The Union forever, defending our rights/Down with the blackleg, all workers unite

Day off yesterday (long day of wandering about). Also slow at the moment because our wireless is cactus and all the neighbours have theirs locked down (like us, to be fair). Trading a cable back and forth (the broadband modem itself has only one cable out) is a pain in the ass.

Now that I’m on I immediately receive some spam email with the subject “She will love you more than any other guy.” I wouldn’t have thought the two were even comparable. I guess I’m just not imaginative enough.

Back to Australian news – not related to that thorough pounding we’re getting at the hands of ‘the weather’, cars and families washed away and tankers beaching themselves – Industrial Relations are in the news/debate again/still. Specifically:

Union – negotiated wage agreements are falling behind direct employer/employee – negotiated agreements (still collective bargaining, just one collective being unionised, the other not).

The nation’s top business groups have dramatically moved to combat the union campaign against Work Choices, agreeing to spend millions of dollars on advertisements promoting the workplace laws in the lead-up to the federal election.

For the former, from the SMH,

…collective agreements negotiated directly between employers and employees provided average annual wage rises of 3.9 per cent in the March quarter.

The average rise under collective agreements negotiated by unions was 3.7 per cent.

It is the first time in more than four years that the quarterly enterprise bargaining figures have shown union agreements delivering less-generous pay rises than non-union collective agreements.

So the difference is 3.9% vs, 3.7%. Specifically, the difference seem to be due primarily to two agreements inked in the March quarter – one by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union and another by the ABC child-care group. These each secured 2% pay increases for their workers (I dare you to compare that to the average Executive pay increases at, say, Macquarie Bank). Meanwhile, wages generally haven’t grown all that much, although employment, etc. have (keep looking out for those rate increases).

Is this a big deal? No, not really – to me, anyway. I don’t work in the Liquor and/or Hospitality, etc. industries. There are a bunch of caveats to this being considered important, the first of course being that a .2% difference in a single financial quarter do hardly a watershed make. The second is that they’re the wrong comparisons. This is known as the evaluation problem: we won’t ever know what those wage increases would have been had they been negotiated by non-unionised collections of employees directly with their employers. Maybe they’d have secured something better than 2%, maybe worse (or rather, less).

Politically they’re good fun, though, because the unions secured, along with the 2% came non-monetary benefits. This is also why the 2% itself might not be important – an AWA may have delivered higher increases, but removed overtime and sickness benefits, etc. The politics is because the Unions (big U = generally) criticsed previously the government’s use of non-monetary benefits in their ‘fairness test’ (this was legislation designed to specificy the sorts/value of non-monetary benefits that employers had to offer employees who gave up monetary benefits – i.e. to keep the AWA ‘fair’).

Labor and the Unions criticised the letter, rather than the motive of the law, since not all non-monetary benefits made it in, on one side of the ledger, and non-monetary benefits weren’t protected on the other (the whole point of hating AWAs is that they’re used to take away non-monetary benefits from employees).

Charges of hypocrisy have been ringing out. Politically I’m not sure how much difference it makes. Most anti-union people are probably Liberal as opposed to Labor anyway, and vice versa. A difference in one quarter – or even a year – of this amount is unlikely to be noticed on election day (caveat: I’m famously wrong with electoral expectations).

Businesses campaigning against Unions, though, ought to be a lark. I suffer in a country run on 527 groups (like Jarvis Cocker, only the Guardian costs me about 5 bucks for a collated photocopy of the international edition – the bastard), so it’s kind of nice to see non-government special interests get involved at least in terms of policy, and not sniping at candidates or hating immigrants – although I’m sure that will either come, or already exists and I just don’t see it because I’m not there to watch A Current Affair).

Along with Team Howard’s balancing act between singing wildly about how much they’ve done for the economy, while insisting it’s actually now about to blow and only they know the code, is this one. The advertising campaign will also talk about the fact that it was Keating, and not Howard, that got in place the structural changes that Howard now enjoys. Now, they need to do that without advertising the fact that Costello’s 10 straight Budget surpluses and inflation-less economic growth have come in a greater part than lesser from the initiative of their predecessors, a Labor government.

That irksome fact gets in the way of that two-party stereotype about how Labor is shit with their Principles of Economics.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is also complaining about tactics employed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions at last week’s meeting in Geneva of the International Labour Organisation. Now, I would divide my countrymen-and-women into (i) people who won’t cross a picket-line, (ii) people who’d blow a picket-line up, and (iii) people who don’t know enough to care, don’t have time enough to know, or have both and still don’t care. You will not sway either of the first two camps with this, and the third are hardly going to hear “ILO meeting in Geneva” and suddenly decide they’re interested, after all.

Add that to having to get these ads out of the way in due time before the official election period, and I don’t imagine it will do a great deal more than polarise us. Although in the meantime they may well get what they probably want, which is more out of Rudd on the matter. And why not? He’s switching to a Prius (cries of hypocrisy, of course, not directed at his Liberal detractors), why not to to AWA’s (although silly token gestures like a Prius are rather popular – AWAs probably less so).

The messed up thing is turning on the BBC and promptly hearing about people who are more than a little worse off. According to WordPress’ “blogstats” very few of my links are followed. I highly recommend that one.

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2 comments so far

  1. Gavin on

    You sound like a Wobbly waiting to happen my friend! Check out the Industrial Workers of the World.

  2. zooeygoethe on

    Ooh, neat. Thank you for the link (everybody else: http://www.iww.org/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World).

    I shall probably discuss their model for workplace democracy in a later post. You may find me too much of an economist for it, though. We shall see.


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