Home > Economics - General > Flexibility as a zero-sum game

Flexibility as a zero-sum game

January 5th, 2007

If you want to see the new flexible workforce, go to Walmart (hat-tip Tim Dunlop). As Tim’s title suggests, there’s nothing new about workers being told, from day to day, whether they’ll be wanted and for how long – look at any old movie about the waterfront for illustrations. All that’s new is that it’s being done by computer now. And flexibility, in cases like this, is a zero-sum concept: the more flexibility our bosses have to direct us, the less we have to run our own lives.

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  1. Hermit
    January 5th, 2007 at 17:06 | #1

    Having worked concurrent casual jobs (relief TAFE teacher and security guard) on short notice it’s a kind of trippy experience. Tim D. mentions babysitting but there are other kinds of preparation such as lesson plans, ironing shirts and fast commutes to get to the job with seconds to spare. You always have nagging uncertainty about starting arduous projects like gardening in case you get a call. The employers say ‘you don’t have to take the gig’ in which case the calls dry up. Even more worrisome is the responsibility given to casuals with meagre training or knowledge of corporate culture…one day there will be a legal brouhaha over this.

  2. January 5th, 2007 at 17:52 | #2

    Every job is a zero sum game in one or other aspect of its operation. To isolate the flexibility element and then declare that it is zero sum is specious and, IMHO, silly. A job gives both sides of the agreement much more than just hours of work – things like income, output, health insurance, self-regard, a good employment history and so forth must also enter into consideration and to analyse it based on one element makes little or no sense.

  3. derrida derider
    January 5th, 2007 at 19:22 | #3

    Unemployment is now below 5%. In Australian cities they’d find it hard to get people to take these jobs, and even harder to keep them. That is, unless they pay them a bucket load of wages (not Walmart’s style, of course). In which case they’ll be compensating people for the inconvenience. In the US, it’s their uncontrolled unskilled migration and their lack of a meaningful welfare safety net that lets Walmart get away with these policies.

    For some types of labour markets the neoclassical mechanisms work quite well.

  4. murph
    January 5th, 2007 at 21:53 | #4

    And there’s nothing new about tenured Professors being able to dribble their way to 65 without possibility of being sacked

  5. January 5th, 2007 at 23:09 | #5

    I like the example of the waterfront- the most unionised, unproductive and lazy workplace this side of academia. I’ve worked on call-out jobs, and also been on call as a duty officer*. What’s the big deal? Some of us can actually cope with working on demand, Quiggles, unlike the cloistered belfrey dwellers of higher learning.

    *Both episodes of this were under Labor administrations, I must add. What’s new?

  6. KK
    January 6th, 2007 at 00:29 | #6

    You want us to look at screen fiction for the facts? Aren’t you meant to be working on solving the problems of the Murray-Darling basin? I suppose you’ll be screening Hard Rain, Killer Flood, Noah’s Ark & When The Levee Breaks as part of your research.

  7. jquiggin
    January 6th, 2007 at 01:31 | #7

    Oh boy, more politics of envy from Tim Blair and his fans. Nothing seems to burn these guys up more than a leftie who’s more successful than they are.

    Just to be clear guys, I’m not a tenured professor. That million-dollar grant Tim keeps bitching about is open to competition. Feel free to apply and knock me off my perch.

  8. Dean McAskil
    January 6th, 2007 at 02:12 | #8


  9. Majorajam
    January 6th, 2007 at 07:55 | #9

    Prof Q,

    The Waterfront was a better movie, but I’m particular to the Grapes of Wrath as illustration. I reckon that’s because the flexible paeans GoW depicts are today’s backward redneck forebears (hence the durn recalcitrant Republicanism in California’s inland middle) and I’m into irony.

  10. Tony Healy
    January 6th, 2007 at 11:44 | #10

    Here’s a nice little 2 minute JibJab animation about Walmart, called Big Box Mart. With a catchy little tune, it features loyal American consumer Bob enjoying low prices at his local box mart until his manufacturing employer discovers management restructuring. Bob then sings that we can still find him at Box Mart, sweeping Aisle Number Nine.

    “Everyday low prices,” he sings, “have a price to pay.” (Or words to that effect. Couldn’t make out the end.)

    Back on topic, the alarming thing about Walmart and similar practices is the systematic exploitation of the system, even where those being exploited are already hard done by. I think in a way that’s what distinguishes modern business. Walmart is on record as opposing a minimum wage law in one city even though the proposed minimum was below Walmart’s already low rates. It’s also got a fine record of astroturfing using the PR firm Edelman, which is also associated with anti-union astroturfing.

  11. melanie
    January 6th, 2007 at 12:23 | #11

    I don’t think the ‘tenured professor’ has existed in Australia for some time. They are now called ‘continuing appointments’ and although things have not changed radically as a result, there have been some dismissals (one I can think of was reversed on the grounds of lack of due process).

    Personally, having working in both types of environments, I would prefer the continuing appointment over casual or fixed term contract (who are, btw, an increasing proportion of academic employees). I don’t understand why every employee wouldn’t prefer this. I think most people would be willing to share insecurity with an employer, but would not consider it fair if the insecurity was completely one-sided (e.g. the Walmart case).

    Habib #5, perhaps you would care to refute the evidence that unionized workers tend to be more productive than non-unionized workers?

  12. January 6th, 2007 at 12:46 | #12

    Yet again we read this persistent nonsense in comments that Australia’s low unemployment rate lets unhappy workers swap jobs at the drop of a hat; therefore, it follows that employers can’t use WorkChoices to exploit workers. This wonderful piece of deduction is presented with a straight face while totally ignoring the empirical evidence of workers having their entitlements eroded.

    Alternatively, we get told that the 29% of the workforce who are employed part-time are all uni students or backpackers who are grateful to get a bit of pocket money so what’s the problem?

    Both arguments are seriously flawed of course but even if we take them at face value, what do their proponents see happening when unemployment increases again and workers are no longer in this allegedly strong bargaining position? Or do they live in an alternative reality, where the Howard Government has finally discovered the secret of eternal growth and prosperity?

  13. Dean McAskil
    January 6th, 2007 at 13:55 | #13

    Don’t you just love the lefty view of employment. They are always banging on with terms like “entitlements”. I mean what the hell? No one is “entitled” to anything! If you want to work sell your labour at a price you are prepared to take. The only principle is that it is none of anyone else’s goddam business what price or terms you are prepared to take. Sheesh! Sorry but this insipid form of vertical collectivism really gets up my goat.

  14. melanie
    January 6th, 2007 at 14:15 | #14

    Bosses, on the other hand have no entitlements Dean? Like the right to hire and fire, the right to keep the profits, the right to decide which price or terms you have to take (if you want a job that is)?

  15. January 6th, 2007 at 14:34 | #15

    Huh? If you don’t like the schedule, get a different job.

    I do a lot of IT project work where I’m told “day to day, whether I’ll be wanted and for how long.” I manage to get a very good income out of it, and while it’s not always convenient no one is forcing me to do it.

    I don’t know why people would think society owes them a stable job. Learn a skill that someone values, provide a service someone will pay for, for the time that they want it. If your services or skills are no longer in demand, or the demand isn’t stable enough, learn different skills that better suit your needs. It’s hard, yes, but efficiencies like these have lifted Western society to overall levels of affluence undreamt of in centuries past. Productivity improvements benefit everyone in the end.

    If the IT world were unionized and regulated the way some things are, we’d all still be using COBOL and there would be no Internet. Al Gore would have been told “You can’t do that in COBOL, and our union only uses COBOL.” Instead COBOL programmers are being fired, and Java programmers are being hired. If they need someone for a 100-hour project, they hire them for 100 hours.

    The Professor is a perfect example of why wage inequality exists: because motivation inequality exists. He’s obviously very bright and worked hard, and so he was given a good salary. His work will provide a benefit to Australians (or at least someone thinks so). There’s a reason he isn’t working at a low-paying job with the added disincentive of inconvenient scheduling.

    I do think one can argue it makes sense for society to provide a means by which to acquire such skills (e.g. help with education), but flexible workforces are an overall benefit — and they aren’t just at WalMart.

  16. Tony Healy
    January 6th, 2007 at 14:35 | #16

    Dean McAskil, I agree that the term “entitlements” is a poor one and invites the type of interpretation you’ve done. If you want to put it in business terms, it’s about getting paid as agreed for the work and services rendered. Some of that agreement includes a structuring of the pay in various ways, such as paying out some of it on retirement or retrenchment, or during holidays. In reaching those agreements, employers have received appropriate considerations that they accepted at the time. Entitlements refers to those non-immediate payments.

  17. January 6th, 2007 at 14:40 | #17


    Hmm, I don’t think you quite grok the difference between “rights” and “entitlements.” One is given to you, the other you have because it’s yours.

  18. melanie
    January 6th, 2007 at 15:33 | #18

    TallDave, I don’t know which is which because my dictionary says that both are given or granted.

  19. January 6th, 2007 at 15:46 | #19

    To say that ‘No one is “entitled” to anything’, as a bald statement of universal truth, is arrant nonsense. In any modern society, rights and obligations are attached to individuals and organisations from a range of sources. For example, I am entitled to walk down the street without being assaulted; I have a duty not to defame other people, and so on. Anybody who gives the matter a moment’s thought could compile a very long list of our entitlements, most of which involve some restriction on the behaviour of others. These entitlements are imposed and enforced by the State, they are not left to individuals to negotiate about. It’s called ‘the rule of law’.

    Under employment law pre-WorkChoices, most workers were entitled to various wages and conditions of employment by virtue of a system of industrial awards, collective agreements and legislation. WorkChoices provided a method for employers to remove most of those entitlements and many employers are doing exactly that. Characterising my comment as a ‘lefty view’, or evidence of ‘vertical collectivism’, is inane. It wasn’t a ‘view’ at all. It was a statement of fact.

    Of course it’s possible to argue that nobody OUGHT TO BE entitled to anything, if one favours a society marked by Hobbesian anarchy, but ‘is’ and ‘ought’ are vastly different questions.

  20. January 6th, 2007 at 15:57 | #20

    John, it’s a bit rich Tim Dunlop continually(yawn)whining about big companies, how evil they are and the lack of worker flexibility when apparently News Corporation is flexible enough to allow him to work for them, to pay him to whine about all the neoconservatives that his boss apparently supports, while he pops into his blog now and again. Sounds like Tim is a beneficiary of Howard IR reforms to me and a very flexible workplace.

    You also did a very interesting book review in the AFR yesterday by the way. The one point I would take you up on is your comment that Fukuyama was triumphalist. This was a common criticism made by Social Democrats about his book and while Fukuyama believes that Liberal Democracy trumps other systems he is not triumphalist at all in terms of the outcome of this success. Hence his criticism about the best and brightest becoming lawyers instead of going into public sevice and the general problem that the populace takes things for granted. Interestingly enough that is a criticism made about western consumer society by both conservatives and Social Democrats nowadays.

  21. Tony Healy
    January 6th, 2007 at 18:39 | #21

    Tall Dave, if you accept work from day to day, you’re an idiot. That’s not being a smart independent businessman.

    As to your claims that unionisation in IT would have retarded development, there are no signs of that occuring in aviation or medicine, which are also unionised. Airlines fly modern planes. Quite importantly, the professional power conferred on pilots by unionisation equips them to insist on correct maintenance procedures for their aircraft.

  22. sdfc
    January 6th, 2007 at 20:59 | #22


    If an employer is having trouble attracting the right workers I don’t think it is necessary to offer a bucket load of wages, simply offering the market rate should go some way to rectifying the situation. Obviously the current offer is inadequate.

  23. January 7th, 2007 at 00:23 | #23

    To the person who asked about what will happen when unemployment goes up again… the answer is that a more flexible labour market will mean unemployment goes up by less. That’s a good thing. Unless you hate poor people.

    Personally, I wouldn’t want a long term stable job. Perhaps this is a generational thing because the older generation seems to prefer stability over diversity?

    To the girl talking about the employers “right” to fire, hire, keep profits etc — these are all issues of being able to do what you want with what you own. In contrast, the supposed employees rights are the right to get what you want from other people. These are very different issues. The first involves self-ownership and voluntary behaviour. The second involves coercion and deadweight loss.

    Quiggin is wrong to imply that free and voluntary contracts don’t provide a positive-sum-game. They do, otherwise people wouldn’t enter them. Flexibility is just one part of the package.

  24. guthrie
    January 7th, 2007 at 06:04 | #24

    John, since when have stability and diversity been mutually exclusive?

    Also, since when have people been allowed to sit around not working because the employment opportunities on offer dont provide a positive sum game?
    Oh right, since the days before unemployment pay, or indeed now, when you basically have to go get a job or get hassled.
    I’ve temped, and its not good. I would much rather have had a permanent job. Could I find one? No. But yet I kept temping, because I needed the money.

  25. Jill Rush
    January 7th, 2007 at 11:10 | #25

    John Humphreys
    “Perhaps it is a generational thing” – doesn’t quite work when those who introduced it are definitely an older generation – although hang on they have very generous perks as a result of the systems they have put in place to cover their contractual arrangements. Life time benefits for just a few years work – not the norm.

    There are younger people who are inexperienced enough and arrogant enough with their skill set to believe that the ability to flit from job to job with no loyalty displayed by employer or employee is an excellent way to go. They are happy to live in a dog eat dog , survival of the fittest kind of society- happy to take all the benefits that they can in the short term, as today, they are doing very well and they have no responsibilities and don’t need to show any lender security of income. However once their bills are regular and increasing and there needs to be a place to bring up the kids attitudes change remarkably. The other side is that many workers don’t take on responsibilities and are a kind of drone workforce ie unable to reproduce.

    The previous workplace arrangements allowed for a great deal of flexibility whilst ensuring the survival of a civil society. The current Worst Choices legislation allows for exploitation of those who haven’t received such brilliant education or aren’t as bright, or who lack English language skills or who have a disability or who might get pregnant, as they lack bargaining power. Equal pay for equal work has gone as someone can be a hard and efficient worker but can be underpaid in comparison to a better negotiator.

    Of course the legislation will drive down wages as even ethical employers are forced to lower wages to remain competitive. This is helped by the system where employers can recruit cheap labour from third world countries. Thus Australia is heading towards a much more unequal society as workers are paid like those in third world countries whilst the bosses are paid like Americans. Not the kind of future most parents want for their children although those who are benefitting can be expected to argue hard and long that it is a better system – after all they will be sitting pretty and how much better if the exploited remain resigned to their lot in life.

  26. Tony Healy
    January 7th, 2007 at 11:22 | #26

    John Humphries, the effect of casualisation will be to mask unemployment when the economy declines, not to prevent teh unemployment. Workers will be paid for fewer hours each week, or even none, while they’re recorded as being employed.

    Your comments about stable jobs seek to lampoon stability as being long term and boring, but in fact stability provides the diversity you cite as beneficial. Stability provides opportunities for weekend activity, for study and for holidays.

    As to ownership, you have the roles mixed up. It is the worker who owns his labour and is entitled to fair pay for that labour. Business owners do not have a “right” to that labour. This is a fundamental underpinning of successful Western economies.

    Regarding contracts, most are arrangements for casual work, not mutually beneficial arrangements. They are arrangements where employers shirk the traditional obligations our society has decided are appropriate for employment. Their prevalence is not an indicator of popular acceptance at all. Many jobs are only available under casual arrangements, which benefits employers and a class of useless middlemen, the labour hire firms.

    Far from being an unalloyed joy, casualisation has long term costs to the economy in stunting training, and also in protecting weak businesses from competition.

  27. derrida derider
    January 7th, 2007 at 16:38 | #27

    the effect of casualisation will be to mask unemployment when the economy declines, not to prevent teh unemployment.

    You say it like its a bad thing. If we have a recession, isn’t it better to share the pain of deficient demand widely through underemployment rather than put it all on to a minority of unemployed?

    Ken Lovell, nobody thinks workers can swap jobs at the drop of a hat. But it is important to realise that employers can’t swap employees at the drop of a hat either – the employment relationship always has elements of bilateral monopoly. There is a well developed body of theory on this about how institutions, regulation, etc affect the way that the subsequent rents are shared. It’s by no means clear that an unregulated labour market gives the best welfare outcomes, and good reason to think that it won’t.

    But those rents are much, much larger in some types of jobs than others. And for base-level jobs requiring minimum skills which are in unconstrained supply (hence my comments about the US) the rents are relatively small so the neoclasssical view is a reasonable approximation.

    I’d love to take you up on your point about part-time work (there’s good evidence that its growth is mainly a product of increased employee rather than employer demand for it), but this comment is already too long.

  28. lurch
    January 7th, 2007 at 19:40 | #28

    No need to watch old movies regarding the waterfront for casual daily pick-up – this is still by far the most common form of employment in use by the two majors and all the small fry operators.

  29. Spog
    January 7th, 2007 at 20:04 | #29

    A key issue in the Australian context is in Derrida’s point (his/her first post) “…their lack of a meaningful welfare safety net …”. How will things change if welfare in Australia becomes much harder to get. The last round of income test changes has meant that Newstart Allowance is now available to some full-time workers on the Federal Minimum Wage. This means it cushions the impact of falling wages, or part-time wages. This is a kind of GMI function and is a long way from the traditional unemployment benefit concepts. This may not be a development that our pollys are really concious of – Newstart as a integral part of wages policy does seem a long way from the usual get-tough on dole bludgers rhetoric.

    If the Newstart arrangements change again, back to more of an unemployment benefit focus, then what of Derrida’s optimistic assessment?

  30. Tony Healy
    January 7th, 2007 at 21:11 | #30

    Derrida, the point is that five hours per week, or no hours at all, effectively is unemployment for people with responsibilities, who would once have held a staff position. If economic conditions get to the stage that workers are suffering this type of unemployment, disguising it is the worst thing we can do.

    There are two reasons. First, it ensures government feels pressure to correct the situation. Second, it helps to prevent the most aggressive of corporate managements from deliberately exploiting and worsening the situation.

  31. melanie
    January 8th, 2007 at 14:56 | #31

    JHumphreys, “To the girl talking about the employers “rightâ€? to…” Were you trying to be flattering or patronizing?

    And by the way I think you have no idea of the meaning of coercion.

  32. January 8th, 2007 at 15:18 | #32

    I think patronising would have been the most deserving of such a ingenuous statement.

  33. January 9th, 2007 at 09:45 | #33

    #11- Melanie, what evidence? The most heavily unionised workplaces in australia now are the public sector, the manufacturing sector and the waterfront. Where’s the opportunity to compare them with non-union workplaces, as they’re closed shop (except in the case of Port Adelaide which is run by DP World, and has box rate which s**t all over the pathetic performances of the other MUA infested stevedores. Public sector? What could you possibly use as a measure of productivity? Businesses ruined? Personal freedoms eroded? Tea and or coffee consumed? I realise that health/safety standards in China aren’t up to scratch, so let’s use somewhere advanced like Singapore. How long do you think a manufacturer of widgets would last in that competitive market if subjected to the industrial extortion levied by the likes of Doug Cameron and his coterie of luddite thugs? I wouldn’t be taking too many share options. As to the worth of Perfesser Quiggin, I have no doubt it is of worth to someone, but seeing as academia exists in an artificial, market-force free environment it’s difficult to judge actual market worth.
    I’m sure his efforts to get Eliza Doolittle to talk proper were worth all he earned in the wager. As to using public money to exhort the expenditure of public money (and snaffel more of same), it smacks to me a little of self interest, and self preservation.
    BTW- no envy, old bean, I do quite nicely, despite the attentions of the fiscal fiend, and can afford a sense of smug self-satisfaction that I create wealth and employment.
    (Even when at my most fabian-addled, while in public employment I felt vaguely uncomfortable about living off the efforts of others- perhaps I always was a libertarian at heart).

  34. derrida derider
    January 17th, 2007 at 19:04 | #34

    Tony, that’s really confused:

    1) Very few people will be on five hours or less a week for long – the fixed costs of employment for both parties tend to make this uneconomic for both.

    2) Your argument seems to me to be along the lines of “intensify the pain so something gets done about it”, which is really putting the cart before the horse. We try and avoid recessions, after all, only because they’re painful. But in fact if a large proportion of the workforce is sufficiently underemployed that they’re feeling real pain then I reckon that’s actually going to put a lot more pressure on the government than a stigmatised minority being locked out of work entirely.

  35. January 18th, 2007 at 11:52 | #35

    derrida derida,

    It’s highly economic to many employers to employ a casual for three hours here, five hours, six hours on a Sunday all at a few hours notice at most. And before long those employers who may prefer not to treat their staff in this way may be at a distinct disadvantage.

    I suggest you take the trouble to find out what it was really like for ‘low skilled’ workers even before the so called ‘Cork Choices’ by reading Elisabeth Wynhausen’s ‘Dirt Cheap’.

    The reason that the unemployed are deliberately stigmatised, by the Government and also, unfortunately, by many on this list, is to force them to accept sub-standard working conditions and pay that their parents and grandparents would never have accepted.

    Why do you presume that the working poor also don’t feel stigmatised?

  36. January 18th, 2007 at 11:53 | #36

    I meant to write ‘Work Choices’ and not ‘Cork Choices’. My apologies

  37. January 18th, 2007 at 12:04 | #37

    Where have you been? We have missed your unique insights.
    The thing is that people cannot be forced to accept work. Except in a very few cases, all of which involve clear breaches of the law of this country (both before and after Work Choices), we are not slaves and people do have free will. They will generally not do it if it makes no sense.
    Employers cannot, as you seem to imply, treat people as slaves for any length of time as they will leave and go elsewhere. Employers who treat their staff well end up with the better staff, so, logically, these are the firms that do better. Odd, really.
    Your determination to think of people as if they were no more than sheep is questionable, at best.

  38. sdfc
    January 18th, 2007 at 13:30 | #38

    That might be what the text books say Andrew but I’m afraid for those at the bottom of the pecking order the reality is different.

    Try telling Centrelink that people can’t be forced to accept work.

  39. Tristan Peach
    January 18th, 2007 at 14:53 | #39

    Andrew, I think you may have missed the point that James was making. There needs to be regulations to stop business from continuing to lower the conditions of workers. Otherwise working conditions will drop across the board as each company tries to get a competitive advantage. Yes, a worker could leave their workplace if the conditions weren’t tolerable, but if there are no strong regulations then the next workplace they go to could be just as bad.

    “Employees that treat their staff well end up with better staff, so, logically, these are the firms that do better”. Forgive me if I’m ignorant about what’s been happening in Australia over the past decade, but haven’t many companies been getting rid of as many staff as possible in order to increase profit?

    Thanks for your valuable unique insight that we are not slaves and people have free will – I was not aware of this.

  40. January 19th, 2007 at 07:55 | #40

    Thanks for your valuable insight on employment – under those conditions employment in Australia must be almost impossible to find and every employer must, logically, only be paying minimum wages to all their employees and have them working in conditions that only barely meet minimum standards.
    Of course, I could ask a mate of mine, on $80k for unskilled labour, with all meals included, flights to and from his place of work, support services and so forth how the employer is ripping his wages back to minimum and depriving him of his conditions. They must be, by what you are saying.
    If this is not the case then your whole line of argument must be, at best, questionable. If you are going to assume that they cannot move, or that employers are slave drivers then you cannot have been aware of the free will bit.

  41. January 19th, 2007 at 11:57 | #41

    Of course, when Andrew Reynolds tells us of the $80k wages for unskilled labor (wasn’t it $100k last time you mentioned this, Andrew?) he is referring to the wages paid to workers in the mineral export industry in the remote regions of West Australia. This group of workers comprises only a small minority of Australia’s workforce and an insignificant minority of the world’s workforce.

    The reason why it is possible for such a massive disparity to exist between these levels of wages and the subsistence wages paid to unskilled workers in the rest Australia should be obvious to anyone with more than ten connected neurons between their ears, that is that those workers are getting a cut for helping to dig up and export a once-only bounty of non-renewable mineral resources, which rightly belongs to all generations and not just to this one.

    This activity is devastating the world’s environment. It is fuelling the appalling pollution in Asia, including that above the cities of China, which is drifting across the Pacific Ocean in a big haze clearly visible form outer space. On top of this, it is also adding to runaway global warming. If we had a rational economic system, we would be scaling back the current frenetic rate of mineral extraction, rather than increasing it.

    Of course, in order to be able to earn some this money, workers must be prepared to uproot themselves from their friends and relatives for many months at the very least, and work hard in remote inhospitable regions with substandard overpriced housing.

    It seems that, for the relatively few workers willing and able to do this, they can be remunerated well, although probably not as well as Andrew Reynolds is suggesting.

    The rest of Australia’s unskilled workers must put up with ever-increasing costs of living, coupled with low hourly rates of pay and a steady erosion of entitlements that were taken for granted by their parents and grandparents, including shift allowance, weekend penalty rates, public holidays, long service sick pay, minimum shift lengths, predictability of work hours from one day to the next. As protection against unfair dismissal no longer exists for most Australian workers, many workers are reluctant to insist upon their legal entitlements. As an example one worker who had been underpaid by her employer was reluctant to even raise the complaint, knowing that she could easily be sacked at any time afterwards for no reason.

    For a few months I tried working as a welder, and am glad now to have left that behind.

    Once, barely an hour after I had requested of the manager that someone go to the local hardware store in order to buy some face masks before I welded steel covered with a toxic metal, my casual employment was suddenly terminated. I can’t know for certain why I was terminated. The manager who sacked me claimed that my skill level was unsatisfactory, however my foreman was surprised that I had been sacked as he had been quite happy with my performance. As it turned out, a suit covering of the whole body with a supply of pumped breathing air was the specified safety requirement, yet it appears that I may have been sacked merely for requesting a paper facial mask. The welding was completed by another worker without even the face mask.

    These examples illustrate how, as long as one has no basic protection against the sack, all other legal statutory entitlements are essentially worthless. Back then, this was a problem faced only by casual workers. Now, thanks to John Howard and his “Work Choices” legislation, this is the situation faced by most Australian workers. The fact that apparently very good remuneration is still possible for a small proportion of particularly fit young Australian workers willing to uproot themselves from their familiar environment has evidently done little to restrain the behaviour of many employers in the rest of this country.

    I have given similar evidence of this a number of times before to Andrew Reynolds, but he continues to ignore it.

    Tristan, I would earnestly counsel you not to engage in any prolonged debate with Andrew Reynolds. He will cherry pick a fact here and a fact there which appear to support his case and ignore mountains of other facts which contradict it.

    If you make the effort to refute any assertion with facts and careful argument, he will, without any acknowledgement, only repeat that same assertion a few days later.

  42. January 19th, 2007 at 12:11 | #42

    So the strong evidence that we have a better standard of living than our grandparents, despite the claimed “ever-increasing costs of living, coupled with low hourly rates of pay and a steady erosion of entitlements”, is not a fact that you would ascribe to the free market, just to the fact that we dig up land.
    On the $80K to $100K question – thanks for picking up the more conservative figure. You are free to choose either figure, James. I have seen both advertised in the last 6 months.
    If you are looking for a job an unskilled, unfit and fairly “mature” person could do – WA is also looking for truckies. All you need is a heavy vehicle driver’s license.
    BTW – if you are not willing to move to find work you are free to wallow in self-pity, if you so choose. I have moved several times and enjoy finding new friends, while keeping links with my old ones. Must be my sunny disposition, positive attitude and failure to blame others for my own misfortune.

  43. January 19th, 2007 at 13:31 | #43

    If you are genuinely interested in understanding what I mean, this discussion on Catallaxy is a good place to start. If you are wondering how I can be against legislated “good” behavior, go here. Both express it better than my somewhat meagre talents allow.
    Of course, if you want to believe that the only solution is further government action, then do not read either.

  44. February 11th, 2007 at 00:25 | #44

    Andrew, if you had been in possession of any arguments or facts that would have swayed me from my firmly held view that neo-liberalism is idiotic and simplistc, then I am sure that I would have seen them long before now.

    You just don’t seem to be able to grasp that I have already given economic so-called ‘rationalism’ considerable benefit of the doubt for much of the last 30 years (even if only because so many intellectuals, whom I used to respect, and who should have known much better, so stridently and self-confidently assured us that it was the solution to all our problems). I have long since worked out, through experience and examining the evidence for myself, that it’s claims are garbage and that they have fudged the figures in so many ways to conceal the true picture, and that’s even without taking into account its rapacious destruction of the world’s non-renewable natural resources (or ‘natural capital’ to put it in terms that an economic ‘rationalist’ should be able to relate to).

    Once again, you have dodged the hard facts I have put and have, instead, chosen to attack me personally.

    I think you are astonishingly presumptuous to have judged me, and others like, as choosing to ‘wallow in self-pity’ because I choose not to pack up from where I now live, close to family and friends and put myself, once again, through the enormous time, trouble and expense that it would take me to move to West Austalia in order to become, as a truck driver, a mindless cog, even if, for a few short years at most, possibly a well-remunerated one, in the industrial complex which is threatening to destroy our planet.

    If you had remembered previous posts, you would know that I have already many times, backwards and forwards, interstate in pursuit of both eduction and work since 1994, when I was retrenched. If you had remembered what I had written before, you would know that I have a university degree and you would understand that I do not have the temperament to perform over many long hours, boring, unchallenging tasks, which require intense focus and concentration.

    It’s typical of this government’s mismanagement of the economy that the skills of so many who have studied at University are being wasted in low-paid unskilled occupatons. I heard a statistic that 30% of the workforce are now overqualified for their current occupation. That certainly is conisetent with my onw life experience. I have a number of friends with PhDs and other tertiary quaifcations, who work as cleaners, aged care workers and delivery drivers. Many of the overqualified are, no doubt IT workers, who have had their occupations outsourced to low wage economies, and found the market here overwhelmed because of the abuse of the ‘skills migration’ scheme by ruthless unscrupulous employers here, coming on top of that stupid beatup in 1999 by IT employers of the supposed IT industry ‘skills crisis’.

    Actually, I do consider that I have a ‘sunny disposition and positive attitude’ and don’t have a tendency to unfairly ‘blame others for my own misfortune.’ In fact, if you knew me, you would know that I am unusually careful to assume responsibility to assume responsibility for all of my decisions, and always have tried my hardest to get on with the job even in the face of the most extreme heartbreaking adversity. There have been many times in my life, where I have worked 7 days a week for weeks on end in order to get the job done.

    In spite of all the bullshit claims of neo-liberalism, these qualities are not rewarded nearly as much as the ability to self-promote, to lie, to cheat, and to shift the blame for one’s own incompetence onto to others.

  45. February 11th, 2007 at 12:32 | #45

    Interesting that you choose to ignore your own advice (to Tristan, above) – and so early on a Sunday morning, too.
    On the personal abuse bit – I am only responding mildly and after much provocation, to some of the things of which you have accused me – including deliberate lying and worse. If you are sensitive to personal abuse, James, my advice would be to not dish it out.
    On the education bit – “…I heard a statistic that 30% of the workforce are now overqualified for their current occupation…” I would not be surprised if that were the case.
    Some degrees being issued in this country do not give practical applications and so, unless they are good enough to conduct ground breaking research in their fields or become a teacher or lecturer then driving a taxi is a good option. Additionally, many people end up simply not liking what they do and go and do something else, as I have several times. Job requirements also change – you do not need a degree to be a company director, so a qualified geologist would be overqualified for that. My father did an apprencticeship in a field that he no longer uses.
    But then, doctors driving taxis also happens elsewhere – even in a “socialist paradise”.
    Not every “problem” is a problem – it is just what happens in a dynamic changing economy. Personally, I am happy that changes occur. Not many happened in 1066 or earlier.
    Blaming the government merely means that we are saying that we are not willing to or capable of changing things ourselves. Personally, I do not try “…to shift the blame for [my] own incompetence…” it is mine to treasure, deal with and get around. That is the beauty of a free economy. I am just really glad I was not born in Cuba or North Korea. You may wish I had been.

  46. March 4th, 2007 at 01:32 | #46


    I don’t know where I have accused you of deliberate lying, lately. Certainly, I believe that I have shown you up a number of times for having used dishonest debating ploys. If you think that, by having done so, I have somehow provoked you and that you are therefore entitled to go on implying that I am lazy and unmotivated, then I definitely have no interest in maintaining any dialogue with you.

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