WorkChoices: unwanted and unloved

by 29 May 2007

By Craig Donaldson

Since the last edition of Human Resourcesmagazine, there have been a number of interesting/amusing developments on the political front.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said he was not as popular as Labor’s Julia Gillard because he is “not as pretty” (a subsequent poll found 57 per cent of people agreed with the statement: “Face it Joe, she’s smarter than you on IR issues and that’s why she’s polling better).”

Then we had John Howard warning colleagues that his party faced “annihilation” at the upcoming election. Citing the Federal Government’s significant advertising expenditure, Labor’s treasury spokesman Wayne Swan shot back: “The only thing that’s going to be annihilated around here is taxpayers’ money.”

And then Joe Hockey ate enough humble pie to fill the bellies of the entire Liberal Party, acknowledging that WorkChoices was a “damaged brand”. Market research recently commissioned by the government apparently found that WorkChoices has become a “dirty word”, and was all but dropped from government advertising. Even staff manning the Department of Workplace Relations information line were told not to use the term “WorkChoices”.

All this came on the heels of recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which found that wages for workers in sectors such as retail, hospitality and food services – in which Australian Workplace Agreements are most prevalent – are only just keeping pace with inflation. Other sectors saw wages rise to comfortably beat inflation.

When it comes to Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), bargaining power very much depends on skill levels. This is one of the reasons the ACTU’s “Your rights at work” campaign has been so effective. It has highlighted the plight of the unskilled underdog, who unscrupulous employers take advantage of under the flexibility that comes with AWAs.

It would appear that “Howard’s battlers” don’t like this, and could well come back to bite John Howard on the bum.