WorkChoices 'too harsh' even for US conservatives

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WorkChoices 'too harsh' even for US conservatives

Even US conservatives are 'stunned' by the Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation, according to an American labour studies expert.

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Even US conservatives are 'stunned' by the Howard Government's WorkChoices legislation, according to an American labour studies expert.

Professor Richard Freeman, an economics professor at Harvard and Director of the National Bureau of Economic Research labour studies program, said the WorkChoices legislation tries to destroy collective action and reduce standards.

In Australia to give the opening address at 2007 National Industrial Relations Conference, Freeman described WorkChoices as 'a can of worms' for Prime Minister John Howard.

'Why with such a successful economy and the unions doing no harm did the PM choose to open this can of worms and do so without any consensus evidence that this was a good way to go?' he asked.

Freeman says 'even US conservatives' are 'stunned' by the legislation.

'It tries to destroy collective action and reduce standards,' he said. 'It is too prescriptive in that it limits what workers, firms, and unions can bargain over. It does not fit a world where half of all workers are women and one third of new workers are college graduates.
'It is hard to see how a democratic society will accept such a tilt in labour law toward the powerful and wealthy, but I don't know the form the rejection will take.'

Inequality

Freeman said that under WorkChoices wages will fall and become more unequal.

'The kind of workplace reform that leads to greater productivity involves two things which this legal change completely ignores: greater worker participation in financial success of firms, through profit-sharing and share ownership, and greater involvement in decisions, which this law seems to gut in large part,' he said. 'And unions, just like John Howard, need to move into the 21st century. The[y] need to develop a new model for delivering services to highly educated workers in the private sector and low paid workers in service sectors, many in small firms, but without collective bargaining.

'I speculate that Howard is fighting ancient battles - the winter of discontent in England in the 1980s or something. This is not what it could have been - a labour law for the 21st century.'

More information

A public lecture by Professor Freeman - WorkChoices: Reform or retrogression in labour relations? A view from the other side of the world, will be held at Sydney University's Eastern Avenue Auditorium at 6pm on Thursday 13 September 2007. The lecture is free.

For more information, contact Kristy Bergin on 9351 5626 or k.bergin@econ.usyd.edu.au

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