International evidence is clear that there is a strong, positive correlation between a country’s protection of labour freedoms, and the organising success and economic influence of unions. Improvements in basic labour rights and freedoms tend to be associated with increases in union membership (as a share of total employment). And stronger union membership, in turn, is associated with broader collective bargaining coverage, less poverty among working people, and less inequality.
Australia has a poor record of protecting basic worker and labour rights and freedoms: including rights to assembly, rights to organise, rights to due process, and rights to strike. According to the World Economic Forum (a generally business-friendly international policy organisation), Australia ranks 5th last among OECD countries in protecting worker rights.
A new study from the Centre for Future Work documents the correlation between workers' rights and union organising - and shows they are two sides of the same coin. And that correlation between workers' rights and the success of unions suggests that unions in Australia will need to continue their campaign to "Change the Rules" of Australia's labour market (including improving basic rights for workers to organise, bargain collectively, and take industrial action). Winning better legal and regulatory protections for workers seems essential to workers' ability to build stable, influential unions, and use those unions to improve their lives.Read more
The unexpected results of the 2019 Commonwealth election have sparked many commentaries regarding what happened, and why. This article, reprinted with permission from Workplace Express, considers the role of the major #ChangeTheRules campaign mobilised by Australian unions in the lead-up to the election - and ponders the movement's next steps in the continuing debate over labour market policies and industrial relations. It cites both our Economist Alison Pennington, and our Director Jim Stanford, as well as our previous research on the erosion of collective bargaining in Australia.
Workplace Express is Australia's leading labour policy and industrial relations newsletter. Please visit its website to subscribe.Read more
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.
In our judgment, this is inadequate to meet the needs of low-wage workers -- and the needs of Australia's macroeconomy.Read more
Centre for Future Work Economist Alison Pennington recently gave a keynote address to hundreds of delegates at the ATIA International Taxi Conference, held this year in Gold Coast, QLD.
Her presentation discussed the historical, economic, and moral context for the rise of "gig-economy" businesses, such as Uber. She reviewed Uber's business model, and the company's recent IPO, in detail, arguing that it depends on underpayment of its drivers -- who for all practical purposes are "employees," even if current labour laws do not always explicitly recognise them as such.
Growing competition, regulatory and legal problems, and growing resistance to the ultra-precarious and low-wage incomes offered in this type of work suggest that the future success of digital platform businesses like Uber is very much in doubt.
Pennington also referenced findings of our previous paper estimating the net incomes of Uber-X drivers in 6 Australian cities.
Please view Alison Pennington's full presentation here.
New analysis of income tax data confirms a dramatic slowdown in Australian wages in recent years – and the slowdown is worse than previous statistics indicated.
The research is contained in a new report from the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute. It shows that average nominal wages in Australia grew just 1.7% per year between 2012-13 (when the wage slowdown took hold) and 2016-17 (most recent tax data available). That's below the average national rate of inflation over that period (1.9%), resulting in a decline in the average real wage.
While the wage slowdown was experienced across the country, some regions were particularly hard-hit. Real wage losses were especially large in Queensland and Western Australia. Moreover, the impact was disproportionate in regional communities in both states -- located in some of the most fiercely contested electorates in the current federal election campaign. This suggests that public anger over falling real wages could be politically pivotal to the result on May 18.Read more
Tomorrow the Australian Bureau of Statistics will release its quarterly Wage Price Index: the most commonly-reported measure of wage growth in Australia’s labour market. Given the importance of public debates about wages and wage policy in the current federal election campaign, this release is timely and politically important.
This briefing note reviews some methodological issues related to the WPI. It also considers recent data confirming the visible impact on the WPI of last year’s strong increase in the national minimum wage.Read more
The Australian policy journal Arena has published a wide-ranging article by Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford on the labour market issues at play in the current federal election.
Stanford argues that the sense of "superiority" which typically accompanies economic debates during Australian election campaigns is muted in the current contest, because of the poor performance of the labour market in recent years. Unemployment and especially underemployment remain high; the quality of work has deteriorated; and wages have experienced their weakest performance since the end of the Second World War.
Visit Arena's website to see the full article here.
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.
Even as Australian voters express great concern over stagnant wages, and strong support for policy measures to boost wages (like restoring penalty rates and lifting minimum wages), business leaders continue to claim that wages are doing just fine, thank you.
In this commentary, Centre for Future Work director Jim Stanford challenges this attitude of denial. The empirical evidence is overwhelming, he argues, that traditional wage mechanisms have broken down in Australia - and as a result workers are not getting a healthy share of the productivity they produce.Read more
Many Australians are eagerly anticipating a unique concentration of public holidays in coming days. There is a ten-day period (stretching from Good Friday through Sunday, 28 April) during which many employees only have to work three days. Many Australians are now arranging to take those three days off: creating an extended 10-day holiday for the “price” of just three days leave.
Of course, many other Australians will be required to work during this period, and so for them the appeal of this coming period is diminished. Adding insult to injury, however, is the fact that their compensation for working during this period is being significantly reduced as a result on ongoing reductions in penalty rates for Sunday and public holiday work in the retail, accommodation, and food and beverage industries. A new report from the Centre for Future Work puts a number on the total loss of wages that will be experienced by workers in the broad retail and hospitality sectors through the coming holiday period: $80 million this year, rising to $107 million for a similar period once the rate cuts are fully implemented.Read more
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.
But why is the ABCC, established to police construction workers and their unions, now going after steelworkers? It claims that since the factory they work at sells steel to construction sites, it is in effect part of the construction industry. But that claim, if taken seriously, means that the whole economy -- and all workers -- are subject to the ABCC's crusade.
In this commentary, Jim Stanford explains the basic economics of supply chains to the autocrats at the ABCC:Read more