Interview: Baby Bust
Safety: Dust To Dust
Bad Boss: Shaming in Print
National Focus: Work's Cripplin' Us
International: Bulk Bullies
History: The Battle for Kelly's Bush
Economics: Aid, Trade And Oil
Review: The Art Of Work
Poetry: Sew His Lips Together
Saving The Planet
Interview with Peter Lewis
The Federal Government has tried to stake out a family agenda. What's your response?
Well, they talk family friendly rhetoric and they act in a way that is economically and socially hostile to families.
The agenda last week was an attempt to have a broader view of the demographic shift in Australia and they've basically got to keep people working longer, otherwise the younger generation will bear the burden. Is there merit to that argument?
Well there is some merit to the argument that we're an ageing population that should be dealt with but nothing in last week's announcement went to the core of the problem of the ageing society. There are two arms of policies that you address in an ageing society. The first one is its implications for participation rates in the workforce and absolutely it is true, that a large section of our workforce who have withdrawn prior to retirement have been forced out of the workforce in recent years. The mature age unemployed absolutely deserve a better deal but they are not getting one from this Government and they are not putting any programs in place to assist them, that's point number one.
Point number two is that the only fundamental way in the end you deal with an age imbalance in your society is to make sure society renews itself and society can only renew itself by addressing the issues to do with the decline in the number of families that we have in a society. If our birth rate continues to drop we'll become a childless society not just an ageing society and if you have a childless society you move to population bust and the problem with that is that you become a society with no energy, no renewal and no passion.
Have we got models around the world where that's occurred that we can look at with the problems?
Absolutely, Governments all around the world are addressing the problem of an ageing society by introducing a raft of family friendly measures, from family friendly workplaces, to the availability of part-time work to the availability of quality and affordable child care and to financial assistance to those that are bringing up the next generation of young Australians, whom our economic prosperity absolutely depends. The truth is that if our birth rate is maintained at its current level by 2050 there will be one retiree for every two and half working Australians. That is simply unsustainable. Nothing in Peter Costello's vision attempts to assist parents with child rearing and that is perhaps the most important economic and social impairment that we have in this country. In fact, quite the opposite, the Government's own documentation demonstrates that across taxation, child care, health and education the Government's running a harsh agenda which penalises parents financially and socially.
So you are really saying that the key is to encourage people to breed
No, I'm saying that those people who choose to have children are not being assisted in fact, at almost every turn are being hurt by this Government. Whether it's the highest tax or whether it's through the Government's policies which make them pay more for the basics of life like health and education. Something like 75-80 perc ent of Australians have children and want to have children but those people at every turn are being discouraged from considering additional children
Wouldn't Howard and Costello say that with keeping interest rates low is the best incentive to make it economically viable to have a family?
It's only one of the large number of parameters. Around the world the OECD shows that there is a link between peoples willingness to rear children and family friendly policies at the workplace level, family friendly policies when it comes to affordable and accessible child care and family friendly taxation arrangements. All of which the Governments own internal documentation are very hostile for many families in this country. There is no argument to urge people to breed, it is simply a fact that if our birth rate keeps declining then we as a society and ourselves go in to economic and social decline. Something well documented by the demographers but something that the Government chooses to ignore and in choosing to ignore it their only response is to tell people to work till they drop!
It's an interesting way of recasting Industrial Relations too. We've always looked at IR as being about work. What you're really saying is we've really got to start thinking about IR being that link between work and family. What role do unions play?
A huge role because the original Harvester judgement was about an amount of money that was paid to a bread winner to bring up a family. That's what it was all about and our society has focussed almost exclusively on economic outcomes being the measure of a good society. Our industrial relations and taxation have increasingly ignored the most important job there is in society that is bringing up a kid.
There must be a role of looking at the tax system about the way they value home work as well. Is that something that you're putting any energy into?
Well, putting a lot of energy into making sure that a raft of our policies actually enable people to be both good parents and good workers simultaneously
Do you support cases like the 36 hour campaign that a number of unions have run?
I'm not buying into the length of the working week because that's something that really needs to be done at a workplace level. What level will suit one industry will not necessarily suit another.
But the concept of putting limits on the amount of work one does, even to the extent of knocking back over-time?
Well, I think that's got to be a genuine choice for people and that's something they've got to have the capacity to make a choice. People have to be able to be in a position to choose whether they want to work longer or shorter and that's where we need the flexibility in the system. For example, I mean if you look at the Enterprise Bargain at Walter Construction, basically the blokes opted not to work Saturdays and what Walter Construction actually found was that their productivity went up and what the blokes actually found was that they enjoyed being home on Saturdays and taking the kids fishing. That's a very good example of family friendly workplaces being negotiated at the Enterprise level or the industry level.
Of course, you've got the other side of the labour market which is casualisation and I know that Craig Emerson has done a bit about this but how does the blearning and part-time casual work touch with your portfolio concerns?
Well, it touches very directly because increasingly we have more and more people who are the working poor who are stringing together a number of casual and part-time jobs in which there is little security or predictability about the hours they will work and that impacts dramatically upon the quality of life that people have and their capacity to rear their children. That's why we think there needs to be a debate about how work is available to people in a predictable and secure way. But when I go out there and talk to people about issues in the workplace the one thing that they value most highly is certainty and security and we ought to be in a position where people can negotiate arrangements where people can negotiate arrangements which give them greater certainty and security in their employment not less and that is why the whole debate about the availability of part-time work and the spread of casualised work needs to be on the agenda.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online