If you can’t say anything nice….

By Ruth Limkin

Prime Ministers should be able to spend their time leading the country. That Prime Minister Gillard was forced to spend some time addressing petulant bullies is a reproach upon the Australian Workers Union.

If you missed the news the last few days, here’s what happened: Paul Howes launched a vitriolic and abusive attack upon management of Rio Tinto. He then continued by attacking Trade Minister Craig Emerson, after Emerson stood up to Howes’ verbal tirade. This then prompted the Prime Minister to have to defend her Trade Minister, and she had stern words for Howes.

We’d all agree that one of the great joys about our democracy is our ability to debate and discuss different ideas. The problem is not a difference of opinion. The problem is also not the existence or promotion of trade unions. Unions sprang from a time when unsafe and exploitative conditions were the prevailing norm, and most were started by concerned Christians.

What has struck me in this exchange of words is that this quite simply would not be accepted in the school yard or in a workplace. Anti-bullying strategies and anti-harassment legislation was designed to keep students and workers safe and to promote environments of respect. You can disagree without resorting to comparing people to monkeys. I applaud both Gillard and Emerson for their rebuke of this behaviour.

If Howes was a school boy, he would be on detention.

If he was a worker, he would be disciplined, or could even lose his job.

Why would a union leader be treated any differently?

The AWU needs a leader who can live up to the kinds of workplace laws they claim to fight for. Anything less sells every member short.