Apr 16, 2018

Strike me lucky: how Australia killed industrial disputation

Industrial disputes in Australia are now a tiny fraction of what they were in the 1980s. Which might partly explain why our wages are so stagnant.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

While the government and many economists insist wages growth is only a hop, a skip and company tax cut away, we forget how the industrial relations landscape has changed in recent decades. Business lobby groups insist that unions still have too much power and the industrial relations system is tilted too far in their favour. Well, have a look at how the level of industrial disputation has fallen away even since the 1990s, let alone the combative 1980s.

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9 thoughts on “Strike me lucky: how Australia killed industrial disputation

  1. Nudiefish

    I’ve always maintained that Keating and Hawk’s industrial accord was dependent upon BOTH sides taking on a new paradigm. Ever so slowly the big employer groups sharpened their knives and the wage massacre began.

    How two such clever operators didn’t see this coming is beyond me. Strikes illegal? It’s a good thing that my Father didn’t live to see it.

  2. Dog's Breakfast

    “Business lobby groups insist that unions still have too much power”

    Yeah, makes you wonder doesn’t it. Business killing themselves with their greed, not making the connection between their workers being their consumers.

    Sure, the lack of wages growth is correlation, not causation, but the case for causation is pretty easy to make. Strikes being illegal, unions having no power, low wage growth. It’s not like some pie in the sky trickle down theory of business tax cuts leading to wages growth, it is direct causation, which can neither be proved or disproved by analysis, only narrative. I know which story I buy.

    I look back fondly on the days of major strikes, crazy I know, but it showed that we aren’t total robots, resources to be used up and spat out. That’s back in the days when we used to thumb our noses at Corporate and Government leaders, at least occasionally. We have lost much with our docility.

    1. brian crooks

      low wages kill small/medium business by lack of consumer demand, only the multi nationals benefit from low wages, trouble is, most small business owners are too stupid to understand this basic economic fact.

  3. brian crooks

    Its time all the fools and idiots understood one important and basic fact, no unions means no wage justice, if you have to wait on the generousness of a billionaire to get a wage rise you`ll wait a long time, they`d rather fly in a backpacker or 457 slave worker to replace you, to get justice in court you need a good lawyer, to get wage justice you need a good union.

  4. CML

    Correct me if I’m wrong…and I’m sure someone will…but thought I heard Sally McManus say we are the only developed country where workers do NOT have the right to withdraw their labour (strike) without massive penalties?
    Time we did something about this…and the outrageous one million temporary visa WORKERS in this country.
    Forget immigration, its the temporary visa workers that are the problem in so many ways. Is it just a coincidence that there are one million of them, and around one million citizens of this country unemployed…not to mention the under-employed?
    Also…the visa workers are those heavily involved in the ‘low-wage’ scams of various employers. Read Mike Secombe’s article on this subject in the Saturday Paper…a real eye-opener!
    I’d like to see the Labor Party announce a Royal Commission into ALL aspects of the industrial relations framework in this country…but I won’t hold my breath!!

    1. RL

      Me too CML.
      Withdrawal of labour is the only real weapon a wage earner has when push comes to shove.
      It’s actually a human right, otherwise slavery is the outcome.
      Look at what is happening in the USA at the moment.
      Teachers in states where unions have been disempowered and suffer atrocious wages are finally striking.
      West Virginian teachers recently ran a sustained campaign which included strikes and got the final outcome by just threatening to strike again.
      Oklahoma and other states are struggling right now for similar justice.

  5. AR

    It’s an old formula – “unless striving risk takers and thrusting entrepreneurs are lavishingly rewarded they wont strive & thrust enoughly whereas if workers are paid too much they won’t work enough.”
    Simples, really.

  6. kyle Hargraves

    “The dramatic decline to testimony to the decline of unionism, Labor’s introduction of enterprise bargaining and an industrial relations framework that has made it increasingly difficult for workers to take industrial action”

    Along with Guy Rundle you will not be told – will you Bernie? It has been pointed out by many on these pages that the matter is considerably more complicated (i.e. its global for a beginning) than your simple-minded explanation (provided in the title) and general theme as to what you convey. In fact the simplistic “politician-like” explanation does the readership no service at all.

    “The most recent fall in industrial disputes comes after 2012 — which just happens to be around the same time wage stagnation set in for Australian workers.”

    Really? Try a decade or two earlier; in fact just look at the graph! As to the (rather interesting) chart the same data from (e.g.) presents similarly. I suppose a few more strikes would solve the problem there too. You ought to have examined just what was occurring circa 1992 – Hint Bernie : Waterfront “reform” + … + well you are the reporter
    – I’m just a subscriber!

    Simple question Bernie : is the media fundamentally supportive or antagonistic in regard to strikes? I think you will find its the latter and so ANY Union risks a public discrediting if the Union resorts to a strike. Just think it through Bernie.

    Secondly, the decline in Union membership (Oz/NZ/UK/Canada/USA/Europe) is beside the point. Most of the Union prats, that I have encountered, are offering 19th century solutions to 21 century problems. As has been pointed out, also at length in this regard, the Right has trashed the Left – although the electorate did draw the line at (Howard’s ) Work Choices.

    Oh – by the way – does anyone, have a realistic expectation as to wage growth on account of company tax reduction (anywhere in the world)? Yes – of course the “supply siders” would concur but [paraphrasing] Mandy Rice-Davies 50 odd years ago : “they would, wouldn’t they”

    1. kyle Hargraves

      read : from (e.g.) the UK presents similarly

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