||Issue No. 253||25 February 2005|
And The Battle Begins
Economics: Super Seduction
Interview: Bono and Me
Unions: The Eight Hour Day and the Holy Spirit
Technology: From Widgets to Digits
Education: Dumb and Dumber
Health: No Place for the Young
History: The Work-In That Changed a Nation
Review: Dare to Win
Poetry: Labor's Dreaming
The Locker Room
Just One Thing
No Dosh For Rupert
Executions Not Fines
Howard Needs To Know
And The Battle Begins
Much of what is coming was expected - it is a direct steal from the obnoxious policy paper released by the Business Council of Australia last week.
At its heart is the 'economic imperative' to drive labour costs down so big business can further increase their share of national prosperity at the expense of working families - after all, it's a lot easier than running a business efficiently.
All the 'reform proposals' are to this short-sighted end:
- legalising the rights of employers to sack workers unfairly;
- 'reviewing' the minimum wage to make it harder for low paid workers to get a pay rise;
- promoting union-busting campaigns by neutering the industrial umpire to create a system where employer lock-outs of unionised workers is rife;
- and aggressively spreading individual contracts to make the lives of Australian workers putty in the hands of their managers.
The one proposal that wasn't flagged was the federal government's hostile takeover of state industrial relations systems - an audacious move that may ultimately be more difficult than Howard et al imagines.
The push for a unitary industrial relations system is one of those insidious plays that looks oh so reasonable on paper. After all, surely it would be efficient to have everyone under the one system?
There are two big problems; first the federal industrial relations system is now an industrial relations system in name only, in reality it is a license for big business to liberate their workplaces from the influence of unions.
But more significantly, particularly for workers under the NSW state system, it would do away with a framework of work relations that has evolved over 100 years to deliver one of the great successes of not just the Australian, but also the global economy.
The beauty (and yes, I believe an IR system can be beautiful) of the NSW industrial relations system is that it has been designed to create the sort of society that most Australians (the BCA and Kev Andrews excepted) say they want - based on fairness and equity.
That's why the NSW Industrial Relations Commission has powers:
- to maintain industrial harmony;
- to set wages - not just based on the wishes of employers, but also the value of the work performed;
- to ensure that awards flow across industries, even to those without the resources or wherewithal to make a wage claim.
But it goes further, the NSW IRC is charged with taking a broader view of the way the economy works - in recent years it has reviewed gender pay equity and is currently looking at the plight of casual workers.
In short, the NSW system is an institution that has delivered prosperity and fairness - principles that big business say are mutually exclusive, but have been part of our way of life for 100 years.
The achievements are so ingrained that few even recognise them, they accept them as their way of life.
Most working families would be horrified to think that, over the next few years, they may lose control over their working hours, their leave entitlements, even their job security.
As I have written in recent weeks, our response must start with an exercise in educating working families about what they are going to lose - and showing how boring sounding legal terms and institutions actually make a difference.
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