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Brussels, 24 October 2017 (ITUC OnLine): The ITUC has described raids by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on offices of the Australian Workers' Union as a shocking act by a supposedly democratic government.

 

"Media outlets were given advance warning of the raids, presumably by the government, to maximise publicity. The raids are apparently about allegations that the union gave financial support to a progressive community group 'Get Up' along with political candidates more than a decade ago. This is an abuse of power by a government that is behind in the polls and is turning to union bashing to try to bolster its flagging fortunes. We are used to seeing these kind of tactics in dictatorships, not democracies," said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

 

Sally McManus, Secretary of the ITUC's Australian affiliate, the ACTU, described the raids as "an outrageous abuse of power".

Dozens of AFP officers were involved in the raids, which came immediately after the government cut the AFP budget by AUD 184 million, leading to expected cuts in enforcement on organised crime, corruption, narcotics and child exploitation. The raids were initiated by the government's "Registered Organisation Commission", a supposedly neutral regulator of unions and employer organisations, created six months ago.

 

The head of another anti-union government body, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), was forced to resign last month after misrepresenting labour laws in briefings to employers and ordered to pay a fine to the CFMEU union. The Deputy Head of the ABCC resigned, just weeks after his appointment in August, to disassociate himself from the conduct of the Commission's head. One of the more notorious acts of the ABCC was to threaten to ban construction companies that allowed union flags to fly on building sites from access to government contracts. Unions have criticised the ABCC as having a "disastrous impact" on safety in the industry.

 

Australia's conservative government is currently eight per cent behind the opposition Labor Party in opinion polls, having trailed the opposition in the last 20 polls.

 

"The ITUC's annual global rights index shows that more than 50 countries are guilty of restricting democratic space including the right to freedom of association and of speech for civil society. It would be a tragic indictment of the state of affairs in Australia if it has to be added to that list," said Burrow.

 

The ITUC represents 181 million workers in 163 countries and territories and has 340 national affiliates.