The Fair Work Commission has announced a 3% hike in Australia’s national Minimum Wage, effective July 1, taking it to $19.49 per hour. That increase is lower than the 3.5% increase implemented last year.
As the great novelist Isaac Asimov wrote, “The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.” Business leaders and sympathetic commentators have adopted that advice with gusto, during current public debates over the unprecedented weakness of Australian wages.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission’s decision to press charges against 54 steelworkers for attending a political rally, with potential fines of up to $42,000 per person, is abhorrent on any level. No worker should face this kind of intimidation for participating in peaceful protest.
You would think that after 5 consecutive years of wage forecasts that wildly overestimated actual experience, the government might have learned from its past errors – and published a wage forecast more in line with reality. But not this government. They are still trying to convince Australian workers, who haven’t seen real average wages rise in over 5 years, that better times are just around the corner. And rosy wage forecasts are helpful in justifying their equally optimistic revenue forecasts: since if Australians are earning more money, they will be paying more taxes!
Australians tend to bring a fair bit of swagger to international comparisons of economic performance. After all, Australia has experienced twenty-eight consecutive years of economic growth without a recession—a record for industrial countries. We are the ‘lucky country’, with one of the highest material living standards in the world, a wealth of natural resources, and a ‘no worries’ ability to withstand global economic shocks.
A unique conjuncture of economic and political factors has created an opportunity for a historic change in the direction of Australia’s workplace and industrial policies. That’s the conclusion of Dr. Jim Stanford, Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work, in a major review article published in Economic and Labour Relations Review, an Australian academic journal.
There has been a lot of discussion about “living wages” in recent years – in Australia, and internationally. And now the idea has become a hot election topic. The ACTU wants the government to boost the federal minimum wage so it’s a true living wage. Opposition leader Bill Shorten has hinted he’s open to the idea. Business leaders predict economic catastrophe if the minimum wage is increased.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its detailed biennial survey of employment arrangements this week (Catalogue 6306.0, “Employee Earnings and Hours“). Once every two years, it takes a deeper dive into various aspects of work life. Buried deep in the dozens of statistical tables was a very surprising breakdown of employment by size of workplace.
ABC recently announced plans for a new 6-part television drama called “Diary of an Uber Driver.” The Centre for Future Work’s Director Jim Stanford wonders if this drama will truly constitute insightful drama – or whether it will serve to whitewash the labour practices of a controversial, exploitive industry.
Workers produce more, but get paid less. Business invests less in real capital, but their profits grow. Technology advances at breakneck pace, but so many jobs are degraded and menial (not to mention horribly paid). What gives? Australia’s labour market truly seems “upside down.”
Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, was recently featured in a new video produced in collaboration with United Voice and the Flip production company.
Workforce (a labour relations bulletin published by Thomson-Reuters) recently surveyed major IR figures in Australia on what they saw as the big issues in 2018, and what they expect as the major talking points for 2019. Jim Stanford, economist and Centre for Future Work director, was one of those surveyed, and here are his remarks. What
Australian wage growth has decelerated in recent years to the slowest sustained pace since the 1930s. Nominal wages have grown very slowly since 2012; average real wages (after adjusting for inflation) have not grown at all. The resulting slowdown in personal incomes has contributed to weak consumer spending, more precarious household finances, and even larger government deficits.
Recent legal decisions are starting to challenge the right of employers to deploy workers in “casual” positions on an essentially permanent basis. For example, the Federal Court recently ruled that a labour-hire mine driver who worked regular shifts for years was still entitled to annual leave, even though he was supposedly hired as a “casual.” This decision has alarmed business lobbyists who reject any limit on their ability to deploy casual labour, while avoiding traditional entitlements (like sick pay, annual leave, severance rights, and more). For them, a “casual worker” is anyone who they deem to be casual; but that open door obviously violates the intent of Australia’s rules regarding casual loading.
The Centre for Future Work recently published a symposium of research investigating the long-term decline in the share of Australian GDP paid to workers (including wages, salaries, and superannuation contributions). The four articles, published in a special issue of the Journal of Australian Political Economy, documented the erosion of workers’ share of national income, its causes, and consequences.
Trade unionists are gathering this week at the ACTU’s triennial Congress in Brisbane. Jim Stanford, Director of the Centre for Future Work, participated in a panel on the Future of Work (an apt title!) at the Congress.
Trade unionists from across Australia are gathering in Brisbane this week for the 2018 Congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. And the Centre for Future Work will be there!
Less than half of employed Australians now hold a “standard” job: that is, a permanent full-time paid job with leave entitlements. That’s the startling finding of a new report on the growing insecurity of work published by the Centre for Future Work.
Most Australians know in their guts that it’s pretty hard to find a traditional permanent job these days. And now the statistics confirm it: less than half of employed Australians have one of those “standard” jobs. And more than half experience one or more dimensions of insecurity: including part-time, irregular, casual, contractor, and marginally self-employed jobs.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has released a major policy paper outlining an ambitious, multi-faceted program to address the chronic shortage of work, and the steady erosion of job quality, in Australia. The full paper, Jobs You Can Count On, is available on the ACTU’s website. It contains specific proposals to stimulate much stronger job-creation, reduce unemployment and underemployment, improve job quality (including through repairs to Australia’s industrial relations system), and ensure that all communities (including traditionally marginalised populations like indigenous peoples, women, youth, and people with disability) have full access to the decent work opportunities that the plan would generate.
Mainstream economists and conservative political leaders profess “surprise” at the historically slow pace of wage growth in Australia’s labour market. They claim that wages will start growing faster soon, in response to the normal “laws of supply and demand.” This view ignores the importance of institutional and regulatory factors in determining wages and income distribution. In fact, given the systematic efforts in recent decades to weaken wage-setting institutions (including minimum wages, the awards system, and collective bargaining), it is no surprise at all that wages have slowed to a crawl. And the solutions to the problem are equally obvious: rebuild the power of those institutions, to support workers in winning a better share of the economic pie they produce.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent trade policies (including tariffs on steel and aluminium that could affect Australian exports) have raised fears of a worldwide slide into protectionism and trade conflict. Trump’s approach has been widely and legitimately criticised. But his argument that many U.S. workers have been hurt by the operation of current free trade
Progressives everywhere are grappling with developing policy proposals to improve the quantity and quality of work in our economy, as part of their broader vision for building more successful and inclusive societies. To this end, the Fabians Society in NSW recently published an interesting booklet of policy proposals, to inject into debate within the Labor Party and other fora. One chapter written by Sarah Kaine (Associate Professor at UTS and a member of the Centre for Future Work’s Advisory Committee) and Jim Stanford (Economist and Director of the Centre) deals head-on with the challenges facing work, and what can be done to make it better; it is reprinted below.
The Fair Work Commission unveiled its long-awaited decision on penalty rates for Sunday and holiday work this week. Penalty rates for most retail and hospitality workers will be cut, by up to 50 percentage points of the base wage. Hardest hit will be retail employees: their wages on Sundays will fall by $10 an hour or more. For regular weekend workers, that could mean $6000 in lost annual income.
You know that the tides of public opinion are starting to turn, when even the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Mr. Rod Sims, will come out in public and criticize the usual claims that privatization is good for efficiency and national well-being.
The rise of anti-globalization sentiment, including in Australia, poses a big challenge to mainstream politicians who’ve been trumpeting the virtues of free trade for decades.
It was a “sleeper” issue in the recent election, and led to the defeat of some high-profile Liberal candidates. But now the debate over penalty rates for work on weekends and public holidays shifts to the Fair Work Commission. The economic arguments in favour of cutting penalties (as advocated by lobbyists for the retail and
Voters typically rank economic issues among their top concerns. And campaigning politicians regularly make bold (but vague) pronouncements regarding their competence and credibility as “economic managers.” In popular discourse, economic “competence” is commonly equated with being “business-friendly.”
For someone who piously bemoans an “us versus them” mentality in political culture, Treasurer Scott Morrison certainly drove a deep wedge into the social fabric with one of the centrepieces of his budget. There are four thresholds in the personal income tax system; Morrison chose to increase one of them, supposedly to offset the insidious effects of “bracket creep.” The third threshold will be raised from $80,000 to $87,000.
In the lead-up to tomorrow’s pre-election Commonwealth budget, much has been written about the need to quickly eliminate the government’s deficit, and reduce its accumulated debt. The standard shibboleths are being liberally invoked: government must face hard truths and learn to live within its means; government must balance its budget (just like households do); debt-raters will punish us for our profligacy; and more. Pumping up fear of government debt is always an essential step in preparing the public to accept cutbacks in essential public services. And with Australians heading to the polls, the tough-love imagery serves another function: instilling fear that a change in government, at such a fragile time, would threaten the “stability” of Australia’s economy.