In broad terms, we know what the outcome of industrial relations reform will be. Although we haven’t had radical shifts in formal institutions, we’ve experienced a decisive shift of power to employers, and seen the results. The most obvious is polarization in working hours. There’s been a big increase in the proportion of people working more than 50 hours a week, and also a big increase in the proportion of part-time and casual workers. I think it’s self-evident that this is a bad thing, but I’ll spell out my reasons (probably over several posts).
I’ll start by observing that long hours suit some people, and so do part-time jobs. I suppose I would be the paradigm case of someone for whom long hours are not a problem. I have almost complete flexibility over the hours that I work, and almost complete autonomy over what I do from day to day, and the job is what I love doing, to the extent that there isn’t really a clear divide for me between working and not working (is writing this post at 7am work, or free time – I don’t really know). Part of the problem is that bosses’ jobs are mostly like mine – not quite as autonomous and flexible as mine perhaps, but with plenty of on-the-job rewards. As a result, bosses have always been more likely to work long hours than others. One problem with IR reform is that bosses get to impose their preferences on others, and those preferences are almost always for more effort, regardless of whether this is economically efficient or even in the long-term interest of the enterprise.