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AUSTRALIAN TRADE UNIONS - KEY EVENTS

Trade unions have a layed a key role in the history of Australia. The list below highlights some of the key dates and events in Australia's union story.

1804 - Castle Hill Rebellion: protest on conditions and rations.?1828 - Masters and Servants Act of NSW provided that . "servants could be imprisoned and have their wages forfeited for refusal to work or for destruction of property, and that Masters found guilty of ill-usage should be liable to pay damages up to 6 months wages".

1829 - Typographers, supported by carpenters, successfully strike for payment in sterling, against currency reform, which threatened the value of wages.

1830 - Shipwrights union formed.

1831 - Boatbuilders union formed.

1833 - Cabinetmakers union formed.

1838 - Society of Compositors strike and win wage increase of 5s5d per week.

1840 - Society of Compositors campaign to restrict the number of apprentices. The government uses convict compositors as strike- breakers.

1843 - Economic depression leads to the formation of the Mutual Protection Society to protect the interests of the middle and working classes of N.S.W

1844 - The Early Closing Movement seeks the reduction of working hours from 14 to 12 per day.

1848 - Political activity of the working class leads to the formation of the Anti-Transportation League.

1850-1900 - This period saw the early development of Australian trade unions. Legislation had existed in Britain that outlawed unions, similar in intent to the Masters and Servants Act, until the passing of the Trade Union Act in 1871. The English and Irish anti-union legislation was not particularly successful in those countries, nor did it prevent union activity in Australia. Transportation ended in the eastern states in 1853, in Western Australia in 1868. Various craft unions were formed.

1850 - Stonemasons union formed.

1854 - The Eureka Stockade results in the deaths of 10 Irish, 2 Scots, 2 Canadians, 2 English, 2 Germans and 1 Australian.

1856 - The 8 Hour Day Movement is formed by the Stonemasons in Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne Trades Hall Committee helps unions to co-operate with each other.

1869 - Men of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station Victoria demand wage payments for their labour and official tenure of the station.

1870 - The Sydney Trades and Labor Council formed.

1873 - The Amalgamated Miners Association formed.

1873 - The first Seamans Unions formed in Sydney and Melbourne.

1878 - The Seamans Union organises the maritime strike against the use of cheap Chinese labour by the Australian United Steam Navigation Company.

1879 - The Inter-Colonial Trade Union Congress - the forerunner of the ACTU - is formed. Congress unanimously opposes Chinese immigration.

1881 - The N.S.W. Trade Union Act is passed giving union rights and registration.

1881 - Australia's First Communication Workers Union formed. The NSW Electrical Telegraph Committee of Seven established, subsequently reformed as the NSW Electrical Telegraph Society and then NSW Post and Telegraph Association (1891). These would go on to form the Australia's first federal trade union in 1900.

1882 - The Victorian Tailoresses Union is formed, as is the Waterside Workers Union.

1884 - The Intercolonial Trade Union Congress is attended by women delegates.

1885 - The first Board of Arbitration resolves the dispute in favour of the workers.

1886 - The Shearers Union formed.

1890 - Employers form the employers unions - the Pastoralists Union the Chamber of Manufacturers and the Steamship Owners Association.

1891 - The Shearers Union strike over freedom of contract.

1892 - Miners strike in Broken Hill over wage cuts and employment of scabs.

1894 - The Shearers Union strikes again on same issues. The Masters and Servants Act is used against the union - 23 years after England proclaimed the Trade Union Act. Women win the right to vote - for the first time in the world - in South Australia.

1896 - Intercolonial Trade Union Congress resolves to extend the restrictions on Chinese immigration to all non-European peoples.

1900 - Australian Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Officers Association (ACPTOA) formed from the joining together of 7 state associations - the first federal trade union in Australia's history. This trade union would go on to amalgamate with other future communication industry unions to form the Communication Workers Union of today.

1901 - NSW Industrial Arbitration Act. A lot of people talk about `enterprise bargaining' - this Act was the 1901 version. The aim was to make workplaces more productive by making them better places to work. It made arbitration compulsory, so, if a worker or an employer had a problem, it could be settled by having to go before the Industrial Relations Commission. The new Labor Party leader, William Lyne was behind the bill being made law. (Hagan 1981: p. 10, Yerbury et al 1992: p. 166)

1902 - Votes for women and the Commonwealth. Imagine not being allowed to vote, not because you weren't old enough but just because you were a woman! That's how it was up until 1902 when the Commonwealth Parliament first gave women the chance to vote at federal elections. Some states had already let women vote in their elections but this new law gave the ones that hadn't - Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania - a big push.
Many men said it would double the cost of elections with no obvious benefit; Labor Party leader, William Lyne said it elevated women to a new level while feminist, Jessie Ackermann called it `male subterfuge' and said it was `citizenship having thus been forced upon women'. (Crowley 1973)

1907 - Tariffs Act links protectionist policy to payment of `fair and reasonable wages'. Employers were protected from the competition of imports so long as they were paying their employees `fair and reasonable wages'.

After 1907, that meant employers had to prove they were paying their workers what was set down as the minimum wage in the `Harvester Judgement'. That was how Australian industries were encouraged to succeed - employers were protected if their workers were too. The Customs Tariff Act, the Excise Tariff Act and the Australian Industries Preservation Act were the legal lynchpins behind making this happen. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 119)

1908 - Workers in the food industry band together and two new unions are formed. The workers that ground our wheat into flour and processed our raw products into consumable food formed the Federated Millers and Manufacturing Grocers Union in 1908.
Why? Because they believed that together they could better protect and advance their wages and working conditions. People working in cold food storage and meat preserving had exactly the same idea - they founded the Federated Cold Storage and Meat Preserving Employees Union in the same year. Both unions have since been involved in a series of amalgamations that resulted in the formation of the National Union of Workers in 1989.?1909 - Introduction of the Commonwealth age pension.
In New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, old age pensions had been established as early as 1900. Then, in 1909, it was the Commonwealth's turn. With the help of Section 51 (xxiii) of the Australian Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth the authority to make laws relating to invalid and old age pensions, it introduced the Commonwealth pension. This pension superseded the pensions in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

1915 - BHP's Newcastle blast furnace begins production. Things really hotted up in Newcastle when the first blast furnace started up at BHP's ironworks. On 9 April 1915 the first steel ingots were produced; the first steel rails were manufactured on 24 April 1915. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 127)

1915 - Miners' Federation Formed. The origins of the CFMEU can be traced to 1915 when a national mining federation began to take shape. Representatives from the miners' associations of Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW gathered in Sydney to found a Miners' Federation. ?Unions of coal and mineworkers had existed periodically since the 1850s, but were usually destroyed by employer hostility, economic collapses in the industry or internal fighting. National unionism in the mining industry has continued to this day and in places where the CFMEU is the principle union, membership rates are close to 100 percent. Today's CFMEU members know that they are part of one of the most effective unions in Australia.

1916 - General coal strike wins better conditions for workers. The quest for higher wages, including payment for the time it took to travel to work, were at the heart of the 1 November 1916 coal strike in eastern Australia. The striking miners held out until 4 December 1916, when their demands were eventually met. Future Prime Minister Ben Chifley, a railway union Shop Steward, was jailed during the strike. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 129)

1920 - Piddington Royal Commission finds the 4 basic wage inadequate. Led by Albert Bathurst Piddington, this Royal Commission reported on the cost of living and the basic wage. Four pounds a week was thought to be too little to live on so the Federal Arbitration Court decided there should be automatic wage rises each quarter linked to the cost of living. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 134)

1923 - Victorian police strike. Almost a third of Victoria's police force - 640 men - went on strike on 31 October 1923. The inspiration for the strike was low wages and an `internal supervisory system' which the policemen felt was spying on them. On 3 and 4 November, (the weekend before the Melbourne Cup), large crowds looted and rioted in the city. The Government put together a force of special constables to deal with the crisis. What's more, the policemen on strike were not reinstated. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 136)

1924 - Petrol refining began in Sydney and Melbourne. Clyde in New South Wales was home to the Shell Refining Company's first petrol refining operation. In the same year, Commonwealth Oil Refineries began production in Laverton, Victoria. Much of our manufactured goods were still imported from the United Kingdom and this continued until after World War I. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 137)

1925 - NSW Widows Pension scheme begins. One pound a week and 10 shillings for each additional child was what widows in New South Wales were paid to help them raise their children. The legislation to get the scheme up and running was passed the year before in 1925. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 138)

1927 - ACTU established. Organisation was the name of the game for Australia's trade union movement in 1927. On 3 May 1927 it became a reality at the Interstate Trade Union Congress held Melbourne Trades Hall Council. The Sydney Trades and Labor Council, Melbourne Trades Hall Council and United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia put forward the concept of an `all Australian Council of Trade Unions.' The result? They decided to set up the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). They elected a committee of seven to set out the Council's goals and structure.
The ACTU consisted of delegates from affiliated unions who dealt with issues that affected the whole trade union movement. In 1943 there was a push to have it based in Sydney but this was unsuccessful. For many years the ACTU remained a small under-resourced organisation. (Hagan 1977: p. 30)

1930 - Aborigines specifically excluded from the Federal Pastoral Industry awards. In the 1930s Aborigines in the Northern Territory were in high demand as station hands. Not only did they cope much better with Australia's hot outback conditions but they cost much less to employ.
Why? They were exploited! Aborigines were not included in the Federal Pastoral Industry Awards of the 1930s. Instead they were covered by something called the Wards Employment Ordinance that detailed pay and conditions for Aborigines employed in all industries.
That meant that for pastoral work an Aboriginal man would be paid $6.32 a week, an Aboriginal woman $3.52 and an Australian or European between $34 and $46. Often they received rations rather than pay. This didn't change until 1966 when the North Australian Workers Union went into bat for Aborigines to be paid equal wages. (Sharp et al 1966)

1930 - Female wage set at 54 per cent of the male rate. Between 2 9 shillings and 4 11 shillings a week is not much these days, in fact it's less than $10.
Of course $10 was worth a lot more in those days but as a woman of the 1930s, that would have been about all you could expect as payment for a week's work. What's even worse is that as a man doing exactly the same job, you could earn between 6 1 shilling and 6 7 shillings a week - 46 per cent more just for being a guy!
When the unions went before the Commonwealth Court to ask for an increase in the basic wage, the female wage stayed at only 54 per cent of the male wage `to the nearest sixpence.' (Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics 1937)?1931 - Arbitration Court rules on `capacity to pay' principle.
Workers wages were reduced by 10 per cent on 22 January 1931 following an Arbitration Court decision. The decision was based on the fact that Australia's economy couldn't afford to pay full wages. Unemployment also went up and stayed high until 1934. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 143)

1936 - Arbitration Court grants printing workers one week paid annual leave. A week of annual leave was awarded to printers on 31 December 1936, following arguments from their unions. Paid holiday leave had already been included in some state awards - printers got it because theirs was viewed as a prosperous industry. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 150)

1939 - Arbitration Court decides working week should not exceed 44 hours.
A 44 hour working week became the norm for all industries on 15 August. Coincidentally, in the same month, some miners in New South Wales had their fight for a 40 hour week rewarded. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 153)

1941 - Silk Stocking Dispute led by Hal Lashwood (Actors Equity). Those in George Sorlie's entertainment company had it tough before 1941 - low pay, fines for coming to rehearsals late, arriving on stage late or talking loudly backstage and worst of all, the eight ballet girls were fined if they laddered their `management owned' silk stockings.
Solution? Enter Mr Hal Lashwood who joined as a dancer and the only member of Actors Equity in the company at the time. Many of the show's artists joined the union and as things got worse the artists thought about striking. However they were worried that they might get stuck in the last town the show was to play in - with no way of getting home. So, they organised an `audience strike' - the local union and the Townsville Trades and Labor Council used their influence to keep people away from the show.
George Sorlie finally agreed to talk about wages and conditions and met the artists' demands, including that the ballet girls didn't have to pay fines for laddering their silk stockings. (Atkinson 1989: pp. 26-27)

1944 - Unemployment and sickness benefits introduced by Federal Government. Proposals for unemployment and sickness benefits were first put before Federal Parliament in March 1944. Both benefits were passed and were to be paid out of government revenue. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 160)

1947 - Arbitration Court establishes principle of penalty rates for weekend work. A penalty rate might sound like something you have to pay but it's actually what your employer pays you for working outside of normal hours. On 31 March 1947 the Commonwealth Arbitration Court decided to introduce the principle of penalty rates for weekend work. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 163)

1950 - Basic wage judgment sets female rate at 75 per cent of male rate. In January 1949, the ACTU started a campaign to raise the Basic Wage to 7 and 18 shillings. `Not big enough,' said the metal unions, `we're going for 10 pounds for both men and women.'
After consulting with the metal unions, the ACTU decided it would push for the same. The result wasn't quite 10 out of 10 for the 10 for all - the court awarded 8 and 2 shillings as the new basic wage for men and increased the female basic wage from 54 to 75 per cent of the male rate. (Hagan 1977: p. 60)

1953 - A national union for nurses. In 1953, the Australian United Nurses Association amalgamated with the Australian Nurses Federation (ANF), established in 1924, to become one of the largest unions in Australia.
The ANF has its roots in the 1920s thanks to the efforts of women such as Jessie Street who encouraged Australian nurses to get together and form a union. Jesse Street's views on the position of working women and other issues were considered radical in her day and she worked tirelessly to improve women's working conditions throughout her life.
Today, the ANF continues to represent the industrial and professional needs of all nurses in Australia and has branches in each state. The NSW Nurses' Association and the Queensland Nurses' Union are state branches of the ANF.

1953 - Union membership peaks at 63 per cent of workforce. Union membership reached its peak in the 1950s when a hefty 63 per cent of the workforce were union members in 1953. This was hot on the heels of World War II and following some years of Robert Menzies hard line `anti-union' views. Newspaper headlines told of great unrest over strikes and wage demands.
The year 1956 was a real turning point for the union movement - highlights included the Waterfront Workers Strike and swelling of the number of members in white-collar unions and teachers' unions. (McKinlay 1990, ACTU 1997)

1956 - Trouble on the waterfront. The `Hursey case' began at Hobart's waterfront in October 1956 when three members of the Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) refused to pay a small amount of money towards the Labor Government's election campaign. In doing so, these men broke two golden rules of unionism - everyone acts collectively and decisions made by the majority of members apply to all members.
Bitter and violent confrontations on the waterfront followed. Picket lines, a Supreme Court injunction, the presence of police and the refusal of WWF members to work on the same tasks as the Hurseys attracted the attention of the nation.
The dispute was not resolved until 1958 when the High Court of Australia upheld the right of Australian trade unions to make financial contributions to political parties in pursuit of improved conditions of employment for their members.?1950 - The Arthur Murray dispute.
The Arthur Murray dance instructors were threatened with the sack in 1959 when word got out that they were going to join a union (it was the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union - FMWU). The dance instructors picketed outside the company's Sydney office for 10 weeks. They received television coverage and did dance performances on building sites for construction workers who supported them. After four months, the Commonwealth Industrial Court ruled that Arthur Murray's had to reappoint the dance instructors and pay them compensation for the time they'd been picketing. (Beasley 1996: p. 102)

1960 - ACTU President RJ Hawke. So just how does someone end up being the Prime Minister of Australia? Well for ex-PM Bob Hawke it all started at the ACTU. Mr Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and started as a Research Officer at the ACTU in 1958.
He was then elected as President in 1969 - he took over from Albert Monk who had been President for 20 years.
Through Hawke, the ACTU got more publicity, the relationship between the ACTU and the ALP became stronger, there was more support of strike action than in the past and stronger links were formed with white collar unions and organisations. (Hagan 1977, Martin 1975: p. 68)

1960 - Equal pay for work of equal value awarded (specifically female work not included).
The issue of equal pay for women remained a source of hot debate throughout the 1960s. In 1969, the ACTU mounted a test case to get rid of the 25 per cent difference that existed between pay rates for women and those for men.
On 19 June the Commonwealth Arbitration Court decided that women should receive the same pay as men if it could be proved they were doing work of equal value. The Court ruled that as of 1 October women would get at least 85 per cent of the male wage; their pay would then go up in steps until 1 January 1972 when they would be rewarded with equal pay - 100 per cent of the male wage.
Employers claimed that such a move would have a negative effect on the employment of women. In fact, the number of women in employment has gone up faster than it has for men ever since. (Aplin 1987: p. 177, Yerbury 1992)

1970 - Annual leave loading of 17.5 per cent in Metal Trades Award. Getting a bonus in your pay for going on holidays probably sounds like a good lurk but it resulted from some pretty sound 1970s logic.
In May 1974 the leave loading was granted to those under the Metal Industry Award in addition to them winning a claim for four weeks annual leave. The theory was that workers were entitled to the loading; because they were on holidays they wouldn't get their normal pay which included extra for working on shifts and weekends. (Hagan 1981: p. 280, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics 1907)

1973 - Maternity leave awarded. `Maybe baby' or maybe not.
Maternity leave was introduced for government employees via the Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act 1973. It recognised that working women had a right to come back to a job after the birth of their children.
The Act for public servants entitled them to between six and 52 weeks of leave, including 12 weeks paid leave, if they had done 12 months continuous employment with the employer immediately before the start of the leave.
Women working in the private sector were entitled to maternity leave in 1979. Adoption Leave and Paternity Leave have been the more recent offspring of the Maternity Leave Act. (Hagan 1981: p. 356, ACTU 1995, Yerbury 1992: p. 216)

1975 - Medibank, Australia's new national health scheme is introduced. On 1 July 1975, Medibank was born. The new national public health scheme offered free medical treatment and basic hospital care in public hospitals. Every state had signed an agreement by 1 October to give them their piece of the Medibank pie. On a state level, the Federal Government agreed to meet 50 per cent of the net operating costs in the State public hospitals. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 198)

1975 - Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, sacks Whitlam Government. Before the then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam could advise the Governor General Sir John Kerr that he wanted a half-senate election, Sir John had sent Gough and his Labor Government on their way and asked Malcolm Fraser to be PM in a caretaker government. Australians often refer to this as `the dismissal.' When Fraser took the job on, both houses of parliament were dissolved and an election was held. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 199)

1980 - 38 hour week introduced. During the 1980s, a 38 hour working week became a national standard across Australia. This followed union and ACTU campaigns.
The last time working hours had changed was 1948. The 38 hour week is longer than many European workers do even now.

1980 - A healthy union ahead of its time. All through the 1980s and early 1990s most of Australia's old trade unions joined to form industry unions. But not the HSUA! Why not, we hear you say? The HSUA has operated as an industry union (not a trade union) since its formation in 1911. It means the HSUA represents workers throughout the entire health and community services industry, not just workers doing certain types of work, or trades, within that industry.

1982 - BHP announces retrenchment of up to 10,000 steelworkers. BHP reduced its steelmaking workforce by approximately 30 per cent when 10,000 steelworkers lost their jobs on 27 August 1982.
In the 1980s the `Big Australian' started finding things tough and after the company experienced a major fall in net profits, BHP asked the Federal Government to put restrictions on imported steel. A five-year strategy was then developed for the steel industry. (Aplin et al 1987: p. 206)

1983 - ACTU / ALP Accord. How do you reduce unemployment and inflation at the same time, reduce industrial disputes and provide an approach to developing policies which suit the majority of Australians on both an economic and social level? Get the ACTU and the Hawke/Keating Labor Party - the government of the time - to develop a framework for looking at Australia's big picture economic issues and call it the Price and Incomes Accord or just `The Accord.'
The Accord was developed in the lead up to the 1983 federal election and lasted until 1996. It was re-negotiated eight times. (Harcourt 1997)

1986 National wage case decision awards superannuation. What do you call the money you put away during your working life to live on when you retire? Superannuation - and prior to 1986 only a select group of workers received it - mostly public servants and middle and senior managers. Superannuation became universal for workers following the National Wage Case in 1986.
Rather than a wage increase, all workers were to receive 3 per cent superannuation benefits. Then, in 1987, superannuation started to form part of awards. (ACTU 1997: p. 1)

1990 - LHMU develops first federal award for `supported employees'. The Supported Employment Business Enterprise Award was the first federal award for workers in sheltered workshops or `supported employees'. Flagstaff Industries is a factory that produces canvas and leisure goods. It employs about 100 disabled people.

In 1990, the FMWU became very aware of the needs of disabled workers as part of developing the first award to represent them. The Award - based on the Metal Trade Standard - covered all Flagstaff's disabled workers, except managers. It was a big step in recognising the needs and rights of this special `industry.' (LHMU 1990: p. 1)

1994 - Abolition of the award system in Victoria. An `award' is what is `awarded' to a group (of occupations, industries or enterprises) by an Industrial Tribunal, it sets out their working conditions and rates of pay.
In Victoria (as in all other states), some employees used to work under `state awards' and others worked were covered by `federal awards.' However, the Kennett government wanted to abolish awards and force all workers onto industrial agreements.

In 1994, all Victorian state awards which had existed at 1 March 1993 were abolished by the Coalition State Government. To stop employees being forced into individual or collective contracts, many unions worked to create federal awards for members who had previously been covered by Victorian state awards. (Yerbury 1992: p. 30)

1995 - Weipa dispute. The then Federal Opposition (and current Federal Coalition Government) push for employees to be on individual workplace agreements instead of awards was put to the test during the Weipa dispute.
Mining giant CRA went head to head with the union movement by offering big pay rises to those workers who would sign individual company contracts in an attempt to exclude the union from all its sites.
In Weipa, a small mining town in Queensland, a group of 71 workers fought for their right to the same pay rises as award workers and to union representation in enterprise bargaining.
Following a seven-week strike in late 1995 which was supported by four unions - AMWU, CFMEU, CEPU and AWU - and thousands of workers around Australia, the ACTU went before the AIRC for the Weipa workers.
The result? The AIRC first ruled that CRA had to extend the terms and conditions offered to workers on individual contracts, to the 71 working under awards. Then, it said the company had to negotiate a new award to cover all workers at the mine. (Aiken and Kennedy 1996: p. 1, Marris 1996)

1996 - First female President of the ACTU - Jennie George. Jennie George made the news again when she became the first woman President of the ACTU. Jennie didn't just sit and wait for the presidency to fall in her lap - she was President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation from 1986-1989, Vice-President of the ACTU in 1987 and the Assistant National Director of the Trade Union Training Authority from 1989-1991. (Information Australia 1992: p. 342-343)

1996 - End of Accord era. The `Accord' was an agreement between the ACTU and the former Federal Labor Government. They used it to develop a joint approach to economic issues.
When the Federal Coalition Government came into power in March 1996, it abolished the Accord. The Accord had been in place from 1983 through to 1996. It was renegotiated eight times. Without the Accord and a wages policy, the Federal Coalition Government will have to rely on its fiscal and monetary policy to achieve its economic goals. (Harcourt 1996: p. 105-110)

1996 - Living Wage Case. A fair and reasonable wage for all Australian workers - that's what the ACTU Living Wage claim is all about.
When the ACTU put the claim before the AIRC it wasn't designed to achieve wage increases for people on high wages. The real purpose was to increase the minimum wage for people on lower incomes to a rate of $12 an hour ($456 a week), over the next three years. (APIC 1997)?1997 - Third wave campaign.
A wave of new industrial legislation is certainly not the kind of wave you find at the beach. But like a tidal wave, it does a lot of damage! In Western Australia, the Liberal State Government has introduced sweeping industrial changes in the last two years.
The first and second `waves' of change meant that employers could ignore awards and make decisions without having to comply with the industrial relations commission. The third `wave' of legislation aims to keep unions quiet and workers on the back foot by penalising them for taking part in industrial action.
The State Government waves of legislation have not gone down well in Western Australia. On 29 April over 30,000 people took to the streets of Perth to demonstrate against it - the largest demonstration against anything in the state's history. (Western Australia TLC 1997)

Source: ACTU



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