Home > Economic policy > A back-of-the-envelope calculation on unfair dismissals

A back-of-the-envelope calculation on unfair dismissals

July 25th, 2005

The comments thread below arising from my piece on unfair dismissals having gone badly meta[1], let me extract one useful point and do a quick calculation. Suppose we accept the estimate by commenter x-anon that employers typically choose to pay out three months’ wages when dismissing someone for cause (that is, for reasons other than redundancy), rather than face the possibility of unfair dismissal action.

I’m going to guess that an upper bound for the proportion of employees annually dismissed for cause in small businesses is 4 per cent (for large businesses it would be smaller and for the public sector smaller again). Then that implies that the effect of the 3-months payout policy is to raise the average wage bill by 1 per cent. Unless all dismissals for cause are justified, there will be an offsetting effect, since rational employees who regard unjustified dismissal as a possibility will want a higher wage to offset the implied reduction in expected payments. Assuming justified and unjustified dismissals are equally common (here it’s the viewpoint of the average employee that matter), and disregarding risk aversion, the net saving falls to 0.5 per cent. Given a typical labour demand elasticity of 0.5 the net increase in employment demand is about 0.25 per cent for small business (the relevant distinction is those with less than 100 employees). If, say, 40 per cent of workers are employed in firms affected by the changes, the net increase in employment is 10 000 jobs. This is a once-off increase, not an increase in the annual rate of job creation.

Of course, this is a rather simplistic calculation, not taking into account effects on employer confidence, worker morale and so forth, but it gives a feel for the order of magnitude involved. A policy initiative that might generate 10 000 new jobs is worth looking at, but it ought to be put in perspective. Telstra alone has cut many more jobs than that in the past decade, which suggests that a focus on making it easier to get rid of people is probably getting the wrong end of the stick.

fn1. Godwin’s law invoked after only 30 comments.

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  1. Terje
    July 25th, 2005 at 18:21 | #1

    The 10,000 jobs is not entirely a one off. As the labour market expands the 0.25% employment advantage of this policy will apply to the new parts of the market. So if the labour market grows by 100,000 then we get a bonus 250 jobs. Not a lot but nice to have regardless.

    More to the point though this is as you said “a rather simplistic calculation, not taking into account effects on employer confidence, worker morale and so forth”.

  2. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 25th, 2005 at 18:22 | #2

    I am on auto moderation now, so dunno if this will get through [personally, I find it far more offensive to be called a "liar" than a d***weed, the former questions my integrity, the latter is just silly, but its your blog]

    I suspect you are underestimating by a factor of 2 or more, but your point still holds.

    The real benefit in the IR reforms is the intangibles. Comparing AU with US is instructive. From my experience, The US economy is remarkably strong for three main reasons (not necessarily in any particular order):

    1) they eat, breathe, sleep, and sh*t business over there.

    2) the workforce is “flexible” (read, easy to hire and fire).

    3) they have a humungous domestic economy.

    Australia is not far behind on 1 (we’re pretty entrepreneurial by world standards). We’ll never be able to compete on 3. So transforming 2 to be more like the US is the one thing we can affect to get us closer to their productivity levels.

    But it will involve cultural change. Easy hiring and firing reduces the cultural stigma associated with losing your job. It also encourages people to be on the lookout for their own interests, instead of necessarily assuming their employer will look after them (which, by the way, forces employers to try _harder_ to keep their good workers, because in such a flexible culture they are more readily poached).

    Overall, I think Australia is well placed to get the best of both worlds: a flexible workforce without the huge social divide you have in the US (which, from my experience is caused by the US having much weaker social security and the fact that their most disadvantaged ethnic underclass (blacks) represents 10-20 times the percentage of the population as does Australia’s (Aboriginals)).

  3. observa
    July 25th, 2005 at 19:17 | #3

    There are a few unknowns to be tested before the electorate gets to give the new IR experiment the formal seal of approval at the next Federal election, after a 2 tear trial. Clearly if the sky falls in for a sizeable number of marginal voters then the ALP/unions will be more than happy to accommodate their concerns.

    The industrial landscape has changed markedly since Aus embraced a globalised world economy. Most workers understand that no job is guaranteed, irrespective of the size of the enterprise. In fact it’s often a case of the bigger they are the harder they fall. One spinoff has been the loosening of loyalty between capital and labour generally. Labour hire companies have emerged as a result of this trend. Firstly they do allow a more efficient marshalling of surplus(to full time jobs) labour for casual hire and secondly they have become a mechanism for many to move about within industry and commerce, where a ceiling of opportunity exists for their skills. This can be positive for many workers, by allowing them to achieve market rates for their skillset, enhance skills via broader experience and simply avoid the boredom of one narrow workplace. Also they have effectively been a defacto loosener of unfair dismissal laws.

    Actual waiving of unfair dismissal laws for most employees may see a waning of labour hire companies and the possibility of individual workers capturing this premia for themselves. At present any small employer would always place an employee on casual probationary wage (20% above standard award), whereas there may be little point under new laws. Cut out the labour hire company profits and engage the employee directly on full-time rates. The cost of erring in long term choice would be minimised.

    If we take annual dismissals as a whole(unfair or fair), they would be an infinitesimal proportion of the annual number of workers who regularly dismiss their employer and move on. Imagine all those movers, where each employer places them on probation for 3-6 months as they do now. The number of workers operating under this lack of protection of ‘unfair’ dismissal now would be large, as well as those who are placed on regular rollover ‘contracts’ of employment now. You get the impression that lifting all this defacto veil, would be in the interests of all but the odd few miscreants on both side of IR. Bring it on and we’ll see if the sky falls in as the doomsayers predict.

  4. SJ
    July 25th, 2005 at 21:33 | #4

    At present any small employer would always place an employee on casual probationary wage (20% above standard award), whereas there may be little point under new laws. Cut out the labour hire company profits and engage the employee directly on full-time rates. The cost of erring in long term choice would be minimised.

    This is nonsense. The WORKPLACE RELATIONS ACT 1996 (1.4 MB text file) says:

    SECT 170CBA Exclusions

    Exclusions from Subdivisions B, D, E and F and sections 170CL and
    170CM

    (1) The following kinds of employee are excluded from the operation of
    Subdivisions B, D, E and F and sections 170CL and 170CM:

    (a) an employee engaged under a contract of employment for a specified period
    of time;

    (b) an employee engaged under a contract of employment for a specified task;

    (c) an employee serving a period of probation, if the duration of the period or the maximum duration of the period, as the case may be, is determined in advance and, either:

    (i) the period, or the maximum duration, is 3 months or less; or

    (ii) the period, or the maximum duration:

    (A) is more than 3 months; and
    (B) is reasonable, having regard to the nature and circumstances of theemployment;

    (d) a casual employee engaged for a short period, within the meaning of subsection (3);

    (e) a trainee whose employment under a traineeship agreement or an approved traineeship:

    (i) is for a specified period; or

    (ii) is, for any other reason, limited to the duration of the agreement;

    (f) an employee:

    (i) who is not employed under award conditions; and

    (ii) to whom subsection (5) or (6) applies.

    Note 1: The expression employee engaged under a contract of
    employment for a specified period of time (used in paragraph (a))
    has been addressed in a number of cases before the Industrial Relations Court of Australia, including, in particular, Cooper v Darwin Rugby League Inc (1994) 57 IR 238, Andersen v Umbakumba Community Council (1994) 126 ALR 121, D’Lima v Board of Management, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children (1995-1996) 64 IR 19 and Fisher v Edith Cowan University
    (unreported judgment of Madgwick J, 12 November 1996, No. WI 1061 of
    1996).

    Note 2: An employee who is excluded from the provisions of the Act specified in this subsection may still be eligible to apply for a remedy in relation to the termination of employment under a State law.

    Note 3: The definitions in section 170CD apply for the purposes of this
    section.

    Casual and probationary are different classes. The unfair dismissal provisions don’t apply to persons on a probationary period of less than 3 months, nor to casual employees who are employed for a “short period” (which is later defined as less than 12 months).

    There is currently nothing preventing an employer putting someone on full time rates, on probation, for 3 months.

    The 20% higher rate you claim for casuals is a furphy. In exchange for this, the employer doesn’t have to pay annual, long service or sick leave.

  5. SJ
    July 25th, 2005 at 21:35 | #5

    (sorry for my poor formatting of the Act)

  6. bill posters
    July 25th, 2005 at 22:50 | #6

    The industrial landscape has changed markedly since Aus embraced a globalised world economy.

    Cool observa, as distinct from a globalised global economy, and of course a worlded world economy.

  7. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 09:09 | #7

    “Casual and probationary are different classes. The unfair dismissal provisions don’t apply to persons on a probationary period of less than 3 months, nor to casual employees who are employed for a “short periodâ€? (which is later defined as less than 12 months).”

    True and there’s nothing stopping employers of blue collar workers starting them on casual rates(up to 12 months) and moving them over to full time rates when they’re satisfied they are good employees. Granted this is probably more confined to blue collar employment. In any case you usually know if they’re any good within a matter of days, but it’s hard to fake it for 3 months, even on probationary terms. Employers are not interested in saving on holiday pay, sick pay,etc, but more in avoiding being saddled with a clever dud.

  8. Dave Ricardo
    July 26th, 2005 at 09:27 | #8

    “their most disadvantaged ethnic underclass (blacks) represents 10-20 times the percentage of the population as does Australia’s (Aboriginals)).”

    I don’t get this. Blacks in the US are 10% of the population. If they are overrepresented in the underclass by 10-20 times, then they must be 100%-200% of the underclass.

    Anyway, comparisons with US miss the point totally. It looks to me like what Johnny H is doing is setting us up to look like the UK. He’s even (almost) copied the name of the key institution – the Fair (“Low” in the UK) Pay Commission. Not that the UK is anything to celebrate. It was all set up by Thatcher in the 80s, with the slightest of tweaks from Blair. But that is Howard’s model, not the United States.

    if you want to make predictions about what these changes will mean for average wages, inequality, employment, etc, look at the UK.

  9. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 09:35 | #9

    bill posters, I’m a product of public education. Can I suggest a job with the SA Ed Dept mate?

    Jack, my general point about labour hire companies still stands, although the Oanh vs Thiess case mentioned elsewhere, has put the cat among the pigeons there. All that will do is make employers churn workers through labour hire more often. Squeezing balloons mate. I have a hunch dropping unfair dismissals will decimate the labour hire industry. Room for adroit unions to pick up the slack, provided they concentrate on their core business, instead of going off on tangents like student unions have. Methinks the doomsayers on IR reform are protesting too much because deep down they know the sky won’t fall, just like floating the dollar, reducing tarriffs, GST and waterfront reform. Employees now regularly sack their boss, fairly or unfairly with no redress, on a scale of magnitude that dwarfs the reverse scenario. Evening up the legislative slate for employers is no longer the bogey of the past for this modern workforce.

  10. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 09:42 | #10

    Clarification:

    Blacks = 10%-20% of the population in the US
    Aboriginals = 1%-2% of the population in AU

    (rough percentages – I am not certain of the exact figures).

    Each is by far the most disadvantaged ethnically distinct underclass in their respective countries (maybe throw Native Americans in with Blacks in the US).

    Hence, the most disadvantaged underclass in the US is 10-20 times the same size (as a proportion of overall population) as the corresponding underclass in AU.

  11. Tony Healy
    July 26th, 2005 at 10:06 | #11

    observa, you completely misunderstand the dynamics of labour hire. These IR reforms are strongly supported by the labour hire industry, to the extent that federal take-over of state IR systems may even have arisen from labour hire lobbyists, as a solution to that industry’s fear that state governments were moving to clean up the industry.

    I would like to write more and may do later, but I have to fly just now.

  12. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 10:40 | #12

    Be interested to hear your take on this Tony. Yes I do think the labour hire Cos are pushing this, but I don’t think they fully understand the dynamics of their existing role(ie defacto skirting around current sticky dismissal laws)and they’re gunna be in for a rude shock with their double edged sword in future. SMEs won’t need their ‘try before you buy’ workers in a brave new world. They can cut out the middleman and ‘try before they buy’ themselves. IMO that will cut out a big chunk of their current role.

  13. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 10:40 | #13

    “Methinks the doomsayers on IR reform are protesting too much because deep down they know the sky won’t fall”

    Sure, the sky won’t fall in relation to wages and working conditions. But aside from their scaremongering, I suspect most union bosses aren’t thinking much about conditions. They’re worried about their own power. And hopefully the sky will fall in respect of that.

  14. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 10:43 | #14

    The labour hire firms act as a useful filter. Whether that constitutes enough value in the absence of wrongful dismissal remains to be seen.

    My guess: for generic jobs, probably. For more specialist jobs, probably not.

  15. Katz
    July 26th, 2005 at 11:05 | #15

    Much of the to-and-fro in this thread is based on tweakings and re-tweakings of JQ’s back-of-the-envelope calculations. Subject to the acknowledged fudge-factors that impinge on these calculations, the discussion is an interesting and enlightening attempt to delineate the outlines of a policy whose effect is designed to enhance labour market efficiency.

    However, this discussion does ignore the 800 kg gorilla crouching in the corner of the room. To wit:

    How is labour market efficiency enhanced by creating a two-tier labour market: employees who happen to work in enterprises of fewer than 100 are to be treated prejudicially in relation to those who work for larger enterprises?

    What makes an enterprise of 80 employees different in kind from an enterprise of 120 employees?

    If the answer to the above question is “not much”, then the answer to my first question is that the distinction is driven by politics and not economics.

    So if that is the case, shouldn’t the primary subject matter be political rather than economic?

    To be quite pointed:

    Why should people of good will accept the bona fides of Howard’s latest exercise in wedge politics?

  16. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 11:05 | #16

    Speaking of unions off on tangents and tilting at windmills try here
    http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=56282

    In a globalised economy with no tarriff protection, what would be the logical outcome of forcing some Aust based award on TCF outworkers here? Achieving Pyrrhic victories must be immensely satisfying for union top brass these days. Time to really broaden their horizons with the Miscellaneous Can-Collectors and Leaflet Distributors Union I guess.

  17. July 26th, 2005 at 11:27 | #17

    observa, the casual loading is 23% in Federal Awards. Though you may be talking about SA.

  18. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 11:40 | #18

    “Why should people of good will accept the bona fides of Howard’s latest exercise in wedge politics?”

    Think of it as a ‘beacon of light’ without the need to get all bloodied with the dark 800kg gorilla for the time being. He can be easily rounded up and dragged kicking and screaming into the light when it’s obvious to most, the sun hasn’t fallen from their sky (ie that unions and awards are all that stand between them and slavery)

  19. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 11:54 | #19

    Doesn’t affect me in the Construction game Mark. Salaried or subbies, although you couldn’t get a tradey on basic award rate these days anyway. Jesus, even the apprentice electrician son reckons his employer is the only one not paying their apprentices over award. Big cushy rest home factory down there by all accounts, which suits the low paid plodders. He’s aware that some of his group apprentice mates have to earn their over-award payments.

  20. Katz
    July 26th, 2005 at 12:06 | #20

    “Think of it as a ‘beacon of light’ without the need to get all bloodied with the dark 800kg gorilla for the time being. He can be easily rounded up and dragged kicking and screaming into the light …”

    So, Observa, you acknowledge that this policy is a wedge.

  21. stoptherubbish
    July 26th, 2005 at 12:33 | #21

    Mark Bahnisch,
    Where do you get your 23% figure from? There is no such thing as ‘federal’ casual loading. they vary from award to award, from 15% to 25% and a couple at 30%. This may overall average 23% though, I haven’t done the maths on that .

    I realise this thread is about the effects of unfair dismissal laws, but could we address the issue of labour productivity? I still want to know how labour productivity is improved by lowering its price.

    I agree that the Howard stuff is more like the UK, but you should be aware of the restrictions on collective bargaining which is taking Australia down the US track, but without their formal commttment to representation rights once a recognition ballot has been won. BTW, it is interesting that despite all the blather about trade union bosses and how dearly employees just love their boss and just can’t wait to be freed of the shackle of their union so that they can bargianin 1:1 with their boss, surprisingly, Australian business is reluctant to test their view about how much workers hate unions and love them because they have never proposed that once employees vote for union representation they should have it as of right. You see there is already no such thing as a right to collective bargaining in this country, unlike the US. Funny isn’t it? Any one care to comment on this remarkable oversight of a basic democratic right?

  22. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 13:00 | #22

    “Any one care to comment on this remarkable oversight of a basic democratic right?”

    I dunno, STR, perhaps you’d be better off directing your question to representatives of some of those US industries directly affected by the stellar productivity gains made possible through unionization enshrined in the NLRA. Eg, the thriving Pennsylvanian steel industry, General Motors or the bankrupt old airlines (United, US Airways)?

  23. stoptherubbish
    July 26th, 2005 at 13:16 | #23

    Commentator etc;
    Mate, can you get a grip? All those indsutries were productive at their heights, until other industries in other countries (japan in automobiles, China and brazil in steel) overtook them. The reasons were hardly unions, since Germany also overtook US manufacturing in many areas with a far stronger and more combative union movement than the US has ever had. The reasons for Japan and germany were simply that they started off from nothing, that is their indsutry had been destroyed by the war, and they were able to take advantage of the latests technologies together with their own cultural approach to workpalce relations which were different in each country, but which worked for them. BTW, both of those countries are in the proces of being taken over by China and Brazil, albeit in China’s case, with liberal helpings of US and Japanese investment dollars. Which is my point really

    As for the airline indsutry in the US are you aware that workers in the US airline industry have been voting for ‘give backs’ to their employers for years, spurred by the threat of closures etc; The result? nada, nothing. More of the same. That is my point. Lowering the price of labour creates more profit-that is true, and we can all have a debate about that, but I want you to address the point about the sources of productvity and I want you to set aside your instictive hatred of orgnaised labour for just one minute and address, rationally please, the issue of the link, if any, between lowering the cost of labour and improving its overall productivity. Thanks.

  24. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 13:36 | #24

    “So, Observa, you acknowledge that this policy is a wedge.”

    Don’t know that you can call a ruddy great chasm between philosophies here, any more of repository for a wedge than it’s already been over the years Katz. Were the ALP and unions wedging the Coalition in the Senate all those times on IR legislation? Have the unions not always represented their interests as those of all workers rather than just their flock? They have been quite happy to pretend that unions can raise ALL workers wages and conditions, rather than some at the expense of others. Howard’s going to cut them off and presumably expose that historic wedge for all to see. His view is more market forces will produce the best outcome for the greatest number. We’ll see. I guess wedges is only wedges depending if you’re looking at them from the thin or thick end at any point in time. Side on they can often appear as sound pragmatic politics or softly softly catchee monkey. Naturally the dominant but waning gorilla in the story doesn’t want to be made a monkey of.

  25. Andrew Reynolds
    July 26th, 2005 at 13:39 | #25

    stoptherubbish,
    I think you need to release your grip on something – perhaps to get one on reality. You are right that Germany and Japan were able to get ahead of the US in the way you say, but that can only go so far.
    In the early days, when there was not enough labour, the unions were active in trying to help capital efficiency. That changed as capital reached high efficiency and the focus moved on to labour efficiency to try to inrease production per unit of input. Germany, in particular, is now seeing the results.
    It is no coincidence that Australia and Argentina were two of the richest nations in the world around 1900 – just before both started regulating their labour markets.

    IMHO, a regulated model of development only works (and even then less than optimally) while the path of development is both generally agreed and obvious. It follows, therefore, that it can only happen from a comparatively low base – as was the case in Germany, Japan, South Korea, etc. etc. after the last war and in varous other countries at various times. Where the path is not obvious and agreed (as we are now) then giving the people to go out and find that path is the only way to go about it. Regulation will only slow the process down and reduce the overall wealth of all the people in an economy.

  26. Katz
    July 26th, 2005 at 13:45 | #26

    So, Observa, your answer to my question is “yes”.

    And, accordingly, do you agree that this discussion surrounding JQ’s “back-of-the-envelope” calculations is just nibbling around the edges of the question of labour market efficiency?

  27. July 26th, 2005 at 13:49 | #27

    It is not the price of labour which is the issue. Barely qualified people are terminating interviews if they are offered award rate. Most employers have qualms paying over award. It is the cost of “non-labour” which is the issue. IE, the unfair dismissal laws cause an employer to be “married” to an unproductive & disruptive staff member. The difficulty & cost of removing those who swing the lead has cause the explosion in contracts & the explosion in labour hire.

    If the unfair dismissal laws are revoked fully, as the treasurer is reported to have said this morning, then the labour hire industry will fade, & the clerical staff of the CBDs will have a permenant job, instead of perpetually being on a 3 month contract.

  28. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 13:49 | #28

    STR, your facts are way off. US steel went the way of the dodo because of union conditions that were not competitive. Eg US$80,000 for a foundry worker. There are profitable steel companies in the US today, but notably most are not unionized.

    GM is saddled with insanely high pension and medical benefit liabilities, acceded to by management 20 years ago under strike threats from the union. What do you do when faced with that kind of blackmail? Give the unions what they demand even though you suspect it will slowly kill the company, or dig your heels in and potentially go broke anyway.

    And the airlines. Fly economy on United to the US sometime, and see what US-style unionization does for service levels. And ask the flight attendants how much they make and how many hours they work per month [I did on my last trip]. If that’s the result of “give backs” then it is no wonder they are broke.

    BTW, I don’t hate organized labour. If people want to organize that’s up to them. Bullying unions are the problem. I was one who believed in unionization as an idealistic young man, until my first summer job at University. The place I worked was unionized and the workers did almost _nothing_. Even they cheerfully admitted that by most estimates the place was overstaffed by a factor of 2-3. Demarcation disputes were rife. Being a naive student, I got myself into great trouble for unwittingly using an electric lift when I should not have (no operator license required). Apparently only the members of the electric lift operator union (or whatever it was called) were allowed to use it. I am sure if I had been anything other than a summer student a strike would have been called.

    Unions are fine when protecting the (reasonable) conditions of workers. But that battle was won a long time ago. These days it seems to be much more about power. And that is what the ACTU is currently fighting the government for.

    If you think that kind of union power should somehow be a democratic right, then I suggest you take a second mortgage on your house and sink all the money into the stocks of the most heavily and militantly unionized companies you can find. While you’re at it, put all your super there too, since you must believe it will have the best growth prospects with all those fine union officials looking out for the interests of the company.

    BTW, you asked about the democratic right to organize. That’s what I am addressing.

  29. July 26th, 2005 at 14:00 | #29

    Lastest poll folks:

    The Federal Government has proposed that unfair dismissal laws be abolished for employers with one hundred staff or less. Australians are
    overwhelmingly against this proposal, with 70% saying they disagree,
    compared with 24% of Australians who agree with the proposal and 6% who couldn’t say, according to a special telephone Morgan Poll, conducted July 20/21 …

  30. Andrew Reynolds
    July 26th, 2005 at 14:08 | #30

    cs,
    If the government went by polls the death penalty would still be in effect and detention centres would be expanded.

    Polls should be an influence, but not a master.

  31. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 14:11 | #31

    cs, “unfair” is just a metaphor, and not particularly relevant in this context…..

  32. July 26th, 2005 at 14:44 | #32

    You make far too many assumptions Andrew. In this instance, I’m merely a messenger … and the message clearly is that around a two-thirds majority of Australians presently don’t agree with the government on this one. Make of that what you will.

  33. Dave Ricardo
    July 26th, 2005 at 14:54 | #33

    “sink all the money into the stocks of the most heavily and militantly unionized companies you can find”

    That would be companies in the construction industry. They are very profitable. Bruno Grollo is not walking round with the arse out of his pants, I’ll give you the tip.

    Then there is the motor vehicle industry. Very militant unions and, apart from Mitsubishi, also very profitable. In fact Toyota faces arguably the most militant unionists in the country in its Melbourne plant, and it is extremely profitable.

  34. July 26th, 2005 at 14:58 | #34

    Chris Corrigan also seems to be doing quite nicely thank you very much, with 100 per cent MUA coverage still entrenched on the docks.

  35. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:00 | #35

    Katz, the immediate impact of reforms may be in that order, but Steve at the Pub, Andrew and Terje accord with my views. We have been moving along a more market IR approach since the ALP floated the dollar and Aus pulled its head out of its protectionist backside and embraced the world economically. Now we have the lowest unemployment in 3 decades. What does that tell you about the direction we should to continue to go in?(read Andrew again) Australians don’t need unions or public servants to tell them how to cut it economically now. The ALP is clinging to its union dinosaur past here, which is a shame because they instigated the sea-change in thinking under Hawke and Keating. Having said that, there’s still a place for the big biz, big union, big govt thingy. It suits them not to have to get too personal with each individual. They have extensive HR depts to weed out prospective duds and can better marginally afford the odd mistake anyway.

  36. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:06 | #36

    oh yeah cs, and that’s after the MUA got exactly what they wanted in the waterfront dispute. not.

    I think that’s the exception that proves the rule.

  37. Katz
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:13 | #37

    So, Observa, if Howard’s approach to the demarcation between “big” and “small” being set at 100 employees is mostly a matter of political management, and there isn’t much difference between firms bigger or smaller than that arbitrary figure, then Howard may justify to himself the good policy of adjusting this watershed according to the kind of poll figures quoted by CS above, and according to how nervous his bankbenchers may feel facing the wrath of the voters at the next election.

    Those poll figures suggest to me that Howard may discover a compelling argument for deciding that “big” business starts at a number considerably less than 100. Back to his original 20 perhaps?

    The figure that Howard finally picks may turn out to be more accurate as an indication of voting intentions than all of the scientifically constructed opinion polls.

  38. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:19 | #38

    cs,
    Chris Corrigan and the MUA have come to a new ‘understanding’, as will we all under new IR rules. In 5yrs time we can all ask the question we can ask today of those so vehement opposed to things a few years ago- Are you in favour of Roll-back now?

    Big Biz and big unions go hand in hand with cutting edge technology, economies of scale, or high barriers to industry entry, which they both enjoy the spoils of. If you can get a govt monopoly together, then so much the better(a la old featherbedded wharves)

  39. July 26th, 2005 at 15:24 | #39

    Chris Corrigan and the MUA have come to a new ‘understanding’

    Er, I dare say Corrigan came to a new understanding, which is that unions are not against increasing profitability, if their members are given a fair share.

  40. observa
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:27 | #40

    Katz, You know Howard always puts out an ambit claim with the junior officers and then the old general comes riding out of the sun to save the day for all. 100-50-20? these things are malleable.

  41. Katz
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:32 | #41

    We’re on the same page Observa.

  42. StephenL
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:52 | #42

    Ex-Anon says “Unions are fine when protecting the (reasonable) conditions of workers. But that battle was won a long time ago”

    So is the two dollars an hour paid to outworkers in the textile industry reasonable? By third world standards they are, but if we want Australians to be able to live decent lives then I would argue not. Granted the TCF situation is the exception not the rule today, but rather harsh conditions are more common than you might think.

    The real question though is, how much more common will they become once the laws get passed. I’m not qualified to answer that, and it probably depends on global market conditions (when the economy is going well and unemployment is low few employers can get away with much). However, I’ve seen enough cases to know that in some industries, the problem is too little union power not too much.

  43. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 26th, 2005 at 15:57 | #43

    My comments sit in JQ’s moderation queue too long for this to be much fun.

    Adieu folks.

  44. GoTF
    July 26th, 2005 at 16:00 | #44

    x-anon,

    You said, “Unions are fine when protecting the (reasonable) conditions of workers. But that battle was won a long time ago.”

    Unions are still active domestically in monitoring and ensuring compliance with basic health and safety laws. Without unions the number of breaches would likely increase.

    Unions are campaigning internationally for basic work conditions. It is a battle yet to be won. One of the central planks of unionism is worker solidarity – doing away with Australian unions would have a negative impact on work conditions internationally.

    I find the idea that we should do away with unions because the battle has been won to be poorly conceived. Many western institutions have ‘won’ their battles – over the centuries the courts and legal sector have won the battle for rule of law in Australia, should we do away with them? Laws are a burden on many companies afterall. The police have vastly improved law and order over the past couple of hundred years. Cut. We haven’t really needed our military for a while. Cut. Civil rights lawyers in the USA ‘won’ their battle in the sixties. Cut. I guess it fits with your libertarian streak…

  45. Andrew Reynolds
    July 26th, 2005 at 16:12 | #45

    cs,
    The ‘new understanding’ equals may (I do not want to get sued) consist of the old understanding – we give you industrial peace, you give us higher wages than we deserve and you stiff the people trading through the wharves. If industrial peace is bought at the price of lower trade it is not worth it.

  46. July 26th, 2005 at 17:49 | #46

    Andrew, it’s a big argument that I’m not inclined to get into here (you can find some good articles on the ‘trade’ aspect in Prof Q’s archives). Let me say in passing however that it strikes me as counter-intuitive when the achievement of union objectives (better wages and working conditions) is held up as an argument against them. Unions are fine, provided they don’t work!

  47. SJ
    July 26th, 2005 at 21:14 | #47

    It’s just neo-puritan religious dogma for some people, cs. Facts and analysis aren’t necessary to support any of it, and the people who question it are heretics.

  48. SJ
    July 26th, 2005 at 21:28 | #48

    Just a minor factual point:

    Mark Bahnisch Says:

    observa, the casual loading is 23% in Federal Awards. Though you may be talking about SA.

    stoptherubbish Says:

    Mark Bahnisch,
    Where do you get your 23% figure from? There is no such thing as ‘federal’ casual loading. they vary from award to award, from 15% to 25% and a couple at 30%. This may overall average 23% though, I haven’t done the maths on that .

    Mark, 23% is the number for Queensland. stoptherubbish is correct about the federal number being different for each award.

  49. July 27th, 2005 at 09:05 | #49

    For those not aware of it, it is worth looking at the recent Senate Committee report into this issue (at http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/eet_ctte/unfair_dismissal/report/index.htm). Obviously it has its partisan elements, but it does explore the ‘evidence’ for the claims that significant amounts of jobs would come from scrapping protections against unfair dismissal.

  50. July 27th, 2005 at 10:55 | #50

    Gentlemen, we won’t have to worry about the impending IR laws if Australia does not extract itself from the politics of the Middle East. In addition, now with the US of A taking on China, our problems are only just beginning, because guess which “side” we’ll be on. The fact that Australia no longer has a viable manufacturing industry (it is all in China!) means we will be caught between a rock and a hard place to defend ourselves. Weapons, clothing, shoes, computer gear…..ah, but we’re very very lucky, we still have Mr Howard directing traffic!

  51. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 10:57 | #51

    I feel compelled to defend myself, even though I hate doing it through JQ’s moderation.

    I never said “get rid of unions”. I said:

    “Unions are fine when protecting the (reasonable) conditions of workers. But that battle was won a long time ago.�

    By this I meant: the hard struggle was won a long time ago. That doesn’t mean I don’t think there’s a place for unions, or perhaps more relevantly, collective bargaining. Obviously all freedoms and protections that are hard-won require “maintenance”.

    But another important freedom is the freedom for business owners to conduct their business how they wish. Forcing someone to pay $90,000 a year salary for semi-skilled labour working 30 hour weeks is a serious violation of that freedom. Imposing restrictive work practices is another violation.

    I always laugh when I see union leaders like Doug Cameron claiming how the unions have delivered massive productivity gains in some industry or another. How much of the gain is due to the unions relaxing previously untenable work practices? It always feels better when you stop banging your head against the brick wall.

  52. July 27th, 2005 at 12:26 | #52

    Forcing someone to pay $90,000 a year salary for semi-skilled labour working 30 hour weeks is a serious violation of that freedom.

    Which union is that? I want in.

  53. Andrew Reynolds
    July 27th, 2005 at 12:27 | #53

    cs,
    Unions’ responsibilities are to their members. As with anything else, what is good for one may not be good for all – a waterfront where everyone is paid several million dollars a year to put two or three containers through an hour may be great for the workers on the waterfront, but would result in a terrible outcome for the rest of the workers in Australia.
    This is where the market should be allowed to work – wages drop and throughput increases. When wages reach the point that there are as many workers as there are jobs then the wage rate is correct. This is very simple economics. Under this system the role of the union is to improve the information available to the workers to negotiate their pay and conditions and also to provide other services to their members.

    It is not to extort artifically high pay rates for their members using the threat of collective action, boycotts, go-slows etc. that end up hurting us all.

  54. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 13:11 | #54

    I was checking out the MUA’s website looking for an answer to cs’s question (the $90,000 figure is one I remember from the 1998 waterfront dispute).

    Haven’t found a statement of terms and conditions prior to 1998, but I came across this pretty remarkable top “news” item:

    By MUA News
    Just a reminder that the reality TV show Big Brother has a token leftie who has infiltrated the household and once again he needs your support.

    Tim Brunero, a young journo who works for UnionsNSW launched himself in the House saying that he ‘really didn’t like that John Howard.’
    Sadly his nemisis, alpha male Dean, is out to get him.
    This week both are up for eviction. So you know who you should be voting out – SMS dean 191010!
    Tim is officially supported by Unions NSW
    On May 12, a resolution at the weekly council meeting called on delegates to support Tim as part of the campaign to protect the industrial relations systems. It’s good having a young worker so openly supporting the trade union movement inside the house and Council urged all delegates to spread the word among their members friends and family to ensure that Comrade Brunero stays on Big Brother by evicting any of the other housemates.
    So vote early and vote often and keep Tim in the House.

    “Comrade” Brunero? Are we living in the 1950′s?

    If Big Brother is a lynchpin in the union campaign I don’t think we have a lot to worry about :)

  55. July 27th, 2005 at 13:13 | #55

    The example is surely absurd, and if we are really talking about the waterfront (as I suspect x-anon is), last time I looked the wage rate was $32,000 pa for a 35 hour week (the higher incomes, which rarely rise above $60,000, are all due to overtime and shift work). I know these rates have gone up a little as a consequence of the ’98 stoush (who won again?), but they are not and never have been in the realm you guys fantasise about.

  56. GoTF
    July 27th, 2005 at 13:49 | #56

    X-Anon writes, “But another important freedom is the freedom for business owners to conduct their business how they wish.”

    By all means. However, some restrictions are reasonable and legitimate. If I set up a business that belches toxic fumes into the atmosphere I should either be compelled to repair the damage or my business should be shut down. If I exploit workers and subject them to dangerous or harmful working conditions I should be liable to compensate them or should be shut down. Clearly, few freedoms are absolute. It is irrational to ignore the complex interdependencies of modern society.

    As to your specific example, no one is compelled to pay exhorbitant rates. Businesses are free to choose not to. They might end up with no employees, but the alternative is to force people to work for less than they are willing to.

    By the way X-Anon, I’m curious where you stand on employer unions such as the BCA and ACCI.

  57. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 13:56 | #57

    I can’t find a confirmation. Best so far is the Democratic Socialists, well known bastion of objectivity and accurate reporting [irony alert]: http://www.dsp.org.au/dsp/mua/mua-ju24.html

    As well, Patrick wharfies will move to a 40-hour week, based on 35 hours plus five hours of overtime, with the highest rate set at around $62,000-65,000 a year. This is up to 30% less than existing pay.

    $65,000 / 0.7 = $92,857

  58. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 14:03 | #58

    GOTF,

    “no one is compelled to pay exhorbitant rates”

    If the alternative is shutting down the business, then of course they are compelled. At least on any reasonable definition of “compel”.

    “the alternative is to force people to work for less than they are willing to”

    No, the alternative is to offer wages at market rates, not at the extortionist rate set by the union on pain of business disruption or closure.

  59. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 14:06 | #59

    The BCA or ACCI have never compelled me to do anything.

  60. July 27th, 2005 at 14:30 | #60

    A poor source x-anon, given it was hostile to the settlement. As it happens, I have the Feb 98 award in front of me, and the 35 hour week ordinary rates ranged from $460 (Grade 1) to 772.50 (Grade 7). If I get time this evening, I might look up the current rates.

  61. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 15:09 | #61

    cs, do you know what were the overtime rates, the amount of overtime, and the idle time? As I recall, they were the major sources of dispute with the union – the union wanted to retain overtime, resisted reductions in idle time, and resisted employing casuals to take up the slack.

    Given that, I suspect the fundamental issue was staffing levels and flexibility. People “working” 80 hour weeks and getting large overtime rates as a result, but in reality not putting in anywhere that number of hours on the ground.

  62. stoptherubbish
    July 27th, 2005 at 15:26 | #62

    CS
    I suggest you try their collective agreement to get the current ‘market’ rate’. If memory serves me correctly, you will need to add approximately $100 to the 1998 award rates to get the current minimum rate. BTW, to all those gnashing neo liberals, if they insist on the market free-for-all for the labour market, then paying around $100,000 pa for skills in short supply is one of the ways that they say all employees will benefit from the market based nature of the changes proposed. On the other hand the same market will be allowed to decree that $10,000 pa is about the going rate for skills which are in abundance. Spot the probelm here amigos? But we all know the dirty little secret at the heart of the ACCI/BCA proposals don’t we? There will be a flourishing market in skilled migration-skills like train driving, truck driving, brick laying and the like, and in addition, for those impecunious enough not to be able to survive on low wages from work (married women don’t need a living wage, becaue their income is a contribution to the household, not a reward for skill), there will be the taxpayer, gallantly asssitng the BCA/ACCI in meeting the burden of paying a living wage, by way of transfer payments, aka welfare.

    Be assurred, the pennies are starting to drop in places where Howard supporters fancy the culture wars are the key to neo liberal ascendancy. Big, big mistake to meddle with the foundations of the part of the Australian settlement that allowed poeple to dream that they didn’t really have to kiss butt to make it.

  63. July 27th, 2005 at 15:46 | #63

    I suspect the fundamental issue was staffing levels

    Of course it was, from Corrigan’s perspective, and the whole fight could be interpreted as an employer stunt to screw a soft-loan out of the Howardians to pay for his redundancies.

    On the other hand, to suggest that the MUA was somehow responsible cos it wouldn’t negotiate redundancie would be absurd, given that it had guarded the exit of 4500 of its members as recently as 98-92 (and over 20,000 since the 50s).

  64. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 15:54 | #64

    STR, even a monumental cut in the minimum wage won’t put us at $10,000 pa. Do the math.

    Unions overplayed their hand over many many years, pure and simple. Their ability to do so in future is going to be severely curtailed, which can only be a good thing. They will be forced to stick to their original knitting – ensuring reasonable conditions for their members – not blackmailing businesses.

    Of course, the union leaders and labor party apparatchiks who have built their careers on the backs of their members rather than actual work or real wealth creation will fight tooth and nail to retain their illegitimate power.

  65. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 15:56 | #65

    cs, the original question was my $90,000 figure for 30 hours work. Since you have the award, do you have the overtime and idle figures so we can verify it?

  66. July 27th, 2005 at 17:45 | #66

    It’s a myth.

  67. lurch
    July 27th, 2005 at 19:55 | #67

    x-anon
    1) First-hand experience tells me the idle time argument is a myth.
    2) If you believe that – a labour breakdown of approx* 30% (rotating) rostered permanents, 15% unrostered permanents, and 55% unrostered casuals, where all unrostered workers are required to phone each day to find out the next days hours, appalling safety (we still cant find semi-affordable income protection insurance and Life insurance is obtained through the members-owned super scheme), and a truly fair and balanced piece of legislation (Workplace Relations Act) governs the workplace- then I will agree with you that unions did overplay their hand years ago and that this is a good thing. If the above seem to you to be “reasonable conditions” then its no wonder that you seem to have some misguided ideas about life on the waterfront. In response to your claims about the employers wanting to reduce the level of overtime it is always worth remembering who proposed the idea of extra overtime shifts and fought long and hard to have them included in the award – thats right the EMPLOYER!.

  68. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 20:07 | #68

    Overtime rates are a myth, CS? Surely they are in the award. I guess your reluctance to quote them means they do not support your case. Your honesty is overwhelming.

  69. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 20:20 | #69

    lurch, idle time may be a myth now, but I don’t believe it was a myth before 1998.

    On the question of over/idle time, this from a parliamentary report written at the time: http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/cib/1997-98/98cib15.htm

    Negotiations between the MUA and Patrick for new industrial agreements had been underway for much of 1997, but its employees generally resisted attempts to improve the cost effectiveness of Patrick, particularly by insisting on retaining arrangements which generated large amounts of overtime (work beyond the daily shift or roster). This work practice is being given more investigation.(21) A solution being sought by the employers has been described by one industrial relations newsletter in the following terms:
    What the stevedoring companies are looking for in general, is to create a situation where annualised salaries are introduced, but with no overtime component. The companies want excess work to be done by casual employees who have been trained up to do the supplementary work. Additionally, companies also want to ensure that there is no idle time.(22)

  70. lurch
    July 27th, 2005 at 21:01 | #70

    overtime rates for stevedoring industry as follows –
    x-anon
    Evening shift – 1.5 times ordinary rate
    Midnight shift – 2 times
    Saturday – 2 times
    Sunday – 2.5 times
    Idle figures wont feature in award(s) as they are a reflection of the time workers are not employed in stevordoring operations ie: no ship alongside, no container/freight recievial/delivery, no machinery maintenance, no facility maintenence

  71. July 27th, 2005 at 21:38 | #71

    x-anon, the myth I was referring to is your idea that wharfies earn $90,000 for a 30 hour week. Of course workers get overtime and shift rates, but I am imagining you can tie your own shoelaces and are right for socks and undies, or are you under some apprehension that I’m your research slave?

    (cheers lurch, btw)

  72. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 21:49 | #72

    Well, I tried to cut the thread off, but since you are being so rude cs: you quoted from the 1991 award, which “as it happened” you had in front of you. All I was asking you to do was to quote a few more figures from the same document, which appears not to be anywhere online.

    More interesting quotes, these from an interview conducted after the 2001 agreement:

    CHRIS CORRIGAN: We haven’t had a single employee resign in the last three years. That’s how good it is. Nobody resigns here. So they should, they do acknowledge it is a good industry to work in and they’re very happy.

    I mean, employees are far more happy today when they’ve got real jobs to do than they were three years ago when they were carrying away in the mess room or whatever, trying to avoid being seen, having no work to do.

    PADDY CRUMLIN: Productivity has been delivered because basically the workers understand that the world is changing and as long as it is done safely and they are involved in it and it is done in a constructive fashion, then we’ll meet whatever requirements are required.

    So we haven’t changed. I think the difference is this time around that John Howard and Peter Reith haven’t got their big melons in.

    Pre-1998 sounds just like my first summer job. So somehow I doubt my figures are a myth. Interesting to note that Crumlin (MUA president) does not dispute Corrigan in this exchange.

  73. Gomez
    July 27th, 2005 at 22:42 | #73

    Lurch, stop debating and get back to work

  74. July 27th, 2005 at 22:57 | #74

    Actually, I quoted the rates of the ’98 safety net review of the ’91 award. I’m still not your research assistant, no matter how wrong you are and what you can’t find online. In the interests of education and civility, if you can find what you think are the correct answers for yourself, I’ll continue to check them for you, as I’ve been doing. I’m sure you can do better, with application.

    As for the quote, reads to me as if Corrigan still feels bound to run a self-justifying line, while the MUA is free to rise above and deflect onto the government, in the interests of good industrial relations. An impressive union, most especially for its discipline under provocation.

  75. the commenter formerly known as anon
    July 27th, 2005 at 23:14 | #75

    whatever CS. over and out.

  76. July 28th, 2005 at 11:06 | #76

    Stoptherubbish, how patronising is this:

    “…married women don’t need a living wage, becaue their income is a contribution to the household, not a reward for skill.”

    I earn more than my partner and so do a few of my women friends. Why in this day and age do people always assume the reverse?

    Would you be as quick to say my husband’s income is not a reward for skill? how insulting.

    Stop yer own rubbish!

  77. SJ
    July 28th, 2005 at 15:42 | #77

    Helen, I believe that was sarcasm on stoptherubbish’s part.

  78. stoptherubbish
    July 28th, 2005 at 17:29 | #78

    SJ,
    You are right. it was sarcasm. I was directly quoting a well known front person for Aust Inc, from the CIS, who repsonded to a point being made about the drop in pay equity that occurred when state AWAs were introduced into WA, who breezily assurred every-one that it was household income that counted, not the income of each discrete wage earner, since ‘many women choose to work in order to contribute to the household income’ and since women in general have made lower investments in ‘personal capital’ (that’s skills folks), then we can expect that they will earn less than men, and in addition, it doesn’t matterif there is wage discrimination becasue overall,their income simply ‘contributes’! I promise, you I have not made this up. These guys are the most reactionary palukas I have ever heard. I just wish they were game enough to come out and argue their garbage in front of the people they say their prescriptions are designed to assist. I would just love it.

    But in the interests of my health, I am not going to hold my breath. BTW, if you want to have a good laugh, read the last but one editionof the IPA jounrnal, where a brave little battler writes about the brave new world of independent contracting, and how he just loves the smell of personal risk each morning as he gets up to do battle in that crazy old market place of labour. It is absolutley pukemaking!

  79. McD
    July 28th, 2005 at 17:30 | #79

    X-Anon: “The BCA or ACCI have never compelled me to do anything.”

    What about, ohh, the Pharmacy Guild. Sure they don’t compel you (I guess) or I to do anything, but talk about a protected species that the govt. is unwilling or unable to take on. Real efficiency gains available too, unlike in the ideologically driven IR ‘reforms’.

  80. the commenter formally known as anon
    July 28th, 2005 at 17:43 | #80

    You won’t find me defending the pharmacy guild.

    I believe the govt _is_ taking them on. Doesn’t Woolworths now have permission to do a trial of pharmacies in supermarkets? And Abott has been actively softening them up for the latest round of PBS negotiations. I’d lay good odds that we’ll have a far less controlled pharmacy industry within 5 years.

  81. July 29th, 2005 at 14:00 | #81

    Stop the rubbish
    I apologise most grovellingly. I must not be such a smartarse and read too fast.
    Keep the rubbish happenin’.

  82. July 29th, 2005 at 14:07 | #82

    if you want to have a good laugh, read the last but one editionof the IPA jounrnal, where a brave little battler writes about the brave new world of independent contracting, and how he just loves the smell of personal risk each morning as he gets up to do battle in that crazy old market place of labour. It is absolutley pukemaking!

    Actually I don’t need to do that, I had exactly the same thing put to me in conversation with a poor wretch at a barbecue. (The barbecue, for the record, failed to stop.)

    He didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin as he described it, either. And he mentioned he had recently married and was about to start a family – so he was still pre-kids… Hmmm, it’s going to hit him, but good, once those kids come.

  83. July 30th, 2005 at 10:04 | #83

    Stoptherubbish — what was your problem with the CIS quote you mentioned?

    Do you think “many women choose to work in order to contribute to the household income” is wrong?

    It seems that the original speaker was making the simple point that women may have lower incomes due to choice, and that income inequality should be considered at a family-unit level if you want to understand real disadvantage. Fair and fair.

    As for idea that discrimination doesn’t matter because overall women’s income contributes to family income… I think the point was that it doesn’t necessarily impact on the debate about income inequality. I doubt the author thinks sexist discrimination is a good thing.

    The CIS is game enough to argue their points clearly and publicly all the time. They are not reactionary in any meaningful sense of the word. But I suggest you continue to misrepresent the CIS… because I doubt you’d have a chance in an honest argument.

  84. stoptherubbish
    July 30th, 2005 at 16:18 | #84

    In general John I think the concept of ‘choosing’ to work, is a tad under theorised if I may say so. Women, and men work for a variety of reasons, the most basic one being the pressing necessity to put food on the table, a roof over one’s head and to have some means of being able to get from A to B, among other things. The extent and level of women’s participation in the labour market is a complex subject, and simply cannot be reduced to a simple proposition like ‘choosing’ to contribute to the household income, as anyone who has the faintest understanding of the different rates of participation in different eras and different polities knows..

    I happen to be in favour of women’s rights to participate as fully and equally in the labour market as men are able to. However I know enough to know that the terms on which people come into that marvellous market are not equal, that the sources of inequality are not simply differences in ‘personal capital investment’, and that women and men are not simply individual economic actors, but have many other identities and claims on their time and skills than simply working to put to food on the table, and a roof over their heads etc. I am a little tired of the constant bullying undertaken by interest groups in the service of the powerful and wealthy, who are constantly patrolling the media in order to convince every-one, but mainly of course those that make laws, that the soical and economic outcomes of which they approve, are the results of ‘individual choice’.

    If the economic and social outcomes of which they approve are the results of ‘choice’ of course, then any attempt to ameliorate or change people’s cirumstances or the arrangments that underpin the reproduciton of a given set of circumstamnces are interferences in people’s ‘choices’ and thus are either doomed because they are an affront to the natural order of things, or else an afffront to the ‘liberty’ of people to be as they are at the moment. It is the circular nature of the arguments of groups like the CIS which so irritates, as well as the shoddiness of much of their arguments.

    Let’s be clear here, the CIS doesn’t give a rats about discrimination against women or anyone else in the labour market for that matter. It makes a formal obeisence to the right of people to be treated on ‘their merits’ but makes no examination, nor has anything to say about what or more importantly, who gets to decide what constitutes merit or value, and how it is to be measured, other than by market outcomes, ie; Those who have the most must be the most meritorious.

    The CIS does indeed ‘engage’ in the market place of ideas, but in reality it is nothing more than a megaphone for the already powerful and priveleged. The little ‘battler’ in the ideas marketplace pose of the CIS doesn’t fool anyone, least of all anyone who has the faintest understanding of the issues that the current state of women’s labour market participation raises. The CIS is reactionary in my view, if ‘reactionary’ means a set of ideas or orientation to the past as a way of turning back the clock. The CIS seeks to take this society back to some mad combination of 19th century economic and social arrangements, with 21st century technological and financial innovations. I think the CIS has every right to peddle its views. I also have a right to say clearly and forthrightly that I think it is more than a simple think tank, and is less than honest in its overall intentions.

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