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:: Friday, 1 July 2005 ::

Australian Unions Are Pathetic .... and perfectly Legal and dying a natural death

Nick O'Malley of the Sydney Morning Herald covers the issue and gently reveals the unions to be 'barking mad':

One of the most dramatic aspects of the Federal Government's proposed workplace changes has almost been disregarded during the past month of brawling between unions, employer groups, premiers and the Government.

Within five years almost one in five workers could be signed on to an Australian workplace agreement, an individual contract that overrides any and all of the thousands of state and federal awards.

These workers will have largely forgone union representation in bargaining for pay and conditions, giving up most of the minimum awards set by the Industrial Relations Commission. They will be left with just five basic rights guaranteed and enshrined in law: minimum pay, three leave conditions and ordinary working hours.

For many workers, having these contracts slid across a table at them by a new employer on the first day at work will be their wake-up call that Australia's industrial relations landscape has truly changed.


Exsqueeze me?

You get the contract slid across a table to you on the first day?

You get the contract in the post after you have gone through the application process for the job and been given an offer by an employer in the form of the written document.

You hold all the cards, cos you can take up the offer or not.

You might be starving and desperate to feed your family and feel you do not hold the cards and therefore need to take the job.

But nothing is getting slid across to you.

You are being treated as an adult and capable of maiking a decision. And if you are a wog and not to good-a widda di engalish, you get your kids or your buddies who are fluent to read the doc and translate it for you. And then you decide what you want to do, which is preumably to sign up, sinece you have deicded you would like to work and the work you have decided to do is work for the employer.

Sheesh, 'slid across the table'. Ooooh, is it night-time? Is there a dark office, two fat guys in the shadows and one nasty Human Resources rep at the table shining a light in the poor worker's eyes?

The Government started pushing workplace agreements in its first reforms after it was elected in 1996. They proved thuddingly unpopular, and today only 2.5 per cent of workers are signed to them.

Exsqueeze me again?

They are unpopular because they do not represent what most deals are - which is independent employment contracts.

AWAs are nothing but red tape writ large. As the article goes on to show.

Chris Briggs, a senior researcher at Sydney University's industrial relations research centre, says many employers found the agreements' administrative costs outweighed the benefits. "And many of them are small business so they were a bit too busy running their businesses to worry about it."

Even if employers went to the trouble of negotiating and certifying the agreements, a mandatory no-disadvantage test meant they had to meet set industry awards and conditions. But not any more.

The no-disadvantage test will be scrapped in favour of the five minimum standards, and the government office responsible for policing the awards, the Office of the Employment Advocate, has been charged with helping small business set them up.

Ahh, too much admin and not enough genuine independence from awards and stuff. Red tape, right?

It has always been easier - not to mention less patronising - to use independent employment contracts, which is exactly what non-unionised and smaller business has been doing.

Red tape over workplace agreements is to be swept away. Template awards that can be signed by staff and employers and sent off for fast approval by the advocate have been written. Even better, from the employers' point of view, though present staff cannot be forced onto workplace agreements, they may refuse to employ new staff who won't sign.

As 25 per cent of the workforce take on a new job each year, the growth of workplace agreements could be explosive. Industry groups such as the Pharmacy Guild and the Restaurant & Catering Association have declared they are working with the advocate to establish industry-standard workplace agreements. This is one of the points that has the unions barking mad.

While the Government says it wants to prevent industry-wide bargaining - known as pattern bargaining - by unions, it has established an office to help employers do it.

See that? Employers "may refuse to employ" as if being employed is a right.

The worker can refuse to accept an employer's offer.

The offer is coming from the employer. Not from the worker. The worker is sizing up the offer and deciding whether to accept it.

Briggs says that when a similar system was adopted in New Zealand some supermarket workers heavily dependent on shift penalties lost up to 40 per cent of their income.

Briggs, who carried out the research predicting a 20 per cent uptake of the agreements in the medium term, is sceptical that workplace agreements are genuinely negotiated. He says all the available research shows workers are simply told to "take it or leave it".

That is what employees of the Department of Education, Science and Training, the department responsible for the system, say happened to them. "They said they were happy with all our work but if we wanted to have our existing contracts renewed we had to sign an AWA," a mid-ranking department officer says. "They had all the paperwork right there and then. And they made us sign off on a thing that said, 'We are happy enough to sign an AWA for our ongoing employment."' The department later backed down after staff took legal advice.

This was not the experience of Rayleen Ridgeway, an employment manager at the Mounties club in Mount Pritchard, who happily signed a workplace agreement more than two years ago. She spent four days studying the agreement and won the right to cash in sick leave and annual leave. For other concessions she was offered varied hours and paid maternity leave, which she has chosen not to take up. "I'd sign it again," she says.

One guy called Briggs says the new deal will be "take it or leave it". Well, he has that right if he means "this is the offer and you are at liberty to accept it or not".

I much prefer the Rayleen's of the world, who understand what work is, what the employment relationship actually is all about, and who assesses her life to determine what will suits her.

The reporting in the article closes with:

This is the flexibility the Government believes will most benefit workers and employers. The Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, and the Prime Minister, John Howard, argue the award system is complicated and atrophied, a relic of the industrial age that clogs today's more fluid workforce.

One industrial relations expert, Peter Rochfort, says the most dire predictions are unlikely to transpire. Yes, many guaranteed conditions will be stripped away, but employers will still have to pay well and provide good environments for good staff.

He says until the Government's legislation is revealed it is difficult to predict what the full effects will be.

"But some people, good workers, could find themselves better off," Rochfort says.

As a Labourite buddy said recently (one of the good ones, impossibly handsome, pro-Iraq war) you take the building industry and the public service sector out and you got no role for unions at all. I mean, how many friggin; rostered days off do you need?

Nick O'Malley ends his piece with this:

The upside Rayleen Ridgeway hasn't looked back since her manager at the Mounties registered club in Mount Pritchard offered

her an Australian workplace agreement more than two years ago. "All my conditions improved and my pay went up substantially," says Ridgeway, the club's training and recruitment manager.

In four days of negotiations she settled for a package that increased her holidays, allowed her to cash in her unused annual and sick leave and granted her free meals.

When the agreement expired a few months ago she happily re-signed without altering the terms. "I had no reason to. They have my complete loyalty, 100 per cent," she says.

Though concerned the Government is planning to remove the no-disadvantage test that prevents the agreements from undercutting awards, Ridgeway is helping the management roll out agreements through the rest of the club's 400 staff.

The worst-case scenario The ACTU presumes Cath, a supervisor in insurance, will lose the conditions that will no longer be guaranteed by the no-disadvantage test, costing her $5490 a year. She is covered by the Insurance Industry Award, works a 38-hour week plus three hours overtime, and at peak times works an extra day of overtime on Saturday.

Her base rate of pay as a supervisor under her award is $17.26 an hour, or $655.88 a week, she is paid time-and-a-half for the three hours' overtime she does every week, increasing her weekly wage to $733.62 The combination of overtime, six Saturdays a year and annual leave loading boost Cath's annual salary to $39,600.

But a workplace agreement could remove all penalty rates and other conditions except for her minimum hourly rate of pay, eight days' sick leave, four weeks' annual leave, unpaid parental leave and her 38-hour week. Cath's pay could be cut by $77.67 a week; she would lose overtime payments and holiday loading, cutting her salary to $34,110.

The New Zealand experience For Garry Preston, a carpenter of 34 years, this is Groundhog Day. He was living and working in New Zealand in 1991 when the then government deregulated its labour market and workers drifted towards individual contracts similar to Australian workplace agreements. By 1995, having left one job and having signed a contract to take another, he had lost allowances for travel, tools and equipment. Worse, he lost the penalty rates he depended upon to prop up his income, he says.

When people enter contracts their basic pay might go up, but they inevitably lose their loadings, so their take-home pay falls, Preston says. In 1998 he resigned and moved his family from Dunedin to Sydney, where by working long hours with overtime loading he was able to double his income. "I think potentially the laws here are worse. In New Zealand it created a working poor; people worked longer hours to gain the same pay," he says.

Do you eyes glaze over with the loading and the days off and the meal allowance and the travel and the stuff?

Mine do.

And does your head shut down with all this hysteria when no legislation has actually been sighted and no one even knows what the impact is going to be?

Yah. Mine too.

A whole SMH article and we are none the wiser, except we can see the hysteria of the unions perfectly.

Oh, and by the way - that rally in Melbourne? No way more than 30000 people. No way. The Oz union movement claimed 100000. They are so bad they are now doing the double-it-and-add-thirty celsius to fahrenheit.

:: WB 6:47 pm [link+] ::

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