It’s time again to set some practical resolutions for the new year. First, the success of the Voice referendum — which will be held in the second half of 2023 — is essential. This is a constitutional reform that has been developed by First Nations people and they have achieved remarkable consensus that this is the step towards self-determination they want to take first. I resolve to make some active contribution to that cause every week. Second, I am going to attend more meetings. Years ago, I heard Marcia Langton talk about how she built her influence — she sums it up in the saying, “the world is run by those who show up”, but she spoke specifically about always participating in the meetings other people find tedious, and slowly but surely advancing her position. Meetings are a big part of my work time, so I am not often keen to sign up for more meetings in my own time, but I am going to step up my participation in the groups I have until now been a paper member. I hope you will consider doing the same.
archive: December 2022
The Carmichael Centre’s Mark Dean and Lance Worrall argue for a standard 4-day working week: “The truth about productivity is that regardless of slow growth (which is not the fault of labour), there has been positive productivity growth that has outstripped real wage movements. Workers have not received a proportionate share of the productivity gains they have made. Almost all of it has gone to boosting the GDP profit share. Sharing the benefits through a shorter working week means rebalancing between the incidence of overwork and unpaid labour, and underemployment and too few hours. It also means recognising the need to compensate Australia’s workforce for its past contributions to productivity growth. … This fact of sustained, nearly-full capture of past productivity gains as rents by the corporate sector provides a part of the justification for statutory shorter hours. Together with the more equitable distribution of labour to address the two poles of exploitation — overwork and unpaid labour alongside underemployment, too few hours and acute insecurity — the case for shorter hours contributes to the argument for a larger full employment objective and framework. The case is further made by the fact that additional to the benefits of shorter hours to individuals and the social fabric, a shorter working week is often associated with higher productivity… We conclude strongly that shorter standard work weeks, and a corresponding redistribution of working hours (including longer and more stable hours for people in underemployed and insecure work positions), will generate improved work-life balance, stronger social stability, and improved environmental performance — without undermining productivity and material incomes.”
Coles, publicly: “Supermarket giant Coles is calling for enforceable, uniform housing standards for seasonal farm workers and rules against unfairly docking their pay to prevent overseas labourers from living in poverty and squalor and to shore up supply chains in an industry wracked by reputational damage. In a lift for the government’s war on labour-hire firms, Coles and major unions released a report on Friday taking aim at the horticulture sector’s heavy reliance on outsourcing workers. It attributes labour-hire firms with a decline in transparency and certainty in the industry, and links them to poor pay and lodging.”
Coles, privately [$]: “Coles, one of the nation’s largest supermarkets, is privately urging suppliers to cut costs rather than request price rises as it deals with a surge in demands to raise the price of products on shelves. In new correspondence with suppliers obtained by The Australian, the company says every business should ‘turn its mind’ to reducing costs… Coles has told its suppliers it will also reserve the right to negotiate price rise requests — or block them completely — if the supermarket feared a higher shelf price would have a negative effect on shoppers or cause a slide in sales. ‘All businesses will incur impacts to the cost of doing business at some point,’ a note sent to suppliers reads. ‘Every business needs to turn its mind to how it can remove costs from its operations. … Even where you can substantiate increases to cost of doing business including rising cost of inputs, Coles may not accept your request for a cost increase in full or at all.'”
It’s hard to see how any serious commitment to eradicating exploitation and modern slavery from the supply chain could be achieved by squeezing suppliers even harder, and refusing to allow them to pass on the increased costs of proper pay and adequate lodging. (Perhaps as a show of good faith they could sack Jeff Kennett, the “independent” arbiter Coles pays to resolve disputes with suppliers — who is hiding his work from the government’s Food and Grocery Code reviewer.)
Labor is planning to implement a ‘same job, same pay’ system that would require companies who use labour hire to ensure the outsourced jobs are on pay and conditions equivalent to directly hired employees — a fundamental principle of fairness in the workplace, and one that was significantly undermined by Labor’s introduction of enterprise bargaining in the early 1990s. I’m fascinated by the contortions employers are going through to complain about the proposal [$]. First, they trot out Mark Wooden to argue that “labour hire workers usually receive a wage premium” — in which case, what are they worried about? Next, the IR extremists at Qantas and BHP: “In the case of cabin crew Qantas uses four different companies providing four different rates of pay to meet seasonal peaks. Qantas general counsel Andrew Finch has cautioned that ‘same job, same pay’ regulation could increase costs for the company if it made labour hire untenable. … BHP also set up its own in-house labour hire firms to operate its coal mines in 2019.” Note, these aren’t even really outsourced workers — the companies are using tricky corporate structures to artificially split up their workforces to slash pay and conditions. Next, veteran mining industry troglodyte Steve Knott just throws around “Marx-inspired” and “ridiculous”. But then the big one: “An enterprise agreement could simplify some of these issues with standard rates and classifications but firms point out that most workplaces don’t have such agreements.” Well then they should sit down and negotiate such agreements! Problem solved.
Ben Schneiders, in his book, Hard Labour: “This book… seeks to provide some of the finer-grained detail of how inequality has increased, and how power relations have evolved between those with and those without wealth and power. Since 2015, in my role as an investigative reporter at The Age, I’ve written hundreds of articles about wage theft… Over the years, I’ve received significant pushback over my wage-theft reporting — far more than I’ve received from any of my other work, which has ranged from exposing religious abuses to political corruption. … I’ve pushed ahead, as wage theft — to me, at least — is offensive to the idea of a fair society, breachign laws and norms about how people should be treated. It is an assault on the idea of equality, which is a fundamental requirement of a well-functioning democracy. Left unsaid in all this pushback is the assumption that those with money and connections have a right to steal, unlike those with nothing, who can be jailed for smaller thefts. … However, … change is always possible, and there can be a future for a fairer, more democratic system. The solutions are there before us, at first in small steps and then later in bigger ones.”
Hard Labour is a thorough, detailed, and accessible read. Everyone interested in equality — why it has collapsed, and what needs to be done to restore it — should grab a copy. You can read an excerpt in The Age.
I took a break for a while when things got hectic this year. Things are less hectic now, so I am back. When I went on hiatus I nuked my Twitter account, so I had to start a new one from scratch; if you followed me there, please follow again. I’ve also set up a Mastodon account — @email@example.com — if that’s your preference.