Interview: Head On
Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
Industrial: Vital Signs
Economics: Taxing Times
Environment: It Ainít Necessarily So
History: Melbourneís Hours
Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
Review: Pollie Fiction
Poetry: The Cabal
The Locker Room
The Cowra Clause
Belly Spreads The Word
Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
Do You Have a Moment?
I'd like to thank John Howard for Work choices. It has reminded people in the labour movement why we were formed, what we stand for and why we hate these Tory bastards so much.
For too long we have been cocooned by an industrial relations system that was a one-stop shop for a fair go. It only a week ago that wages were determined taking into account such things as the cost of living, the economic capacity to pay and something called fairness! Conditions were improved gradually, over time, after exhaustive test cases, and as the country could afford it. Individual workers had access to no cost dispute resolution - they even had the opportunity to have unfair dismissals reversed!
How bloody outrageous. No wonder the HR Nicholls Society decided this edifice of even handedness had to go.
Thanks to Work Choices we now know that John Howard does not want employees to have a fair go, fair pay, or fair treatment at work. Howard is like the emperor with no clothes. We can now all see just how mean he is. And the innocent victims are lining up to point it out.
Take a moment to consider the winners and losers in this debate.
Work Choices will;
Apart from that it's a terrific idea.
Of course, employers stand to make immediate and substantial gains. Why is anybody surprised by the outrageous conduct at Cowra Meatworks? It's precisely what the legislation was designed to do.
Let's look at the probable impact of Work Choices from some different perspectives. Lets consider the industrial, economic, social and political ramifications.
Industrially, Work Choices is designed to destroy unions, gut the Commission and put everyone on individual contracts.
There can be no doubt that Howard has deliberately sought to assure the Liberal party of political dominance by crippling/destroying the bedrock of the ALP - the unions. Work Choices is 1700 pages of detailed regulation of unions. It's not deregulation at all. It is not prohibiting outrageous union behaviour, it is criminalising the ordinary activities of a workers representative in a civilised society. For example, sanctions apply to any official or delegate for simply asking that employees be dealt with fairly. Every facet of union activity is severely curtailed if not altogether prohibited.
The Act has been tripled in size but reduces employee rights to a third. Go figure. It's all this stuff regulating unions that takes up the space.
Ever since the Conciliation and Arbitration Court convicted HR Nicholls of contempt of court, radical employers have campaigned for the abolition of the Commission. Wasn't it funny hearing Nick Minchin apologise to the Neanderthals of the HR Nicholls Society for not carrying out their full extremist agenda.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that they've gutted the AIRC and put the State Tribunals in the intensive care ward. The Commission won't be ordering employers to pay award rates any more - there won't even be rates of pay in awards - and they certainly won't be directing employers to treat employees fairly
The Industrial Commission lost it's stripes as independent umpire in 1996. It became the ball boy. 10 years later it has lost its role on the playing court altogether and has been relegated to the dressing sheds of the employers with strict instructions to spike the water bottle of the unions.
Individual Contracts will become compulsory at every workplace as employers so decide. Nearly every new coal mine opens with AWA's being a condition of the job. So much for choice! Don't be surprised that many more workers sign them. This will no doubt be trumpeted as employees voting with their feet. It is simply coercion. The real test will be the thousands of case studies of workers losing pay, penalty rates, public holidays etc. The Cowra meatworks example shows the devastating impact of the combination of the unfettered power to sack with the ability to offer lower wages and conditions.
Economically, Work Choices is meant to be the next big boost to productivity and a virtual job machine.
But that just doesn't stack up.
Originally the Government denied having done any economic analysis on Work Choices. One FOI request later it turns out that Treasury says productivity growth may be 'suppressed'.
This should come as no surprise because the same thing happened in Western Australia and New Zealand.
In WA in1994-96, 5% of employees had individual agreements below the award rate. By 1998 this had grown to 25%. On top of that 54% of those abolished penalty rates and 40% abolished overtime rates. Productivity fell.
People don't work harder for less! Funny that.
For employees, Work Choices will mean many are ripped off, exploited or intimidated. You don't have to be a practitioner of the dismal science to know that loss of job security will result in reduced consumer confidence. This will dampen demand in many areas and slow the economy.
The impact will vary according to the economic strength of the sector. There will be an immediate impact in areas where the wages bill is the primary cost. Hospitality, retail, light manufacturing. Additionally any sector facing competition with China will be the first to attack workers. John Howard has staked his next election on the gamble that this won't happen. He has a more generous view of employers than I do.
Socially, you have to say there is much social engineering in Work Choices. It will create an underclass of low paid insecure employment which will expand rapidly. Attempts to compete with China and India on labour costs are inevitable because of this legislation. The Welfare to Work changes will exacerbate the Work Choices effect. 'Take the AWA job on lesser terms or you lose your dole etc.' The effects on our society will be enormous.
As a nation it was once settled that we didn't want to be a low wage country. We have never wanted to compete on wages with Asia. We want to be the clever country, and we have been. Howard has dropped the ball on skills development and wants us, or at least sectors of our economy, to start competing on wages.
If you think we have social problems now, wait until more and more Australians cannot find stable employment, get a living wage, afford a house, provide for their children.
Politically, the ramifications of Work Choices are at their brightest. Obsession clouds political judgement. Howard wants so much to deliver for Mr. Nicholls and his extremist business mates, that he has made a great error in judgement.
It can be summed up this way - Australians won't let Howard get away with it. It's unAustralian.
1. Unions will adapt and survive. There won't be much opportunity to use the union bogey man. Unions will box clever.
2. Business won't be able to help themselves, they will screw workers. Hello Cowra meatworks, are you still with us.
3. Australians want institutions of fairness, as the game gets uglier and uglier we will want the umpire back on the court
The ACTU and the Government both know what the Australian public think of Workchoices. The ACTU polling shows that
According to Nick Minchin:
"Poll after poll demonstrated that the Australian people don't agree at all with anything we're doing on this - we have minority support for what we're doing,"
Minchin said "The fact is the great majority of Australians do not support what we are doing on industrial relations, they violently disagree."
There isn't much doubt what Australians think about Work Choices.
What do I really think about Work Choices?
John Howard and his Work Choices laws have reinvigorated the unions, given us the opportunity to be advocates for all workers, and will show that IR and unions are vote winners, not vote losers.
Not really the result intended by Mr Nicholls.
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