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Union intervention stands in way of higher wages

By Genevieve George - posted Friday, 15 February 2013

In his speech last week to the National Press Club, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver addressed the issue of what he called "insecure work" in Australia.

His and the ACTU's goal for Australian workers of a reasonable work-life balance is naturally commendable, but the notion that single-employer job security is the optimal arrangement for all workers is not a given.

It also smacks of moral panic to suggest that, "people [are] bidding each other's wages and conditions down in a race to the bottom in the hope of finding any work at all."


The German IBM example he cites to support this alleged doomsday epidemic of neo-liberal outsourcing merely demonstrates one global conglomerate's solution to improving its operational efficiency.

And it is simply wrong to suggest that, "because all contracts will be global, national labour laws will not apply." At very least, German legislation and that of a worker's home country would be applicable to some degree.

The degree to which employment laws cover various work arrangements, including providing services across international borders are, of course, a matter for national legislatures and negotiation among nation-states.

Further, the ACTU chief is scared that IBM Germany's foreign-based workers, "will be chosen from applicants who register on an electronic personnel platform derived from the auction site eBay."

Whether this indicates a fear of eBay or the internet generally may only be speculated upon, but one would think that innovative web-based platforms would be an ideal response to connecting employers with jobseekers.

There appears to be an underlying assumption to Mr Oliver's words that just because a company in a significant first-world economy is offshoring work that it will inevitably be done by cheap, substandard, third-world labour.


For a start, the fact that IBM in Germany is looking offshore for skilled labour presents a lucrative opportunity for appropriately-qualified Australian workers to provide their services to a leading IT company.

Secondly, the boom of remotely-provided global IT services from areas like the Philippines and the Indian subcontinent shows that developing countries are equipped to deliver high-quality services, including to Australian firms.

It is pertinent to point out that the ability for an Australian telecommunications provider, for example, to offshore its call centre operations could enable it to spend additional funds on building infrastructure back home.

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About the Author

Genevieve George is the managing director of the job-matching website

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