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WorkChoices: Fair or not, they're here to stay.
November 13, 2006 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Australiafilter: The Australian High Court handed down its ruling today on the constitutionality of the Howard Government's new Industrial Relations laws, called 'Workchoices', deeming them constitutional by a vote of 5 to 2 (full text of the decision here). Two dissenters, Justices Michael Kirby and Ian Callinan, argued that upholding the laws changes the very nature of the Australian federal system and is "in contradiction of, what was intended and expressed in the constitution by the founders." Whilst bloggers and academics debate the nature of the laws and how fair or unfair they are, the simple fact now is that the laws are here to stay unless there is a change of Government at the 2007 federal election. Find out what it means for you as an employee from both the Howard Government's view and the Union's point of view so you can know your rights at work and decide for yourself.
posted by Effigy2000 (24 comments total)

 
I was disappointed. I thought it was some wacky Australian court.
posted by smackfu at 5:33 PM on November 13, 2006


Here's a summary of the decision if you don't feel like reading the whole text of the court's decision I linked to in the FPP.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:37 PM on November 13, 2006


"I was disappointed. I thought it was some wacky Australian court."
posted by smackfu at 11:33 AM AEST on November 14

I was dissapointed too. It was a wacky Australian court that made the decision. One stacked to buggery with Capital C conservatives by a Capital C conservative Government.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:42 PM on November 13, 2006


Did you guys have closed shops now in terms of unions? This whole thing sounds lousy--and hasn't Howard been there way too long anyway already?
posted by amberglow at 7:31 PM on November 13, 2006


THE WORKERS UNITED WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED!

</obvious>
posted by Jimbob at 7:32 PM on November 13, 2006


And how does the Govt. changing take all this away? If your High Court rules it's constitutional, what can they do?
posted by amberglow at 7:32 PM on November 13, 2006


Did you guys have closed shops now in terms of unions?

It's very rare; I don't think there are really any industries where union membership is compulsory, although it's still high in the traditional sectors (mining, shipping, building, teaching). It should be noted that unions are the reason why Australian workers enjoy a minimum wage of $12.75 per hour (or is it more than that, now?) and much greater job security than their American counterparts. The Howard Government's push to weaken industrial relations protections for workers is purely ideological - in "boom times", it's hard to see any evidence that business was suffering under the existing law.
posted by Jimbob at 7:36 PM on November 13, 2006


If your High Court rules it's constitutional, what can they do?

Change the laws. The High Court ruled that the new laws (which effectively remove state control through a bit of a loophole) are legal. There's nothing to stop the Labor party coming to powers and reverting or changing those laws - the High Court challenge was just an attempt to get the laws thrown out while the conservative government is still in power.

(Should be noted that currently in Australia the federal government is conservative, while the Labor party holds power in every state and territory government, in many cases by a wide margin.)
posted by Jimbob at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2006


It's funny to recall that once, way back in the past, the Liberal Party were Federalists not centralists.

I can't stand the way the constitutional powers have been misused, particularly the corporations one. Still, it did stop the daming of the Franklin way back when, so it's not all bad. And the fact of the Feds controlling the purse strings means they will always have the whip hand. I reckon the States should club together and de-refer their income taxation powers from the Commonwealth.
posted by wilful at 7:39 PM on November 13, 2006


Assuming both a change of government, and the Coalition (plus assorted religious nuts) losing their majority in the Senate, the new government could just ram through their own version of the IR laws (potentially undoing all of this).

These changes were only made possible by the Senate majority granted in the last election. Prior to the 2004 election (which changed the Senate composition effective mid 2005), no government had controlled both houses since 1975 (from memory), something which had helped keep the more extreme elements out of both sides' ideologies from becoming law.
posted by blender at 7:41 PM on November 13, 2006


It's funny to recall that once, way back in the past, the Liberal Party were Federalists not centralists.

Also amusing to recall that they supported personal freedom, and allowed their members to vote against the party line. Aaah, good times, good times.
posted by Jimbob at 7:47 PM on November 13, 2006


As much as his boosters are loathe to admit it, one day there will be no Howard Government, there will be no Coalition Government, there will be a Labor Government in Canberra, and Mr Howard’s actions, which have precipitated this court case in the first place, have just handed that future Labor Government an enormous amount of power. - Some "Blogger".
posted by Jimbob at 8:08 PM on November 13, 2006


When I was younger I never really understood why US people are citizens of their state first and their country second.

Shit like this makes me see exactly why they want everything in state hands. After all, if one state becomes shit just pack up and move to another. If the country institues crap legislation you're pretty much boned.
posted by Talez at 9:36 PM on November 13, 2006


I'm Canberra-bound, but I'm still yet to meet anyone who actually likes the AWAs. Is it just big-business pushing these things, or is there some groundswell of support from regular blokes that I'm just not hearing about, being here?
posted by barnacles at 9:58 PM on November 13, 2006


My generally lefty mate is a small businessban whose got all of his staff on AWAs. He does pay well above the award, but he strips a lot of conditions.
posted by wilful at 10:02 PM on November 13, 2006


Wilful, as a case study, do you know the justification your generally lefty mate uses - why doesn't he like awards? Why are "conditions" something he needs to strip?

Any acceptance of AWAs by the general population comes purely from the unique circumstances many people currently find themselves in. With house prices incredibly high, interest rates rising, people are willing to grab whatever cash they can at the expense of stability. For me, stability is much more important - I like to know where I am, and that the situation won't suddenly change at the whim of management. If they're going to sack me, it had better be for a good reason, not just because senior management didn't do their jobs properly and mismanaged the business. This is what enables me to pay my costs and plan ahead for my family. People who are giving up conditions for a quick buck might find themselves in a lot of trouble as times get tougher.

It's been suggested that the decline of unionism and industrial action is correlated with rising debt levels. 30, 40 years ago people had savings. People weren't putting 40% of their income into the roof over their heads. They could afford to pay union dues, and they could afford to strike in order to fight for their wages and conditions. Now days, losing a week's income in a strike could cost people their homes.
posted by Jimbob at 10:13 PM on November 13, 2006


barnacles, in my circle of friends I know of nobody who has asked for an AWA, or even been able to "bargain" one - it's purely business that's pushed AWAs, and they're all rather one-sided "agreements".

Smart businesses use indirect pressure tactics - there's very few who have pulled the "sign the AWA or out the door" scam, because they tend to end up on current affairs shows during a slow news week. Indirect tactics work very well in an economy where times have been so good, and home ownership / residential investment hyped so unremittingly, that every second person is living on overtime payments, mortgaged to the hilt, and at the mercy of a 0.25% interest rate rise. Coming from an industry with near-permanent overtime 7 days a week, the pressure I saw was more of the form of "no overtime this weekend or next - oh, by the way, if you sign an AWA you can earn up to double your current wage! (Oh, and just quietly, you'll get first crack at any overtime too..)".

I knew a few people who screamed bloody murder because they were "forced" into signing an AWA - with 2.3 kids in private schools, a mortgage on a new house, plus 2 investments negative-geared to the hilt, they quite literally couldn't afford to miss an hour of overtime in a week. I'm talking mid/upper blue collar workers here; average base wage of $45k~$55k.

And then you look at the AWAs they were "forced" to sign. $32k base, points for productivity, and $$ bonuses for points above a certain threshold. Sounds good, and with the right sort of work, they could be earning $80k+ a year. The only problem was the base threshold, and the link between productivity points and the $$, wasn't fixed in the agreement - they were determined by "policy", which could (and did) change at any time during the life of the agreement. The employer could change them at whim, and the only recourse was to suck it up until renewal time. Up until earlier this year, employees had the option of refusing a new AWA and returning to the award; since then, the options are (a) re-sign, or (b) resign.

(Sorry for the wandering tense in there; I'm out of that job now and gainfully unemployed while waiting/hoping to get a mature-aged entry into university next year.)
posted by Pinback at 2:53 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]


Sounds good, and with the right sort of work, they could be earning $80k+ a year.

It's a bit like that famous survey - 50% of people believe they're the richest 5%. People sign AWAs thinking they're going to be the ones earning $80,000 a year, when in reality, if the company intended to be paying people $80,000 there are simpler ways to do that.

I had an option to switch from an award to an AWA that offered me a bonus for every extra $1million over a target amount the organisation managed to earn. I turned it down and stuck with the award, thank you very much.
posted by Jimbob at 3:53 AM on November 14, 2006


Can someone give me a quick, plain language explanation of what an AWA is? (It's very interesting to hear about big common law non-US case -- thanks.)
posted by footnote at 5:59 AM on November 14, 2006


The only problem was the base threshold, and the link between productivity points and the $$, wasn't fixed in the agreement - they were determined by "policy", which could (and did) change at any time during the life of the agreement.

BAM ! They were suckered into signing something that didn't look that bad (, but they also didn't have many other options because of their load of debt and "lack" of positions.

Ahhh but public school wasn't enough, public transport is for losers and privatization is always, always the best even if it could look a lot , lot worse (maybe because it is) Also there is a life after death, sure.
posted by elpapacito at 7:37 AM on November 14, 2006


I was disappointed. I thought it was some wacky Australian court.

You mean a kangaroo court, mate?

[skulks away quietly]
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:05 AM on November 14, 2006


Can someone give me a quick, plain language explanation of what an AWA is?

Someone else is likely to come along with a better explanation than me and the wiki, but basically:

1. Awards grant all workers doing the same job in the same industry the same pay and conditions.
2. Enterprise agreements are a level below that, applying to a single enterprise or organisation.
3. Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) are essentially individual contracts, signed between a worker and the employer.
posted by Jimbob at 9:27 AM on November 14, 2006


Jimbob, it's a matter of flexibility for him and not having to pay penalties. He's in hospitality so his key opening times are weekends and public holidays. He can't afford to open on Sundays with double time, or triple time on public holidays. He also needs to be able to send someone home after two hours if there's no action. And he can't have staff taking their leave at christmas time, it simply does not work for him. Also, he needs a 3 month probation period to weed out the utter duds.

He's a decent boss and wouldn't be in business if he had to apply the basic award. There's potential for abuse and misuse in his AWA, by someone acting in bad faith, but he just wants to pay a reasonable wage and have happy employees. he pays (I think) $18 an hour when the award is $14.20.
posted by wilful at 5:22 PM on November 14, 2006


Just to clarify, Awards are federal or state laws stating the minimum rates of pay and conditions. Many employers offer more in the form of an individual contract or as a policy.
AWAs are a little more than individual contracts, as they typically apply the same conditions to a class of employee at a single firm. They need to be registered with the government to be enforced.
Individual contracts have been, and remain very common, and can deliver all the benefits for employers an AWA delivers, but must deliver above the minimum award. Indeed, they could not be enforced if they were detrimental to the employee compared to the award.
The Workchoices legislation is basically scrapping that test, allowing workers on an award to "choose" the AWA, even if it specifies less annual leave, sick leave, overtime etc.
At this point, with the economy doing quite well, many employers are offering AWAs that offer several percent higher wages over the award, with similar conditions. These look attractive.
Unfortunately, its a one time choice, so if you leave the protections of the award, you cannot go back.
And in 12 months time when it is time to renew the AWA the employer may want to cut pay and conditions to lower than the award.
At that time, you can individually bargain (good luck, replaceable call centre worker) or you can quit, or you can accept the screwing Howard arranged for you.
It sure ain't a step toward social justice.
posted by bystander at 9:07 PM on November 14, 2006


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