anti-Dumping Commission protect Australian jobs were defeated in the Senate, which is a concern. Policies which would prevent unscrupulous importers from masking the country of origin of their goods and a stronger approach to countries that do not play by the rules are needed from parties aspiring to government.
"The union will continue the fight for a better anti-dumping system as long as dumped imports continue to cost Australian jobs and hurt families and their communities," Mr O'Connor said.
A good example, he said, has been the CFMEU Forestry and Furnishing Products Division (FFPD) which joined with other unions to launch a concerted campaign to force the Federal Government to overturn a decision to allow millions of rolls of toilet paper to be 'dumped' on the Australian market, threatening local manufacturing jobs.
The Anti Dumping Campaign was a joint-unions submission between the CFMEU and the Australian Workers Union, which began in 2010.
CFMEU in conjunction with the AMWU and AWU made a combined union submission on the effects of unfair trade on the manufacturing industries, including the pulp and paper sector, to the Federal Government, following requests for submissions on the Productivity Commission's final recommendations on Australia's Anti Dumping and Countervailing regime.
"This important submission by the unions on behalf of our 350,000 members highlighted the concerns of workers in regard to job security in these industries, by the effects of unfair trade from countries such as Indonesia and China," the CFMEU wrote in a report.
The CFMEU claimed during the campaign that it had been "the target of a coordinated attack by a right wing think tank, the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA)", over campaigns such as Wake up Woolworths and the anti-dumping campaign focusing on tissue products.
In a statement the CFMEU said, "These so-called economic rationalists are trying to convince the Australian public that dumped products such as tissue paper is actually good for the consumer as it apparently lowers the price of the product. This, of course, as workers in the industry know is simply not true. The unfair trade by companies such as Asian Pulp and Paper does not meet the same environmental, social and industrial standards as Australian companies are required to meet and therefore is a direct threat to our members' jobs".
"Nor does our Union apologise for what the IPA calls 'Unions wanting green protectionism to protect high paying jobs'.
"Our members know that all we want is to able to compete with these companies on a level playing field," said the CFMEU in a members report.
"The CFMEU will be pursuing the Government to continue our fight for better protections for workers against these attacks on jobs, wages and conditions for our members."
Importantly, the CFMEU has set its sights on pressurising both sides of Australian politics to develop pro-manufacturing policies.
CFMEU's Mr O'Connor said it would continue to campaign for government policies that "spread the benefits of the resources boom more widely" and "support the creation of more jobs in manufacturing, that give Australian workers priority on new construction jobs and that help mining communities get the amenities and infrastructure they deserve".