Doctor and activist


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Tag: Unions

The Broken Bargain- Australia Institute Webinar

14 July 2021

Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary looked at Australia’s growing wages crisis in a 1 hr webinar at 11am today. 

She told of how the Australian system of award wages had been world-leading with its concept of a ‘fair go’, and it had an outcome similar to the Nordic countries.  This has, however been in retreat since 1975 with the rise of neo-liberalism and trickle-down economics as the dominant political philosophies.

Perhaps the most amazing fact in the webinar was that the workers share of GDP in 1975 was a record high of 54%, but has declined by 10.4%, and this has gone to the corporate sector.  The amount in dollars is $200 billion a year. While wages growth in Australia has been generally below the CPI, wages recently actually overtook the CPI briefly.  However, as McManus points out the CPI is composed of discretionary goods, which tend to be imported and more luxury items, and necessities.  The discretionary component has not risen as fast as wages, but the necessities component has risen faster.  So the lower paid, who mainly spend on necessities have gone backwards relative to the most important component of their spending.  McManus estimates this at $20,000 per waged worker.

She identifies poor bargaining power as the cause of the change in the distribution of Australia’s wealth.  According to the RBA (Reserve Bank) temporary workers have kept wages down.  This is partly, but not wholly, workers on visas who are a group likely to be a whole sector vulnerable to wage theft.  But Labour Hire companies have also lowered wages and conditions as workers can simply not be offered any shifts. 

Visas have also been used to avoid training people. TAFEs have been run down and overseas workers’ skills have been used to save money on training.  This has improved short-term profits but deskilled the country- a bad strategy.  It has relied on foreign training. 

COVID has been used as excuse for the economy not doing well, but it has not led to a revival.  60% of new jobs since the last lockdown have been casual, and 57% are part-time.

Another Australia Institute IR expert, Jim Stanford, commented that Australia’s IR system was unique, but the changes since 2013 had severely limited the ability of workers to bargain.  Only restricted aspects could be discussed, and conditions could easily be traded away.  Even the ILO (International Labour Organisation) has commented on this.  The casualisation of the workforce has been facilitated and most recently this has been a significant factor in the spread of COVID.

The webinar will shortly be available at https://australiainstitute.org.au

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Labour Hire Companies facilitate Wage Scams

5 April 2021

When I was in Parliament the then NSW Labor Government had an inquiry into WorkChoices, which was the Howard Federal government’s preferred industrial relations model. It was, as the Liberals said, an political inquiry designed to criticise what Howard was doing. (Historians will recall that it cost the Howard government s lot of votes).

But both Unions and Employers came and lobbied me, as did Labour Hire business owners. The Labour Hire companies said that they could get a better deal for the employees as they were negotiating on their behalf with employers and if they had special skills the employers would have to pay for these. I asked them how much commission they took on this as obviously employers would have to pay their commission as well as the subcontractor’s payment. They were very reluctant to be specific on this point as it was ‘variable’. But it did seem to me that the chief objective was to make the worker a private subcontractor rather than an employee and thus remove award pay rates, holidays, sick leave, workers compensation, and bargaining power. The Labor Hire company was often just a commission agent, though some employed the workers.

It seems that this model of getting rid of direct employees has evolved and is now standard in many industries. I have seen a woman accidentally stab herself in the forearm while boning chickens at 3.30 am on a 12 hour shift, a man shoot himself in the heart with a nail gun trying to assemble flat pack kitchens alone and RSI in a hotel worker so advanced that it has made no recovery in 3 years, after being expected to clean high-end hotel rooms, including making the bed, vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom in 12 minutes each.

‘Subcontractors’ may have no awards, no unions, no OHS and no redress when people are ripped off. The lumbering ‘Fair Work Commission’, out of sight and out of touch seems to make very little difference to a Darwinian model.

Let us see if criminalising wage theft makes any difference. There are a lot of laws on the books that are never enforced.

https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.smh.com.au%2Fbusiness%2Fworkplace%2Faustralia-s-shocking-wage-theft-scandals-keep-coming-by-the-truckload-20210312-p57a5p.html%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR3FoKWzuLj-nv9W5moUs7K-HmlfV8msxTXhOicq62KM83zMerzWwcFiJYM&h=AT3RrEZXGjEyZeQ7rNBoGGgl9Flo0_zzfDuqRAnUxguMlUcU-J9oiuQGDpT01vJnqPsdtFErgLw0g92bkmtQt_TQ-vPzVqPsWvYaVFbIYosdg1YBYAm5Fke4e4-OdaDB8JwYckGgwuhNR5mltMZO&tn=-UK-R&c[0]=AT2ipxj2y11laB8hdM-suLNA2ij5tamnMBYbjAGX5r25jhtlSzzvd-Dn6kj1lQ88fBiyw1dyFFnNXi8tEuTfOVY_74RgrorvDvqc2EuyAIWBJMbsZjzjqyCneyp7HOlhnr8r_bd9dZtlDER2pMrWsThzMw
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Power, Injury and Awards

26 November 2016 Power, Injury and Awards.  I work in medicine, treating mostly third party motor vehicle injuries and workers compensation injuries.  There are much fewer of the latter because there are less employees.  Many people working as couriers are ‘self employed’ contractors.  One man had to pay $75,000 for the right to deliver parcels […]

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