31 July 2007


Participants at the recent forum on the "Dignity of Work" jointly organised by Polmin and the Victorian Council of Churches were given a disturbing glimpse of the possible future under Australia’s new workplace laws.

The forum was addressed by three workers from the USA who are currently on a speaking tour of Australia sponsored by the LHMU (Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union) as part of the Clean Start – Fair Deal for Cleaners Campaign

The speakers described their employment experiences in the relatively unregulated US labour market highlighting their powerlessness to influence their wages and conditions. The result was long hours, minimal levels of pay and lack of protections currently taken for granted in Australia around job security, sick leave, paid holidays etc which in turn impacted severely on family life and the ability to enjoy a dignified standard of living.

The forum was timely given that it followed the recently released Victorian Government report into Australian Workplace Agreements, Collective Agreements and Earnings which revealed that overwhelmingly workplace agreements have either abolished or reduced overtime rates, penalty rates, shift allowances and public holiday pay.

As well, the hourly pay difference between a typical worker on an agreement and one on a collective agreement turns out to be worse than was previously calculated. The worst affected were unsurprisingly those with the least skills and low bargaining power in small enterprises.

It would seem that the new workplace arrangements are pointing Australia more in the direction of the American experience where 37 million people currently live below the poverty line.

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