|Issue No 2||26 February 1999|
Revealed: Reith Defies Own Pollster To Bash Unions
By Peter Lewis
The Howard Government is planning a new assault on trade unions despite its own pollsters telling it that unions are popular in the general community.
Attached to the Cabinet proposal for a stage-managed inquiry to promote Reith's US-style labour market deregulation agenda that was leaked this week, is private research by Mark Textor's Australasian Research Strategies.
Textor, the Government's pollster in the 1996 and 1998 federal election campaigns, conducted the "values" research into worker attitudes to the workplace, government, unions and workplace reform.
Key findings from the survey included:
- both young and older workers were "largely supportive of unions" with favourable attitudes driven by the need for security and self-esteem
- the single biggest perceived benefit of government involvement in the workplace is "the organisation and stability perceived to be inherent in the setting of guidelines and standards". Of course these are the standards that are fast disappearing via award stripping.
- workers don't like governments who blatantly take sides on industrial relations, because they fear unfair outcomes.
- a majority of workers under the age of 34 say they do not enjoy their job (55 per cent)
While the research is based on qualitative research, there is a clear contradiction in its message to a government preparing to cut the centralised wage-fixing system to the core in a bid to import US-style job creation.
Interestingly, not a word is spent on the US-style social problems which would be expected to accompany such a "reform", except more work-for-the-dole schemes.
Copies of the Cabinet-In-Confidence document prepared by Reith's office have been floating around everywhere for the past week, including the Workers Online office.
At first glance it looks for all the world like a PR document dressed up as a Cabinet leak. Lines like: "500,000 Australians are today deprived of the opportunity and dignity of work" are straight out of the slime manual of labour market deregulation spin.
There's also the predictable deference to the Des Moore slash and burn document placed in the public sphere early this year, which most commentators agreed was too extreme even for Reith.
It's only when you get into the substance of the document that you realise these guys are for real.
- limiting the powers of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission by changing the objects of the Act to include broader employment repercussions. This would give economists the avenue to stymie local pay rises with hokum long-term projections.
- encouraging big firms to use corporations law to bypass the award system.
- the creation of an opt-out stream from the industrial relations system for employers "which meet best practise standards
- and a discounted wage for the long term unemployed, to run outside the regular system, effectively creating a two-tiered labour market where your time in the dole queue becomes a job asset.
There is also an interesting discussion of release tactics, floating a high-profile inquiry of the type Wallis conducted into the finance sector, except this one would be purely for show:
"The object here would not be to find out new and clever ways to solve the unemployment problem - because I think there is a substantial body of evidence to show us how to do this. Instead we would be looking to such a high profile inquiry to be an important part of the plan to advance the case of reform...
Intriguingly, the document also castes both the Senate and the Australian Industrial Relations Commission as the potential spoilers of reform.
It deals with the Senate by advocating reforms to the Senate that would make it more difficult to for minor parties to win power. As to the power of the AIRC, it is the policy program itself that will ensure it ceased to be a player in the main game.
So what to expect in the short term? Here are the concluding words before Reith's sign-off, under the sub-heading: Next Steps in the Advancing the Employment Strategy:
I am sure you will be considering a discussion of these issues in the Cabinet Committee on Employment and Infrastructure. If we were to proceed with the Strategy, I would then see advantage in establishing a high-level Task Force, led by the Secretary of my Department and with senior representatives across relevant Commonwealth organisations. This Task Force would have the responsibility to support us in the detailed development, implementation and assessment of our Employment Strategy.
Workers Online will watch developments with interest
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We talk to a former union official who is now a minister in the Blair Government about the difficult relationship between New Labour and the labour movement.
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History: Remembering The Eveleigh Railway Workshops
The Eveleigh railway yards have a rich history which your average commuter would never imagine.
Review: Opening Tanner's Australia
Lindsay Tanner's new book offers a frank and forthright view of the future for Australia.
Campaign Diary: Carr And The Unions
No-one would accuse the Premier and the labour movement of being bossum buddies, but their fortunes are inextricably linked.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005