Interview: The Wet One
Bad Boss: Like A Bastard
Unions: Demolition Derby
Corporate: The Bush Doctrine
Politics: American Jihad
Health: Secret Country
Review: Walking On Water
Poetry: The UQ Stonewall
Month In Review
The Locker Room
The Legacy of 11/9
The CFMEU Race Debate #2
Keeping it Clean
Sue the Leaders?
Wrong Way, Go Back
Shame on Murray
Use or Abuse of Long Term Casuals
Speaking in Tongues
The battleground maybe different but the aim of the offensive - driving down wages and job security - will be the same and, so too by and large, is the gameplan.
Commissions, hand-picked and overpaid, have become the weapon of choice in the Coalition Government's battle to deprive workers of rights they are entitled to under ILO conventions, endorsed by Australia.
First it was Commissioner Cole, sifting selective evidence, to justify restrictions on the CFMEU. Now it's the Productivity Commission being used to do a job on car workers and their unions.
Nobody at the Productivity Commission is taking home anything like Cole's $660,000, plus perks, but remuneration levels should still be interesting to car workers they are coming after.
The Commission employs 200 people and, in the last five years, has cost taxpayers $112 million.
The 25 decision-makers amongst them all earn six-figure salaries, averaging out at $170,000 per year.
Over the last three years, average remuneration packages at the Productivity Commission have increased by 26.3 percent.
Unremarkably, the two Government-appointed Commissions have come up with recommendations that mirror Government thinking on workplace reforms, a sort of recycled wish-list from the IR cheer squad at the Australian Industry Group.
How the Productivity Commission's report will be used was flagged by Abbott and Industry Ministry, Ian Macfarlane, well before it saw the light of day.
They will tie on-going assistance to vehicle manufacturers to sweeping changes in the IR landscape.
Taxpayers, Macfarlane says, are "right to believe that the money is going to greater efficiencies and not to support outmoded industrial relations processes".
He describes a direct link between IR change and industry assistance as an "extreme option" but adds "I am not ruling it out".
The AIG and the Productivity Commission have endorsed Peter Reith's reforms, restricting the rights of workers to organise and bargain, and backed more draconian elements, so far rejected by the Senate.
Central to the wish list, of course, is making pattern bargaining illegal. At least this recognises the fact that it is still legal and that unions using it, including the CFMEU, AMWU and AWU, are acting within the boundaries of Reith's redrawn boundaries.
Pattern bargaining, essentially, boils down to industry agreements, the view that people doing similar work in the same industry should get similar rewards.
It is an repugnant to Abbott, the AIG, Cole and the Productivity Commission because it limits the ability of employers to engage in a race to the bottom on wages, safety and entitlements.
They argue that different workplaces have different needs and these should be reflected in industrial instruments. Presumably, in practice, it would mean that where a second employer wouldn't agree to higher wages than a competitor, the union should negotiate a lower settlement because to come up with the same deal would make it a pattern agreement.
But it is not just pattern bargaining on the Abbott/AIG wish list.
The employer group, with Abbott's backing, insists on the following:
- suspending or terminating bargaining periods if a protected action causes damage to any firm, industry or employee
- giving the IRC power to stop industrial action within 24 hours and the right to suspend the registration of a non-complying union
- giving the IRC discretion to impose a cooling off period
- requiring secret ballots before industrial action
Then there's the Government/Productivity Commission extra - restructuring unions along industry lines - that strikes directly at ILO freedom of association provisions.
The first four demands, given that industrial action is already outlawed during the terms of agreements, aim to restrict the ability of workers to maintain living standards. The first, for example, would virtually eliminate the possibility of industrial action in support of bargaining claims.
How so? Because, at the insistence of the multi-nationals, the industry has moved away from integration to out-sourcing virtually all componentry which is supplied under a Just In Time system.
Just In Time, to be fair, has helped the Australian industry remain competitive, removing from manufacturers the need to maintain well-stocked inventories or run warehouses, at least in the old-fashioned sense.
It means, however, that any industrial action at a supplier can shut down manufacturers, virtually overnight, and, conversely, that agitation at manufacturing plants will rebound on suppliers.
Combined with Just In Time, manufacturers have put suppliers, and their employees, over a barrell by writing cost-downs into just about every contract. Under these clauses, suppliers are required to reduce costs over the life of a contract. Industry observers say average cost-downs demanded by vehicle manufacturers range from five to 15 percent.
This pressures suppliers to cut back on jobs, as well as wages and conditions, putting workers at a distinct disadvantage before they even begin bargaining.
We know why the AIG wants industrial reform. It is a self-interest group promoting, the narrow view of employers, particularly in this instance, multi-national manufacturers.
But why is their agenda adopted so readily by Government and the Productivity Commission who, theoretically at least, have responsibilities to the wider community?
Vehicle assembly, like construction, is far from a basket case.
The Australian industry, in fact, is thriving like never before ...
- The four majors - Holden, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Ford - along with hundreds of suppliers and specialist tool shops employ 55,000 Australians
- Last year, they turned over a record $17 billion
- Export receipts, last financial year, came in just below $5 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1996
- Annual export returns are expected to top $10 billion by 2010
- Toyota has just announced that Australian componentry in its new Camry model, built at Altona, will rise from 66 to 77 percent
- Toyota will invest an additional $120 million a year, on the Camry alone
- GM has announced its new V6 engine will be built in Australia
- Mitsubishi has made a staggering $1 billion commitment to research, development and production, opening up the possibility of 1200 new jobs
- Vehicle manufacture now outstrips cattle, sheep and grain production in terms of turnover and export receipts
Well, given economic soundness, how does the IR record stack-up?
Between 1990 and the year 2000, 223 working days were lost per 1000 employees in Australia, a mid-table result but certainly better than the 7250 per 1000 lost in Korea, and Canada's 580.
To put the figure in context, the International Labor Organisation Yearbook reveals that working days lost in Australian manufacturing due to "compensatable industrial injuries" were 44 percent more than those due to strikes and lockouts.
Meanwhile, Australia and New Zealand are among a small number of countries cited in the ICFTU's 2000 Survey of Violations of trade union rights. The others being Swaziland, Argentina, Chile, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
As the ACTU noted to the Productivity Commission "none of these countries is at the cutting edge of competitiveness in the international automotive industry".
Sweden, Germany and Canada are though and they also have strong trade unions and industry, or pattern, bargaining.
Clearly, Productivity Commission arguments for reduced tarrifs and sweeping IR changes, are ideoligically driven. Just like the Cole Commission and the Government that spawned them both.
They spell trouble for car workers, whether they are members of the AMWU, AWU or any other industrial organisation.
That much became obvious on September 19 when Geoff Polites (Ford), Ken Asana (Toyota), Tom Phillips (Mitsubishi) and Peter Hanenberger (Holden) pledged themselves to Government's IR agenda at a Canberra pow wow with Prime Minister, John Howard.
Previously, the big four had left it to the AIG to make the running on these issues. No doubt Government's willingness to use $2.8billion in taxpayer assistance helped concentrate their minds.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online