Interview: The Month Of Living Dangerously
Unions: Staying Mum
Economics: Precious Metals
Industrial: The Cold 100
History: The Vinegar Hill Mob
Legal: Free Agents
Politics: Under The Influence
International: How Swede It Was
Review: Keating's Men Slam Dance on Howard
The Locker Room
The Power of Ones
Distinguish between the form and the substance. Iron bar Wilson Tuckey, according to today's press, representative of unnamed backbenchers, is giving Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrew a hard time because he is too soft!
This fight over the pending Independent Contractors Bill is of crucial significance to all workers. Tuckey, always more brawn than brain, says that we shouldn't let unions, in particular the Transport Workers' Union, get anywhere near 'small businesses'.
By conventional wisdom and law, the worker and the small businessperson are qualitatively difference creatures. But what if the 'independent contractor' serves a single purchaser, or predominantly a single purchaser? The contractor exists in that status predominantly to relieve the purchaser of a range of obligations.
Multiple groupings previously employees (hairdressers, gym instructors, etc.) are now being offloaded from employee status to relieve the employer of obligations. The people still do the same job for the same employer.
In the mid to late 19th Century, firms preferred employees to independent contractors, because the latter retained their fierce independence from pre-capitalist days, and preferred to work to rule. Employees could be treated as servants, as indeed they were, and the law obliged.
But in the last one hundred years, employees have acquired more rights and contractors have lost rights. Many small businesses are now subordinated across market relations. They become de facto workers, often attractive to purchasers of their services because they flog themselves to death.
The formally self-employed acquire a culture that preaches independence whether that independence is real or not.
Truckies have been 'independent' for some time, but they remain dependent. Their job lot is the exemplar of self deception. Indebtedness, appalling hours, appalling threats to their life (and those of others on the roads), as well as to their families who stand to lose the breadwinner.
So Wilson Tuckey is talking through his arse. So also are some of the contractors' spokespersons. For example, James Taylor, President of the Courier and Taxi Truck Association, notes in the Australian Financial Review of 20th April 2006:
Independent contractors choose to be their own business and not employees. They understand and accept the risk of running their own business and do not want interference from third parties in their business dealings.
The result from the TWU representation of independent contractors in the NSW courtier and taxi truck industry has been a flattening of earnings and a removal of negotiation ability, and a reduction of owner-driver flexibility.
The inclusion of some employee-type provisions has also caused confusion and degraded the true business nature of the relationship between principal contractors and owner-drivers.
Admittedly Taylor represents the piddling end of the industry, but what does appear to have happened is a flattening of intelligence. Machismo runs deep amongst so-called independent contractors. Look at the Tasmanian logging truckies who voted for Howard in the last election.
The 'true' business nature of the relationship is structured subordination.
At the serious end of the industry, we note that in September last year, the Australian Long Distance Owners and Drivers Association, with its 22,000 members, was spitting chips. Said the ALDODA spokesperson Lyn Bennetts:
There's a backlash building among our small business against the coalition for sitting on their hands after promising action on rates in 2000.
The article in the Australian Financial Review (Kean Wong, 30 September) noted that owner-drivers were responsible for about 75% of all interstate road freight.
More than 6000 truckies had gone broke in the five months to September with the then prospect of another 12,000 truckies going broke by Christmas. Rampaging diesel prices and pitiful haulage rates were squeezing the truckies to death.
Meanwhile, the big retailers and the big trucking companies are laughing all the way to the bank.
It's a great system.
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