Australia’s leading left-familist academics are at it again today, with a 39 point list of more taxes and regulations, which they call ‘Benchmarks: Work and Family Poilcies in Election 2007’, to enforce their view on family life on the rest of us.
While I have objected to the way familists want to redistribute money to people with children (or to people with children on behalf of children, as backroom girl would insist), I have not emphasised they way they propose to redistribute time.
Given that most taxpayers earn their income via personal labour, some redistribution of time is implicit in the tax system. To get a given amount of after-tax income, the higher the taxes levied to support families the more pre-tax income a worker has to earn, and that means longer hours. Most men prefer to work full-time anyway, so while familist policies appropriate the results of their labour, they probably don’t actually significantly increase male hours. Women, however, are often more sensistive to the financial rewards from working (hence the complaints in ‘Benchmarks’ about high EMTRs) and their part-time work is used to bring household income up to a desired level.
But also important is the redistribution of hours within the workplace. Giving rights to some workers, those with families, denied to others means that those without families suffer the consequences – the total amount of work to be done is unlikely to go down because someone wants to work less or at a different time or to vanish for days or weeks on leave not available to others.
Employers will to some extent be able to manage these problems with casual labour (about which the same group of academics will then inconsistently complain, demanding ‘quality’ jobs) or short-term contracts. But in practice only unskilled jobs are usually easily filled this way, either because the position requires too much employer-specific knowledge or because there are too few workers in the short-term labour market. In other cases the work has to be done by requiring more hours from on-going staff.
This problem affects several ‘Benchmarks’ proposals. For example, it favours denying employers the right to refuse, without first ‘reasonably considering’ them, requests for changes to working hours including quantum of hours worked, scheduling of hours, and location of work (this is phrased as a right to request such changes, but of course employees have always held such a right – the only difference is that some external body will be second-guessing what is ‘reasonable’).
It suggests protecting employees from ‘family unfriendly’ unilateral or arbitrary changes to working hours – but if such changes need to be made, why should only those without families have to work?
Over time the ‘Benchmarks’ academics want ‘an increase in total paid leave available to working parents until households share 52 weeks of paid parental leave, including maternity/paternity and parenting leave’. A year of taxpayer expense and inconvenience to fellow workers for every kid born!
As I have said before about the left-familist workplace agenda:
What’s missing in this … is the sense that an employment arrangement is one of mutual advantage between employer and employee to provide goods and services from which other people benefit – rather than just something to benefit the employee, regardless of its effects on others.
The Australian workplace should continue to be based on arrangements of mutual advantage, rather than the arrangement being dominated by the non-work lives of some employees. It’s possible that those without families will be happy to work extra hours. It’s possible that employers will be able to accommodate requests for different hours by employing new staff. But this should be a matter of consent, not decree.
Much of ‘Benchmarks’ is just a rewrite of the old industrial relations order, not only in its attempts to micromanage every aspect of working life, but in its assumption that non-work life is relevant to the IR rules. In the old days women were paid less because it was assumed they would not be the main breadwinner and had to leave some jobs when they got married. The ‘Benchmarks’ package is little different in making assumed family circumstances and political conceptions of family life important to employment law. Yet again, we have prominent leftists wanting to take us back to the 1950s.