||Issue No. 305||05 May 2006|
Contract With Australia
Interview: Out of the Bedroom
Industrial: Cloak and Dagger
Legal: The Fantasy of Choice
Politics: Labor Pains
Economics: Economics and the Public Purpose
Corporate: House of Horrors
History: Clash Of Cultures
International: Childs Play
Culture: Folk You Mate!
Review: Last Holeproof Hero
The Locker Room
Contract With Australia
These laws will risk going under the radar because, by their nature they are so complex as to induce slumber in even the keenest student of industrial relations. But seasoned observers warn their impact could be even more profound than WorkChoices.
So what is being proposed? Couched in the language of 'freedom' and choice' these laws are designed to break the link between labour law and contractors. It is this link that has provided a modicum of protection for workers forced from secure jobs onto sham contract arrangements in recent years.
By allowing contractors who are dependent on a single business for work to be 'deemed' as employees, industrial tribunals have ensured these workers have had access to superannuation, workers compensation and some legal recourse when treated unfairly.
All this will end under the ICA, due into Federal Parliament this session. Industrial tribunals lose the right to 'deem' contractors as employees and the unfair contracts jurisdiction is abolished, meaning any disputes have to go through the altogether more expensive avenues of Supreme Court action.
The laws also continue the attack on unions. If you are contractor you will have no 'choice' about being represented by a trade union in negotiating a contract. You will be truly on your own.
The good news this week is that outworkers in the textile industry and transport industries have won exemption from the laws for time being, following effective lobbying of the Coalition back bench.
The outworkers scored a win on moral grounds, the truck drivers more on the political realisation that those being done over are Howard battlers. But the question must be asked, if these laws are bad for outworkers and truckies, why aren't they bad for everyone?
The loudest advocates of this legislation, mysterious commentators like Ken Phillips from the secretive Independent Contractors Association, wrap their arguments with a fervour not seen since the end of the Cold War - 'contractors are happier' he claims, while publishing titles such as 'Independence and the Death of Employment"
Phillips would argue that contracting is a pure expression of the desire of workers to break free of their bonds of employment - that attempts to legislative labour rights are a dangerous constraint on this freedom.
But the evidence suggests otherwise. It is corporations that are driving contracting out regimes in a bid to cut labour costs, not the workers seeking some form of free enterprise nirvana.
It was not the Optus technicians who bowled up the idea of trashing their jobs security, super and compo, so they could lease the vans the company used to provide them and go out and compete with each other.
How many of the migrant women at Kemalex were agitating with the idea of quitting their job, getting an ABN and rejoining the process line as a small business operator?
Of the million Australians currently deemed 'contractors, University of Melbourne research suggests up to 40 per cent do all their work for one boss - they are not entrepreneurs, they are employees without rights.
They are the victims of this legislative double-whammy that nobody saw coming before the last election. WorkChoices provides the mechanism to expel unions from the workplace. These laws provide the mechanism to send basic rights out the door by taking away the ability to expose a sham contract.
Ultimately, the Independent Contractors Act is the legislative expression of free market ideology, as championed by Hayek, who believed that every human interaction could be boiled down to a market transaction.
Its merit rests squarely on a values call - whether the spread of contractors is the ultimate act of freedom or the ultimate act of control. While those with freedom in the hearts may yearn for a world where the former prevails, evidence clearly suggests the latter.
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