Christmas without beer

By ED SOUTHORN

BEER is now an election issue in Richmond.

!NATIONALS candidate for Richmond Sue Page claims electing Labor could lead to a return to annual Christmas beer strikes. and a return to beer strikes every Christmas.

Labor MP Justine Elliot has hit back, accusing Dr Page of running a desperate scare campaign.

Ms Elliot said Christmas would be very tough for Tweed families already struggling with less take home pay and these families could face an even harsher Work Choices industrial relations regime if the Howard government was re-elected. The beer war kicked off when Dr Page, who told the Daily News she worked as a bar attendant in Newcastle when she was at university, claimed "independent economic forecasters have shown Labor's plan to roll back IR reforms would put upward pressure on unemployment, inflation and interest rates".

"We certainly don't want a return to all the strikes we used to suffer under Labor," Dr Page said.

"I remember we used to have a brewery strike every Christmas for many years in a row.

"If Labor gets in at the next election, Kevin 07 could lead to a beer strike in time for Christmas 07."

Dr Page said she recalled frequent beer strikes at Christmas in the mid to late 1980s, whereas under the Howard government Australia had its lowest strike rate since 1913, as well as record employment. She said if employers were unhappy with working conditions they would hire fewer staff and if employees were unhappy they would embrace unions and go on strike.

But this was not happening and therefore Work Choices "has got the balance right".

Doctor Page said unemployment in Tweed Heads fell from 7.5 per cent to 6.2 per cent over 12 months to March this year.

"In Murwillumbah over the same period unemployment fell from 8.3 per cent to 6.8 per cent," she said. "It was over 15 per cent in the Tweed when Labor was last in power federally."

Ms Elliot said the Nationals were out of touch with working families and "running a scare campaign in which they'll say and do anything". "Many locals were disappointed Sue Page refused to attend the industrial relations debate in June," Ms Elliot said. "Families have told me how they have less take home pay as a result of cuts to penalty rates and overtime."

Unions Far North Coast president Peter Burles, who is a liquor union regional organiser, said the Trade Practices Act had long ago banned secondary boycott strikes, which many years previously sometimes hit the beer industry.

Mr Burles said Mr Rudd had promised no change to current strike laws, in which strikes have to be approved as protected action by the Office of the Employment Advocate.

Mr Burles also said workers were frightened of Work Choices' punitive actions and employment figures did not disriminate between full-time jobs and casual work with as few as three hours work a week.

Ms Elliot said Dr Page had insulted Tweed working families. "Kevin Rudd supports balance and fairness in the workplace," Ms Elliot said.

"When unionists cross the line, he will take tough action to enforce the law. Such strikes would be unlawful." "Only a Rudd Labor Government will restore the balance and fairness to workplaces."



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