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IR reform no bad thing

By Graeme Haycroft - posted Monday, 27 March 2006


After months of dire warnings, gnashing of teeth, and impassioned wailing largely by the self-interested, the morally vain, assorted do-gooders and myriad professional worriers; well - it’s finally all happening. According to them, Australian workplaces are now going to be changed dramatically with the poor and weak about to be oppressed, exploited and sacked at random. Australia's egalitarian traditions will be thrown out the window. Gosh, if it wasn't for Barnaby Joyce, we would have lost Christmas too.

What rubbish!

Let’s look at what has already happened that everybody has conveniently ignored, and what the legislation will now let us do. More importantly, let’s consider what is most likely to be done in workplaces and the effect that those measures will have.

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I am an employer of between 800 and 900 workers. Also, I charge other businesses lots of money to help them implement practical workplace changes that will put dollars on their bottom line. My perspective is necessarily different from an employee of an institution about to lose their career because their services are soon to become extraneous.

Let me opine that, overall, not much will change noticeably. (Sorry Barnaby, we weren't ever actually going to lose Christmas.) Most of what is proposed to change, and condemned as dire, changed some time ago. It's just that most of it is not yet technically legal.

We have been distracted from these realities because the Commonwealth Government has managed to spook everybody with what has arguably been one of the worst marketing campaigns about anything ever. If you remember, it sort of went like this:

We have like this really big new idea. Everything is going to change dramatically. The country will be better off. Trust us - you will be happy.

Maybe I missed something.

Simply letting people get on with what they have been doing is hardly a "big idea" (which is Australian for “really dopey”) or even a new one for that matter. All we can conclude is that whoever came up with and agreed to the workplace policy campaign must have got their marketing qualifications along with a plastic toy from a cereal box.

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Here is the reality. More than 20 per cent  of workers called "permanent casuals" now work flexible and continuous rosters, many for more than 40-hours a week. Another 20 per cent or so are so-called "contractors" or "enterprise workers". In a strict sense, the legal status of all these arrangements has been problematic. Yet everybody had ignored this fact because the arrangements suit the parties. The new legislation will simply allow most of these existing satisfactory working arrangements to be legalised. Gosh!

In our experience, workers want not only money for their labour but also reasonable and continuous  regularity of that income stream. They have mortgages and cars, and families to feed and educate. That’s why we value people having permanent jobs as opposed to casual ones. The problem has been that the rules that applied to permanent employment simply made it uneconomical for employers, particularly small businesses, to employ more staff.

When you consider the hullabaloo and consternation that has surrounded this new legislation, it is sad that the unnecessarily complicated new rules that now apply to permanent employment simply won’t fit the small business workplace’s cultural or cost needs. In some respects, it’s worse than what we had under the previous legislation.

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Article edited by Natalie Rose.
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About the Author

Graeme Haycroft has been involved in workplace issues for over four decades. He is one of the founders of the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland.

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