Busting the power of trade unions has been John Howard’s dream for most of his 31 years in parliament. Gaining control of the
Senate last year left him with the power to do it. His version of industrial
relations law is now up and running.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released yesterday raise
the question of whether victory has come when the war Mr Howard started fighting
in 1974 is now well and truly over. The trend of working days lost – a measure of how
irresponsible trade unions distort the labour market – is shown

The trend is clearly down and strikes are not the
impediment to progress for which old political warriors used to berate them.

In the March quarter of this year the number of working
days lost per thousand employees was 3.4. Back in the December quarter of 1992 this
measure peaked at 104.6 days. The average quarterly figure since March 1985 is
just under 30 days per thousand employees.

There is no obvious reason in those figures to embark on a
fundamental change to the industrial relations
system. ABS employment and unemployment figures were also
released yesterday. The headline figure had unemployment falling to

The proportion of the Australian population now working
for a living has rarely been higher – 61.2% in May, marginally down from 61.4%
in the middle of last year but significantly higher than what Australia has been
used to over the last 30 years.

It is hard to find evidence there that there is some
fundamental problem in the labour market that needs radical surgery, and there is
no evidence in the unemployment figures either. The proportion of the Australian
population seeking full time work is the lowest it has been in 30