Governments IR revolution is a free kick for big business but will be kick in the guts for workers Australian workers. Opinion piece by Greg Combet, ACTU Secretary, Australian Financial Review, Opinion, 27 May 2005.
Government’s IR revolution is a free kick for big business but will be
kick in the guts for workers Australian workers
Millions of Australian workers are set to lose their access to award
employment conditions, protection from unfair dismissal, and an effective safety
net of minimum wages under new workplace changes announced by the Prime Minister
John Howard yesterday.
With this direct attack on the rights of Australian workers John Howard has
abandoned all pretence that he is a friend of the battlers.
Under the changes announced by the Government:
employees without regard to fair process or reasoning meaning over 3.6 million
Australian workers will have no remedy against unfair dismissal.
currently relied upon by 1.6 million workers and their families would likely be
four minimum conditions.
Agreement individual contracts (AWAs) that will allow existing pay rates and
employment conditions to be slashed.
from a union.
If enacted these proposals will threaten the wages, conditions and living
standards of Australian employees at a time when many working families are
already struggling just to keep their head above water.
The Government’s policies are based on out-dated ideology and do
nothing to address the labour market shortages, training backlogs and
infrastructure blockages that are hampering Australia’s economic
The removal of the Industrial Relations Commission from its role in setting
award minimum wages in place of the Orwellian-named Fair Pay Commission clearly
has the objective of setting Australia on the path to US style wage poverty.
We know this because if, over the past eight years, the governments’
submission to the minimum wages case had prevailed the minimum rates would be
$44 per week or $2,288 a year lower than its current $467.60 per week. And
Minister Andrews has said he thinks the national minimum wage should be $70 per
week lower than this. The losers will be workers with lower labour market
power- traditionally unskilled workers, women and young people.
The government justifies the change by perpetuating the falsehood that
Australia’s minimum wages system has suppressed jobs growth. This is
demonstrably not true. Employment growth in two Australian industries with
highest proportion of award wage workers Health and community services and
Accommodation cafes and restaurants has almost double the all average employment
growth of other industries since 1996.
The government has announced the creation of just four statutory minimum
conditions of employment – annual leave, personal leave, parental leave
and a maximum level for ordinary hours of work – to form a new ‘no
disadvantage test’ against which collective or individual agreements will
Under these arrangements Australian workers could be lawfully stripped of
basic conditions such as public holidays, redundancy pay, weekend and night-time
penalty rates, overtime pay, annual leave loading, casual loading, pay for work
on public holidays and reimbursement for work related expenses.
Agreement making will follow the laws of the jungle. The weak will have to
cop the terms dictated by the employer in individual contracts (called AWAs),
and face the sack if they refuse. The notion that individual workers will be
able to stave off the pressure to cut pay and conditions that will be created by
these changes is ridiculous. As soon as the economy slows down there will be no
safety net to fall back on.
Research conducted by Griffith University last year found that, when
managerial and professional employees are excluded from the data, employees on
AWAs reported increased hours and work intensity, poorer work-family-balance and
lower satisfaction with their pay and conditions.
For example, employees on AWAs working in labouring, clerical, service and
trade related jobs are already paid between 16.5% and 18% less than workers
doing the same jobs who are covered by collective agreements.
The Federal Government also wants to bully the States into handing over their
industrial relations powers, creating a single national unitary industrial
relations system. If the States don’t agree, John Howard has said he
will legislate away the State industrial systems.
Unions will fight to protect the rights of working people. We will do
this on three fronts. We will build a disciplined workplace campaign to
protect the pay and conditions of Australian workers. We will build opposition
to the changes in the wider community, including using paid advertising.
And we will work with the State and Territory governments and other
organisations to build a wall of opposition against the Government’s
John Howard has made very clear that now he has control of the Senate he is
prepared to sacrifice working families at the expense of big business.
Greg Combet – ACTU Secretary