Issues: Work Choices, AWAs, wage restraint, Qantas valet parking workers, bargaining, Commonwealth Bank, Telstra.
E & OE
Jon Faine: The new opposition, the Liberal Party had to decide whether they would let Kevin Rudd’s reforms go through. They came out of there meeting saying alright we will, well, sort of. So where are we industrial relations in Australia this morning?
<Interview with Heather Ridout the Chief Executive of the Australian industry Group (AiG)>
Jon Faine: Sharan Burrow is the President of the ACTU. Now where will the ACTU stand on wage restraint? We will ask this morning to. Sharan Burrow good morning.
Sharan Burrow: Good morning John.
Jon Faine: First of all on the AWAs, Workchoices, collective bargaining and the rest. Should the opposition now let the Labor agenda through in the Senate? There is still some threat that it won’t go ahead.
Sharan Burrow: Well, what you saw yesterday was stalling tactics and frankly very tricky weasel words because Julie Bishop said that it wouldn’t oppose the bill the lower house. She made no commitments about the upper house and it fact went further to say that they wanted to keep individual contracts by a different name, so I think the arguments far from over and while her party room may think they have told her one thing and she is no giving people certainty.
If you go to the Melbourne Airport right now you’ve got 170 valet parking employees providing that service for Qantas via a contractor that are worth about $150 – $300 depending on their shift arrangements, why because their employer is insisting on using John Howard’s individual agreements.
They’ve had a collective agreement right through the Howard years but everyday the Liberals stall 1,000 workers like the valet parking workers are actually forced to sign individual contracts that rip of conditions or income so I think Julie Bishop is frankly playing for time.
Jon Faine: Sharan Burrow the big question is whether or not the Liberal Party will at some point in the future re-introduce individual contracts and some form of AWAs. Julie Bishop refused to rule out either. That leaves a very clear difference on industrial relations policy and the challenge then for the union movement is to show that in fact the current system that the new government is going to bring in can work.
Sharan Burrow: Well that’s absolutely right and in regards to the Liberals, what they are clearly doing is still doing the bidding of some big business. The Commonwealth Bank, Telstra in the paper today, said they will continue to use AWAs while there legal. So they refuse like the Liberals to understand that Australians voted against this system in November. They voted against insidious individual contracts that give employers all of the power.
Telstra that once great icon is refusing to acknowledge that its employees want a collective agreement, so is equity valet parking at Qantas, so is the Commonwealth Bank. So this is where Julie Bishop is taking her instructions, not in fact representing the views of the democratic vote of working Australians. So …
Jon Faine: Well the flip side Sharan Burrow then is to say, once you abolish individual agreements then you already seeing for instance you have the CFMEU saying where going to go for broke we want 5% or more. You’ve got to show then that the Rudd Government system is capable of delivering outcomes acceptable for employers.
Sharan Burrow: Well let’s have a look at the bargaining environment. First of all wages have been extraordinarily moderate at 3.8% in the previous year. That is compared to 6% of bonuses and non-labour costs for managerial staff and it’s been compared to the 28% increase for CEOs. You put that in the context John where we are seeing 30 year high in regard to the profit take, so a real decline in wages relative to profit share, and there is no wonder that while the greedy top end of towns been racking in the dough, working people are struggling with 6 interest rates rises just under WorkChoices, 10 on the trot under the Howard Government this decade, its absolutely mortgage stress time for the bulk of working Australians.
I would also say to you that in a decentralised wage environment, Heather was right about this, what the booming sectors will pay verses what will be on the bargaining table in other sectors will mean, frankly my assessment is that wages will continue to be moderate. So it isn’t working people who’ve actually shown any degree of lack of constraint and I don’t see that changing dramatically into the future.
Jon Faine: Then where does the cycle stop? It’s like an arms war isn’t it Sharan Burrow, one side ups the ante and everybody then jumps onboard as well. Do you say that <inaudible> wage increases because interest rates are going up well the more you push for wage increases the more that puts pressure …
Sharan Burrow: Hang on a tick though, it’s no inflationary to maintain real wages and to get increases based on productive capacity within the industry or enterprise, so what you’ve actually got here is my claim that working families can’t afford to lose real income. They can’t.
We actually don’t like inflation because it eats away at purchasing power, but equally the worse thing for the economy is if working families can’t pay their bills on mass and I would just remind people that the US sub-prime crisis started because working families couldn’t earn enough to pay their own mortgages.
And I think you are seeing real leadership from Kevin Rudd. We called for restraint from those who can afford to do so, who can weather the inflationary pressures, who’ve seen massive increases in their wages and I can assure you it’s not the average working Australian.
So a bit of balance and lets re-balance some of that greedy profit take.
We can bargain for counter-inflationary measures John, like superannuation, like skills and so on, so you know our track record we are very conscience of both our core commitment to both decent wages for working families and our capacity to play in the economy of the day.
Jon Faine: Well it’s going to be absolutely vital. Thank you for your time this morning Sharan Burrow.
Sharan Burrow: Thank you.
Jon Faine: Sharan Burrow, President of the ACTU.