By Jim Hayes
Scott Morrison has made it clear. His government is about to move on with changing the industrial relations system. It is already heavily weighted against workers and restricts union representation, through limitation of allowable matters, red tape, and denying the right of union organisers to enter the workplace. Morrison and his government want to go much further than this.
One of the major changes demanded by the big employer organisations and championed by the government, is the removal of the fairness provision in new enterprise agreements. This mans that removal of the condition that no workers should be left worse off.
Another is to strengthen the capacity for employers to extract productivity increases. This means increasing the pace of work to pay for the cost of any gain the worker might get.
Scott Morrison is pushing for a simplification of the industrial relations legal system, to ensure a speedier and even more restricted process, for the implementation of agreements.
These intentions were announced at an address the Prime Minister gave to a meeting of the Business Council of Australia, on Thursday evening last week.
Legislation is to be introduced into the parliament before the end of its final sitting for this year.
With this, the spin about a dialogue between employers, union, and government reaching a consensus, has come to an end. The new spin is that that there is a deadlock, change is not moving along, and the government must move in to put an end to this.
It is no coincidence that this follows some recent and signifficant industrial disputes. Nor that it took place on the same week that the federal Police were sent in to raid the offices of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU).
Two stand out issues emerge. The wages share is falling, and unions are seeking to restore the balance. Employers are ratcheting up the ending existing permanent jobs and replacing them with labour hire ones. Unions are resisting it.
The connection with what Scott Morrison said last week is productivity. In plain language, this is about the proportion of contributed work that does not attract payment in wages. Say a certain amount of work attracts $10 for an hour, and then the amount of work is increased by ten percent and the payment is still $10 for an hour, there has been a productivity gain for the employer equal to the $2 not being paid.
Productivity increases are achieved through the introduction of new technology that speeds up the pace. The other way, is through the casualisation of work. This creates a cheaper labour force, which works to pull down the overall wages share.
Using the example used above, paying out in wages $8 an hour instead of $10, gives the employer the same benefit of the unpaid wage.
The government’s industrial relations reform agenda is aimed at helping along this shift.
Changes to the Fair Work Act will not be enough. A major obstacle is the existence of a union movement not willing to play the game.
Photo from The Australian: Federal Police at the raid on the Sydney office of the CFMMEU
This has resulted in a twin strategy. Encourage the unions to play along by inviting them to the table, while at the same time, preparing to further restrict them by new anti-union laws.
The offensive has already begun, and it will get more intense next year.
Rights at work and being able to have the protection of a union are important. Without them the workplace relationship between worker and employer is an unequal one. Conditions are not set by mutual agreement. They are imposed.
This is inherently undemocratic and reduces the worker into being little more than a resource for exploitation. This is not the kind of society Australia should aspire to be.
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