The irony is that, even with the lower than expectations turnout for the union IR rally, it has probably done workers’ interests more damage in one day than WorkChoices has in the eight months since it came into force. Many will have lost pay, given up annual leave, or been inconvienced by the the traffic chaos the protests caused.
Out of all the thousands of employers in Australia, the normal statistical spread of personality types suggests that some of them must be bastards happy to exploit workers. But despite being desperate to run a scare campaign, the unions have been struggling to find them. Even the few cases that they have managed to flog to the media have often been borderline – businesses in financial trouble where the realistic choice is a new agreement with employees or bankruptcy, or getting rid of dubious penalty rates for weekend work in exchange for higher normal rates.
Leftist bloggers have been drawing attention to an apparent decline in real wages since WorkChoices came into effect. The ABS’s Australian Economic Indicators, the latest version of which came out today, shows that while full-time adult average ordinary earnings increased by 2.9% in the 12 months to September, the CPI in the same period was 3.9%. Compared to recent times, inflation was unusually high and the average earnings increase unusually low. But what could be driving the wages figure is a very large increase in the number of people in full-time work – up 177,000 since WorkChoices came into effect, compared to 28,000 more in the equivalent period before WorkChoices. Such a large increase is probably bringing in workers with low skills and/or little experience who are paid less than the typical already-employed worker, driving down average earnings growth (but not the earnings on average of those who already have jobs). While I doubt that WorkChoices really has much to do with any of these figures, this is the outcome that WorkChoices advocates had hoped for – more people in work being preferable to higher wages for those already in work.
And last month’s labour market statistics showed a slight decline compared to the same time in 2004 in those expecting not to be with their current employer in 12 months time for ‘involuntary/economic’ reasons – supporting my argument that laws on job security, such as unfair dismissal laws, have little effect on perceived job security.
There are aspects of WorkChoices that I think should be changed. From what people like Mark Wooden have said, the collective bargaining provisions are deficient. Like everything the Howard government does, it is too bureaucratic. If I read its hundreds of pages, I’d probably find more to disagree with. But the campaign against it looks like another exercise in leftist hyperbole.