Australia hit by protests demanding end to new labour laws

Ed Johnson

SYDNEY, June 28, 2006 (AFP) – Tens of thousands of workers rallied in cities across Australia on Wednesday, demanding Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative government repeal its controversial new labour laws.

"Johnny Johnny Johnny, out out out," chanted protesters, as they brought the southern city of Melbourne to a standstill.

In Sydney, firemen, health workers and teachers were among demonstrators marching against the laws, which strip power from trade unions in favour of individual workplace contracts.

"Less talk, more strike," read one banner held high above the crowd.

The legislation, which came into force three months ago, has become a defining political issue in Australia ahead of next year’s national election.

Howard warned Wednesday that unions were holding a "dagger at the throat" of Australia’s booming resources sector and suggested that scrapping the laws would see a surge of industrial action.

He insists the laws will strengthen the national economy.