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.
Judith Sloane (The Australian, 31/5) makes much use of the term “flexible”, which in the free-market lexicon is Orwellian code for “employer calls the shots”, because in practice a negotiation between individual workers and their employer is going to be very one-sided. Sloane describes this as “modern”, but “feudal” would be more descriptive.
It is for this very reason that workers form into unions, who are then in a position to negotiate on a more equal footing. And rather than fight the same battles over and over, both sides agree to set down awards. If awards were abolished altogether as Sloane wishes, the only way to stop them re-emerging would be to introduce undemocratic anti-union legislation. This is far too high a price for “flexibility”.
Clearly it has been a long time since Sloane has worked for anyone else, if she really believes the labour market has become more inflexible. What is actually happening out here is very different: permanent jobs are disappearing and being replaced by casual jobs, casual jobs in turn are being turned into phoney contractor arrangements so employers can sidestep their obligations, and dump their entrepreneurial risk onto their employees’ laps.
The Australian’s advice to the Labor Party (“Labor should return to workers”, 26/3) shows a touching concern for workers’ rights. I hope this means The Australian will now eschew its long-held anti-union stance, recently exemplified by attacks on Qantas workers’ campaigns for job security.
When did job security stop being a legitimate IR issue and become “so-called ‘job security'” (“Unions must not dictate hiring”, 23/3)? The repeated use of gratuitous quotation marks shows The Australian’s contempt for the concept, and it seems, for the right to withdraw labor to protect such concepts. The latter has been a hallmark of democracy for over a century and not, as they imply, a recent product of the Fair Work Act.
There has been an early-campaign media flurry over the six teenagers who lost their two-hour after school shifts because “union rules say they have to work at least three hours”. But there is nothing to prevent these kids from working only two hours, apart from the refusal of their employers to pay them for three. Continue reading