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June 2005   

Interview: The Baby Drought
Social ethicist Leslie Cannold has delved into why women - and men - are having fewer children. And it all comes back to the workplace.

Industrial: Lies, AWAs and Statistics
David Peetz uncovers the truth behind the latest statistics on earnings under Australian Workplace Agreements.

Workplace: The Invisible Parents
Current government policies about work and family do not reflect the realities of either family life or the modern workplace. writes Don Edgar.

History: Bruce�s Big Blunder
The Big Fella, Jack Lang, gives an eyewitness account of the last time Conservatives tried to dismantle Australia�s industrial relations system.

Politics: All God's Children
The battle for morality is not confined to Australian polittics. Michael Walzer writes on the American perspective

Economics: Spun Out
The business groups are feeling cocky. The feds have announced their IR changes, business says they don't go far enough. What a surprise, writes Neale Towart

International: Shakey Trials
Lyndy McIntyre argues the New Zealnd IR experiment provides warnings - and hope - for the Australian union movement.

Legal: Civil Distrubance
Tom Roberts argues that there is more at stake than an attack on building workers in the looming legsilation.

Review: Crash Course In Racism
Paul Haggis flick Crash suggests that when cars collide the extent of people's prejudices are revealed sans the usual veil of political correctness, writes Tara de Boehmler.

Poetry: You're Fired
New laws will leave bosses holding the whip and workers with a Raw Hide, writes resident bard David Peetz


The Locker Room
Ashes to Dust
In which Phil Doyle travels to distant lands in search of a meat pie, and prepares for the joys of sleep deprivation

The Westie Wing
Ian West lists the Top Ten reasons why workers in NSW can gain some solace from having the Labor Party sitting on the Treasury benches�

The Soapbox
Dear John
In response to this year�s Federal Budget, Bishop Kevin Manning wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard


An Act of Faith
After a week of watching the Howard Government attempt to explain their vision of work relations we have a clearer picture of what the social safety net will be in the future � an act of faith


 Beattie Dares Job Vandals

 Broken Hill Confronts "Choice"

 BHP Faces Losses

 Howard Threatens Babies

 Working Between the Flags

 Hadgkiss Makes History

 Bob The Organiser

 Johnny Packs Toothbrush

 Security Blunders to the Max

 EDI Court Out

 Feds: Do As I Say �

 Soaring Mercury Sparks Walk Off

 Unions Offer to Play Libs

 Education Stands Up To Howard Assault

 Dodgy Bosses Get a Tick

 Weight Watchers Raise Scales

 Hyundai Showdown a Riot

 Activists' What's On!

 Patriot Doug
 Remembering Workers In Cairns
 Bad Law
 Fair Go For Injured Workers
 A Question Of Choice
 Galahs Up The Cross
 National Solution
 Bomber�s Classic
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Spun Out

The business groups are feeling cocky. The feds have announced their IR changes, business says they don't go far enough. What a surprise, writes Neale Towart

Evan Jones puts it well (as usual):

Says "Hugh Morgan the Prince of self-interest in Australian business 'The consequence [of over-regulation] is limiting the ability of companies to respond to price signals in a market that is very competitive'. The usual palaver."

"Except when it comes to workers' wages. There will be no catering to price signals with respect to wages; only onerous legislation. And the Howard Government, at the bidding of the BCA in particular, is furiously expanding the regulations dictating on what terms workers will work under their masters' commands, and get paid. No such thing as over-regulation when it comes to workers, thank you very much.

That the BCA has adopted Hugh Morgan as their President is a disgrace. Morgan has been there and funded just about every self-interested business lobby and think tank that has blossomed in the last twenty years. He has worked tirelessly, assisted by his minions (especially Ray Evans of Western Mining), to entrench as a national governmental agenda his own self-interest. Naturally, Hugh Morgan would find the regulatory structure a burden. Is the Pope Catholic?"

Regulation is their favourite word. There is always too much of it. I would say not really or Morgan would have been gaoled in Canada and the late Rene Rivkin would have been happier with a lot of like-minded souls around him at Long Bay.

The Australian Industry Group isn't screaming so loudly about business regulations but their spokesperson Heather Ridout, has been hitting the airwaves and the talk circuit heavily for some time. The subject - workplace regulation. Flexibility and deregulation are the calls. What this means is that you the employee (or soon to be "independent" contractor will do as your employers flexibility requires. For example, on Monday she told ABC radio:

"[M]anufacturers also want to toughen rules on enterprise bargaining agreements to make it harder for workers to strike."

She says 30 per cent of larger companies say their workplace relations have improved through the last enterprise bargaining agreement.

"What the survey really does highlight is that we need to breathe new life into that process," she said.

"We need to have a richer agenda for it and therefore place constraints on approaches such as pattern bargaining.

"We need to have tougher strike regulations through secret ballots and cooling off periods."

Ms Ridout says unions will always have a role in the process, so long as they acknowledge the needs of individual companies.

So we can see that it is OK to be in a union, to negotiate the way work is done, as long as you negotiate and agree the just what the boss wants. It must suit them. No ideas about equal pay for equal work. A "richer agenda" actually means the narrow agenda of the company you work for. No bargaining by unions across industry where the same sort of job for company A means the same rte of pay as company B. At least if it is the union bargaining. Companies can of course, agree on an industry plan and have legislation that will allow them to lockout workers across industry and limit the scope for their negotiations. Notice it is "Manufacturers" collectively who want these things, but workers collectively mustn't get ideas about acting collectively or they will be fined.

The proposed Independent Contractors laws are explicit on this. As Buchanan and Briggs put it in a forthcoming article "Whilst the Government talks a lot about respecting the choices of the parties, it will legislate to outlaw the negotiation of any clauses on contractors by the parties to awards or agreements. In practice, the ICA will enhance the 'freedom of choice' for employers to redesignate employees as contractors. "

Despite herself, Ridout slips up. Enterprise bargaining is acknowledged as successful. In the industries she talks about, this means union bargaining and non-union collective bargaining. This is not enough.

Flexibility is King.

Ridout has had several opportunities this year to express her "vision" or her master's vision, for the future of work. That fortress of socialism, the ABC has been generous with airtime and she expanded on the "flexibility" idea in a discussion with Peter Mares, Chris Richardson from Access Economics (note to self:how did those filthy socialists let such business voices get on at the same time? Must have a word to the commissar!) and for the fabled "balance, Barbara Pocock joined them on "Big Ideas (2-5-05)

Well many workers say that; that the kind of flexibility that the parent, for example, looks for is the chance to have some say over when they start and finish, over when they take their annual leave, and over their total hours. And those kinds of flexibilities are often not in the hands of employees, and really complicate the business of life and care--as well as trying, of course, to be productive at work. So some employees have less flexibility than their employers are seeking--and have.

Ridout again, when having to make statements based on fact rather than her masters wish lists, acknowledged that workers and their unions have been crucial to the success of manufacturing:

"But unlike a lot of other service-related areas, manufacturing employment is still largely full-time. We are 1.1 million people employed--90 per cent still full time--in manufacturing. So yes, there is more flexibility around it. We've got new forms of employment like contract labour, labour hire, casuals et cetera. But still the main form of employment in our industry is around full-time employment. Inevitably employers have had to seek greater flexibilities around how that is deployed, but generally the industry has grown well. Recently it has done extremely well, I think because of the high productivity gains that we have been able to achieve."

She goes on to acknowledge that the award system has been able to deal successfully with casual employment and seems to be supporting the rights they have under awards.

"Well, just have a look at the rights of casuals. Their pay is struck under awards. They have access now to parental leave. A year or two ago employers, including the Australian Industry Group, supported the extension of parental leave to casuals who've been employed for more than 12 months. They have rights to unfair dismissal protection if they've been with an employer for 12 months, and that was enshrined in legislation back in 1994, I think. And they have access to a 25 per cent loading to cover annual leave, sick leave, long service leave and redundancy payments. "

Her supportive words run out about here, as she decides that she hasn't been attacking the unions enough, so she goes into overdrive to attack the metal industry casual conversion process, saying that most casuals didn't want to take up permanency so that shows how out of touch with reality the unions are. Barbara Pocock brings things back to reality at this point because she is aware and is willing to talk about the real life difficulties of people in the workplace, not the idealised flexible wonderland that Ridout seems to see the 21st century workplace as.

Rights at work are crucial to have, but you also need to be able to exercise those rights, and to do that you must be feeling secure in your job and financially.

So that's a very significant financial disincentive in terms of the weekly pay packet if you put your hand up to request conversion. The other thing is that at the moment that you put your hand up you are a casual worker, and in most cases without any union protection. So you're immediately vulnerable to losing all of your shifts and employment.

So it's really stacked against workers in many places to make the leap to convert.

... It's a no-brainer. People want a predictable job. They don't want the sack, as they have had in many cases before as casuals. They want permanency. Where they can get it with the union's support with a request to convert, in many cases they will do it.

As we move into a twenty-first century labour market, which of course we need to do, it's quite inappropriate to have part-time work casualised in the way it is. It greatly penalises women in particular. And I think it really is in very significant need of a regulatory solution and award renovation.

As John Buchanan and Chris Briggs put it, the agenda is to "further tilt labour law in favour of employers by regulating unions and de-regulating employers" All Ridout's statements are in this vein. Do as you are told by an employer who can treat you as they would like, and we will have a real 21st century workplace. This despite the fact that the most extreme examples of employer flexibility and employee control, such as New Zealand from 1991, saw productivity fall dramatically, real wages fall and poverty increase. Lead on oh enlightened businesses. Big Ideas indeed.

The main idea is to remove your rights to a voice, to remove any notion of participation by people in the workplace. At the same time governments and business are pushing ahead with changes in regulatory systems that govern how banks operate, how recently privatised utility providers operate and how much control any particular company has over an industry sector. How long until Coles and Woolies run all the shops, and thus all the suppliers. How long until they merge themselves as Walmart perhaps move in. What is happening is the end of democratic participation as the regulatory processes that ensure rights and fairness are removed as power accumulates to the few.

See Evan Jones. Oz business regulatory overload?

John Buchanan and Chris Briggs. Work, Commerce and the Law: A New Australian Model? (in Australian Economic Review forthcoming)

ABC Radio National Big Ideas. Australia Forums: The Future of Work first broadcast 2 May 2005

ABC News Online Manufacturers Get behind IR Plans 23 May 2005


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