Australia’s Corporate Employers have an itchy trigger finger…and can’t stop talking!

28 August 2013

Brian Boyd - Secretary VTHC

The federal election is not far away but the employer peak bodies and now individual corporate heads can’t stop pushing an increasingly aggressive anti-worker agenda.

Big business even plant stories in the media that Abbott is ‘too soft’ on IR. They provoke some of his shadow cabinet colleagues to push the envelope for more anti-worker, anti-union laws when he becomes Prime Minister.

Abbott’s IR spokesperson Eric Abetz seized on the woes of the Holden car maker and called on all employers to insist on “common sense” from their workforces and cop cuts to pay and working conditions to ‘save jobs’! Abetz said all wages need to be linked to ‘productivity’.

The Chief Executive of the building materials company Fletcher, Mark Adamson said recently, in his British accent, that Australia needs: “a dose of Margaret Thatcher”. (A reference back to the 1980’s when the then arch-conservative British Prime Minister used thousands of police to attack coal miners and other workers).

Adamson said he was “surprised” at established wages and conditions here and advocated a “freeing up” of labour laws.

Chevron Australia managing director Roy Krzywosinski said Australia had to get its “policy setting right” and “fix industrial relations” or risk losing billions of dollars of investment in the energy/LNG sector. Abbott’s answer was to set up a working group to oversee the return of the ABCC and the setting in place of other anti-union machinery to assist the corporations like Chevron.

Master Builders Australia Chief Wilhelm Hernisch and Manufacturing Australia head Sue Morphet joined in the corporate to call on Tony Abbott to do more. Abbott replied “I want Australian workers to be amongst the best paid in the world, [but] you’ve got to be among the most productive in the world”, he insisted.

He went on to condemn the conditions of some Fly-in, Fly-out (FIFO) workers who get time off to see family and friends, saying such industrial agreements are now “not conducive to making Australia an attractive place to invest and to create more jobs”. [In other words he wants working conditions in our resources sector to resemble what happens in places like Dubai. There Indian and Pakistani workers on major projects work seven days a week, 12 hours a day and return home to their villages every two years!]

And what about those hundreds of thousands of Australian workers who have nothing to trade with respect to the so called ‘productivity = pre wages’ formulae?

If you are, for example, a childcare worker and you deal with 20 children a day in a small crèche, five days a week. What do you do to get a pay rise? Squeeze more children in? Ask the parents if the children can come back over the week-end?

Boral chief executive Mike Kane joined in the anti-worker bashing by lamenting that even the limited industrial rights of Australian workers was too much. “Anywhere else in [the] developed world…illegal activity would be stopped immediately”, he told a corporate gathering recently.

And the anger over the union campaign to expose how 457 visa workers are being used by employers to undermine hard won wages and conditions, only increased as the federal election loomed.

The conservative media went into a frenzy when the visa fees went up from $455 to $1035. But the real anger was about how the vast increase in 457 labour over recent years, had been exposed. Not exposed in itself but exposed as a sham. The 457 scheme was supposedly for filling jobs that could not or were not being filled by local labour. In addition, when a 457 visa worker took the job he or she would also be paid in full the wages and all entitlements applying within Australia. This has not been the case for a long time.

Many of the reactionary commentators who get a run in a mainstream media often report the rant that union workplaces are down to less than 20% coverage. Yet this doesn’t stop pages and pages being written about ‘union power’ and ‘union excesses’.

The Abbott IR policy is all about tighter union right of entry into workplaces, not higher wages. Abbott at his Sunday 25 August 2013 election launch revisited his conservative heroes of Reagan, Thatcher and Howard, in his speech.

Working people do not want Tony Abbott to be their Prime Minister. It hurts most of them to see what is in front of them and what will happen after September 7th.

The Australian Financial Review gloated over the Holden situation in South Australia.

“Welcome to your pay cut” was the headline of a feature article.

The journalist predicted (off just one company’s situation) that the days of having a say about your own wages and conditions “are over”! Worse, he wrote, employees (not Holden’s but across the board) are so “anxious to keep their jobs”, they are [going to] offer reduced conditions! How absurd. What a stretch for a mainstream newspaper, yet anything goes in the psychological war being conducted against working people.

The following week, in the back of the papers of course, a conservative newspaper quietly reported: “Companies wary but profits are holding steady…corporate activity is starting to pick up…”

Where’s the economic crisis demanding that Australian workers be screwed down to the bone?

Workers are entitled to ask such questions and more importantly to defend their wages and conditions.