Another take on IR reform

I was impressed by this take on the government's IR reforms, published on (in?) Crikey today and written by an old friend of a friend of mine. After starting from a fairly neutral perspective, I'm becoming swayed by the merits of the IR reforms and am growing tired of union sob-stories. Plenty more to come, though, I'm sure:

12. The IR ads the government should be running

Crikey's occasional corporate law correspondent Adam Schwab writes:

Much has been said about the fact that the Government is spending around $100 million advertising its planned changes to the Workplace Relations Act. But not much has been said about the pathetic advertisements that have so far been produced. The Government would be better off sacking their grossly overpaid advertising agency and media buyers and running ads like this:

Advertisement One: Cameras focuses on an employee rifling through the handbag of a fellow employee and removing money from her purse. Midway through the act the thieving employee is caught by a manager and summonsed to the manager's office. The manager tells the employee he can no longer trust him and that he will need to find another job, and offers the employee a generous one month payout. The employee swears at his manager and says he's going to call the union.

The next scene is a hearing at the Industrial Relations Commission in which the Commissioner announces that the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable and that the manager must re-employ the thief in his previous position as he was not given a proper warning before being dismissed. The Commissioner also announces that the thief is to receive pay in lieu for the time he was away from work. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads:“The New Workplace Laws – Allowing thieves to be sacked."

Advertisement Two: The owner of a small firm (which has around 10 employees) gathers his staff around and tells them that due to a flood of Chinese imports the only way the business can survive is to lay off four staff members. The ad then flips to a scene in the Industrial Relations Commission, in which the four sacked staff members are awarded six months' pay because the redundancy was not deemed to be fair by a commissioner who also happened to be a former union boss.

The next scene shows the business owner shutting the gates to his business and apologising to the six hard-working staff members who lost their positions when the business went bankrupt. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads: “The New Workplace Laws – Saving Australian jobs."

Advertisement Three: Three CFMEU members in workers attire are standing around a building site. One of the builders looks at his watch – it is 11.30am. Another builder says he has had enough work for the day and that they should head across to the pub. Four hours later, their supervisor strolls into the pub and notices the three builders in a drunken state. He asks them why they have been in the pub for so long. One of the builders replies: “safety concerns." The supervisor asks what exactly were the safety issues, to which the builder replies: “can't remember."

The next scene shows Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, announcing that the Spencer Street Rail Development, like Federation Square, will be completed two years after its scheduled completion date and won't be ready in time for the Commonwealth Games. The last scene is of a Japanese businessman who announces that his company will no longer be building a new factory which was to employ more than 1,000 people in Melbourne, due to industrial relations concerns, but instead will build the factory in New Zealand. The advertisement then concludes with white writing on a black screen which reads: “The New Workplace Laws – Creating Jobs for honest Australians."


Jeremy said…
Of course, that's NOT the point of the IR changes at all.

The point of them is that the balance between employee and employer will be permanently and fatally tipped in favour of the employer, enabling conditions and pay to drop - particularly for low-skilled Australians.

Removing unfair dismissal protections is not about fairness, it's about making unfair dismissal easier.

ps try ringing the "WorkChoices" hotline and asking if the minimum wage will be protected from inflation increases.
Anonymous said…
It is not the case that a balance will be tipped "in favour of the employer", unless you take a strictly Marxist interpretation of labour relations, where the owners of the means of production have a inevitable advantage over labour.

I don't think this is the case - having worked for some extremely small businesses, as well as the 2nd largest in the country, I see the employer-employee relationship as a lot more complex than that. And my skills, particularily in my first jobs, were extremely 'low'.

The idea behind IR reform, from the 1970s to today, is to place employer and employeee in a position of equal negotiatng power - neither buttressed by the power to call in arbitration, or able to use a legislative guarantee as a way to gain leverage over the other.

Re: unfair dismissal in particular: Nobody hires somebody just to fire them. The transaction costs of new workers is extremely high - particularily for small businesses. These businesses would much rather work with the staff they already have, and to fire somebody is an absolute last resort.

To argue that 'unfairly' dismissing people is something that employers are desperate to do is either intentionally naive or disingeneous.
Jeremy said…
Alright then. If employers aren't going to dismiss employees unfairly anyway, then why are they so desperate to get rid of the unfair dismissal laws?

Meanwhile, you can go on believing employees and employers have equal bargaining power, and particularly once basic mandatory frameworks have gone - but I think you'll find that most Australian workers aren't that stupid. They know perfectly well who has the power in their workplace, and for most of them, it's not themselves.

If the changes don't make much of a difference to the employer/employee relationship, then don't you think it's a bit suspicious that the detail hasn't yet been released? Or that the only people in favour are the liberal party and the large employer groups?

Hmm, I wonder what they have to gain?
Anonymous said…
Fantastic suggestions for an advertising camapaign.

What do we have to do to get such ads to run?

Mr. Lefty, are you a satire? My lampoon meter is malfunctioning, but surely nobody could in reality be as thick as you make out you are?
Anonymous said…
Steve, it seems you are the one who is being satirical. Surely you weren't being so lazy as to attempt to "rebut" MrLefty's comments with sheer slander?
Anonymous said…
Chris is right. Businesses can't even dismiss employees fairly, let alone unfairly. It makes it difficult for employers to give anyone very young and unknown/unproven/unskilled a chance at job.
Anonymous said…
"Why are employers so desperate to get rid of the unfair dismissal laws?" Surely anybody who makes such a statement is having a laugh, or else has just arrived from another solar system?

Under the unfair dismissal laws an employer cannot get rid of useless or negligent staff, they are married to them.

This has been responsible for the explosion in: casual, temporary & contract employment.

Unions have brutally exploited the powerlessness of employers, extorting cash from small business under threat of legal action for unfair dismissal.

Even the most useless lazy & stupid employees know that the unfair dismissal laws guarantee them a "window seat" job.

A person (employer)is scratching out a cheque each week. What sort of brain originally created a law that said just because I wrote someone a paycheque this week, that I must continue doing so forever?

Getting rid of a hopless member of staff can cost up to the equivalent of 6 months pay.

The unfair dismissal laws are the greatest restriction on employment this country has ever known.

The sooner they are gone the better.

Anyone who believes in such laws should be given a one way ticket to Bali, for it is what they deserve.
Anonymous said…
My Lefty,

I think that the question is not why the Liberal Party and "major employer groups" publically support the legislation, it is why they are not unambiguously supported by more businesses. In fact, there are very few groups which have done so, ACCI, which I assume you are referring to, is about the only one who has done so.

If the reforms are so clearly weighted to favour employers, then why are no more standing up to be counted as supporters? I don't have an answer for that one, but you should realise how few businesses actually want to be known as supporting the reforms.

Realise also that when ever you characterise the employer and employee relationship as unbalanced you are in fact calling those employees 'stupid', or at least incompetent to negotiate terms of trade - which is all that the labour market is - that would be beneficial to themselves. Or is there something structurally different about labour opposed to other economic trades, which I presume you would not legislate recourse to 'fairness' commissions?

I won't repeat Steve's arguments about unfair dismissal, but he is spot on.
Anonymous said…
Ari, good writing, but you missed the point. The problem with the rhetoric involved is that it overestimates the ability of the poorest workers.

Sure, there are negative externalities at either end of the spectrum of industrial relations ideology. It is our choice which of these negative externalities we wish to take on.

At one end, there are capacity constraints on business. At the other, exploitation of the poor and entrenchment of the working poor. Look to the US for an example of entrenched poverty amongst the 'working poor.'

The problem is that most of the people who are articulate enough to understand the conundrum of workplace relations fail to understand that the people who need protection are neither as intelligent or as articulate as ourselves.

This is either an invitation to exploit these poor battlers to further line our pockets, or we can choose to let our humanity determine our policy.

If we fight for the lowest wages in order to maintain competitiveness, we will lose this battle. There will always be a less industrialized country which will be able to submit a lower bid.

We should be choosing the higher way. A society should be judged not by the prosperity of the wealthy, but rather by its attitude towards the poor.
Anonymous said…
I'm frustrated with the ridiculous amount of money that these government ads are wasting, but I'm also frustrated by the inability of Beazley to land a blow on the Conservatives on this liability of a policy.
Anonymous said…
Nahum Ayliffe: Wake up to yourself!

The only liability policy is the current legislation, the changes will START to make the IR laws LESS of a liability.

The word for those who exploit others to line their own pockets is: "Useless Staff". People who bask inside the unfair dismissal laws & draw pay without doing a matching amount of work.

Humanity SHOULD drive our industrial relations policy. I couldn't agree more, thus we must stop FORCING employers to support those whose work output is insufficient to match the minimum wage. Neither must employers be FORCED to support those whose temper & disposition causes disruption in the workplace.

Society's attitude toward the poor should be exactly that, SOCIETY'S attitude, the task of financing the recalcitrant, idle & useless should NOT be forced onto anyone unfortunate enough to hire one of these lead swingers.

Got it yet?
Anonymous said…

Be careful not to get caught up in the rhetoric. After writing this comment yesterday, I went to visit some business owners in Blackburn. They run a furniture franchise, and I talked to them about the new laws. They expect little will change for them.

They are smart people, and they have always done the due diligence on their potential employees throughout probationary periods. If the worker is not suitable, they tell them during this period. They have never had a problem with unfair dismissal because of this, and they say it is more important for them to focus on keeping good staff, rather than finding ways to sack bad ones.

There is a lot of rhetoric out there, and you have to be careful not to use extreme examples to bolster your case. Otherwise, there are two groups of Australians, good hard working battlers and spineless dole bludging bastards whose mothers would spit on them if they were still alive. Starting to sound a bit like Stan Zemanek right... Keep it rational.
Anonymous said…
nahum ayliffe: Haven't seen this commenter Stan, it isn't me however.

If you feel it is all rhetoric, then you won't have any problem hiring one of the walking dead as a housekeeper? Obviously you are not one who is in the unenviable position of being "married" to one of these galoots.

For some people the unfair dismissal laws are not a gentle wank, but a real & ongoing problem.

Got your hand off it yet?
thr said…
Your arguments took a dive when you requested "get your hand off it"...

Your points were thin as best.

BTW before you mouth off, do a little research:

Stan Zemmanek's official website:
Info about Stan's views:
As a contractor, I say "welcome to my world employees of Australia". Fitter and turners "negotiating" their way into new contracts? I don't think so- "sign here or..." more like.

I think the laws should be skewed in favour of employees - rather like the presumption of innocence, the batsman getting the benefit of the doubt etc. Why? Because employers generally have the finances, the education and the experience to whack any employee any time they want. We all have stories about unscrupulous employers, and skewing the laws their way will just cement the position.

My (late) father worked representing employers in wrongful dismissal cases. In a very high percentage the employer had either:
1/ Not followed due (simple) process
2/ Took the "I hire 'em I fire 'em" attitude.

Some cases were breath taking. eg: A woman announces she's pregnant- she gets three warnings for poor performance within a two months (after 3 years of flawless work) and she's out the door. My old man explains "I think you have a problem" and the guy says "Screw thi, I hire 'em I fire 'em". He lost- as he should. There were many more like this- and many cases where the "wronged" employee just gave up.

And these laws are going to fix that?

Jeremy said…
I agree with a lot of the arguments against unfair dismissal laws. My problem with this is that the package isn't solely about getting rid of those laws, they're about reducing the wage safety net which the award system currently maintains by opening up the possibility of individual AWA contracts which don't meet the 'no disadvantage' test. When you tie in an absolute right to hire and fire workers, you've got a recipe for masses of people moving towards the minimum wage/conditions and the rise of the working poor. This is particularly likely in industries like cleaning where there is high competition and high % of wage costs. This is then coupled with a new minimum wage body which is designed to make sure wage increases are anything but fair, despite it's orwellian name.

The problem with scrapping the unfair dismissal laws to me is entirely linked to the rest of the package.
Anonymous said…
ThomasR: Calling a wanker a wanker hardly renders the point of my argument invalid.

Thanks for the link to Stan, he is a radio personality, not a commenter here, ok. Afraid I am not much wiser about what he sounds like. (Crikey, how IS his surname pronounced?)

I stand by my statement that anyone who supports the current unfair dismissal legislation deserves a ticket to Bali.

Thomas, you make it sound as if there is something WRONG with "I hire 'em, I'll fire 'em"
This is a perfectly valid argument. Are YOU prepared to be forced to pay forever a salary to someone who is not worth it?

The unfair dismissal laws are a form of privatisation of the welfare system, the useless who manage to inveigle their way into a job are "set for life", (& thus taken off the unemployment statistics)

For the employers who are caught by this vile system, it is not just a "wank" of typing on a page, but a real & corrosive cost to their business, their life & their other staff.

Get into reality cobber, have a go yourself, your views are fine whilst it is in the abstract, while someone else is paying, but if it was costing YOU, your mugging by reality would ensure one of the swiftest turnarounds in history!
Anonymous said…
Hey Steve,

Every employed anyone?

Anonymous said…
Anonymous, what is the relevance of trying to employ someone?
Jeremy said…
And steve, you're vastly overstating your case here. It's absurd to say that people are "set for life" in a job and absurd to say that everyone knows how to game the system and is able to do so effectively every time. Employers are able to fire people under unfair dismissal laws, they just need to meet certain procedural requiements. Sure, there are borderline cases where the worker should be sacked but isn't because the employer can't prove the strict letter of the law, but as long as they know how to give the correct warnings and as long as they know how to keep written records of wrongdoing, they certainly can get rid of poor workers. And, yes, I do know people who own small businesses and I do know of them getting rid of full time workers.
Anonymous said…
Its all so simple when you write it like that Jeremy.

Picture yourself paying for a part-time house help for your ailing parents: After some months you notice that your mother's jewellery box seems to be emptier, & that there isn't quite as much silverware around the house.

You deduce that the home helper is "helping herself". What do you do?

I'll tell you what you CAN'T do, & that is stop the thefts by getting rid of the home helper.

You must allow the thefts to continue until such time as you can (in your own time & with your own resources) collect sufficient evidence of theft for a successful criminal prosecution.

Meantime your parent's lifetime treasures are all gone. And you have had to pay good wages to watch a calculating theif steal from your parents.
Anonymous said…
Steve at the pub,

The reason I asked was it was you seemed to be so ignorant of unfair dismissal laws that it was pretty obvious you were unlikely to have ever employed someone. In your latest example about a housekeeper they would have to be employed for more than 3 months before the current unfair dismissal laws come in to play, just as the same laws do not cover casuals. There are also provisions for summary dismissal for serious misconduct which includes theft which you naturally would have to have some evidence for since it may have been their delinquent son who, needing more money to support his drinking binges at the local pub, had decided to cover his tracks by blaming the housekeeper.

Anonymous said…
Anonymous (Cameron),

You don't have any idea of the unfair dismissal laws.

Neither do you get the point of the housekeeper example.
thr said…

you are way out of your depth.

The "I hire 'em I fire" policy refers to emplyers (such as my example) who fire good employees when they are a liabilty- injured, pregnant etc.

maybe you should go home from teh pub now, you're slurring.

Anonymous said…
ThomasR, you seem to have a grip on the rationale & theory behind the unfair dismissal laws.

However your grip on the reality of these laws is not as strong.

Getting a little sloppy in "teh" typing are we? Just who has spent too much time in the pub? You are hardly the first "barstool expert" I have seen, time for a taxi for you old son!
Anonymous said…
You all smell and suck
Anonymous said…
The reforms are so obviously one-sided. Employers are the ones who will profit (in more ways than one) if the reforms are materialised. I'm seventeen, still in school and I work two jobs in order to make up the appropriate hours to cover my expenses. Contemplating the effect the reform will have on myself and others in my circumstance is troubling indeed. In the respect of my education and the days and times that I am avaliable to work now and also in the future (teriary study).

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