There is a war on workers; on their rights, on their wages and conditions. The war is being waged by business groups aided and abetted by the conservative government, formed through a coalition of the Liberal and National Parties. Liberal in the sense of economic liberalism not social liberalism, in case anyone is wondering. Economic liberalism is essentially free market capitalism ... which is free for everyone except those who work or consume ... oh, wait, that is pretty much everyone! Free market capitalism is free for no-one except the ultra-wealthy, the multinationals. Everyone else is just a pawn to be used and abused.
Under former Prime Minister John Howard, the Liberal Party introduced Work Choices which eroded, and in some cases demolished, the rights of workers. Those hardest hit were in the retail and hospitality sectors. WorkChoices meant no choice for workers. It left workers to negotiate their wages and conditions by themselves, without the solidarity, support and collective power of Unions. The only choice it gave was for businesses to exploit workers through lower pay and reduced conditions.
The latest push by the Business Council of Australia is for penalty rates to be abolished. They argue that penalties are crippling business. What we don't hear them complain about is the amount of unpaid overtime worked by many employees. In 2014, Australians gave up $110 BILLION in unpaid overtime(1). Apparently it's ok for businesses to eschew their responsibility to pay workers but not for workers to claim what's due to them.
Back to the coalition aiding and abetting big business. Not long after getting into power in 2013, the coalition established a Royal Commission into Union corruption. It was entirely a political exercise aimed at discrediting and destroying Union solidarity and membership. It was aimed at undermining worker confidence in Unions. Yet, it was Unions who won all the rights that workers have, including weekends, holidays, penalty rates, a forty hour week. Without Unions these rights would never have been won and will certainly be lost.
Many workers have fallen for lies about Union corruption ... as if Business isn't corrupt. What is it called when businesses engage in price fixing, tax avoidance, collusion? What about lobbying of politicians and political donations for favourable treatment?
Queensland's Liberal National Party government under the authoritarian Campbell Newman, banned Union advertising unless the majority of Union members voted for it. This added time, cost and complexity to the process. Newman also tried to ban Union donations to the Australian Labor Party. Meanwhile the LNP lifted its reporting limits on donations so that it could remove transparency of donations made by businesses to the LNP. These moves only increased the potential for corruption in the LNP while undermining ALP's donor base and weakening the power of Unions to defend their workers.
To ensure the vote of the worker, the LNP has systematically mounted a campaign of terror so that workers will cringe in fear behind the protective loins of the ruling class; gladly relinquishing their rights and wages for the misguided belief that only the LNP and the wealthy will protect them from the ravaging hordes of socialists, welfare recipients and asylum seekers.
Rupert Murdoch, one of the richest and most influential men in the world, owns most of the media in Australia and is a strong backer of the LNP. Is it any wonder then that much of the articles published by his stable are either pro-LNP or anti-Labor, anti-Greens, anti-Union, anti-anyone opposed to the LNP.
Malcolm X nailed it when he said, 'If we're not careful the newspapers, will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing'.
How true that is.
Most LNP voters are not particularly wealthy. They have been conditioned by conservative rhetoric to hate those on welfare even though many are a pay-check from welfare themselves. For many workers, their jobs are not secure as employers continue cutting costs, usually by reducing their workforce in the first instance. This doesn't just impact workers, it impacts business because people who are out of work obviously have less disposable income to spend.
How many times do we see the RBA announce interest rate cuts designed to stimulate the economy by giving working families and small-businesses more disposable income, and the big banks failing to pass on the cuts as they cry poor. Within a few months, the banks often announce record profits, usually followed by staff cuts. There is no loyalty to staff or consumers in free market capitalism.
For decades the Liberal Party has claimed that it is more pro-military than Labor. Certainly they've had no qualms against sending the military into battle, whether it was Iraq, Afghanistan or unleashing them on asylum seekers arriving by sea. Yet the Abbott government's love of the military ends there. When it comes to pay and conditions, the LNP has royally screwed the military by giving them a 4.5% pay rise over three years. However, Defence Department public servants didn't receive even that much. They only got 3.16% over three years(2). This pay 'rise' will be paid in two instalments of 1.98% in the first year and 1.18% in the second year(3). This is less than inflation which is currently at 2.7% per annum.
If the LNP is happy to screw over the military what stops it screwing over civilians?
When it comes to other federal public servants it gets even worse. The Australian Taxation Office has been given just 0.8% pay rise(4). Less than 30% the rate of inflation. In addition, they've been forced to work an extra 9 minutes a day for no extra pay; 45 minutes extra per week. They've also lost a $300 annual health and well-being allowance. Of the approximately 25,000 staff who work for the ATO, 3,000 have lost their jobs with an additional 1700 scheduled to go(5).
Pay rises for the military and public servants should be at least 8% over the next three years if they are to keep pace with inflation, otherwise the buying power of their income will be greatly reduced.
The government is aiming to strip Immigration Department staff of their rights to unfair dismissal appeals. If the Australian Border Force Bill gets through parliament, staff could be sacked for 'serious misconduct' without the right to appeal to the industrial umpire(6). Considering that Australia's legal system is based on 'innocent until proven guilty', all workers should be able to appeal against any claim made against them.
Why would any worker vote for such an anti-worker party?
Then there is the LNP rhetoric about our economy being cactus because of the Labor Party. This debt and deficit mantra that they keep banging on about is a smokescreen. If the LNP was serious about bringing down the deficit they wouldn't be attacking wages and conditions. Why? Because the more that people earn, the more tax they pay which boosts government revenue and reduces the deficit. In addition, the more people earn the more they spend, boosting profitability of business and increasing tax revenue while reducing the deficit.
In the 2012-13 budget, the LNP dropped $1 billion into the coffers of big business. In addition, businesses took $300 billion of earnings off-shore to avoid tax(7). All of this, while the government bemoaned the cost of welfare and wanted to force people to wait six months before claiming the dole(8). Six months without any income? The LNP has an idealistic view that people should either 'earn or learn'. There is no abundance of jobs, so how do people feed, house or clothe themselves and their families? If we're not earning we should be learning according to the LNP. Learn? At a time when the government is deregulating universities fees which will result in education becoming unaffordable for many. At a time when LNP governments have reduced funding to TAFE colleges. Earn or learn? More like, earn or burn! The LNP is happy to sacrifice the lives of the unemployed for political expediency. And sadly, many people who are impacted by these policies are happy to vote LNP.
Australia - a country of lifters and leaners according to the LNP. Who's doing the lifting? The heavy lifting is being done by workers, not by big business. It is the large companies and the wealthy that exploit the workers and then cry poor.
Take Luke Mangan for instance. He has an $80 million food empire. Apparently, paying Sunday penalty rates has unacceptable impact on the price of steak, so he doesn't even bother opening his restaurant (9). An $80 million empire that doesn't want to pay penalty rates. Even Campbell Newman, the illustrious former Premier of Queensland, rued the impact of penalty rates on the cost of spaghetti (10)! Paint me pink and cover me in peppercorn sauce ... since when did industrial relations come down to the price of spaghetti or an eye-fillet! I'd rather pay more for a steak or a spaghetti and know that the people who are working hard to prepare my meal are getting paid a fair wage. How could I enjoy my meal if said staff are getting screwed over so that some greedy business owner can get fat and rich off the weekends or evenings sacrificed by the hard work of their employees.
Penalty rates may not seem like a great deal for those who don't get them, but they can have a massive impact on those who do. For instance, a retail worker could lose around a quarter of their wage if penalty rates are abolished (11). The retail sector is one of the largest employment sectors in the country. That is a lot of money to take off people who are already barely making ends meet on minimum wage.
And then there is the Hoteliers Association who figure that they should pay penalty rates. Bravo to them! Except they want a two-tiered system in which workers get paid lower penalty rates for working State public holidays (such as Melbourne Cup) than if they worked national public holidays such as Christmas or New Year (12).
Abolishing penalty rates would have a dramatic impact on the economy. Many workers rely on penalties to survive. If they don't have the money, at best they won't spend. At worst, they will require welfare to meet the bills.
Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has presided over one of the lowest wages growth in 20 years and he believes this is good news (13). In the meantime, his government continues on a path to sack public servants, adding to the unemployment queue, while offering minimal pay rises for those who remain. In fact, at one stage, the staff of Employment Minister Eric Abetz were only offered a 0.5% pay rise. It's an insult to all workers (14).
The LNP may claim that WorkChoices is 'dead, buried and cremated', however, they're having a wow of a time raising it from the dead and giving it a new identity; patching it together like an industrial relations frankenstein, made up of the body parts of economic rationalism and the selected organs and limbs of the 'dead' WorkChoices. It's Zombie IR.
The Productivity Commission (an Orwellian term for 'worker exploitation') has been commissioned to review wages, penalty rates and workplace mobility. One of the recommendations from the Productivity Commission is to reduce the minimum wage by 1% per annum over the next 10 years (15). No mention of reducing the vulgar executive salaries that many companies pay. No. Instead, hit the minimum wage. Hit the people perceived to have the least power. Obviously people on the minimum wage have too much money and can afford to subside CEOs being paid a motza.
Karl Marx nailed it when he wrote, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need'. Rather than screwing low-paid workers down even further, it's time for the higher paid, for business owners, for big business, to step up and pay their dues.
It's the hard working efforts of workers and the money they spend as consumers, that ensures the success of business. So why do many of these workers oppose Unions and vote for their oppressors? Many have fallen for the lie of trickle down economics. The idea that the more the wealthy have, the more will trickle down to the plebs at the bottom. What rot! The more the wealthy have the more they keep. Trickle down economics was discredited years ago when it failed under Thatcher and Reagan, costing the livelihoods of thousands of workers.
Workers instead should be voting against attacks on their conditions. They should be members of Unions and fight against any attempt to undermine their livelihoods and rights.
Business and Government needs workers and it needs a cashed-up market place for revenue. Workers with no money are more damaging to business and the economy than workers being paid penalty rates.
Workers of the world unite.
Collectively fight against exploitation.
United we stand, divided we fall.
1. Business Insider Australia, Sarah Kimmorley, 19 November 2014, 'Australians Give Up $110 Billion To Their Employers in Unpaid Overtime Every Year', http://www.businessinsider.com.au/australians-give-up-110-billion-to-their-employers-in-unpaid-overtime-every-year-2014-11. Accessed 8 February 2015.
2. Brisbane Times, Phillip Thomson, 20 February, 2015, ''I regret': Defence boss' tough email to 20,000 staff over pay offer', http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/public-service/i-regret-defence-boss-tough-email-to-20000-staff-over-pay-offer-20150219-13j73i.html. Accessed 22 February 2015
3. The Australian, Sarah Martin, 'Defence boss rues bum pay deal', 20 February 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/defence/defence-boss-rues-bum-pay-deal/story-e6frg8yo-1227226118331. Accessed 22 February 2015.
4. Sydney Morning Herald, Phillip Thomson, 'Anger spreads: Australian Taxation Office moves toward industrial action', 20 February 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/national/public-service/anger-spreads-australian-taxation-office-moves-toward-industrial-action-20150220-13ki1y.html. Accessed 22 February 2015.
5. The Canberra Times, Nassim Khadem and Noel Towell, 'Blood letting at Tax Office takes hold', 17 January 2015, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/business/blood-letting-at-tax-office-takes-hold-20150115-12f2kc.html. Accessed 25 February 2015.
6. Canberra Times, Noel Towell, 'Public servants face fast-track to the sack', 2 March 2015, http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/public-servants-face-fasttrack-to-the-sack-20150302-13sbmp.html. Accessed 3 March 2015.
7. Australian Labor, 'Their fair share - stopping multinational tax avoidance', http://www.alp.org.au/fairshare. Accessed 2 March 2015.
8. News.com.au, 'Peta Credlin's power trip over dole policy', 15 February 2015, http://www.news.com.au/national/peta-credlins-power-trip-over-dole-policy/story-fncynjr2-1227220063210. Accessed 17 February 2015.
9. Daily Telegraph, John Lehmann, 'Restaurateur Luke Mangan blasts “ridiculous” penalty rates and lost work ethic', 21 February 2015, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/restaurateur-luke-mangan-blasts-ridiculous-penalty-rates-and-lost-work-ethic/story-fni0cx12-1227232937517. Accessed 28 February 2015.
10. Brisbane Times, Daniel Hurst, 'Newman weighs into Howard, Abbott IR debate', 28 August 2012, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/newman-weighs-into-howard-abbott-ir-debate-20120828-24xkx.html. Accessed 22 February 2015.
11. The Age, Josh Gordon, 'Premier Daniel Andrews accuses Tony Abbott of secret plan to cut Victorians' wages by up to one-third', 27 February 2015, http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/premier-daniel-andrews-accuses-tony-abbott-of-secret-plan-to-cut-victorians-wages-by-up-to-onethird-20150226-13pf1i.html. Accessed 28 February 2015.
12. The Australian, 'Push for two-tiered public holidays', 23 February 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/push-for-two-tiered-public-holidays/story-fn3dxiwe-1227235472750. Accessed 28 February 2015.
13. The Guardian, Greg Jericho, 'The worst wages growth in 20 years is Joe Hockey's 'good news' '. 2 March 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2015/mar/02/the-worst-wages-growth-in-20-years-is-joe-hockeys-good-news. Accessed 2 March 2015.
14. Sydney Morning Herald, Anna Patty, 'Strikes looming against Abbott's industrial relations agenda', 19 February 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/strikes-looming-against-abbotts-industrial-relations-agenda-20150219-13i221.html. Accessed 22 February 2015.
15. The Guardian, Van Badham, 'The only certainty of a reduced minimum wage is a lot more poor people', 27 January 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/27/the-only-certainty-of-a-reduced-minimum-wage-is-a-lot-more-poor-people. Accessed 2 February 2015.