John Howard's introduction of the misnamed 'Work Choices' legislation in 2005 in the wake of an unprecented $55 million taxpayer-funded saturation propaganda advertising campaign must rank as one of the most breathtakingly fraudulent and despicable acts perpetrated by a Government of any modern democracy against its own people.
At a stroke of a pen, guaranteed entitlements that previous generations had taken for granted were removed: penalty rates for overtime and for working at anti-social hours, meal breaks, the right to refuse to work on public holidays and on weekends. The most basic right of all, the right not to be abitrarily dismissed was removed for workers in enterprises employing less than 100 workers, which would encompass the majority of employed workers in this country. Without this right, no other legislative protection counts for anything. Anyone who insists upon safe work pracitces, who resists sexual advances or even simply points out an 'error' in their pay statement may find themselves in a matter of weeks summarily dismissed with no explanation offered. Indeed Peter Mares put such a case interviewed the then Industry Minister was interviewed on "The National Interest"
"Job-destroying' unfair dismissal legislation?
The case for these laws have been, not untypically for these times, markedly Orwellian. The very name "Work Choices" conceals the reality that all choices save the 'choice' of being able to quit one's job is being taken out of the hands of employees.
When these laws were first being argued, John Howard habitually prepended the seemingly oxymoronic adjective 'job-destroying' whenever he referred to the unfair dismissal laws. They were said to be 'job-destroying' because employers who might have otherwise taken on workers would have been dissuaded from doing so by the existence of such laws. Statistical analysis has shown that the number of additional jobs that might not have been created if the Unfair Dismissal laws had not been removed, would have been negligible, and could therefore hardly justify the removal of such a basic right.
If we were to take John Howard's argument to its logical end, then any obligation upon employers could be construed as 'job-destroying'. Superannuation, Payroll Tax, Occupational Health and Safety Laws, laws to protect the environment, laws against child labour, etc, etc.
Workers to trade off annual leave for cash?
Other stances by Federal Government spokespersons stand in seeming contradiction to their supposed record of economic 'achievemet'. An example is the provisions for workers to trade in their entitlement to annual leave or even meal breaks (Can't cite the source heard it on Radion during the early stages of the debate). The argument once given by Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was that some workers might need the extra money more than the time off work.
This would surely pose the question: What work in 2005, after years of ostensible prosperity and wages growht would want less, rather more time off work? In reality, there probably a good many workers in John Howard's Australia, who are so cash-strapped, that if given the choice of trading away some of their annual leave entitlements in return for cash, would do so. This surely casts into question the measures of inflation and the Gross Domestic Product which economists use to substantiate their claimms of real wages growth. One of the most glaring omissions from inflation measures has since 1999 been housing. So the growing inability of greater numbers of ordinary Australians to obtain such a basic necessity is no longer taken into account when real wages growth figures are cited.
With such crippling mortgage levels it should be little surprise if some workers would were to choose cash rather than time off work, but whether or not this were to be the actual wish of the workers, we can expect that many such agreements will be offered in future to workers on a 'take it or leave it' basis.
1. But, be warned, in some workplaces, the mere act of joining a union, let alone participating in union activities, could lead to victimisation and dismissal. The fact that it is illegal will count for little when most employers have the right to dismiss any employee with giving a reason.