After months of complaining claims about the impact of the Fair Work Act being made by IR hardliners lacked evidence, Crikey was thrilled this morning to receive a media release from the Australian Mines and Metals Association claiming to demonstrate problems with the Fair Work regime based on “independent research”.

The AMMA is the outfit that, unusually among employer groups, not merely claimed responsibility for WorkChoices (it “did not occur by accident or as a result of a blinding flash of inspiration when the Commonwealth found that it had a majority in the Senate”, CEO Steve Knott told a gathering at the Launceston Country Club in 2006) but complained it didn’t go far enough in entirely destroying the award system.

The “independent research” is being conducted by former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry economist Steven Kates at RMIT, but is in fact based on a survey of AMMA members conducted by the AMMA itself. Dr Kates’ job appears to be to collate, tabulate and comment on the responses to the survey and stick the RMIT logo on the result.

And, in a surprising outcome, it turns out asking employers in the most bitterly anti-union industry in the country what they think of the system that replaced WorkChoices yields the answer they don’t like it.

It’s the basis on which they object to it that is interesting, though. Apart from the usual, unevidenced claim about a decline in productivity — no detail on how big a decline (eg: was it as big as the one that occurred under WorkChoices?) or what was causing it — employers complained to AMMA about such outrages as:

  • Spending more time in meetings and negotiations with employees;
  • Not being able to convince employees wage rises (whether real or nominal isn’t clear) should only be granted in exchange for higher productivity;
  • Higher wages in related industries driving up wage claims;
  • More litigation from former and current employees; and
  • An increase in union-specific clauses in contracts.

Apart from the traditional employer hypocrisy about the operation of labour markets — they like market forces when high unemployment undermines wage growth, but demand intervention when low unemployment drives higher growth — the AMMA report pathologises unions and workplace activity of any kind. That “spending more time and resources in meetings and negotiations” is seriously touted as a major productivity impediment under the current IR framework says a lot more about (likely foreign-owned) mining companies’ hostile view of their own employees than about the Fair Work Act; ditto for the idea there may be legal consequences of the way they treat employees.

Still, a press release headed “Employer survey: employers don’t like workers exercising basic rights” wouldn’t look quite as good as “Rhetoric v Reality of the Fair Work Act”. Sadly, IR reformers still aren’t producing any evidence of what they insist is reality.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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