Making the world safe for rich folk
Saturday November 05th 2005, 9:35 am


The worst impact of Howard’s corruption of the IR system will be sociological. Having grown up in the USA, I’m quite aware of the effect on the society of unfettered employer power to terminate without cause. It’s every man for himself. The employer’s power to terminate without just cause is frequently abused. Women and disabled people are the hardest hit when employers are no longer required to give just cause or be held to standards of fairness in dismissal. Dismissal for Howard’s catch-all ‘operational reasons‘ is no different than dismissal without cause. The fairness of dismissal cannot be challenged.

The value of a worker is diminished significantly in an employment-at-will environment. You work harder for less. Many people find it necessary to work a second job. Most find it impossible to be involved in civic affairs- they’re too busy putting food on the table. Family life suffers as children are estranged from their working parents. Political debate is stifled as no one has time for it.

The difference between the characters of Americans and Australians was obvious to me soon after I got off the plane in Sydney in 1996. Australia has a somewhat reasonable safety net for people who do become unemployed or disabled. It’s not the end of the road for you if you hit a rough patch in Australia. With at least the very bottom elements of your Maslow pyramid taken care of, it’s a whole lot easier for you to relax. I believe that this causes the character of Australians to be truly kinder and gentler. I live in Sydney, the largest city on this continent. I find the general character of Sydneysiders to be closer to that of people in a small midwestern American town than those in NYC, Chicago or LA.

On the other hand, after I was hit by a drink driver in the US in 1990, while unable to work, I teetered on the brink of bankruptcy as there is no national healthcare system and disability supports are wholly inadequate. I struggled to make minimum payments on the hundreds of thousands of dollars I had accumulated in medical bills, while being forced to wait years for settlement funds from the drunk’s insurance company.

Even after I returned to work, I lost jobs on cause of my inability to perform some duties due to disability- but always tasks which I could have done with some mechanical assistance or other minor compensatory workplace adjustment. If the employer had to actually give cause for discharging me, they would have been prohibited from doing so as a discrimination against a disabled worker. As it was, when I did lose a job in such a circumstance, the employer was able to escape such a discrimination claim at the sacrifice of having to bear responsibility for part of my unemployment benefits, as is the arrangement in the USA.

In the first couple of years after the accident, thanks to some assistance from my parents, I managed to get through it without my entire life crashing, but I returned to work long before I should have. I suffer greater disabilities now, 15 years after, than I would have if I had been able to recuperate properly. As a result, I’m now fully disabled, where I think I might still have had another 5-10 years of working life in me had the accident occurred in Australia.

WorkChoices is indeed flexibility- for employers. It will do nothing for the financial prospects of Australian workers, but it will have far reaching effects on the character of the Australian people- and their families.

There’s a place for John Howard’s dream employment environment. Trouble is, that place is about 10,000 miles northeast of here.



8 Comments so far
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amen brother!
I love anybody who mentions our friend Maslow.
Possibly, blog editorship IS ‘self-actualisation’.
cheers mate.

Comment by Brownie 11.05.05 @ 4:52 pm

Heh, I’d never thought of mentioning Maslow, I’d only ever said “Australians have their most basic needs taken care of”.

On that, Barry Jones addressed the National Press Club last week and had this to say on the IR changes:

The idea that you can have a Vietnamese cleaning lady in a factory, with a very poor command of English, who goes up to the managing director of the corporation and negotiates an AWA, is so absurd, it’s cruel, and it makes…it is such an absurd proposition that it can’t be defended, but that’s what it means in practice. If you’re looking at people who’ve got skills to sell, and who’ve got professional techniques and so on, many of them will be able to look after themselves. But that’s not the real world. The point is, that I think IR is a classic illustration of wedge politics, where you find a dividing line, a faultline in society, and you get a bloody great wedge and put it in the faultline, and then you say “here are the people who are succeeding, who are economic beneficiaries, and those who are losers”. And then there’s a bit of a reaction saying “well, tough luck about the losers, you can’t suit everybody”. What I’m saying is, if we create a society which is divided, and where you’ve got an increasing division between the haves and the have nots, then you will impose very serious damage to Australia’s social cohesion.

I liked it.

Comment by Evan 11.05.05 @ 6:16 pm

Thanks, Brownie. 🙂

He’s dead right, Evan. But then again, how many young Aussies of European heritage will have skills to know what they are bargaining away? Most don’t even know what rights they have at work now, much less what they are about to lose.

Comment by weezil 11.05.05 @ 9:06 pm

Well, that’s a problem too. My girlfriend was looked at in a funny way when she mentioned she was going to take her AWA home and have a read of it in a quiet environment before she signed it. But it’s all good now. I’m sure she’s one of the only people on site that’s 100% aware of all their entitlements.

It’s times like these that I’m glad I work in a heavily unionised industry with a collectively negotiated EBA.

Comment by Evan 11.05.05 @ 9:29 pm

Evan, there’s no doubt that Howard is trying to exploit the lack of knowledge most people have about workplace protections. That’s nothing but predatory behaviour. Isn’t that what labor laws are supposed to protect workers against?

Comment by weezil 11.06.05 @ 6:26 am

A reminder that the people can have their say….

National Day Of Community Protest – 15 Nov. 2005

You can help send a strong message that you care about your rights at work by taking part in Australia’s biggest ever workers’ meeting on Tuesday 15 November.

See this website for details.

Comment by Ron 11.12.05 @ 10:41 pm

Flood them with emails – attend the rallies.
Wear the ‘your rights at work’ shirts.
email you objections to the new ‘real choices at work site that has been set up S.A.
Stand up and be vocal

Comment by Morgan 11.14.05 @ 12:12 am

[…] Barnaby Joyce says he’s satisfied that 7 amendments to Howard’s IR changes, regarding public holidays, unfair dismissal laws and regular pay periods for workers will make the SerfChoices package hunky dory. […]

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