image: Bill Leak for The Australian
HoWARd’s proposed industrial relations "reforms" can only be viewed as enhancements to the workplace in the eyes of employers. Cutting paid holidays, lunchtimes, ‘tea’ or ‘smoko’ breaks and removing entitlements to contest unfair dismissal in 80% of Australian workplaces is where he’s going.
Workers have next to no rights in the USA. In general, Americans get 2 weeks paid holidays per year for the first 5 years on the job and perhaps 3 weeks per year between 5 and 10 years service. There is no protection against unfair dismissal in the USA, conveniently meaning few people survive 5 years on the job anymore.
The environment is known as ‘employment at will,’ where the employer can hire/fire or the employee can work/quit, ‘at will,’ with or without any notice- or just cause. Somehow, this arrangement qualifies in the minds of business-biased American legislators as ‘equal,’ despite the fact that one is in truly dire straits without a job in the USA.
There is no national healthcare system in America; you must buy your own health insurance for yourself and your family or negotiate it to be provided as a condition of employment. Unemployment benefits are very strictly limited to 60 months worth of payment in your employment lifetime. Politicians commonly demonise recipients of welfare payments and legislate for its abolition, despite genuine need. Potential workers are over a barrel- and must take what is offered these days. A little untraceable collusion between major employers’ HR departments and wages are forced right down.
HoWARd wants to establish free trade agreements with China and other southeast Asian nations. The only way Australia will be able to compete in such a globalised economic landscape is if labour costs in Australia are within striking distance of wages paid in those nations. HoWARd will argue that free trade will stimulate business, causing wage rises in Asian nations, bringing them into line with those in Australia. However, Australian wages and worker protections- and thus average Australian living standards- will necessarily have to fall.
NAFTA has certainly not benefitted American workers. In specific example, General Motors once had massive manufacturing plants in Flint, Michigan. The instant NAFTA was signed, GM moved operations to Matamoros, Mexico, where non-union workers wages are right about 30% (or MUCH less) of what GM had to pay American workers under UAW contracts. Flint is now somewhere between ghost town and war zone, with hundreds of abandoned homes boarded up and derelict. Young men in Flint have few economic alternatives other than crime or joining the US military. Matamoros has almost hopeless levels of pollution due to near non-existent Mexican enforcement of environmental regulations. Mexican workers have little protection against unsafe conditions and are frequently injured on the job, mainly due to safety deficiencies.
The shafting of the American working class started with ‘Reaganomics‘ in the early 1980s. This ‘trickle-down’ theorem postulated that if business was unfettered by government regulation, all ships would rise, including that of ‘Joe the Janitor.’ ‘Reaganomics,’ with the added aspect of privatisation of formerly national industries was adopted by Margaret Thatcher in the UK, with disastrous results for workers in the coal, steel and transportation industries.
The ‘supply-side’ theory is fundamentally flawed as it presumes that an employer who saves money on taxes, worker safety and employee entitlements will pass the savings on in greater wages. Ain’t so, folks. The employer will either pocket the money or reinvest to grow the company’s production and sales. More people may be employed in the short term to support increased production, but wages do not rise. Frequently, businesses temporarily enjoy a growth spurt, but when business levels off, employees are retrenched and business facilities are closed. This is known as a ‘flexible’ working environment, in the eyes of John HoWARd- but it’s only flexible for the very wealthy.
HoWARd wants his fat biz friends to succeed and have that success ‘trickle down’ to you, while you lose your holiday pay and reasonable working conditions- including a right to contest unfair dismissal. Medicare has been in HoWARd’s gunsights for many years in favour of a private user-pays healthcare system, where provider costs cannot be controlled. The arrangement doesn’t work well anywhere else in the western world- why would it work in Australia?
A little socialism never hurt anyone.
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