After all the fuss,
it's wimping out

The Australian
10th October 2005

These proposals do nowhere near enough to free up the labour market and abolish minimum pay, says Des Moore [Words in square brackets deleted by editor]

What should be the principal object of reform of workplace relations? The answer must be to achieve a higher level employment than if existing arrangements continued.

But it is not until page 64 of the new system's explanation (sic) that an unsubstantiated claim is made that "more jobs will be accessible". No revision is announced to 2005-06 budget forecasts of a slower increase in employment and a 29 per cent increase in unemployment assistance in the next three years.

So where are the employment benefits?

The Government's shirking of the task of substantive reform will mightily please the union movement and the many ex-unionists in the Labor Party. They will portray the proposals as an "attack on the workers" even though it is a victory for their [conservative] forces.

Why? Because the changes are basically shuffling job protectionist measures [across the decks of the Titanic].

The retention of a large regulatory and judicial framework will be a feast for industrial lawyers and the many pro-unionist figures on tribunal and judicial benches.

With 68 explanatory pages for the new system, the new legislation will be horrendous.

So, what has the erstwhile champion of serious labour market reform, John Howard, been doing? Has it been his pre-occupation with defence and foreign policy issues, and the lack of a Peter Reith able to publicly explain that a freer labour market does not endanger jobs or working conditions?

Government Ministers have utterly failed to explain the benefits of employers and employees being exposed to minimal regulations when negotiating conditions of employment. The on-the-back foot defensive reaction to claims that reform would involve "takeaways" from workers continues in the explanatory document and with the absurd retention of awards.

Astonishingly, even the retention of the job-destroying Australian Industrial Relations Commission, albeit with a lesser role, is labelled as both a positive and a negative (not changing) feature!

Seemingly, the Government has been hoodwinked into accepting the Left's line that employers hold the whip hand in bargaining, and that employees need [special] protective legislative measures. Remarkable as it may seem, employers also need workers and over one million employers actually compete for them. And [in this twenty first century] workers dissatisfied with their job are readily able to change -and many do so.

The saddest part of the new system is the retention of a minimum wage to be determined as "fair pay". Will the new Commission have help from above, or can it call on High Court judge Michael Kirby?

The 550,000 unemployed, the 550,000 under-employed and the 800,000 unofficially unemployed, most of whom are unskilled, face a bleak employment future unless the new determining body is brave enough to reduce the [present highly] employment-deterring level of the minimum.