Howard admits wages can fall under his IR laws


Howard admits wages can fall under his IR laws

Prime Minister John Howard has admitted that existing wages for individual workers could fall under his new IR system.


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Prime Minister John Howard has admitted that existing wages for individual workers could fall under his new IR system.

Sunday program

In a savage report and interview on Channel 9’s Sunday program, both Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews were confronted with real life situation in which workers were losing wages and conditions through individual agreements. 

The exchange on wages

On the program reporter Sarah Ferguson asked Howard:

‘What is to stop, though, people in those industries that are governed only by price, where people bid against one another to provide services at the cheapest cost, what is to stop them bringing the wages down and down and down?  

HOWARD: ‘They can’t go down and down. I mean, that is the language of an industrial relations system that has no statutory minima. That is not our system. It’s a quite inaccurate depiction of our system.  

FERGUSON: ‘They can go down, can they not?  

HOWARD: ‘It is an inaccurate depiction of our system to say it’s about going down and down. We have a minimum. You can’t go below that.  

FERGUSON: ‘But you accept that people can be driven down below the point at which they’re at now?  

HOWARD: ‘Well, the question of whether somebody can be driven down from the point at which they are at now, that is an observation that can be made of any industrial relations system. The worst situation to be in, of course, is to lose your job.’ 

Steve - a case study

Howard was confronted with the situation of Steve, a sewerage worker employed by a contractor. 

STEVE: ‘Well, we’re on about $16.50 an hour on this job. There’s no conditions. We work for a private contractor and he virtually dictates to us, whatever, you know.

FERGUSON: ‘ ‘'Whatever'’ means no overtime, no annual leave loading, no paid lunch break and none of the other benefits, like the daily hygiene allowance, that the unionised workers get.’

Steve tells Sunday that the unionised Sydney Water workers get about $170 a week difference, for the same job.  

FERGUSON: ‘Critics call it “the race to the bottom”. So will the workplace end up with millions of Steves?’  

HOWARD: ‘I’m not going to even try and answer the Steve example because I don’t know all the details.’ 

Young apprentices on AWAs

The program then presents interviews with a group of young apprentices on AWAs.

One says: ‘We are guaranteed a minimum of three hours a week ... we’re on one flat rate, which includes our sick pay, our holiday pay, our Saturday, Sunday penalty rates. So if I take a day off sick, I don’t get any money.’ He also says he is paid a $17 an hour flat rate, which is not much above the award rate. 

Leave loadings and penalty rates

Ferguson asked Howard whether he said in 1979 that he thought leave loadings and penalty rates were ‘ridiculous’?  

HOWARD: ‘I would have said a lot of things in my political career. What I am being judged on now, quite fairly, is what this policy does. I don’t believe, speaking as I am, I don’t believe they are ridiculous. I believe they should be paid if they are in the award. If somebody is not covered by the award, then they should be a matter to be negotiated.’

Sachie - a case study

Howard is then presented with the case of ‘Sachie’, a waitress and manager at a café franchise operation who claims she was given an AWA, and told to sign it without reading it, or lose the job. 

She says she was not even paid when she was forced to drive from one cafe to another to continue work. 

‘He said I was listening to the radio in the car, relaxing, so he doesn’t have to pay,’ Sachie said.

FERGUSON: ‘… are you concerned about those people who will be placed in a more vulnerable position precisely because of the legislation?  

HOWARD: ‘Well, I don’t accept that lots of people will be placed in a vulnerable position.’

Workplace inspectors - too few

Ferguson then put to Workplace Relations Minister Andrews that: ‘According to the Government, this kind of abuse will be policed by newly recruited workplace inspectors.’

ANDREWS: ‘We’re going to boost it from currently about 90 to well over 200.

FERGUSON: ‘And how many workplaces are there in Australia?

ANDREWS: ‘I don’t know the exact number, but there are thousands and tens of thousands of workplaces.  

FERGUSON: ‘So with all the best will in the world, your inspectors are not going to be able to police every work force?  

ANDREWS: ‘Look, can I say, I don't start with the proposition that all bosses are bastards.’

Ferguson finished the program by commenting: ‘As far as business is concerned, the Government has covered all points of the compass. They’ve got the political will and now the power to rush the laws through. Only one question remains - will the people accept it?’

Full transcript

The full transcript of the program can be found here.


Federal IR changes 2005  


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