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Issue No. 223 04 June 2004  

Last Year’s Model
Economists keep telling us things have never been better, all the economic indicators say so. Which sparks the obvious question: why are so many of us feeling so low?


Interview: The New Democrat
Canadian activist Judy Rebick explains how she's using lessons from Brazil to rebuild the labour movement.

Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Prime Minister John Howard is in California spruiking the "merits" of this month’s Bad Boss nomination …

Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
International capital demands guest labour – legal or illegal – as a way of beating down wages and conditions and, as Jim Marr discovers, the Australian Government seems happy to oblige.

Industrial: National Focus
Noel Hester reports on another workplace death (we-will-not-RIP NOHSC), heartburn for the Canberra consensus and all the action from around the states in our national wrap.

History: A Class Act
The problem of forgetting the primacy of class in favour of other ideas of community is highlighted in a new book, writes Neale Towart

International: Across the Ditch
NZ Nurses Union leader, Laila Harré, is in Sydney this week, comparing notes with the Australian Nurses Federation and seeking transTasman support for New Zealand’s highest profile industrial campaign.

Economics: Home Truths
Sydney University's Frank Stilwell argues that tax policy is driving the housing boom.

Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
The Day After Tomorrow is one part Grim Reaper of the environmental movement and two parts fictitious fable dramatically window dressed with extreme special effects, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: Silent Note
Resident Bard David Peetz uncovers the current public service motto – "Don't tell the Minister!".


 Trade Deal a $47 Billion Dud

 Ground Staff Spread Fashion Wings

 Ghan Raises Trans-Continental Stink

 Union Busters Bank on Labor

 Witnesses Face Casual Duress

 Rail Workers Cop ‘Beer Nannies’

 Sun Shines on Green Bans

 Big Business Plan to Cripple Compo

 Money Can’t Buy Me Love

 Federal Election in Doubt

 Safety Defects Plague Adelaide

 Police Investigate Assault Claim

 Activists What’s On!


The Soapbox
The Pursuit of Happiness Part I
The Australia Institute's Clive Hamilton questions the assumptions underlying a society that defines happiness in dollar terms.

The Soapbox
The Pursuit of Happiness Part II
Clive Hamilton concludes his analysis, looking at how more and more Australians are pulling back from a marketplace that is no longer providing the goods.

The Locker Room
Sack ‘Em All!
Phil Doyle puts his job on the line, but doesn’t everyone these days?

The Westie Wing
The NSW Government has an agenda on the table but the test is finding innovative ways to finance it, writes Ian West

 Liberal Laugh
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Last Year’s Model

Economists keep telling us things have never been better, all the economic indicators say so. Which sparks the obvious question: why are so many of us feeling so low?

Personal wealth is at an unprecedented high; property ownership is through the roof, consumer sales are booming; all assisted by an economy that is keeping both inflation and interest rates at a modest level.

But something doesn't add up. When asked, more and more workers say they feel stressed from overwork and given the option, say would forgo a pay rise for improved conditions or more time with their family.

To an economist, whose worldview is based on the premise that individuals chase wealth to maximise happiness, this is most irrational behaviour.

As Clive Hamilton points out in this month's Soapbox, it could well be that it is the economic model - not the humans - that has got it wrong.

Hamilton looks at the seduction of the marketeers and the fools gold of consumerism and finds more and more people opting to 'downsize' - that is forgo high-flier careers and big incomes, for more modest balanced lifestyles.

It's a new factor that the pointy-heads can't fit into their graphs - the yearning for a life less harried, where you can work, rest and play, all in a 24 hour time frame.

For trade unions, this shift raises some interesting issues, particularly around enterprise and award negotiations.

Many are already recognising that time is as important an asset as a pay cheque - construction unions, for instance, recently based negotiations around a claim for a 36-hour week which would translate to a guaranteed seven long-weekends per year.

But the challenge is beyond reducing formal hours, in many industries the very nature of work has changed and real work needs to be done in reviewing job design.

In many jobs, one is expected to be 'on-call' 24-07, mobile phones, pagers and emails are all expected to be answered; how have we moved our ideas of a working day to deal with these pressures?

There is a growing awareness of the need for flexible leave entitlements - such as between provisions for maternity, paternity and careers leave; but what of the period after the 'big event'? There are debates to be run around work-based child-care and maybe even aged care, as some hospitals are now providing for nurses.

These issues are difficult to deal with within the traditional work relationship because they are so difficult to quantify in dollar terms - not just the costs but the benefits.

And until we develop a new economic model that can put a value on goodwill, peace of mind and happiness we will continue to struggle to make sense of a world going mad.

Peter Lewis



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