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.
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.