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Working for Less. Sounds About RIght   Dec 2 2005

Filed under Editorial by The Cigar

Egalitarian societies – you don’t hear much about them nowadays, yet on the face of it our freedom seems never greater.

Our freedom down at the ol’ Woolies or K-Mart, maybe. Talk about freedom of choice. Why, you can choose shit, or cheaper shit.

I can hang around there for hours feeling free. Not without a job, big but however.

Or had one but worked at the low end of town, and lived (using the term loosely) in the U.S. Then I’d be struggling to feed my face, let alone my fancy.

Well, the pointy heads at Sheep Station Central, the good old matey’s meeting place, Canberra, are dead set on the US-NZ model. Proponents change subject confronted by the eerily-true-ringing anectode that when ‘WorkChoices’ hit kiwi-land the working poor made a choice all right, they chose Australia.

Tossing out the baby (bath water, etc.) while adjusting the dirty nappy with 700 proscriptive pages of amendments to a now extraordinarily-complex industrial relations law – you can see it’s a mouthful just making a one-liner of it.

Our fine Government spinners make much of excluding unwanted ‘third parties’ (dreaded labor unions) from workplace negotiations. The squires have been grinding this axe ever since the bloody shearer’s strike. Or those dastardly Stone Masons scored the 40-hour working week in Melbourne of 1852.

Finally got the bastards.

Leaving hard-nosed, undoubtedly smart, certainly cunning, and obviously highly-remunerated, BOSSES toe2toe with equally erudite, legally briefed, industrially capable (not! in case you’re missing the hyperbole) WORKERS who want to be even slightly remunerated – that’s the core of all this hooha, money, and as little of it as possible for the working unwashed. The half-mill boss telling the half-grand nobody they’re lucky to get sixty hours a week at A$8/hour for their six month ‘trial’ and then we’ll see, and if you don’t like it effoff, there’s plenty more crap like waiting for work.

Oh, …er, Kev, John, are we ignoring the company lawyers or can they get in the ring sort of tag-team with the boss?

Certainly the legislation seeks to remove labor unions exclusivity from workplace negotiating, yet it strangely confines management decision-making in this area with the ultimate arbiter being the gosh darn minister himself. Ok, whatever.

Protagonists proffer no matter how low-end a potential worker might be, she or he has the power to say ‘no’ and walk away if the pay and conditions don’t suffice.

Yeah, right. Watch our friend off the street with room-temperature IQ read the fine print before signing, or our other friend with graying hair, intimtely acquainted with the concept of ‘dross,’ turning down his first work offer this year at $5 an hour.

WorkChoices indeed.

There might not be a great amount of social planning in Canberra (don’t confuse the malevolent agendas of a government cabinet loaded with self-made millionaires with planning) – well, maybe the potent exception of lobbyists offices whose lights burn 24 hours – but there is endless cunning. During a recent consensus media snooze earlier this year Centerlink welfare was ravaged and payments reduced, starting with the most vulnerable single mums (no surprise there) and the stage thus set for low wages – shortly to be virtually legislated – to appear so much more attractive than welfare for these mother-bludgers.

In New Zealand and the United States over the past 12 months bottom-end workers’ wages have declined – look up the same period % increase in CEO troughing; you do it, I’m feel nauseous – BUT as full employment encroaches business seems unable to coax that last few percent of bums out of the hood.

Let me illuminate from personal anecdote if yourself, dear manager, cannot fathom the functional failure the theorists missed in their promissory fantasy – err, social economics. My 22 y/o son left a high-stress call center because he was miserable and A$14/hour just didn’t seem to cut it for the anguish and responsibility that, minute by minute, is humanly equivalent to any CEO’s. He’s not a kid off the street; he has a bevvy of TAFE technical qualifications and four years experience in the field outside the call centre.

A university student at our local Video shop is not too sure of her future after being terrorized by a thief at the store the other night, despite her handsome A$11/hour that must cover her transport to BOTH work AND university, food, clothes – oh, and that A$30,000 hex placed on her, .. err, HECS obligation from the Gummint for educating her.

A young IT Engineer friend, recently hired on FIXED salary of A$17/hour, with an allowance of $200 each week on call, spent that $200 on vehicle fuel during a week of call-outs whilst gaining no hourly compensation due to his salary agreement. He worked an extra 20 hours and LOST money (on gas) while saving his hi-tech outfit the best part of A$1million in maintained SLAs … and is now thoroughly enamored of his profession.

And the bums who won’t work?

My son will not be coaxed into being mugged delivering pizzas for $10/hour while paying his own vehicle running costs – so is happy to bludge off mum ‘n dad. It doesn’t bother me. I wouldn’t do that shit for that little amount of shit, either. Why? I grew up in a workplace guaranteeing a minimum wage agreement for a fixed working week, a system that made this country wealthy and great – whatever the rational for destroying it is.

This is all now, today, BEFORE the designed bottom-end wage collapse.






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Michael Leunig


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