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OTTAWA — Visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard received a less than warm welcome today from Canadian trade unionists upset at the Howard government’s draconian and regressive new labour laws.

Howard was in Ottawa to address Parliament. But the Canadian Labour Congress organized a rally on Parliament Hill to show solidarity with the Australian labour movement, which is fighting Australia’s controversial new “WorkChoices” legislation.

The national “industrial relations” reforms came into effect at the end of March, despite bitter opposition by unions, left-leaning politicians and many state and territory governments and low support among the Australian public. According to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the reforms erode workers’ rights and reduce the ability of unions to bargain collectively on behalf of their members.

Among other things, the legislation abolishes protection from unfair dismissal for four million Australian workers employed in companies with less than 101 staff, and it allows employers to put workers onto individual contracts that cut pay and reduce employment conditions to five minimum standards. It also restricts industrial action and forbids workplace health and safety training by unions.

CUPE National President Paul Moist joined about 200 people at the rally. “We stand in solidarity with our sister unions in Australia to reject this anti-worker legislation,” Moist told the crowd.

The John Howard government is no friend of working people, and if Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a friend of John Howard’s he’s no friend of Canadian workers,” added CLC executive vice-president Barbara Byers.

Public Service Alliance of Canada regional executive vice president Ed Cashman and New Democrat Member of Parliament Peggy Nash also spoke at the rally.

For more photos from the rally, visit our photo gallery.