The shambles over the sacking and apparent ‘unsacking’ of 29 meat workers at an abattoir in Cowra shows the risks of rushing through ideologically driven laws without bothering to give adequate attention to how those laws will work in practice.
The new power of employers to be able to sack people for ‘operational reasons’ was a contentious issue when the legislation went through the Senate. The Democrats tried to amend the legislation to make it clear that such a termination had to be because the employer no longer wished the job to be done by anyone – by using the term ‘redundancy’ which has a well established legal meaning – yet the Government refused to consider the amendment, this leaving open the prospect of a much wider interpretation of ‘operational reasons’.
While the ‘unsacking’ at Cowra may have averted greater political embarrassment for the federal government, the issue of how the law can be applied is not settled. It is impossible to pronounce on the adequacy of protections in a law when a court has yet to determine the scope of that law.
Even though I don’t agree at all with the policy direction of the government’s radical workplace relations changes, the least they could do is try to ensure there is legal certainty for employers and employees, rather than leave it to the law of the jungle to determine what rights people have.
Research released today by Adelaide academic Prof Barbara Pocock suggests that poverty amongst low paid workers is increasing and also becoming more entrenched.
It seems likely this trend will get worse as the new workplace relations laws work their way into operation. Lower wages, less job security, much higher housing costs and higher levels of private debt are a worrying combination which is hitting more people, particularly the younger ones who are less likely to have equity in housing as some protection.
It seems reasonable to link this with the trend over recent years for the wealth gap between the haves and have nots in Australia to be growing larger.
One of the arguments used by conservatives for lower wages is that it provides more jobs and thus more chances for people to get into the workforce, which then gives them a ‘step up’ into higher paid jobs. Whilst this is undoubtedly true for some, it is also clear that more and more people are tending to remain at the low income level indefinitely.
This report in The Guardian also highlights how this is becoming a growing problem. It also outlines a new book by US author Anya Kamenetz called ‘Generation Debt’. Quoting from the PR website for the book:
Why were college students nationwide graduating with an average of nearly $20,000 in student loans? Why were her friends thousands of dollars in credit-card debt? Why did so many jobs for people under thirty-five involve a plastic name badge, last only short-term, and not include benefits? With record deficits and threats to Social Security, what kind of future was shaping up for our nation’s kids?
Whilst our social security and health systems in Australia are not (yet) as pernicious as those in the USA, there are undoubtedly still valid parallels that could be drawn.
– More on the working poor in this article.
– This article details the facts in another example of how the new laws are being used on employees with minimal bargaining power.