Despite its deafening silence on industrial relations issues during the recent election, the re-elected Coalition government is charging ahead with an aggressive plan to change Australia's labour laws. And business lobbyists are lining up to endorse its direction. First out of the gate is a plan to amend the Fair Work Act, in the cynically mis-named "Ensuring Integrity" bill, to introduce harsh new sanctions on unions and union officials.
Our Director Dr. Jim Stanford was recently invited to testify before the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Employment on the bill, and its likely economic and social consequences.Read more
Rising pressure on individuals and families to meet their caring needs is the “human face” of decline in workplace protections and bargaining power that has gathered pace since 2013. Meanwhile, the need for fathers and male spouses to take on more caring and household labour is routinely discussed in the public domain. But how have Australia’s work/care policies worked to support a redistribution of caring and household labour to males and fathers?Read more
Australia's Newstart benefit hasn't been increased in real terms in a generation, and pressure is growing on the Commonwealth government to address this inequity and raise the rate. Even RBA Governor Philip Lowe has indicated that better Newstart benefits would stimulate consumer spending and support the economy.
But the government continues to reject the idea, and instead has fostered lamentable and divisive rhetoric about "dole bludgers" and the supposed lack of "aspiration" among unemployed Australians. Old stereotypes about unemployed people choosing to subsist on poverty-level benefits, instead of looking for work, have been invoked.
In this guest commentary, Prof. Raja Junankar of UNSW University shows that keeping the Newstart Allowance constant in real terms at a poverty level does not help the unemployed find jobs more rapidly. Despite rock-bottom benefits that have declined notably relative to average wages, long-term unemployment has increased -- including among vulnerable groups of workers (like younger and older workers).Read more
The Commonwealth Treasury raised eyebrows recently with a new research report that seemed to pin the blame for record-weak wage increases on workers' reluctance to quit their jobs in search of better-paying alternatives. The report was presented to the recent conference of the Economic Society of Australia, and elicited gleeful headlines in conservative newspapers blaming "stubborn" workers for their own poor wage results.
In this commentary, which originally appeared in 10 Daily, Dr Jim Stanford argues that Treasury has mis-identified the true source of the problem. With so few decent job opportunities available, it's rational that many workers would choose to stick with their current jobs - despite stagnant wages and poor conditions.
Here is the full commentary:Read more
July 1 marked the implementation of the next stage of reduced penalty rates in the retail and hospitality industries in Australia. It is now two full years since the first reductions were imposed for Sunday and holiday work in several segments of retail and hospitality. Once fully phased in, these reductions will reduce wage payments in the two broad industries by an estimated $1.25 billion per year -- at a time when concerns over weak wages and their impacts on the Australian economy are growing.
Employers argued before the Fair Work Commission that if their Sunday and holiday labour costs were reduced, they would hire more workers, and the Commission cited this logic in accepting employer demands for lower penalties. Now, with two full years of experience since the first reductions, there is growing evidence that the penalty rate reductions have not spurred job creation in retail and hospitality. To the contrary, our new report shows that employment growth in retail and hospitality has been far slower than in other parts of the economy (where penalty rates remained constant) -- and job-growth in the two sectors actually slowed by more than half after penalty rates began to fall.Read more
Australia’s economy continues to endure historically slow growth in wages and salaries, that is undermining household incomes, consumer spending, and economic growth. The Commonwealth government continues to predict an imminent rebound in wages – like in its most recent budget, where it yet again forecast wage growth accelerating quickly to 3.5% per year. But is the government willing to actually do anything to support wages?
The Centre for Future Work has released new research showing that just 3 specific actions by the Commonwealth government would lead to a significant rise in national wage growth, adding over $10 billion per year to aggregate wage income within three years. That doesn’t single-handedly solve the whole wages crisis, but it would be a big improvement.Read more
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.