Australia hit by mass labour protests

Sydney, Nov 15 | Updated: Nov 16 2005, 05:30am hrs
Hundreds of thousands of workers staged what unionists called the biggest protest in Australias history on Tuesday against Prime Minister John Howards proposed labour reforms. The central business districts of major cities were brought to a halt by masses of chanting marchers accusing Howards Liberal-National coalition of attacking fundamental rights and trying to crush the trade unions.

What we see today is the largest gathering ever of workers across Australia, unions new South Wales secretary John Robertson told a rally of more than 30,000 people in Sydney. Demonstrators had the support of the premiers of Australias six states, which are all governed by the opposition Labor party, whose leader Kim Beazley predicted the reforms would bring down Howards government.

The proposed laws, which cut the power of unions in favour of individual workplace contracts, were passed by the lower house of parliament last week and go before the Senate later this month. They are being promoted by Howards conservative government as a means of creating jobs and boosting the economy, but critics say they will cut pay, rights to holidays, rest breaks, bonuses and allowances.