|Issue No 106||10 August 2001|
Linda Carruthers Spits Chips
The interview with Employment Advocate Jonathan Hamberger should have been pasted under Satire in last week's Workers Online!
I took great care to note the Employment Advocate's advice to unions (published in WOL Issue No. 105) as to how they might grow and prosper in the future.
I was touched to read that the Employment Advocate had once been a union delegate, and sometimes found it hard to convince people to join unions.
I was deeply impressed by his view that the future of unions lies in providing 'better services' to members.
Above all, I read his views about his role and the duties of the Office he occupies with a mounting sense of......how does one say this.....incredulity? amusement?
Seriously though-as an appointee of the then Minister of Industrial Relations (Peter Reith) one would expect Hamberger to defend the current industrial legislation, not least because of the role and remuneration it provides him. Silly to bite the hand etc etc;
However, it is a good idea if you are called on to defend a position in a public journal such as WOL, that you either brief yourself on what the legislation actually provides/requires/mandates or otherwise, assume that readers of the interview may understand just a tad better than you give them credit for, what precisely it is you are called upon to do. Hamberger's failure to do either simply erodes even further his credibility (if that is possible) with those who have suffered under the regime he administers.
Let's cut to the chase.
Taking his advice to unions first about how they should be providing 'more services' (unspecified) to their members.
While we are not told what services unions should be providing I think we know what the services are he believes they should not provide-starting with representation of individual members in relation to grievances, either individual or collective.
We know he doesn't believe in those kind of services because we are aware that he has approved Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) that explicitly prohibit employees from being represented in a grievance by any one other than another employee of the company.
Those same AWAs also helpfully stipulate that in the event that such a grievance is not settled, the decision of the Director, Human Resources will be 'final'. So obviously, employees can't properly expect that their union will be able to provide those kinds of services if they are employed pursuant to the industrial instruments he is responsible for approving.
What about training workers in how to exercise their 'rights and obligations under the legislation' as Hamberger put it in the interview. Well, we know that the Workplace Relations Act explicitly excludes 'training' as a matter upon which the commission may arbitrate. So I guess employees and their unions will just have to wait until employers decide that that is OK. In the meantime....well I guess we just have to wait until our EBA expires and then see if we can persuade the employer to even negotiate with us on it.
However, thanks for the tip mate.
Perhaps he means services such as collective bargaining representation? Oh no that can't be right, because Mr Hamberger knows that the current legislation omits completely to incorporate rights of employees to collectively bargain, doesn't he? In fact he knows (doesn't he?) that the AWAs he loves so well simply could not operate if employees had the explicit right to collectively bargain.
Perhaps he means that unions should survey their members on AWAs to find out if they actually want to collectively bargain and then somehow, they will get that right because they have actually expressed a preference for one type of industrial regulation over another. Well that can't be right either, because we know of an example where 70% of employees on AWAs explicitly requested their employer to bargain with their union upon the expiry of their AWAs and the employer told them to put it ........well you get the picture.
Perhaps he means that unions should turn their minds to acting as 'Bargaining Agents' for people who are.......ahem.....required by the employer to sign an AWA? Unfortunately for the erstwhile 'service' conscious union who is out there acting in an appropriately entrepreneurial manner, you could have the Full Court of the High Court bargaining for you-the fact is that when you offer for employment or you are offered an AWA by your existing employer, there simply is no requirement that the offer be amended or changed in any way, unless the employer agrees.
The fact is you either accept what is offered, or you don't get the job if you are a new employee or you will not get a pay rise/promotion or job security if you are an existing employee who has been offered an AWA.
Perhaps he means unions should offer low interest loans to members because that is a service workers will need by the time the Employment Advocate has finished with their pay and conditions
Now let's consider the 'new opportunities' the current system provides employees that according to Mr Hamberger, they never had before.
For employees who find that their jobs have been contracted out, or their enterprise privatised or sold off, they have a great new opportunity to calculate just how much worse off they will be under the AWAs the new employer will offer.
They can start with their old EBA rate, discount down to the minimum award rate and then turn to Mr Hamberger's website, check out the template AWA posted there, and calculate exactly how much worse off they will be when the employer puts together the remuneration package in the ways helpfully suggested by Mr Hamberger and his committed team!
The helpful advice to employers on how to package remuneration and hours in ways which strip out penalties, overtime and the like, and which includes 'performance bonuses' on a team or individual basis is usefully provided in the form of a 'template'. How handy for the stressed employer who just can't think up how they can do it better. What an example of individually tailored remuneration packages providing real choice to the shop assistant, railway worker, labourer, call centre operator and their well paid, secure, protected and powerful ilk.
Yes folks, there are indeed many new opportunities for workers that were never there before. Take the one about the new opportunity to get closer to your employer. Yes unlike before, when an employer was required to negotiate with you collectively about your rates and conditions, and when the silly old unions represented your views about proper rewards for your increased work and productivity, we now have the opportunity to wait for a pay rise, and wait and wait and wait until ...... well until our employer decides he/she wants a closer, more 'personal' relationship' with us.
What an opportunity that is!
We get to consider an AWA which does away with all those messy rights to representation, guaranteed pay increases, protection of conditions and a measure of job security, and we get the opportunity to just, well, 'Do It!' It is a wonderful thing and an opportunity that many workers have considered and .... well, they just don't seem to see it in quite the light that Mr Hamberger does. Ask union members in BHP and the banks.
Ah but look at how Mr Hamberger strenuously defends the right of workers to belong to unions. That bit just choked me right up! What a right that is under the regime he administers. A right to pay union dues, whether or not the union is legislatively permitted to assist you or not! Wow, what a bargain. The fact is Mr Hamberger let the cat right out of the bag on this one, when he helpfully opined that employees join unions 'for pragmatic reasons'.
They sure do.
Those reasons include the right to be represented, individually and collectively, the right to dignified treatment at work, a measure of job security and the right to share in the fruits of their work, skills and productivity. Unfortunately as Mr Hamberger well knows, the current system is explicitly designed to ensure that unions are unable to do that for workers forced onto AWAs, and in the case of newer industries where AWAs have been introduced at the time of their development (like the Call Centre industry), the Act is designed to explicitly prevent union growth and collective employee rights. Let's ask the (ex) One-Tel workers, shall we?
Please don't insult our intelligence Mr Hamberger, and don't assume that only union members know what you are up to.
Let's have a survey of workers (union and non union) and ask the straight forward question-which organisation do you think best protects your rights as a worker-a trade union (if you were a member) or the Office of the Employment Advocate? Of course the survey would have to include a note for all those employees who have never heard of Mr Hamberger or his Office, and for those that have heard of him and his Office ......well no explanation required really!
Finally, if a Labor government is elected later this year, it can only be hoped that his Office is abolished, but not the employment of the hapless public servants whose contract of employment includes doing his bidding. In Mr Hamberger's case though, I would not recommend any unilateral termination of his contract. Why should we all have to pay so that he can get a big pay out ahead of the expiration of the term stipulated in the contract?
No, I think it would be far better and more rewarding for all those workers he has so assiduously protected and defended, if he were sent to a (small) office somewhere in regional Australia, say Port Augusta, Launceston, or perhaps Port Hedland, and required to write at the rate of 250 times a day for the life of his contract-
I am a very important and powerful man-I protect workers every day by screwing unions, and I screw workers every day by helping the biggest and ugliest employers in the country rip off pay and conditions from workers who need protection. Every day, in every way, I will try harder and harder to do better.
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