Are workers stranded in pre-backflip AWA jobs?

The media will, naturally, find the bad news in every WorkChoices story. On the weekend, both the Fairfax broadsheets began their AWA back-flip stories with the losers that fit the narrative on the story – not employers whose bargaining options had been reduced, but the workers who had already signed AWAs. According to the SMH

HUNDREDS of thousands of workers will be left behind by the reintroduction of the “no disadvantage test” by the Federal Government.

And according to The Age

Tens of thousands of workers will be left stranded on work contracts that strip them of penalty rates, overtime and public holiday pay with no compensation, despite Prime Minister John Howard’s move to soften his controversial WorkChoices laws.

But there is more in this than just the journalist’s sense that the negative aspect is the news and that the seemingly weakest party must be in the right. It reflects the powerful legacy of the old IR system on the way people think about the issue, that the law alone protects wages and conditions. Little consideration is given to the way that employees take things into their own hands to improve their lot.

As the ABS’s labour mobility survey shows, 10.7% of the people who worked in the year ending February 2006 changed employers at least once, with actual turnover higher still due to people entering and leaving the workforce.

The industries which this AWA reform is aimed at show particularly low workforce stability. Nearly 30% of retail workers had been in the current job for less than twelve months, and nearly 40% of those employed in ‘accommodation, cafes and restaurants’.

Among 15 to 19 year olds – such as the schoolgirls written up by The Age – those who had been in their job for more than twelve months were outnumbered by those who had not (though there were a lot of new entrants to the labour force). The 20-24 year olds were more stable, but nearly a quarter of the employees who had been in the workforce a year earlier had changed employers.

In job markets with high turnover, few workers are likely to be entirely ‘stranded’. And the fact that they are not means that employers will face pressure to pay the going rate.

8 thoughts on “Are workers stranded in pre-backflip AWA jobs?

  1. “Do you know, personally, anyone in the 15-19 age bracket, working in retail, accomodation, cafes, or restaurants?”

    This is the first time anyone has challenged my analysis for lacking anecdotal evidence:)

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  2. A couple of years back, I asked a kid working at the Glenrowan McDonalds on the Hume Fwy how much she got paid. It was nine dollars something and it was a Saturday. I couldn’t believe she found it worth getting out of bed for that much but what is worthwhile pay is in the eyes of the beholder.

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  3. Zhasper – my 15 year old daughter works in a retail job at her local IGA, where they do not pay penalty rates. (Strangely enough, she is employed permanent part-time, though she would rather be casual and get a higher hourly rate!). She is already planning her next step up the retail ladder – probably to Kmart.

    Of course, she is in the happy situation of working for extra spending money, not to keep body and soul together, but in that respect she is probably similar to most other employed 15 year olds.

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  4. A few years back when I was 15 and started my first job, on $8.30 an hour for 3 hours one evening per week, it was definitely worth it. That $24.90 each week felt like freedom made tangible.

    Also, I signed my AWA the day before this AWA backflip happened, and I have no regrets. My simple and clear 11-page AWA replaces the old 200+ page award I used to be employed under, which was ridiculously complex and included stupid clauses about how many cents extra per hour you are to be paid if you happen to be dressed as a Santa.

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  5. Daniel

    I agree with you about the award. I had a look at the Victorian Retail Award to try and get my head around what my daughter’s entitlements might otherwise have been and all I could think was that it must be an absolute nightmare for people in small retail businesses trying to get their payroll right. Might work for large organisations who can computerise everything (though that also comes with a fair cost I dare say), but if I was running a small business I think I would want it to be as simple as possible.

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  6. So you got paid to be Santa? I was Santa one year in a private music school I was teaching in and don’t remember if I was paid for it. It was fun anyway.

    “In job markets with high turnover, few workers are likely to be entirely ’stranded’. And the fact that they are not means that employers will face pressure to pay the going rate.”

    I agree with this. Politically, this backflip by the federal govt will help lessen the negatives associated with workchoices. I suspect that much of the focus will now be on the unfair dismissal legislation.

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  7. 15 year-olds have always been ripped off, when did that become an AWA thing?

    The fact is large multinationals and corporate giants negotiate their own conditions with unions, separate from industry-wide conditions.

    The result is small businesses are stuck paying higher wages than coles, woolworths and mcdonalds because the giants have worked out their own deals with the unions.

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