Umpire asked to end CSL strike

CONCERNS over a strike causing possible blood plasma shortages in New Zealand have led plasma and vaccines firm CSL to take three unions to the national industrial umpire this morning, seeking to invoke little-used laws that allow the suspension or termination of a strike if it endangers lives.
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Unions had already put overtime bans in place and have taken 24-hour strikes as part of lawful industrial actions. But this week they stepped up work bans on processing blood for international destinations - to pressure CSL to resolve the dispute that began in April.

CSL has now warned that the industrial action could soon endanger people's health.

Under the Fair Work Act, industrial action can be stopped by Fair Work Australia if it threatens to endanger the life, health or welfare of the population, or part of it.

''The unions' tactics left us with no choice but to make an application to Fair Work Australia to stop the industrial action,'' said Sharon McHale, senior director of public affairs at CSL.

She said the company could not reach an agreement with the three unions - the National Union of Workers, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Community and Public Sector Union - that processing of NZ plasma should resume.

''Plasma products take nine to 10 weeks to process, test and release. Based on New Zealand's current inventory levels, we must start processing their plasma by the end of next week at the latest to avoid product shortages for patients,'' she said.

But the unions say their action does not endanger lives, and want CSL to resume negotiations.

The AMWU's Charlie Pandolfo said he doubted CSL would succeed at Fair Work, arguing that it would be premature given that New Zealand Blood Services is believed to have four months of stockpiles. And the CPSU's Sam McCrone said the quickest way to get an agreement was to return to the negotiating table.

The unions say staff discontent at CSL is growing, while job insecurity has increased and that management pay exceeds wage rises for other staff.

CSL has offered a 10.75 per cent wage rise over three years. Last week it withdrew an $800 sign-on bonus after staff voted down a proposed agreement.

Unions want a 5 to 6 per cent wage rise for each of three years. An agreement would cover about 1700 of CSL's 1800-strong Australian workforce.

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Whooping shots ‘less effective’

A NEW whooping cough vaccine introduced in 1999 is less effective than the one it replaced, possibly explaining a resurgence of the disease in children, researchers have found.
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A study of more than 40,000 Queensland children found that those who received a full course of the new vaccine were three times more likely to have developed whooping cough between 2009 and 2011, compared with the old vaccine.

The children studied were born in 1998, at a time when the old vaccine was being phased out, and therefore received either a full course of the old or new vaccine, or a mixture of both. The vaccine is delivered at two months, four months and six months.

The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, helps explain a spike of whooping cough cases in children aged between six and 11. Co-author Stephen Lambert said younger children were not included in the study, but the new vaccine appeared to offer good protection for some years.

That protection could wear off around the time they went to school, he said, and booster doses may not be sufficient to guard against the disease.

Professor Lambert said the old vaccine commonly caused redness, swelling and pain where it was injected, and could also lead to children developing fevers or crying for long periods.

''In making the switch in vaccines, we may have traded off some of the protection [the old] whole cell vaccines provided in exchange for a better tolerated vaccine,'' he said.

Cases of whooping cough in Australia have jumped from 14,287 in 2008 to 38,596 last year. In Victoria this year there have been 2595 cases, compared with 5361 for the same period last year. Eight infants have died of whooping cough in Australia since 2008, including a 14-day-old baby in Victoria last February.

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Mr Millions cancels party

Former Health Services Union president Michael Williamson.IT HAS been a busy week of cancellations for the man once known as Mr Millions.
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Michael Williamson has formally resigned as national president of the troubled Health Services Union. He handed in his notice via a text message to the union's acting president, Chris Brown, on Monday.

Also cancelled is the huge ''thank you'' drinks party Mr Williamson's family was throwing for him.

Guests from across the country received an email from Mr Williamson's wife, Julie, and daughter Alexandra yesterday morning notifying them that, due to ''unforeseen family reasons'', the celebratory drinks had to be called off.

The Williamsons last week sent invitations to their network of friends, political figures, Labor stalwarts and union mates asking them to the ''thank you'' party at the Verandah bar, in Sydney's Elizabeth Street, on August 10.

One senior Labor politician who was invited expressed disbelief that the Williamsons were throwing themselves a party.

Apart from wondering who was paying for it, he said: ''No one in their right mind would want to be seen associating themselves with Michael Williamson in the present climate.''

Alexandra Williamson last week resigned from her job as a media officer on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Earlier in the week, Ms Gillard had expressed dismay at the disclosures in the Temby report, which revealed that her staff member's family had received millions of dollars from the union, whose members are among the most poorly paid in the country.

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Living costs rising? You’re dreaming

THE government statistician has a sobering message for Australians who think their personal rates of inflation far exceed the official rate of 1.2 per cent: they are likely much lower.
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Living cost indexes released yesterday by the Bureau of Statistics show that among so-called working families, average costs climbed just 0.7 per cent in the year to June. A year earlier they had been soaring at an annual rate of 4.5 per cent.

Driving down the rates of inflation actually experienced by working households have been dramatic slides in mortgage interest rates, more than enough to offset higher electricity and gas charges. Mortgage payments are about 50 per cent more important to household budgets than energy charges. The ABS includes them in its calculation of household living costs but not in its measure of inflation.

Households headed by aged pensioners and self-funded retirees also experienced extraordinarily low cost increases in the year to June, each also recording 0.7 per cent, roughly half the official inflation rate and the lowest increase since such costs were first calculated in 1999. Sharp falls in the price of food explain the divergence, food being more important in the budgets of retiree households than it is in the calculation of the consumer price index.

Only one type of household identified by the bureau experienced a cost increase above the official inflation rate. Households headed by ''government transfer recipients'', such as unemployed Australians on Newstart, experienced an annual cost increase of 1.3 per cent, slightly above the official inflation rate of 1.2 per cent that will be used to adjust their benefits, meaning they will be left further behind when their benefits are next adjusted in September.

Households headed by beneficiaries spend a greater proportion of their incomes on rent and alcohol and tobacco than other Australians, leaving them more exposed to strongly rising prices.

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan welcomed the bureau's calculations, saying they showed most Australians were experiencing very low rates of inflation. A family with a $300,000 mortgage was paying about $4000 per year less than when the Coalition was last in office.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said the prices of essentials such as electricity, education, healthcare and rents were climbing strongly. ''All Australians use electricity,'' he said. ''Electricity prices are up more than 10 per cent over the past year, and up over 60 per cent since Labor came to power. This is before the carbon tax …''

The latest Melbourne Institute survey finds Australians expect inflation to jump to 3.3 per cent as a result of the carbon tax. The Reserve Bank expects the increase to be a one-off with no implications for interest rates.

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Cancer treatment ‘hijacking’ a fallacy: urologists

LEADING urologists have rejected claims that commercial interests are influencing the management of prostate cancer and say that over-treatment causing impotence and incontinence is being minimised.
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On Tuesday, Melbourne cancer specialist Ian Haines said prostate cancer treatment had been hijacked by commercial interests, causing many men to be ''over-diagnosed'' with low-risk disease that led them to have damaging surgery unnecessarily.

An Associate Professor of Medicine from Monash University, he said PSA (prostate specific antigen) tests and Gleason scores to diagnose and score prostate cancers were unreliable and he criticised the marketing of expensive robotic surgery, saying it was only marginally better than standard prostatectomy procedures.

Professor Tony Costello - the Melbourne urologist who pioneered robotic surgery for prostate cancer - yesterday described his comments as ''provocative'' and stood by prostate cancer tests for many men and robotic surgery for prostate removal.

He said while hospitals had to ''claw back'' the millions of dollars invested in robotic surgical equipment, in his experience, it did not influence surgeons' advice to patients.

Furthermore, he said while no data had been published yet, he had found robotic surgery to be better for his patients, reducing rates of impotence and incontinence two years after surgery.

Professor Costello said growing evidence of over-treatment had caused a shift to more surveillance and less treatment for men with low-risk cancers. He said a registry set up to track cancers in Victoria showed about half of the 5500 men diagnosed in Victoria last year were being monitored to see if the cancer got worse. This showed urologists were acting in their patients' best interests, he said. ''If you get a positive biopsy for prostate cancer in Victoria, 46 per cent are getting surveillance … and you're more likely to be put on surveillance in private practice than you are in the public system, so there's no commercial advantage,'' he said.

Monash Medical Centre urologist and a spokesman for the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, Associate Professor Mark Frydenberg, said Gleason scoring was a reliable way to differentiate low, intermediate and high-risk cancers, allowing some men to have life-saving treatment. However, he said men deciding on treatment should seek various opinions because robotic surgery only offered marginal benefits. ''The differences to date are not huge. The complication rates for continence and potency appear similar,'' he said.

Several men contacted The Age yesterday with stories about prostate testing and treatment, including one man who was told he did not have cancer after having his prostate removed.

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