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Another corporate mouthpiece calls for attack on our rights

Written by: Nick G. on 14 August 2020


We have already commented on demands by the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group (see below) that the federal government rewrite the industrial relations playbook in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These two corporate mouthpieces have now been joined by the so-called Centre for Independent Studies, a corporate think-tank whose claim to “independence” is as effective as the emperor’s new clothes in hiding its naked intentions.

The CIS has a 30-member Board comprising representatives of the very biggest end of town. Its Chairman is a former Chief Executive Officer of Macquarie Group Limited, and the names of finance capitalists, their legal attack dogs and foreign multinationals litter the CVs of Board members. Wesfarmers, Caltex, Prudential Finance, Cathay Pacific, QBE Insurance, SingTel, UBS, LJ Hooker, the American Chamber of Commerce, Deutsche Bank and Coca Cola Amatil are some of the better-known guarantors of the “independence” of the CIS.

One of the CIS’s leading opinion-makers is Murdoch columnist Judith Sloan (above). What are her credentials beyond the A$357,000 she was earning in 2018 for her work as contributing economics editor at the Australian?

Sloan was a commissioner on the Australian government's Productivity Commission and the Australian Fair Pay Commission, and she was deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and is a former board director of the Lowy Institute. She sat on the boards of several companies, including Mayne Nickless, SGIO Insurance, Santos, Primelife (chair).

Let’s keep all that in mind as we look at the report she has just published on behalf of the CIS.

Her report, released a few days ago, is called Industrial Relations in a Post-COVID World

Although the title implies a forward-looking approach, Sloan’s prescription is for a revival of Howard’s WorkChoices expressed in the double-speak of the pastoralists of the 1890s.  The pastoralists wanted to crush the unions and abolish award wages and sanctified this behind their demand for “freedom of contract” between individual shearers and pastoralists.

She bemoans the fact that the current industrial relations (IR) system is “highly prescriptive and complex, with substantial third party involvement”. The third parties she objects to are the unions, employer organisations and the Fair Work Commission.

She objects, not on behalf of the Board of CIS, but on behalf of the poor worker deprived of the benefits of “freedom of contract”. “There is also a strong collective bias in the system,” she complains, “with only limited rights of individual workers to make their own arrangements.” She continues:

Reform must mean moving away from a one-size-fits all approach and allowing employers and workers to agree to arrangements that suit themselves. Rather than having third parties such as the Fair Work Commission impose often uncommercial dictates on employers, the new approach must confer primacy on the common sense of employers and workers to establish mutually-acceptable arrangements in respect of wages and conditions. Freedom of contract needs to replace paternalistic and costly third-party intervention.

Pity the poor worker, shielded by unions and tribunals, from the common sense he or she shares with such unselfish types as Wesfarmers, Caltex and Co!

Didn’t Carlton United only want a “mutually-acceptable arrangement” with the workers they locked out?  Wasn’t that the benevolence behind ExxonMobil’s lock-out of its workforce at Longford? When Kimberly-Clark sent its production offshore, wasn’t that a “mutually-acceptable arrangement” with the 220 workers it sacked?

On Sloan’s hit-list are the minimum wage, permanent employment (“contain the risk of directly employing workers”),  the referral of IR powers to the Commonwealth, preventing “past regular casual workers (from being) able to claim back-payments for leave entitlements”, and  “matching the duration of greenfields agreements to the duration of projects”.

Her proposed changes to greenfield agreements echo those of the Minerals Council about which we said “Greenfields agreements are those negotiated between an employer and a union before the company has started operations.  At this stage there are no workers on site and the company can strike a deal with a preferred union and exclude unions it dislikes. Greenfields agreements run for four years at which stage the workers are free to negotiate a new agreement, hopefully with improved wages and conditions. By seeking to extend greenfields agreements for the life of the company’s operations, the MCA hopes to lock workers out of any future claims based on increases in their productivity and on the company’s profitability.”

She also wants either “a streamlined and simple award covering small businesses” or “enterprise contracts contemplated by the Productivity Commission, in which small businesses could seek variations to awards based on light-handed oversight.”

“Light-handed oversight” to cut wages and all other rights at work!

No doubt platforms will now be offered to Sloan to spoonfeed us her poisonous remedies to over-regulation and prescription.  

Forewarned is forearmed.  We know what their agenda is. Now we need to gather and unify our own forces for the coming struggles.
See also:
Stop the Minerals Council agenda for attacks on the people and the environment
Time for ‘fresh thinking’ on Industrial Relations says Australian Industry Group. Same old thinking from the capitalists, we say.


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