A recent slew of opinion pieces in The Australian declares that union involvement in politics is somehow inappropriate or even passé; but be careful what you wish for. History shows what happens when such notions have free rein, from the Polish Communists’ failed suppression of the Solidarity movement, to the recent edicts of Fiji’s military dictators.
Labour rights are inherently political. Despite decades of legislation aimed at fragmenting and disempowering the workforce, unions remain a mass movement founded on freedom of association. Attempts to stifle the natural political expression of this fundamental right are anti-democratic.
With new-found enthusiasm for Fair Work Australia, The Australian (Editorial, 10/8) trumpets the Qantas decision as upholding “the right of any company to run its operations as it sees fit”. Presumably this means Alan Joyce is now free to exercise the same management style he used to run Ansett into the ground, typified by his histrionic lock-out last year which stranded thousands of passengers without warning or purpose, and which the editorial incorrectly attribute to the TWU.
Joyce’s combative approach has earned him the ire of every segment of his workforce from pilots to cabin crew to engineers to baggage-handlers, and of his shareholders, who have recently seen their their stocks plummet and their first losses in twenty years. But as long as one rugged individual is free to do exactly as he wants, I’m sure it’s all worth it.
In Judith Sloane’s pre-emptive defence against the Howe inquiry into the casualisation of the Australian workforce (“Nothing casual about our diverse workforce”, The Australian, 21/12) she argues that a) there is no casualisation, and b) “many” workers benefit from casualisation. I am reminded of the defence of the bungling burglar who claims “I wasn’t there, and even if I was, I didn’t do it.”
The elephant in the room, apparent from the figures and also to anyone actually engaged in the workforce, is that massive casualisation has occurred in the last decade, and that this is of benefit primarily to employers.
“No right to secure jobs”
23 Apr 2012
Michael Moore (The Australian, Letters, 23/4), the secretary of the anti-labor think-tank H. R. Nicholls Society which thought Work Choices too soft, argues that there can be no right to job security because it “depends essentially on the efficient performance of each [worker], and of the business itself”.
This is a self-serving misapprehension held by many employers, who overlook the definitive distinction between themselves and their employees: the latter are not co-investors in the business. They have not chosen to undertake entrepreneurial risk, they do not stand to share in the profits and therefore should not be subject to the losses.
James McDonald (The Australian, 20/10) graciously allows that “unions could still be part of the future” provided they submit to Judith Sloane’s proposed legislative regime designed to break them up (19/10), and further that they eschew any involvement in political life. This somewhat defeats their purpose, but perhaps we can get it to work if we can persuade employers and big business to stay out of government as well. Deal?
It’s a pity The Australian seems to have have missed the story everyone else is covering about Qantas’s involvement in drafting union-banning laws for the Fiji government, as it suggests a shortcut to the “labour market flexibility” sought by Qantas and favoured by The Australian’s commentariat: just install a military dictatorship.
Regarding the recent whining from retailers about having to pay their staff: retail is driven by demand, which is driven by wages. Every business wants low-paid workers, but high-paid customers – as long as they’re paid by someone else. Every worker you pay less will buy less at someone else’s shop, every worker they pay less will buy less at yours. It’s a downward spiral you don’t want to start.
That the ACTU sensibly prioritises the two-thirds of students who attend government schools does not justify your claims of its “remoteness from the values of mainstream working Australians and its increasing capture by activists on the political fringe” (“Independent teachers have a right to defend schools”, The Australian, 6/7). Australia’s oxymoronic public funding of private schools, a global oddity and probably unconstitutional, has become a sacred cow, but suburb for suburb, educational results are the same, while private schools’ double-dip funding means they have nicer buildings. Accusing those who do not want to extend this privilege further of “class war” and even religious discrimination is hysterical nonsense.
The private school union may take their bat and ball and go home, but neither “mainstream working Australians” nor anyone else believe that those who have made special private arrangements for themselves can expect everyone else to pay for them.
The Australian opines that “It is not tenable that Australian retailers trading after 6pm should pay almost three times the hourly rate…in the US” (“Retailers put strong case for workplace reforms”, 20/6). As the U.S. minimum wage is currently $6.86 per hour, I would say it is not only tenable, but necessary.
Unions have offered to trade penalties for higher base rates, but employers decline because variable rates give them scope to control costs. It is thus clear that “flexibility” is simply code for lower wages.
Why does Imre Salusinszky (“Public sector pay cuts are just the start”, The Australian, 3/6) think that NSW public sector wages growth of 21% since 1997 needs to be brought “under control”, when the CPI over same period rose double that amount? His point that this wages growth is “almost double” the private sector’s is only more evidence that Australian wage-earners are being robbed of their share of the nation’s prosperity – just a little less so in the public sector.