click here to listen to Caroline and I discuss the Morrison’s government’s intentions on behalf of employers to make the unFair Work Act even worse. Please like and share with your friends. 15 mins of Logie potential?
Yesterday the new Morrison government announced its review of the already unFair Work Act 2009, to make it even harsher from the point of view of workers.
The announcement ticks several important boxes for the various employer organisations.
The announcement reveals also a more carefully worked out strategy that demands a significant improvement in the union movement’s own Change the Rules counter-strategy.
the Fair Work Commission (FWC) handed down its decision arising from the Annual Wage Review (AWR). This annual Review is
required by the Fair Work Act 2009 (FWA09) and decides whether or not Australia’s
lowest paid workers get a wage increase and, if so, by how much.
Commission granted a 3% increase to the minimum wage and ordered that this be
applied also to the minimum rates in all industrial awards, starting July 1st.
the national minimum by $21.60 / week taking it to $740.80 / week or $19.49 /
hour, 56 cents / hour more. It is small and inadequate and will lift very few
out of persistent poverty.
events tell us much about the balance of power in Australian society, and the current
state of class struggle.
warfare is alive and well, although being waged more effectively by the rich
and powerful than the forces of the 90 percent made up mainly by the 21st
century working class.
worth noting that, on these same days, the AFR added reported the slow and
steady march to an economic downturn, probably a recession, and maybe even
worse. See here and here, for example.
Some basics about the AWR
must hand down its decision in time for it to be implemented, if necessary, by
July 1st each year. The FWA09 establishes “rules” the Commission must follow to
arrive at its decision. These are
summarised quite well in the first part of this year’s decision. From the point
of view of workers these rules are well and truly broken.
says that there are 180,000 workers on the minimum wage. Does this include workers
who are deliberately paid less in systemic wage theft by thousands of
employers? We don’t really know. Further, there are 2.2 million workers who are
paid according to the minimum rates in the relevant Award for the industry they
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) makes the principal “submission” for
an increase on behalf of all of these workers, both union members and
non-members. Several employer organizations make submissions, in opposition to
the ACTU, on behalf of employers.
Review the ACTU sought a 6% increase ($43 per week) as step 1 of progress to
lift all workers out of poverty. Step 2 would proceed in next year’s review and
would be a claim for a 5.5% increase. That would be 60 per cent of median
wages, if achieved. It is known as a claim for a new “living wage” as the
minimum wage in Australia.
employer organisations proposed increases at 1.8% and 2% respectively.
decision in the main rejects the ACTU proposal, and broadly accepts the “logic”
of the employers’ and the government’s argument, 3% being much closer to their
claim than the ACTU’s.
minimum wage workers will accept a 3% increase, even though they know better
than anyone that it will not go far. Because, right now they are not going to
get an increase like that in any other way. In the Australian system many of
them will not even know they are now entitled to an increase on July 1.
described this poor outcome as a win for workers and emphasized that it would
now be a longer path to the “living wage”, 60% of the median wage.
short commentary 3 points can be emphasized.
rationale for this decision is laid out over 140 odd pages. The “logic” mainly
accepts the employers’ arguments, and that of the LNP government.
The decision says: “… the panel
rejected the union peak body’s claim that the minimum wage should be high
enough to lift a single-earner couple with one or two children out of poverty.”
Second, its reasons draw upon
data that tries to describe how many workers are living on low wages, and how
many of them live in different types of households, including households in
which someone else is living on higher wages. Their thinking seems to be that thus
not so many workers need an increase like the ACTU proposes and there is not
enough of them to justify a higher increase. They suggest the numbers “may” be
so few that the problem can be taken care of in the “tax transfer” system run in
the government’s Budget.
through. Essentially, the extremely well paid FWC panel seem to suggest that better
paid workers should subsidize “household” members on low incomes. It suggests
that, because lots of single workers live in households with higher incomes, a
bigger increase is less necessary! Of course, there is an arcane economic
argument and loads of statistics that try to justify this, just as there are to
pull it apart. In the end it’s not economic thought that prevails but naked
class power. It’s a form of class warfare.
Much of the reasoning looks at
the wages of low paid workers relative to higher paid workers. Hardly any
examines the relationship between specific wage levels, wages generally and profit
making. They do note that profits are strong and that AWR increases in previous
years has not harmed them.
“Business profits growth to the December quarter 2018 was strong
at 10.5 per cent, significantly higher than the previous year and the 5- and
10-year averages, but non-mining profits growth at 2.5 per cent was lower than
the previous year and the 5- and 10-year averages. We note that profits have
grown in the non-mining sector in every year over the past 10 years at an
annual average of 3.9 per cent.”
The third key point is
about low paid workers, awards and enterprise bargaining.
The AWR process
requires that the FWC’s annual decision must encourage collective bargaining.
There is no “collective bargaining” in the AWR process. Thus, this “rule” is
intended to ensure that each decision does not push the minimum wage and the
minimum rates in awards too close to the rates achieved in enterprise
bargaining. Putting aside for now that the enterprise bargaining stream is steadily
falling apart, there are all sorts of rules within “enterprise bargaining” that
keep low paid workers out of it.
And, indeed, one of the
reasons for just 3%, is that this low level does not get in the way of
enterprise bargaining. As someone said: “That’s some catch, that Catch 22.”
AWR’s most harmful “broken rule”
there is this. The whole AWR process excludes “collective bargaining”. Low paid
workers are the objects of the decisions made for them by suited, well paid
Commissioners reading and listening to polite submissions from economists in
suits. Low paid workers are denied agency. Deliberately. Their status is as “objects”
of others deliberations. Their material living standards are decided by others
for them. Their status is to watch and accept. They are defined as the “beneficiaries”
of others’ thinking. The process demeans low paid workers because the economic
arguments and the decision comes from the “goodness” of others’ deliberations
dressed up as learned and reasonable.
leader, at any level of our movement, should accept that. Rather it must be
The rate of exploitation and 1969
The AWR decision was handed down around
several commemorations of the 1969 national strike and actions that defeated
the anti-worker “penal powers” of the post war period. It’s instructive to look
at the relationship between profits and wages then compared to now.
This is called the rate of
exploitation. This graph tries to do that, by comparing two 8 year periods.
The rate of
exploitation of twenty first century workers is far too high. This is not a problem
for the AWR process. Only a mobilized union campaign – heightened class
struggle waged by workers – can make it an issue. Otherwise they are all
victims of class warfare.
The path ahead for workers and their unions
re-election of the anti-worker Morrison government requires that Change the
Rules campaign (CtR) must continue.
And, it must
be restored as an industrial campaign rather than primarily electoral, and loaded
up with “mindful defiance”. Anti-worker laws have been defeated but never by
relying on Labor politicians or Fair Work commissioners.
There is a
telling picture in the AFR report on the decision. It shows the hearing room
with ACTU President Michelle O’Neill and her economics specialist. But no
workers, ok maybe a couple. Of course, it’s a moment in time, and it’s possible
that a minute earlier or later there were 30 workers or so in the room.
that on a AWR hearing day in the last week of the election campaign there was a
small, noisy demonstration in front of the FWC building. But that was about it,
aside from the occasional media release and the arguing of the submission
captures the failure of this aspect of the ACTU #changetherules campaign. There
was no attempt to mobilise thousands of workers to send a message to the
Commission that the ACTU claim was justified and should be granted.
warfare the bosses know that you get what you want by exercising power. They
get it but still not enough of us do.
union leader, at every level in our movement, must explain to all of our
members that the AWR is a big deal for all workers, not just the low paid. This
a core material expression of the meaning of solidarity. It is a bosses’ way of
thinking to think in any other way.
6000 to 60,000 will be more exciting (and powerful) than
and May there big Change the Rules demonstrations on working week days, 120,000
plus in Melbourne and 6000 (possibly more) in Sydney.
let’s have 6000 or 60,000 workers from all incomes demonstrating and packing
out the FWC hearing rooms. That does require a strategy of imagination and
defiance. But it has been done before and there is nothing in the genetic
makeup of the 21st century Australian worker that says it cannot be done again.
IMF chief economist, Gita Gopinath reckoned the global economy had entered “a delicate moment”. She offered a decisive insight: “If the downside risks do not materialize and the policy support put in place is effective, global growth should rebound. If, however, any of the major risks materialize, then the expected recoveries in stressed economies, export-dependent economies, and highly-indebted economies may be derailed.” So, on the one hand or on the other….
Alongside the IMF view, the private Brookings Institution delivered its view on the global economy, concluding from its tracking index of economic activity that the world had entered a “synchronised slowdown” which may be difficult to reverse.
— Read on thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/a-delicate-moment/
Note the reference to “export – dependent economies”. That’s Australia.
Given Morrison’s focus on the economic credentials, whatever they are, of an LNP government, the contest will include a battle over how to define responsibility for the downturn, even before it happens!
Under 3 different leaders the LNP neoliberal government, driven by its quasi religious faith in trickle down economics, a faith that defies the real world experience of 90% of Australians, must show that their economics for corporations and their system has not contributed to any downturn and is the best recipe for dealing with the next one.
The ALP, and also the Greens, will face the challenge of acknowledging that a downturn will probably happen soon, that is in the next term of the next government that they hope to form. The ALP wants this to happen on a stand alone basis but the electorate may not permit that. Hence, it’s a problem for the Greens also.
Labor might want to claim that the way it handled the last one, actually acknowledged as a crisis internationally, kept Australia out of recession. But, so far, Labor’s right wing controllers of economic policy don’t seem confident with that sort of quite mild Keynesianism. Fixed as they are in a laborist neoliberalism re economic policy they appear to believe 1) that the resources to do what they did in 2007-9 will not be there to repeat that, and 2) that their immediate commitments re tax revenues to fund health and education (etc) will do the job. Or, maybe, behind closed doors they are preparing to repeat what they did only with necessary lessons learned?
The prospective downturn problem is also real for “politics from below” driven along by unions (as in Change the Rules) and other people’s organisations some of whom have a “mass” character. I refer here to the disability and aged care movements whose programmes for reform require significant government intervention.
And above all there is the now multi dimensional “reverse climate change” movement. We all have until about 2030 to get the situation under control and momentum on reversal. That will also require massive government intervention.
And that government intervention must also enable more powerful intervention “from below”, by the unions and other people’s organisations, and in workplaces, industries and communities.
For workers and their unions, there is nothing yet in Labor’s stated changes to the industrial relations laws that will enable that.
In other words we have a political turning point centred on the interaction of economic downturn, possibly crisis, and ecological crisis.
For the broader politics engaged in by unions and other people’s organisations the challenge will be whether to retreat when the downturn hits or go on the offensive.
Historically, we have retreated. Our most recent experience was exactly in the period of the Rudd – Gillard Labor governments. The struggle over workers rights was pit to sleep and the environment organisations could not develop and lift a strategy from below to direct the Labor government and its erstwhile Greens allies to move forward. The scene was controlled by the fossil fuel corporations and its key front men like Tony Abbott.
There is precious little sign yet that the leading figures in both the union and environmental organisations have the economics to help their constituencies rise to the challenge.
How can we break out from that, and why is it necessary?