Interview: Under Fire
Politics: And the Winners Are ...
Economics: The Common Wealth
History: Walking for Justice
International: Deja Vu
Legal: The Rights Stuff
Review: That Cinderella Fella
Poetry: Is Howard Kidding?
The Locker Room
Age of Consent
Make Ads Not Law
Nice One, Workers!
Dog Eat Dog
The Westie Wing
The State Upper House votes this month on the issue of casual workers. Ian West predicts the crossbenchers will line up with workers and the Left wing Nationals might even cross the floor and leave the State Liberals sitting by themselves...
I've got Upper House Members discussing casual work this month. This vital issue has been on the Notice Paper for over a year, but it seems more timely and relevant than ever.
We're living in an age where people who work one hour a week are counted as being employed. On current projections, by the end of this decade one in three workers will be casual.
We have more people coming to work stressed, disoriented and tired from their last casual shift, where they arrive at an unfamiliar workplace as the last casual shift signs off and rushes home to cook dinner or pick up kids from after school activities.
We have more people working multiple jobs at odd hours. We have some employers specialising in workplaces with high turnovers of employees and where no induction is offered - it's an OH&S disaster waiting to happen, and when injuries occur, casual workers face a poorer situation in terms of early return-to-work and rehabilitation programs.
We've come out of the 1990s when permanent employment increased by just 5 per cent, while casual jobs grew by almost 70 per cent.
We're at a time when the Federal Parliamentary Library finds "casual employment reflects a lack of ongoing jobs more than it reflects a preference for casual employment" and "the association between the incidence of casual employment and the unemployment rate suggests that casual workers probably have more in common with the unemployed than with ongoing workers."
During the debate so far, the State Opposition has among other things come out and said it's pro casual work, it's ready to hand over NSW workers to John Howard, that too many people need income support, the public sector is the last vestige of the union movement, and that workers who produce goods belong to "dirty, old industries of the past to which the ALP is so committed."
Leading for the Opposition is Greg Pearce. Pearce used to be President of the Double Bay branch of the Liberal Party where he no doubt honed his empathy and concern for casual workers.
Pearce would have seen casual workers stacking the shelves at his local supermarket maybe, or perhaps bringing him his coffee during quite chats with the white shoe brigade. They might have even brought him a bottle of wine at the Yacht Club on a Wednesday afternoon.
Pearce is a self-described former struggling solicitor. Pearce cut his teeth at Freehills, a corporate law firm specialising in mergers and acquisitions. Senior partners there get $1.4 million a year, ordinary partners just $1.2 million.
Pearce now finds himself the Shadow Minister for Finance and Infrastructure. His past work in assisting mergers and acquisitions (job-shedding, down-sizing etc) leaves him perfectly placed to take the razor to the public service if ever the NSW public fall for the Conservative's "Prosperity" doctrine and elect a Coalition to the Treasury benches.
Pearce's Parliamentary responsibilities seem to fit nicely with some of his other interests - he does consultancy work for Morgan Lewis Attorneys, and holds three Director/Secretary positions with Property Investment and Development Corporations.
Pearce also holds membership of Australian Rural Group Limited (ARGL). This company has been trying to flog land and water licences held by one of its subsidiary companies. Interestingly, ARGL is currently suspended from the Australian Stock Exchange.
Pearce's performance has been illuminating. He passionately believes in workers having no set pattern of hours of work, no guarantee of ongoing work, no permanent conditions like sick leave or annual leave, and no redundancy just one hour's pay on notice of termination.
Pearce has been blathering away on the other side of the Chamber, citing the International Monetary Fund's recent calls for structural reform of the Australian economy, as an example of how we can "go forward" - whatever that means.
The International Monetary Fund's staff report on Australia says Howard's proposed IR legislation will widen employment opportunities, increase labour force participation and raise productivity by enhancing flexibility in work arrangements.
Casual workers know what "Flexibility" means. It means "Down."
It means, "I need you to come in this weekend." It means a reduction in our ability as a society to plan our lives and participate in the community. It means a reduced ability as a nation to build our skill base, and our reduced ability to hand our children any meaningful working life.
The IMF also wants stronger competition. The type of competition they're talking about comes at the expense of co-operation and the community.
Pearce has weakly attempted to defend the fact that over 60% of all jobs the Howard Government claims it has created have actually been casual jobs, and that over 80% of those jobs pay less than $28,000 a year. These types of jobs are a real hit with corporations and multinational companies.
It's been a blue ribbon individual performance from a blue ribbon kinda guy.
But while Pearce has been mouthing the exact words of the IMF, one of their former chief economists, Ken Rogoff, recently dumped on the unfettered free market approach, writing "of a growing resentment against the perceived injustices of globalisation. The simple truth is that corporations represent capital and capital has been the single biggest winner in the modern era of globalisation". And later, "Unskilled workers' incomes are not keeping pace with overall economic growth, and the resulting social strains are a ticking bomb."
We're yet to hear from the National Party. They've been crowing about the death of socialism over the last decade, but haven't seen the irony of their numbers heading south in Parliaments throughout the country. Funny that. I'm hopeful they've been listening to their agrarian comrades at the Earle Page Research Centre who have lately called for the Nationals to "civilise" the free market approach of the Liberal Party.
Well, this debate gives the National Party a chance to show it can stand up for workers who have suffered "agri-capitalism" for the past decade as 20,000 Australian farmers have locked the gate and walked away. This is their chance to show they believe in the co-operative nature of farming, and that they believe in the community. This is their chance to reject trickle-up (not down) economics.
The National Party ought to know that farmers and regional communities don't trust giant multinationals and supermarkets. They ought to know that the advantages these companies enjoy are reliant on what they can squeeze out of casual workers who have the most flexibility - down.
If they don't support my motion, they'll be showing their politics are as "Flexible" as a casual worker's pay packet and conditions. Their votes in 2007 will be "Off-shored", and their communities will experience "Increased Mobility" as they shut the gate and move into town. Their seats in Parliament will get "Churned."
I suppose it's their "Choice" and they can take it or leave it. They've got the "Freedom" to make their own decisions and determine their own fates. But they do risk becoming literally "Individuals" in the Chamber in the not too distant future if they follow the likes of Greg Pearce.
This resolution going through the Parliament also presents an opportunity to see where the 11 crossbenchers stand and how they are reading the climate on IR at the moment. I'm optimistic I'll get their majority support.
The debate of this issue has been heartening. Increasingly I'm seeing at the State Parliament a willingness by MPs to take on Union issues of concern and have a look at the matters of concern to workers and their families. Liberal Party attempts to demonise Unions just aren't washing with any of the other Parties or Independents.
If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online