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.
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