'Employers never had it so good', says academic

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'Employers never had it so good', says academic

Prime Minister John Howard's (in)famous remark that 'people have never had it so good' should really have been 'business has never had it so good', according to a leading IR academic.

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Prime Minister John Howard's (in)famous remark that 'people have never had it so good' should really have been 'business has never had it so good', according to a leading IR academic.

Dr John Buchanan, head of Sydney University's Workplace Research Centre told a seminar this week that employers are in the ascendancy - not because of economic circumstances but because of political circumstances.

Wage share lowest in 30 years

'The wages share of national income is the lowest in 30 years,' he said. 'There is almost no industrial action, and the economic context is one of "significant boom".

'There should be significant wage pressure, but instead it is all quiet - there is just a bit here and there.'

WorkChoices 'very radical'

Buchanan attributed the rosy situation for business to the Federal Government's WorkChoices laws. 'WorkChoices has been very radical,' he said.

Buchanan said WorkChoices had three components:

  • Centralised labour laws based on corporate power and Ministerial discretion. The Minister for Workplace Services has certain powers to issue a declaration where protected industrial action threatens life, personal safety, health or welfare of the population or is likely to cause significant damage to the economy, and the wide use of the regulation-making power allows for an extension of those matters considered prohibited content.
  • It tilts bargaining power to employers. WorkChoices starts with the premise that unions have too much power, and so introduced secret ballots and strict laws on strikes.
  • It shrinks the previous labour laws via prohibited content, with only 18 matters allowable in awards. Agreements can override all award rights, and only need meet five statutory minima.

Laugh in amazement

'Only Australia has employer Greenfield agreements,' Buchanan said. 'They laugh in amazement at such a concept in other parts of the world. It is a time of employer ascendancy, they can decide what kind of agreement they want.

'You even have unilateral negotiations, with the employer saying what the wage rise will be, as the Commonwealth Bank has done.'

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