The Difference Between Trade and 'Free Trade'

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 agreements is legitimate; conventional economic claims that free trade benefits everyone who participates in it, have been discredited by the reality of large trade imbalances, deindustrialization, and displacement.

Can progressives respond to the real harm being done by current trade rules, without endorsing Trump-like actions – which will almost certainly hurt U.S. workers more than they will help?  Centre for Future Work Director Jim Stanford has proposed several key principles to guide a progressive vision of international trade: one that would capture the potential benefits of greater trade in goods and services, while managing the downsides (instead of denying that there are any downsides).

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From Consensus to Action: Report from the First National Manufacturing Summit

The first National Manufacturing Summit was held at Australian Parliament House, Canberra, in June 2017, organised by the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute. The event was attended by over 100 delegates from the full range of stakeholders concerned with the future of Australia’s manufacturing sector: including businesses, industry peak bodies, trade unions, government departments, academic institutions and vocational training providers, and other civic organisations.

This report, prepared by Dr. Tom Barnes from Australian Catholic University, summarises the key findings of the day, including areas of strong consensus among the stakeholders represented, as well as priorities for further policy research.  Download Dr. Barnes' complete report here: From Consensus to Action.

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Innovation or Exploitation? Simulating Net Hourly Incomes of UberX Drivers

Uber's rapid growth in point-to-point transportation services has become the most potent symbol of the growth of the so-called "gig economy": where people perform work on an irregular, on-demand basis, paid by the task, and without the stability or security of traditional paid employment. The expansion of this model has raised concerns regarding the erosion of labour standards and entitlements (including minimum wages, paid leave, and superannuation). This report simulates the net hourly incomes received by UberX drivers in six Australian cities, and finds that they almost certainly earn much less than would be required under relevant minimum wage standards.

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The Future of Work in Transportation

Workers in all parts of the economy are confronting twin threats from accelerating changes in technology and automation, and the ongoing shift toward more precarious and irregular forms of work -- including "gigs" on digital platforms.  The transportation sector is widely acknowledged to be one of the most susceptible to both of these trends.  The Centre for Future Work has published a major new research report on these trends, and how sector stakeholders can best prepare for the coming changes.

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Senate Inquiry on the Future of Work, and the Future of Workers

In October the Senate of Australia launched an important new inquiry into the Future of Work and the Future of Workers.  The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

  1. "The future earnings, job security, employment status and working patterns of Australians;
  2. The different impact of that change on Australians, particularly on regional Australians, depending on their demographic and geographic characteristics;
  3. The wider effects of that change on inequality, the economy, government and society;
  4. The adequacy of Australia’s laws, including industrial relations laws and regulations, policies and institutions to prepare Australians for that change;
  5. International efforts to address that change."

Given the close correspondence between this mandate, and the research focus of the Centre for Future Work, we were very glad to make a submission to this inquiry.

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Historic Decline in Strike Frequency Associated With Record Low Wage Growth

The Fair Work Commission’s ruling to pre-emptively block industrial action (including restrictions on overtime and a one-day work stoppage) by Sydney-area train workers has brought renewed attention to the legal and administrative barriers which limit collective action by Australian workers. 

The Sydney trains experience is a high-profile example of a much larger trend.  Across the national economy, work stoppages have become extremely rare – and the extraordinary discretionary ability of industrial authorities to restrict or prevent industrial action is an important reason why.

The Centre for Future Work has compiled a database of historical work stoppage data, going back to 1950, including the incidence of work stoppages and the numbers of work days lost as a result (both in absolute terms and relative to the size of the employed workforce).

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Scare Tactics for Corporate Tax Cuts Do Not Stand Fact Checks

In the wake of the Trump Administration's success in pushing a major company tax cut through the U.S. Congress, the Australian Treasurer has stepped up his calls for reduced company taxes here. He claims Australia will bypass the growth-inducing benefits of these tax cuts, but Dr. Anis Chowdhury, Associate of the Centre for Future Work, has compiled the economic evidence.  The U.S. experience shows no statistical evidence of any "trickle-down" growth dividend from company tax cuts:

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NSW Workers' Compensation System has Ample Resources to Maintain Benefits

The workers' compensation system in NSW has been dramatically scaled back and restructured since the current state government came to office in 2011.  Real benefit payouts have been cut by 30 percent, with the resulting "savings" passed on to employers in lower premiums (down 40 percent over the past decade).  Yet injured workers continue to bear the real cost of these changes, with benefit cuts (and further premium cuts) still occurring.  Over 4000 workers will have their monthly benefits cancelled entirely later this month.

The changes were all justified by a supposed fiscal "emergency" that existed in 2011, but that deficit was exaggerated and mostly the result of temporary factors connected to the Global Financial Crisis.  Now the system boats a large and growing accumulated surplus.  Annual financial reports released by the NSW workers insurance scheme last week confirm that the system has ample financial reserves with which to fund the maintenance and improvement of benefits for injured workers.

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Job Opportunity: Research Economist

The Centre for Future Work invites applications for an economist to join our research team in labour market research and policy analysis, working from our offices in Sydney or Canberra.

Deadline for applications is December 21 2017.

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Unpaid Overtime Diverts $130 billion Per Year

2017 marks the ninth annual Go Home On Time Day (GHOTD), an initiative of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute aimed at highlighting the incidence of overwork among Australians, including excessive overtime (often unpaid). To investigate the prevalence of overwork and unpaid overtime, we commissioned a survey of over 1400 Australians on the incidence of overwork and Australian attitudes toward it. The results are surprising.

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