Home > Politics (general) > The servant problem

The servant problem

June 29th, 2006

The Howard government’s IR reforms (including, but not limited to, the most recent instalment) are a curious mixture of deregulation and compulsion. On the one hand, all sorts of conditions and requirements are stripped away, but in their place there has been created an array of new criminal and civil offences, prohibited terms in contracts, requirements to offer particular employment forms such as AWAs and so on.

To make sense of this seeming contradiction, we need only observe that the deregulation is all for employers, and the regulation is all imposed on workers and, particularly, unions. Lockouts are now almost unrestricted, but strikes are subject to strict regulation. Employers cannot be sued for unfair dismissal, but employees are prohibited from including protection against unfair dismissal in a proposed employment contract and so on.

An obvious interpretation is the Marxist one, that this is class-based legislation, designed to increase profits and reduce wages by driving down workers’ bargaining power. That’s part of the story but not, I think, the most important part.

The real issue, I think, relates to the personal power relationship between employers and employees. The complaints of employers (some of them can be read in comments here) about bad employees and the difficulty of sacking them echo very closely the complaints of a century ago that ‘you can’t get good servants any more’. The changes made in the IR laws make most sense if they are read as an attempt to remove constraints on the day-to-day power of bosses to be bosses, whether these constraints are imposed by law, by collective agreements or by individual contracts with workers.

This also helps to explain some of the class alignments we see in politics. While political alignments continue to be determined to a significant extent by income, there are groups with relatively high incomes, such as academics and other professionsals, who tend to support Labor. On the other side of the fence, managers tend to vote Liberal more strongly than their incomes alone would suggest. The obvious point is that managers are, by definition, bosses. Professionals, who mostly in hierarchical institutions, can identify either as bosses or workers, but with the rise of managerialism, most professionals find themselves on the workers side of the divide.

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  1. June 29th, 2006 at 19:02 | #1

    Rather a novel way of saying that those in an ivory tower vote labor, as do those whose survival skills don’t extend any further than offering their time up for someone else to use, in return for a guarantee of food & shelter.

    While those who have the ability to look after not only themselves, but others also, vote liberal.

  2. conrad
    June 29th, 2006 at 19:05 | #2

    I’m not convinced that professionals currently falling on the worker side of the divide will continue to fall on that side for many years for two reasons (and hence I’m not convinced of the analogy with conditions 100 years ago) : 1) The population is aging all over the world, and not enough of many types of professional are being trained in many areas; 2) It is much simpler to move countries than 100 years ago (or 20 for that matter). Both of these are going to give a fair chunk of professionals a third option that did not used to be available if bad conditions are inflicted upon them (and hence put them in a better position to bargain against the managerial annoyances). In addition, as more take the second option (as seems to be the case now from ABS figures), the better the conditions for those left will be.

  3. Andrew
    June 29th, 2006 at 20:32 | #3

    “Rather a novel way of saying that those in an ivory tower vote labor, as do those whose survival skills don’t extend any further than offering their time up for someone else to use, in return for a guarantee of food & shelter.

    While those who have the ability to look after not only themselves, but others also, vote liberal.”

    So the new IR legislation must be rather a novel way of saying that those who have the ability to look after not only themselves, but others also, are hereby freed from the responsibility of actually doing so, and those whose survival skills don’t extend any further than offering their time up for someone else to use, in return for a guarantee of food & shelter, can just shuffle off somewhere and suffer quietly by themselves since they clearly don’t deserve to get anything at all, and nor do their kids.

    Mateship? Egalitarianism? Anyone?

    If there exist employers, there must by definition exist employees. The question is whether the former should have complete control over the latter’s lives. To me the question pretty much answers itself in the negative; the moral superiority in the tone you adopt towards employees can only make any sense if your policy goal is to eliminate employees from society altogether, which is idiotic. It’s not as we have the option of living in a society in which everyone works for themselves only.

    In other words, since business needs employees, are employers expected to treat them with contempt or respect? Why treat with contempt a part of society which, if they took your advice and started their own businesses thus building their own “survival skills”, would simply be replaced by a new group of people supposedly lacking these skills? Effectively you’re committing to holding in moral disdain a large and constantly changing portion of society, which must be a heck of a negative world view.

  4. crocodile
    June 29th, 2006 at 21:01 | #4

    I don’t really believe that the intention of Workchoices is to create a master slave relationship. Nor can I see that the economic argument has been won by either side. Pr Q maybe unintentionally hits the nail squarely on the head.

    “To make sense of this seeming contradiction, we need only observe that the deregulation is all for employers, and the regulation is all imposed on workers and, particularly, unions. Lockouts are now almost unrestricted, but strikes are subject to strict regulation.”

    The whole point seems to be to nobble the power of unions and chip away at their income stream. The opposition derive a significant amount of their own funding naturally from unions and the Coalition see a great opportunity to diminish the financial support base of the ALP which can only weaken them. Smart move really but not very nice.

  5. June 29th, 2006 at 22:06 | #5

    Another way to look at this is with the Prime Minister as a Conservative, not a libertarian / liberal. Just as accurate and more likely to clarify the differences that exist within the group commonly lumped together as “the Right”.

  6. steve munn
    June 29th, 2006 at 22:14 | #6

    I think Steve At The Pub may have been a concentration camp guard in his former life.

    If I worked for you and you adopted that attitude with me you wouldn’t last too long on your feet.

  7. Peter Evans
    June 29th, 2006 at 22:49 | #7

    SATP is a good laugh. Most of those passionate, nutty supporters of all things Liberal Party are flunky apparachiks in large corporations, and certainly not, in any way, people with anything to lose by either the businesses they work for going bust, or the people they smugly mess about with the lives of going into penury. The Liberal Party has always been the legislative arm of big business (which is quite opposed to any notion of free markets, except in labour), and any fool dumb enough to think the Libs give a damn about small businesses, and their very different concerns, deserves all the mud flung in their faces by the 50000 pages of red tape, small business killing, market manipulating, offal thay they’ve pushed through parliament.

    Howard has a deep and abiding hatred of the Labor Party, certainly one of the last deep-in-the-bones haters left in politcs (most in Parliament could happily work for either side – they just want to be where the power is). He’ll do anything to entrench non-Labor parites in government. Hence the union nobbling (funds to ALP nobbling) “WorkChoices” legislation. Hence the enrolement changes to disenfranchise non-conservative voters, and all the other tricks the Libs are importing from the Republicans in the US.

    It won’t work.

    -peter

  8. econwit
    June 29th, 2006 at 22:55 | #8

    “there are groups with relatively high incomes, such as academics and other professionals”, (the ‘revenue lobby’ (comprising the ATO, the Treasury and their allies in politics, academia, the media and the welfare industry)) who tend to park their backsides on soft padding for the greater part of the day and who “tend to support Labour”.

  9. jquiggin
    June 29th, 2006 at 22:59 | #9

    Certainly, Steve at the Pub does a great job of revealing how bosses really view workers, as opposed to what they are taught to spin in management schools.

  10. Bill O’Slatter
    June 29th, 2006 at 23:16 | #10

    “An obvious interpretation is the Marxist one, that this is class-based legislation, designed to increase profits and reduce wages by driving down workers’ bargaining power. That’s part of the story but not, I think, the most important part.” I think you are wrong on this Quiggers and the essentially correct interpretation is the Marxian one. You have to suitably qualify what workers , employers and their power relationship( usually not quantified in money terms) are , and of course you have done. That this downward negotiation in power for workers will result in any inevitable political conclusion is unlikely.

  11. econwit
    June 29th, 2006 at 23:44 | #11

    “Workers” or participants in a co-operative enterprise? It depends if they are working or not.

    Work: “Physical or mental effort or activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something”. That something if produced should be of value so the worker can sell it to the highest bidder. If he can’t he should get a real job at his or his employers discretion .

    The IR reforms are a recognition of reality.

  12. brian
    June 29th, 2006 at 23:59 | #12

    How right you are Steve at the Pub!!.
    I don’t think that Prof. Quiggin is actually from our social class ,Steve,and I don’t think he would understand the argument.
    We( my good lady wife and myself )are finding the servant problem has been solved by John Howard’s timely legislation.
    We despaired of domestic servants,who wanted timesome leave loadings, and days off in lieu(whatever that means!)Soooo..we have sponsored some guest wokers(or perhaps I should say workers,but “wokers “certainly in the kitchen!) from South
    East Asia,and lo and behold the problem is solved.. We give,just as Steve said”a guarantee of food and shelter”..actually we have bunks in the summer house by the lily pond..but they love it there,even if a bit chill in the Melbourne winter, a lot colder I guess than Manilla!..but they are happy ,and we can give them a few dollars to spend in the local monthly farmers market on their day off(they coincide!)
    So we have a housekeeper ,several maids,a gardener,and a chauffeur(who really looks great in the Merc. if a trifle diminutive).
    Next year we’ll be looking at people from the Sudan,and my wife is designing a uniform,which matches their nubian skins.
    So they are no complaints about John and his new laws here on our estate!

  13. June 30th, 2006 at 00:22 | #13

    Crocodile: My money is on the conclusion in your posting being the most accurate one to date in this thread.

  14. June 30th, 2006 at 00:46 | #14

    Econowit’s posting wins a prize for hitting the nail on the head.
    JQuiggin has missed the point altogether (judging by the wording of his post) Steve Munn has not only missed the point, he seems to be on the wrong thread.

    Allowing lockouts seems at first glance to be beyond the pale. Can anyone provide a rationale for this.. er… development? A plausible scenario when such an event would be the right answer? (Can’t think of one just offhand)

    Brian, in between the rather poor satire you touch on a couple of points quite relevant to the thread. How far removed from a current award may an AWA go? What would be the minimum legal conditions/pay allowed in an AWA?

    Great posting Brian, however you are confusing IR legislation with immigration legislation. There is no way domestic staff or personal servants can be sourced directly from overseas. You are stuck with hiring Australian citizens, permenant residents or those with working holiday or other temporary work visas.

    However there is no legal impediment to you hiring domestic staff from Manilla (between Tamworth & Gunnedah), could be quite useful, they should be able to wrestle to the ground any sheep which stray onto your estate. Be careful to not hire Steve Munn, he may dot you on the chin for requiring him to work in return for pay (too risky for you).

    Having sampled winter in Manilla, I disagree with your claim that Melbourne is colder.

  15. milano803
    June 30th, 2006 at 08:39 | #15

    There is a worldview that says that anyone who becomes a boss automatically wants to mistreat and take advantage of anyone who works for them. As though most bosses are anxious to have to continually hire and retrain people. I find this worldview is generally held by people who have never themselves actually hired, trained or had anyone work for them.

    Surely there are both good and bad employees in every type of business, from academia to running a pub. The trick is for each type of business to keep the good employees and get rid of the bad ones. And that seems perfectly reasonable to me.

  16. June 30th, 2006 at 09:16 | #16

    look, what Quiggan is saying is that if you’re any good you are in business for yourself and don’t work for the man, so the pool of quality servants is a shrinking, this means that they are not worth any sort of social wage, I mean, they are more trouble than they are worth really, least till they can be replaced with machinery, if they were any good they would not be servants.

    The Workchoices programme is not about downgraded the servants position with regard to their master, so much as making it look bad compared to being a self-employed contractor. The choice here is between being a servant and being one’s own boss, except for those poor sods who remain servants through stupidity, laziness, or obdurate cultural identification.

  17. Bill O’Slatter
    June 30th, 2006 at 10:05 | #17

    There is a nice introduction to unemployment types.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unemployment_types. This version of Marxian theory is a little naive as the amount of power of workers is dependent upon a pool of unemployed. This does not now apply to our economy( though some one would argue otherwise wrongly IMHO). Decreased power of workers appears to be directly related to political power.

  18. Andrew Norton
    June 30th, 2006 at 10:59 | #18

    I sort of agree with Professor Q here – this legislation has its origins in the experience of the Liberal Party support base, but not just recent experience. The atrocious behaviour of unions in the 1970s created a very powerful constituency for bringing them into line that acquired its own momentum. It was somewhat modified by the free market ideas that came into prominence in the 1980s (hence the incoherence of the current policy) but not much modified by the declining power and improved behaviour of the union movement since. There are parallels with the VSU legislation, also the culmination of a cause that acquired its passionate supporters in the 1970s.

  19. June 30th, 2006 at 11:53 | #19

    meika’s comment reminds me of something I overheard at Wednesday’s rally:
    http://paulwatson.blogspot.com/2006/06/trolley-case-economy-overheard-snippet.html

    Re John’s acutely-observed point of the new and drastic difference between strikes and lockouts, what are you on about, steve at the pub?

    “Allowing lockouts seems at first glance to be beyond the pale. Can anyone provide a rationale for this.. er… development?”.

    I think that John’s post alone provides plenty of plausible rationale.

  20. observa
    June 30th, 2006 at 12:22 | #20

    “If I worked for you and you adopted that attitude with me you wouldn’t last too long on your feet. ”
    And under the bad old rules he’d have to continue to employ you for doing so because of the unfair unfair dismissal laws. A double whammy, which he would rationally try to avoid by employing casuals or labour hire people. Now he doesn’t have to worry about all that as he can excercise the same right as you have always had(and used much more copiously), to sack your boss, usually to sell your services to a higher bidder. What could be fairer than that? (rhetorical question only and not for colluding big govt big unions big biz types who know what’s best for us all)

  21. observa
    June 30th, 2006 at 12:38 | #21

    Peculiar how those who have such an aversion to an honest gathering of businessmen to discuss prices, actively advocate such behaviour among sellers of labour. Perhaps it would solve all this industrial parrying and downtime if we mandate every worker belong to one big national union and they negotiate a $50/week pay rise immediately for everyone. Come to think of it, we should make that $100/week each for all the battlers out there. That should fix up rising fuel prices and the like for everybody and give a real boost to the economy and the participation rate. It’s so easy to solve these things when you think about it on a govt salary.

  22. observa
    June 30th, 2006 at 13:08 | #22

    “The Howard government’s IR reforms (including, but not limited to, the most recent instalment) are a curious mixture of deregulation and compulsion. On the one hand, all sorts of conditions and requirements are stripped away, but in their place there has been created an array of new criminal and civil offences, prohibited terms in contracts, requirements to offer particular employment forms such as AWAs and so on.”

    You’re right about all the enabling quackery just to get a minor reform like unfair dismissals through. What’s the alternative? That govts and their plethora of public servants get right out of labour contracts and leave it to contractual law and the courts to sort out with the proviso that all employment be in writing and start with- ‘We the undersigned hereby agree…’ Imagine that eh? The ‘unions’ having to sing for their supper as advocates at individual sign up time, keeping the parties informed about current market rates, terms and conditions and charging fee for service like financial advisers. Totally flexible labour market responsive to prevailing economic and market conditions, with workers in tune with trends in remuneration, etc. God, how would we handle ourselves without the big govt federal and state dummies stuck in our gobs at present? I know personally I’d be alright, but unfortunately the rest of you would obviously have a collective nervous breakdown and there’d be anarchy and revolution in the streets. Better to play it safe than sorry. Now where’s that quote I’ve got to finish for that customer.

  23. June 30th, 2006 at 13:13 | #23

    Workchoices, the new work-for-the-dole scheme, outsourced to people who know best,

    in fact i think the work-for-the-dole schemes have less govvie requirements and accountability

  24. Tony Healy
    June 30th, 2006 at 13:25 | #24

    Observer, “totally flexible labour market” means workers bear all the costs of economic downturns and management incompetence that erodes businesses, while management captures all the profits.

    The problem with this is that existing, long-standing social arrangements presume a greater degree of reciprocity in the employment arrangement.

    If management wishes to tip the scales to suit themselves more, perhaps there’s no longer a social reason for sharesholders’ assets to be protected from creditors.

  25. gordon
    June 30th, 2006 at 13:33 | #25

    Observa, many if not most industrial awards under the Old Regime provided for instant dismissal for fighting in the workplace.

    Atlas isn’t going to shrug anytime soon; increasing income inequality indicates to me that he’s making far too much money to leave now.

  26. Razor
    June 30th, 2006 at 13:56 | #26

    Andrew said – “since business needs employees, are employers expected to treat them with contempt or respect?”

    The problem, until now, has been that when employees and unions treated the employer with contempt little could be done about.

    As a small business employer it is my capital and livelihood on the line. Everything I have is invested in my business – it is my superannuation. One problem employee could destroy my business within a month. The new laws allow me to hire with more certainty for the future, which is good for my employees.

  27. Bring Back EP at LP
    June 30th, 2006 at 14:19 | #27

    that is a complete furphy.

    The only problems that occurred with employees in small business happened because they were too lazy to do the proper procedures with regard to interviewing !

    Unions have never been a problem once the economy was opened up.
    Funny that is what the OECD has just said!

  28. Anthony
    June 30th, 2006 at 14:23 | #28

    There is some compulsion directed at employers, which also goes to Milano’s comment that it is wrong to assume that all bosses want to mistreat their workers. The point is that WorkChoices makes it harder for bosses to be good bosses. Want to offer your workers protection against unfair dismissal in a collective agreement? You’ll be fined. Want to make a commitment to not hiring independent contractors or labour hire workers to do your workers’ jobs? You’ll be fined. Want to build a constructive and productive relationship with the union by offering meeting facilities, check-off of union dues, time to go on union training courses? You’ll be fined.

    Milano is probably right: sacking workers for the wrong reasons may well increase business costs around hiring and training. So there oughta be a law against it.

  29. June 30th, 2006 at 14:32 | #29

    and one problem employer could destroy my whole life

  30. June 30th, 2006 at 14:38 | #30

    Meika: So take Bring Back’s advice & choose your employer more carefully!

  31. June 30th, 2006 at 14:41 | #31

    Tony Healy: Your point is OT, but I totally agree with you. Shareholder’s assets should not be protected from creditors.

  32. June 30th, 2006 at 14:59 | #32

    Gordon: Not only was there provisions for instant dismissal for fighting, but for stealing, not turning up for work, rudeness, chronic laziness & many other deeds of that ilk.

    However, when someone was stealing from the staff room, or bullying & harrasing a colleague? Or for without reason not coming to work at all, (for several weeks). Sacking them in such circumstances, which should have been a brief and simple procedure, became a very complex, time consuming and litigious issue.

    The very serious consequences to the employer, which usually applied regardless of the justification for the dismissal, meant that this brief & routine procedure demanded attention & worry ridiculously out of proportion to what it deserved.

  33. June 30th, 2006 at 15:11 | #33

    Paul Watson: I was asking if anyone could come up with a plausible reason why lockouts are allowed, but strikes not allowed.

    Even if there is a surreptitious real reason for a law, a palatable reason is expected to be put forward, so that the masses will swallow the law without too much complaint.

    I cannot find any publicly palatable excuse for allowing lockouts. No doubt there is one, perhaps the legislation needs to be read in more detail to find out.

    I note that in the same paragraph as strikes/lockouts, JQ juxtaposes the removal of unfair dismissal laws with a provision that they not be reintroduced via an AWA.

    Indisputably, the correct reciprocal for unfair dismissal laws would be an “unfair shoot-through” law, to prevent or punish staff for quitting a job without a barrister-proof airtight legal case to prove their resignation was fair.

  34. June 30th, 2006 at 16:36 | #34

    Tony,
    If shareholders’ assets are not to be protected from creditors, does that mean that, when something like the HIH situation happens again and if your superannuation is partially invested in shares in the collapsed company (with or without your knowledge) you would would not complain if you lost all of your super, not just the shares?
    I certainly would not.

  35. June 30th, 2006 at 16:51 | #35

    Andrew: Complain yes, but to no avail. Nobody likes losing money.

    Currently shareholders have it one way. They benefit from the gains, but do not participate in the losses. Not very sporting.

  36. June 30th, 2006 at 17:16 | #36

    SATP,
    They do participate in the losses – to the extent of their investment. Ask any shareholder of HIH.
    Limited liability is what allows a market like the stockmarket to function. If, every time you bought shares you were risking losing everything and bing tossed out into the street there would be very little money in the market and we would all suffer.

  37. June 30th, 2006 at 17:56 | #37

    Andrew: Investors in any investment which goes belly up will lose to the extent of their investment.

    I believe there is no such limit on the liability of directors of limited liability companies?

  38. June 30th, 2006 at 18:02 | #38

    “There is a worldview that says that anyone who becomes a boss automatically wants to mistreat and take advantage of anyone who works for them”.

    Well, there is and there isn’t. I would not say anyone who I work for would seek to mistreat or take advantage of others as an expression of their personality. However, I would say they seek to maximise their own short term interests and can rationalise treatment others might object to on the basis that the outcome will be good for them, and surely what is good for them is good for the organisation. It’s just business, they would say, not personal.

  39. milano803
    June 30th, 2006 at 18:52 | #39

    Sometimes it really IS just business.

  40. June 30th, 2006 at 19:06 | #40

    This actually has very little to do with (genuine as opposed to merely in legal form) master/servant relations. In my experience, servants usually react by taking on board a set of values which makes them superior to others by virtue of serving whoever it is (when the relation is working properly, that is). Contrariwise, to keep that working, the master has to act up to that ideal with noblesse oblige and so on. First the horses, then the men, then the officers, as the military adage has it.

    Somehow I suspect that very few of the contributors around here have ever seen this in operation, lat alone participated in it from either end. And, of course, neither have today’s managerialists (who are nothing more than jumped up upper servants). It’s like confusing a neocon with a real conservative.

  41. June 30th, 2006 at 19:53 | #41

    SATP,
    Directors have to make good losses incurred while they know, or should reasonably have known, the company was trading whilst insolvent. If, for example, your pub was a limited liability company, you knew the company was broke, but you went on borrowing, receiving deliveries etc. while you knew, as a director, the company could not pay for them, you, personally, would have to make them good. If you did not know and should not have known, you would be in the clear.
    In practice this comes down to a legal argument as to when the directors should have known the company was insolvent – a tricky thing to prove.

  42. June 30th, 2006 at 19:56 | #42

    Pr Q says:

    The real issue, I think, relates to the personal power relationship between employers and employees. … The changes made in the IR laws make most sense if they are read as an attempt to remove constraints on the day-to-day power of bosses to be bosses, whether these constraints are imposed by law, by collective agreements or by individual contracts with workers.

    On the other side of the fence, managers tend to vote Liberal more strongly than their incomes alone would suggest. The obvious point is that managers are, by definition, bosses.

    There is something to the personal and professional power relation theory. But surely the real push behind draconian IR laws is the tight labour market which is giving employees more bargaining power. Individual workers are alot more likely to tell the boss to take his job and shove it these days. Look at show like “the Office”.

    Of course this does not do much to explain Howard’s blue collar battler or Pauline Hanson’s appeal to poor rednecks.

    Pr Q says:

    there are groups with relatively high incomes, such as academics and other professionsals, who tend to support Labor…Professionals, who mostly in hierarchical institutions, can identify either as bosses or workers, but with the rise of managerialism, most professionals find themselves on the workers side of the divide.

    The middle class educated professional-intellectual switch to Centre-Left in Australian politics started with Whitlam and long pre-dated the rise of managerialism. Intellectuals are natural Left wingers because they earn a living off critiquing (abuse of) power structures, which are invariable managed by Right wingers or Alpha-males of some sort.

    I dont doubt that the majority of insitutionalised professionals have probably developed a few bolshie tendencies since the “end of life time jobs” was inaugurated. Poll analyst John Black’s research confirms Pr Q’s insight.


    Since then, at the 2001 and 2004 elections, our research shows three of the biggest and fastest-growing demographic groups – professionals, para-professionals and advanced clerical workers – have drifted away from their longstanding support for the federal Coalition, which has maintained its vote and seats from gains among blue-collar workers.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the first three upper white-collar groups, all with some form of degree or diploma, now include 40 per cent of full-time workers and accounted for 60 per cent of jobs growth over the past 12 months, while Australia lost 27,400 unskilled blue-collar jobs last year.

    These political realignments and accompanying demographic trends in 2004 produced big swings from the Coalition, and against the national trend, in strong professional seats such as North Sydney (Joe Hockey), Bradfield (Brendan Nelson), Wentworth (Malcolm Turnbull) and Bennelong (John Howard).

    The problem for social democrats is that these professionals are prone to the appeal of tax-cuts, since they typically cannot take advantage of the Coalition’s welfare hand outs to the battlers or superannuation freebies to theh silver tails.


    It is not surprising, therefore, to see the interest taken by these Coalition MPs in income tax cuts, as their constituents in the fast-growing, upper white-collar groups have been largely sidelined by the means testing of most of the family tax benefits.

    Interestingly, tradesmen are no longer low or even middle income earners. Many of them rake in incomes of 75K+, not to mention doing up the odd Residential Investment Property or two on the side. They are definitely not rusted on ALP voters anymore. John Black has more:


    When South Australian University Academic John Lockwood and I started demographic modeling of Australian electoral behaviour about 30 years ago, we took the 1966 national election as our baseline.

    At that time, Tradespersons were called Craftsmen and the correlation between Craftsmen and the ALP two party preferred vote (2PP) was +.68 and it was the strongest positive statistical link, from about 300 census variables, with the ALP vote.

    From 1996 onwards, the industrial backbone of the ALP vote, as measured by our modeling, began to weaken, until, at the last election, the correlation – for male Tradespersons – had lapsed into statistical insignificance, at +.06, while female Tradespersons was minus .08.

    Skilled blue collar workers, such as electricians, carpenters, like open cut miners before them, have now been lost to the ALP, as their wages have increased, in a more competitive international economy.

    On the flipside, in 1966, the correlation between the ALP 2PP vote and male and female clerks was .00 and +.02 respectively – totally neutral. The latter, under the then census definitions, was a huge group, comprising one in three female workers and 11 percent of the total workforce.

    Over the intervening 38 years, this group’s links with the Liberals has weakened, along with sales staff, to the extent that the less skilled clerical and sales groups, such as sales assistants, keyboard operators, bar staff and carers, comprise the major electoral base for the ALP.

    Or, as Kim Beazley Snr once spitefully remarked:


    “The ALP turned its back on the cream of the working class in its rush to embrace the dregs of the middle class.”

  43. Jill Rush
    June 30th, 2006 at 21:33 | #43

    The aim of No WorkChoices is to globalise the economy. Make the workers competitive with the Chines/Indians/Africans etc whilst the employers line up on the wages paid to Americans – in fact many of them are Americans imported or created specially to tell us how fortunate we are.

    Certainly the Liberals are happy to dry up funding sources for the ALP whilst allowing donors to the Liberal Party to donate generously and anonymously.

    The No Workchoices Industrial Legislation is not about fairpay – if it was the Pollies themselves would devise a similar scheme for themselves. I like a scheme where candidates for election offer to work for a particular pay rate rather than having a set rate. That way we can vote for the candidate who provides the best value for money.

    The arguments about union membership and awards were always a furphy. In fact non unionised labour has relied on award wages so that they could link their pay to the appropriate level. Contractors use the award system to set their rates ( higher if possible) . Women who fought hard to be recognised and paid the same rates for the same level of work are losing bargaining power.

    It is about power, it is about gaining an advantage for the powerful and working out a system to make sure that those on top stay there. Employers are not even that keen on it as it means that relations in the workplace suffers, morale suffers and workers will not stay if pay is low – and yet they will be forced to lower wages to stay competitive. This is a classic lose/lose/lose situation.

  44. Terje
    June 30th, 2006 at 22:28 | #44

    In my view the legislation is motivated by two factors:-

    1. Liberalising the labour market based on liberal, free market, pro-freedom thinking.

    2. Kick unions in the guts and use some coercion to undo their power base (that arguably was socially entrenched by past acts of government coersion) with some obvious political pay off if this hurts the ALP.

    In other words it is a perverse combination of liberal free market thinking, social re-engineering and political power plays.

    However I think most “reforms” by either Coalition governments or ALP governments have always involved the application of coersion in new ways and the removal of old forms of coersion. So the IR reforms are hardly unique in this regard. Any attempt by a socialist to criticise the government for not being consistent libertarians kind of falls flat given that the government has never pretended to be libertarian.

  45. jimmythespiv
    June 30th, 2006 at 23:53 | #45

    Hey, I know, lets junk work choices, and go back to a 1980s accord type situation…..real wages will fall, inflation will rise (further eroding real wages), tax receipts will fall, and government spending will rise (to recreate the CES and DSS to further destroy the unemployed workers’ self esteem). And the unemployed can do endless training courses. While we’re at it, nationalise Qantas (and reestablish TAA), buy back all of Telstra, re-establish egg marketing boards and compulsory unionism, re-impose bank credit rationing, and most of all, ban World Series Cricket.

    Seriously, if you gonna diss the current arrangements pertaining to the labour market, at least provide an alternative !

  46. rog
    July 1st, 2006 at 07:11 | #46

    “The ALP turned its back on the cream of the working class in its rush to embrace the dregs of the middle class.�

    Truth is the working class is the middle class, the ALP is supported by academics, schoolteachers and bully boy Unionists.

    The arguments about union membership and awards were always a furphy. In fact non unionised labour has relied on award wages so that they could link their pay to the appropriate level. Contractors use the award system to set their rates ( higher if possible)

    Not true, in relative terms contractor rates have fallen over the years as more elect to work independently – supply and demand govern rates. What makes using contractors more attractive is the award conditions and entitlements.

  47. gordon
    July 1st, 2006 at 10:44 | #47

    Yes, Jimmythespiv, I would say that the Accord, or rather Accords, Nos. I-VII, from memory, were better. As Prof. Quiggin said in a 1998 paper
    “The first few years of the Accord were generally viewed as highly successful. The strong economic recovery which commenced in 1983 was accompanied by declining real wages and a gradual decline in the rate of inflation. Industrial disputes, which had previously been regarded as a major social and economic problem, became rare. Employment growth was strong, and the rate of unemployment declined steadily, reaching a minimum of 5.9 per cent in mid-1989. It has been argued that most of these developments would have taken place anyway, reflecting the worldwide decline in the power of unions (Moore 1989). However, most analysts conclude that the Accord made a difference and was successful in achieving its main objectives (Beggs and Chapman 1987, Chapman 1997).”

    And I’m certainly a much more enthusiastic supporter of the social bargaining process which led to the accords than I am of the old-fashioned class warfare approach of the Rodent and his gang.

  48. Tony Healy
    July 1st, 2006 at 12:25 | #48

    AR, sometimes the losses exceed the investment put in by the shareholders, and in those cases the supplier, tradesman and taxpayer (through the ATO) must wear those losses.

    There are many cases where the shareholders or their proxies, the management, deliberately close a company to escape such responsibilities.

    My point is that many who support removing financial stability from workers, allegedly on grounds of economic purity, have quite a different view when their own financial stabilty is at stake.

  49. stoptherubbish
    July 1st, 2006 at 17:14 | #49

    ‘No choices’ is an amalgam of old fashioned hatred of the unions/ALP held by large swathes of the old middle class that used to be the backbone of the Liberal Party, with the addition of a good dose of the the most up to date neo liberal fundie thinking about the operation of labour markets. The legislation was designed and written by the servant class of capital, aka lawyers working for Freehills’ Clayton Utz and a couple of others. These firms and the thugs they employ have been at it for quite some time on behalf of their lords and masters, and their aim would be to increae the scope of absolute managerial prerogative, in order to accomplish the kind of social relationships that jq refers to. The kinds of power relationships constituted by No choices is attractive not just to the owners of capital, but to Managers and the like, for whom the laws remove any real need to manage people at all. The threat of losing ‘good employees’ ie; those with scarce or exy skills, has been vitiated somewhat by the operation of the 457 Visa scheme
    imo, the legisaltion tries to do a number of things at once, which explains its peculiar characteristics, as noted by jq. The underlying Treasury view would have been that a prophylactic was required to lower the threat of inflation in a tight labour market, and the legislation does that nicely, however it doesn’t solve the real issue, which is how to raise labour productivity in a labour market which is composed of actually exisitng people, as opposed to millions of self acting business agents, free to wander at will across the continent, in search of the best price for their skills.

    Politically, it is a time bomb ticking away for the Coalition. Forget about current opinion polls. Just watch the colour draining from the faces of the the lower middle class as you patiently explain the fine print of the laws. Howard should be *******g himself. Here’s a prediction. Just prior to the elections next year some amendments will be made to ‘fine tune’ the laws, as Howard sniffs the wind. Costello will be furious, and will make his run for leadership on the basis of ‘defence’ of labour market reform.

    I can hardly wait.

  50. John
    July 1st, 2006 at 18:23 | #50

    Well then stoptherubbish, an ALP victory is currently paying over $2 at various betting agencies – sounds like an easy chance for someone like you to double their money…

  51. observa
    July 1st, 2006 at 23:30 | #51

    “My point is that many who support removing financial stability from workers, allegedly on grounds of economic purity, have quite a different view when their own financial stabilty is at stake.”

    Limited liability has some major pluses for our economy Tony. For the owners of capital it should only be their capital at stake(and naturally that should not be evaded), while for labour it should be limited to their employment/remuneration(which govts should not underwrite arbitrarily and whimsically). Of course you can make both employers and employees open to unlimited liability, but that has some serious drawbacks as you could well imagine. While workers and their unions are happy for such laws to impact on management, they naturally have an aversion to similar laws that make them liable for their own mistakes or oversights in the work environment. (Drove the company truck and crashed it while you were pissed did you? Well you’ll have to come to some agreement with the company insurers on that, as I’m afraid it’s totally out of management’s hands now)

  52. brian
    July 2nd, 2006 at 00:35 | #52

    After some of the more inspiring contributions to this column,I was emboldened to ask The Butler,to go down into Servant’s Hall,and I had him put up a lovely picture of John and Janet Howard,to encourage the others..as it were.
    Some of our staff have requested little bedside pics of John, to as it were ,help them to slip off after their long days’ world,,,stirring times indeed !

  53. Bill O’Slatter
    July 2nd, 2006 at 11:57 | #53

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Class-consciousness
    Even though it’s an excellent notion it really needs liberating from the 19th century philosophical claptrap.

  54. July 2nd, 2006 at 13:19 | #54

    “One problem employee could destroy my business within a month” (Razor, presumably talking about his medium-sized business, before the latest changes exempted such (as well as small-) businesses from unfair dismissal jurisdiction).

    To single-handedly destroy a medium-sized business within a month (or at year, for that matter) would be quite a feat. It would certainly be hard to do without criminal conduct; i.e. hand-in-the-till as opposed to just not turning up to work, and/or turning up without ever lifting a finger.

    As steve at the pub suggests (June 30th at 2:59 pm) summary dismissal rules have *always* protected employers (large and small) from potential dismissal liability in cases of criminal conduct, and more (he cites “fighting, stealing, not turning up for work, rudeness, chronic laziness & many other deeds of that ilk�). Barring questions of degree around the non-criminal items on this list, I don’t think that anyone disagrees that such employees should be dismissible beyond recourse.

    Tellingly, steve at the pub then acknowledges that this list is not watertight, and cites two examples of where summary dismissal may be successfully challengeable by the sacked employee: stealing from the staff room, and bullying & harassing a colleague. Given that these are *criminal* acts (albeit the second one not automatically so), I’m puzzled as to how these come to be used as supposedly borderline examples of unfair dismissal’s overreach, aka summary dismissal’s toothlessness.

    Without a logical/legal explanation here, there must be a cultural one, I figure. From casually perusing pseudo-current-affairs TV (which runs occasional stories on this very topic) and the direct experience of Ken Parish as employer (although here I’m guessing the bookkeeper’s gender), http://www.clubtroppo.com.au/2005/05/30/a-dissident-view-of-wrongful-dismissal cases that involve (or potentially could have, in Ken’s case) employees with elephantine hides – sacked for criminal conduct, but suing for unfair dismissal – seem invariably to feature females as protagonists (= the employee). Since steve at the pub is an employer, I’d be interested in his practical experience of this gender-weighted theory.

    If it’s true, then the legislative crackdown on unfair dismissal has obviously been barking up the wrong (= gender-blind) tree. The correct remedy should be gender-specific statutory horses-for-courses here, and/or for employers to rationally price such risk into their hiring decisions. (E.g: a male bar-person may well be less agile, pervable at, and generally smiley than a female one, but the latter (only) carries potential business-destroying, macro-risk.

    If nothing else then, the Right should be decrying the latest changes for the way they bury, and so misprice business risk. Or do they regard it as the Government’s job to stop them from employing potential toxic time-bombs?

  55. observa
    July 2nd, 2006 at 13:30 | #55

    An interesting insight into how big unions (and big business) really take the beggar thy neighbour path. ABC’s Inside Business with Alan Kohler doing a rundown on the problems of the US car industry, in particular GM’s problems. When the industry was making good profits, the companies and the unions did lavish deals on medicare and pensions for workers. Now the change in market conditions sees one auto worker supporting 3 pensions nowadays and placing uncompetitive lead in US auto companies’ saddlebags to the tune of $1500-$1600 per car produced. You don’t have to be a mechanic to work out who pays that lavish union due now, with another 50,000 layoffs predicted in the next year. Unions-spreading the pain!

  56. stoptherubbish
    July 2nd, 2006 at 16:10 | #56

    Observa,
    You really should read something before you rush to print. In the US business successfully evaded such socialistic and enterprpsie destroying notions as universal health care and industry super funds. So guess what? These benefits were included as part of the remuneration deal that auto and steel unions made with their employers. Now the companies are crying ‘poor’, because they say they can’t afford these liabilities. Whether this is true or not, I have never been in favour of enterprise based deals such as pensions and health care for precisely the reasons that are now becoming clear. Health care and pensions should be provided by the state, and should be paid for by universal contributions, so that risks and costs are as equitably shared as possible, providng both cheaper and more effective coverage across the board.

    The CEO of GM said exactly that about health care when explaining his decision to move GM ops from the US to Canada.

  57. observa
    July 2nd, 2006 at 16:55 | #57

    “In the US business successfully evaded such socialistic and enterprpsie destroying notions as universal health care and industry super funds.”

    But apparently the unionised auto and steel industries didn’t. Would there be any particular reason for that? Did the local corner store or mum and dad business accede to such ‘enterprising destroying notions’? Pity their kids have to pay the price now of all that big biz, big union intertemporal price fixing wouldn’t you say?

  58. July 2nd, 2006 at 18:24 | #58

    Paul Watson, not only have you completely missed the point, you are talking through your hat.

    Despite all those reasons (ie, criminal offences) for which an employee could be dismissed, the reality was somewhat different.

    As anybody who was in Australia during the time of dimissal prohibition, it was near impossible to dismiss a recalcitrant, lazy, sour or uncooperative emloyee.

    There was the “three written warnings”, the “counselling” to be provided, & all the other rot, at the end of which, if there was still a dismissal, there was quite likely an automatic appeal funded by a union. This served to hold to financial ransom enterprises which did not have a dedicated legal department, or had less funds than the union.

    The unions funded these unjust claims purely as a way to shakedown honest & hardworking employers. Usually such cases were settled by an out of court payment to the employee which was less than the amount required by the employer to fund the case & win. The unions counted on this, and they can only blame themselves for the change of laws.

    NO OTHER ACTIVITIY in this country has ever been as reprehensible, as disgusting, or as deserving of contempt, as the union behaviour during the time of the unfair dismissal laws.

    Only the supremely stupid, or those who desire a soviet style of disaster inflicted upon australia, could possibly support such insane laws.

  59. Stephen L
    July 2nd, 2006 at 18:39 | #59

    I’m no expert in unfair dismissal laws, but I’ve set out below the cases of sacking I’ve witnessed. For those who can’t be bothered wading through, the clear pattern is that the higher up the organisation you are, the more likely it is that you will come out of things fine if you are sacked, even if your offence is far more serious than the person well below you.

    I note that no one seemed at all worried about unfair dismissal laws when summilarly sacking someone for some minor theft. To be clear, I think theft is a perfectly good grounds for sacking someone, even if the amount is pretty small, but my experience certainly contradicts those who claim to not be able to get rid of criminally inclined staff.

    At a medium sized employer I used to work for (about 100 full time staff and 200 casuals) there were four cases of people being dismissed, (aside from a whole bunch made redundant when income fell).

    One senior manager committed serious fraud and was sacked straight out, but was never prosectured for clearly criminal offences. Given the scale of the fraud a lot of people questioned how the CEO could not have known. Investigation demonstrated that the CEO had been turning up for roughly 3 days a week for some months, was charging extraordinary amounts for business lunches, ane had fluffed some easy opportunities to save tens of thousands of dollars. He was sacked for all this, but the specific grounds were that some of his lunch expenses were clearly fraudulent – in one case he charged for two lavish lunches on the one day, one in Townsville and one in Melbourne.

    The next person was a low level staffer who was caught stealing some biscuits. He claimed he was taking them for his child’s birthday party and intended to replace them the following Monday.

    The third was a middle manager who turned out to be taking major kickbacks to buy food that was passed its use-by date.

    All pretty open and shut cases in a sense, but there was a clear difference in what happened to them. The low level individual lost his job over a few dollars worth of biscuits, and was never heard of again. The CEO sued on the basis of his contract and was paid a substantial amount to settle, despite the fact that more evidence of fraud had emerged after he was gone. A couple of years later I was at a new employer and found myself a few desks away from the middle manager, who was in a position which would have paid at least as much as her old job. I have no idea if she committed fraud there as well, but I got to hear her having personal conversations for most of the day and never seeming to do any actual work.

    It seems as though once you reach a certain level you are a protected species, and even if you lose your job you’ll get a good reference if not a big payout, but that those at the bottom get no second chances.

  60. SJ
    July 2nd, 2006 at 22:36 | #60

    SATP Says:

    As anybody who was in Australia during the time of dimissal prohibition, it was near impossible to dismiss a recalcitrant, lazy, sour or uncooperative emloyee.

    There was the “three written warnings�, the “counselling� to be provided, & all the other rot, at the end of which, if there was still a dismissal, there was quite likely an automatic appeal funded by a union. This served to hold to financial ransom enterprises which did not have a dedicated legal department, or had less funds than the union.

    What rubbish. I’m a director of a non-profit that employs about a dozen people at any one time. Staff come and go, and some had to be dismissed. We keep proper records, and there was never any umming and arring about dismissing someone because of the unfair dismissal provisions.

    Sounds to me like you’re possibly:

    a) Incapable of dealing properly with staff, or
    b) Incapable of dealing with the regulations, whether by personal failing on your own part, inability to delegate, or financial precariousness.

  61. Terje
    July 2nd, 2006 at 23:05 | #61

    I’m a director of a company and I think that many times I probably fit into catagory b. Like most people in business (and most people on the planet) I have a number of personal failings, I periodically suffer an inability to delegate and at various times the financialy position of the company has been precarious. Which all contribute in part towards the reason why I am glad the regulations are now gone.

  62. SJ
    July 2nd, 2006 at 23:51 | #62

    I also have to deal with OHS laws, which are intended to reduce injury and death in the workplace.

    The OHS laws are necessary, in order to prevent callous jerks such as yourself from causing injury to others, because of your personal failings.

  63. July 2nd, 2006 at 23:54 | #63

    I can only agree with you Terje.

    SJ, you got no idea if you suggest it was easy, trouble free, or simple to dismiss troublesome or useless employees during the unfair dismissal laws time. The antics & attitude of the idle, useless and scheming has been discussed aplenty, I don’t need to go into it again. If you don’t remember the reality, you weren’t in Australia, either as an employee or an employer.

    The most avid supporters of the law changes are my long term employees, who had to work(?) alongside and deal with as an equal, all those whose idling, scheming and bludging was protected by the unfair dismissal laws.

    I must confess to being outcome driven, rather than procedure driven, a trait which is rather common once you are dealing with your own money, and economic survival is paramount. B would certainly apply to me, I cannot even keep track of the number of acts & laws I am supposed to comply with, or even who the regulating authorities are. Each is a complex set of regulations, which serve no actual purpose other than to cost me time & money, the complete removal of almost every regulation I comply with would not alter the standard of service I deliver to my customers one iota.

    Your category A, dealing with staff, is not a template operation, it is never simple, each person is an individual, & anyone who treats all staff the same, or believes that all staff can be “handled” is going to have a lot in common with Mr. Bean.

    To you they may be “staff”, but to me they are people, and standard people handling skills apply. No matter what, there are going to be people who are difficult to deal with.

    Perhaps you would be able to “deal properly” with many of the staff I am forced to deal with in the circumstances of an adversarial dismissal situation. I hope that you have never had to deal with such situations, & I hope you never do. The underclass can be a handful for anyone who has to deal with them.

  64. July 2nd, 2006 at 23:58 | #64

    Whoa! SJ, who are you calling a “callous jerk”? Looking into the mirror are we?

    Please list the injuries which I or Terje have caused others, and how they are due to our/my personal failings.

    If you know about regulations, you know this will not end here if you are referring to me, and you know what the penalties to you will/can be.

    Time to put your money where your mouth is: Or admit you have bitten off more than you can chew.

  65. SJ
    July 3rd, 2006 at 00:03 | #65

    The most avid supporters of the law changes are my long term employees, who had to work(?) alongside and deal with as an equal, all those whose idling, scheming and bludging was protected by the unfair dismissal laws.

    This is just standard right wing bullsh*t. It’s no more true now than it was when I first heard it when I started work almost thirty years ago.

  66. SJ
    July 3rd, 2006 at 00:07 | #66

    SATP Says:

    Whoa! SJ,…

    Time to put your money where your mouth is: Or admit you have bitten off more than you can chew.

    What a tosser.

  67. July 3rd, 2006 at 00:09 | #67

    You best way out of your predicament SJ is to (due to the time of night) confess to posting under the influence. It is quite believable.

  68. SJ
    July 3rd, 2006 at 00:16 | #68

    Predicament?

  69. Terje
    July 3rd, 2006 at 00:25 | #69

    The OHS laws are necessary, in order to prevent callous jerks such as yourself from causing injury to others, because of your personal failings.

    SJ,

    Did you just call me a callous jerk. Would that be another example of your pathelogical tendency to hurl abusive names at people? You really should get some professional assistance.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  70. July 3rd, 2006 at 00:26 | #70

    Your posting at 11:51 pm SJ.

    I have already called upon you to put forward examples of the injuries I have caused to others due to my personal failings.

    In the morning your legal counsel will advise you of your predicament.

    However I am prepared to forgive you, as your responses are clearly those of someone who is posting when in their cups.

    Meanwhile we are being very naughty, getting away from the topic. JQ is sure to awaken tomorrow & be so startled he shall spill coffee & scrambled eggs into his beard when reading what on this thread.

  71. July 3rd, 2006 at 00:27 | #71

    Rather discredits everything else you have posted on this (& any other) threads SJ. Quite a shame, as you were plausible, until the bottle took control.

  72. jquiggin
    July 3rd, 2006 at 09:23 | #72

    OK, this one seems to have got out of control. I’m closing comments now.

  73. July 12th, 2006 at 13:31 | #73

    Posted here orignally by mistake. My apologies

    Support Fight of Australian Seamen
    Against Race to the Bottom

    Here’s some links :

    Fight to save seafaring jobs ruled ‘illegal’ by IRC

    Australian Seamen strike against replacement by foreign crew

    I suggest messages of support be sent to the Maritime Union of Australia.

Comments are closed.