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capital/labour « Previous | |Next »
July 7, 2005

This Petty image of the ALP tearing itself apart is only a few days old, yet it does not quite gell, due to the strong public relations campaign on the industrial relations issue waged by the unions and the ALP.

The ALP has found its line in the sand issue, which allows it to muscle up and look strong and it has been able to place the Howard Government under pressure. People are concerned, if not fearful that employers will use individual contracts to cut wages or conditions rather than introduce new processes or technologies to improve productivity.


The ALP has found a way to win back a majority of the blue and lower white-collar voting constituency in Australia, and regain its grip on what had once been its electoral bedrock.

We can now expect a strong public relations campaign from the Howard Government that goes beyond providing information on the industrial relations reforms and crosses into the territory of public money being used for political campaign.

What will be their theme? Sinking the boot into unions as part of a tough anti-union campaign (Labor lies Union deceptions?) that is judged to be a political winner? That ending essential employment rights gives rise to large-scale job creation? Industrial relations reform is not going to help resolve the skills shortage, nor necessarily reverse the slowdown in productivity in Australia. So how will the IR reforms increase economic growth?

Given the way the ALP/union campaign has already struck a cord, the Coalition will need to show that its unfair dismissal proposals and watering down of award conditions will not undermine job security and hurt ordinary workers with families. Otherwise problems in the Senate loom with Senators Barnaby Joyce and Steve Fielding.

What we currently have is a traditional labour/capital conflict with the ALP representing the interests of the big unions and the Coalition representing the interests of big business.

What has been forgotten is the need for a unitary system of industrial relations to replace the present system of six different workplace relations jurisdictions which is costly, inefficient and damaging in a country of only twenty million people. Is that not common ground? After all, in a federal nation-state employers and employees should have the same industrial rights and obligations regardless of the state in which they live.

I agree with Senator Andrew Murray on this. We need an industrial relations system that can provide for both the systematic regulation of employment practices, whilst maximising and balancing productivity, jobs growth and job security; and ensure a decent wage or just pay, along with fair conditions and treatment for all employees.

Although I have just shifted from wage contract under collective bargaining to an individual contract, from what I have seen so far is that the proposed IR reforms tip the balance of workplace relations to favour employers, leaving many workers vulnerable. The harm comes from reducing employee protections that are needed to protect those workers without the market power to negotiate an improvement in their working conditions for increased productivity.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:26 AM | | Comments (0)