Modest Penalty Rate Reform Is Common Sense

WHILST it will enrage many as too aggressive or too conservative, a proposal by the Productivity Commission to cut Sunday penalty rates to the time-and-a-half Saturday rate is modest, sensible, and balanced. Typically, Labor and unions are readying to spill blood; the government is ducking and procrastinating. Trades Hall and the ALP must grow up; the Coalition should show some spine. Meanwhile, both workers and business are compromised.

First things first: since it was released late yesterday afternoon, the recommendation by the Productivity Commission that Sunday penalty rates be lowered to the Saturday rate to create a standard weekend penalty rate has already sparked the kind of outrage among unions and the ALP that spewed forth at the height of the WorkChoices debacle, sealing the defeat of the Howard government; in typically gutless form, the Turnbull government has gone scurrying for cover at the very first sign of this resistance, invoking the Fair Work Commission as its go-to patsy as a pretext for dodging an issue that really needs to be sorted out.

It’s great to know conservative parties in Australia can grasp and prosecute a case for change.

Readers — depending on preference — can access some coverage from the mainstream press from Fairfax or Murdoch publications, although to my mind, none of what has emerged in the past 18 hours matters one jot: terrified of meaningful reform of any kind, the Turnbull government — mindful of the similarly abject and pathetic precedent created by its predecessor — is deferring consideration of the measure until after an election (if ever), but that won’t prevent the ALP and the unions causing it as much grief as possible, up to and including a vicious (and mostly baseless) scare campaign that will cost an unquantifiable number of votes.

It would be better to legislate the Productivity Commission’s recommendation, for as it stands the coming avalanche of bullshit from Trades Hall won’t even be directed at a change that will even occur: and the loss of votes from swinging voters erroneously scared witless over literally nothing will be just another avoidable and foreseeable political error by the Coalition.

In truth, I don’t see that arguments for or against penalty rate change are any different to what they were the three previous times we explicitly discussed them (see here, here and here): the third of those posts is telling, however, for it relates to an abortive attempt by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to enshrine penalty rates in legislation — and that sets up a stark counterpoint with the Liberal Party’s newfound position that the Fair Work Commission sets rates of pay whilst the government sits on its hands at arms’ length.

This column — for the record — believes that creating a set “weekend rate” of time-and-a-half based on the ordinary hourly rate for retail and hospitality workers, applicable to Saturday and Sunday earnings, represents a sensible, common sense outcome that is responsible, and hands all sides of the issue a win: it takes some of the burden off small businesses virtually obliged to open and trade on a Sunday but which often lose money in doing so, but leaves the vast bulk of the overall penalty rate regime intact.

Yet the toxic and counterproductive culture that has sprung up around what passes for debate in this country — ever since Kevin ’07 rode his vacuous “Cool Brittania”-inspired slogans into government in 2007 — means that any change that produces so much as a single loser will be screamed down by a hostile political Left hellbent on nothing less than the destruction of a Liberal government, whilst that same government (led by the purported messiah of the green Left, Malcolm Turnbull) will run off and hide in the toilet until the storm passes.

What a sham.

Particular criticism, at this early stage, must be levelled at Employment minister Michaelia Cash, who — having shown great promise as a reformer on her appointment, for which this column wholeheartedly endorsed her — is now claiming the government “does not set penalty rates” and that to do so would be as absurd as the government setting interest rates (which it did, until the mid 1990s).

Apparently, the small matter of a government’s ability to legislate measures is of no consequence, the roadblock of the present Senate notwithstanding.

Yet changing the penalty rate regime as the Productivity Commission recommends stands to benefit both workers and businesses, not that anyone seems to care to draw the distinction; and rather than bog down in the minutiae of who said what yesterday and what specifics might apply to whom, I thought I’d just point a few examples of workers being disadvantaged by the present system out that unions and Labor don’t just ignore, but tacitly sanction.

First, Sunday penalty rates — as anyone who works in a retail or hospitality business with more than half a dozen casuals knows — are not some across-the-board universal “entitlement:” the playing of favourites, the use of hours on days that are subject to penalty rates to make internal political points through selective rostering, and the presence of staff members of different ages (thus magnifying the cost differential to employers to schedule them) all conspire the ensure some staff get them and some don’t. By standardising pay rates across the weekend, the prospect of all affected workers being given some access to penalty loadings is increased simply on account of the reduced scope to exclude some staff.

Secondly, the insidious practice of making some casual staff full-time employees — often with minor titles such as “shift supervisor” as a sop to their vanity — and placing them on salaries at or fractionally above the minimum wage means that employers can then work them on whatever day they like, as hard as they like, and avoid paying penalty rates altogether (I know — it was done to me a little over 20 years ago). By the letter of the law, the practice is legal; against the spirit of the law, it’s just an old-fashioned cost cutting exercise. Standardising penalty rates over a weekend at least reduces the incentive for employers to do this.

Thirdly, increasing numbers of smaller operators — particularly in the restaurant industry — are choosing to simply remain closed on Sundays and avoid the expense altogether; these business owners are between a rock and a hard place: open on a Sunday and lose money, or stay close and lose what unprofitable trade might have been generated to rival operators, damaging the reputation of the business in the process. I spent some time consulting to hospitality businesses in exactly this situation a few years ago, and there’s no easy answer, although staying shut, and preventing the red ink flowing on Sundays, was almost invariably the lesser of the two evils.

And finally, the point has to be made that the existing penalty rate regime — fashioned in the 1920s and 1930s, when Sunday was almost universally a day to spend with family at church — is an anachronism; the contention that Saturdays and Sundays are virtually identical today where work is concerned is sound, and the only groups who are trenchantly and implacably opposed to acknowledging it are the ALP and the unions.

In today’s modern, open, 24-hour society, it beggars belief that whole cities like Sydney and Melbourne would effectively close every Sunday, as they did until about 20 years or so ago.

Big businesses like supermarket chains have the weight of market power behind them not to feel the effects of having to pay existing Sunday penalty rates (although if you buy takeaway alcohol from a certain large national liquor retailer, pay attention to who serves you between Monday and Saturday, and who serves you on a Sunday: I’ll bet you don’t see many of the uni students on casual wages on a Sunday that you see at other times).

But smaller operators — often mum-and-dad enterprises — simply can’t afford it. Every time the headline hourly rates for their employees increases, those increases are magnified disproportionately when it comes to penalty rates. In the early 1990s, the wait staff at the restaurant chain I worked at were paid $10 per hour to serve tables; double-time-and-a-half was $25. Today, the same staff member earning $20 per hour costs $50 at the higher rate. Australia has had more than 20 years of low inflation growth and, whilst it has slowed now, wage growth that has consistently outpaced inflation. To compound this, retail prices have not been the primary drivers of what inflation has occurred over this period; housing, rents, energy and fuel costs have done that job. In some cases, small businesses are selling goods and services at prices that (in real terms) are the same or less than they were 20 years ago. But the wage bill has, by comparison, exploded.

There is little point trying to make these arguments to people in the union movement or the ALP, whose only real experience of small business has been to either extort it into bolstering union claims of delivering the best wage rises for workers in Australia, or to drive it to the wall: and similarly, I am yet to find an employee who encountered a pay rise they didn’t like, although the end destination of this particular ship is far fewer jobs and far fewer people to benefit from them.

So the Turnbull government, after obfuscating and procrastinating and blaming someone else, will “take the recommendations to an election” after which they will be quietly abandoned; the unions and Labor, as usual, will do all they have to in order to shut this latest eruption of sanity down, safe in the knowledge that irrespective of who it hurts out in the real world, their own cosy sinecures, paid for at public expense, mean they will never be disadvantaged either way.

Maybe, as I suggested not so long ago, the simplest solution would be to abolish Sunday trading altogether, although when the ALP and its thuggy cohorts at Trades Hall jump all over that as “anti-jobs” and “anti-worker,” perhaps everyone else might give some thought to the fact that small businesspeople are not obliged to continue trading if it isn’t profitable to do so, and that unless something is done to restore a bit of balance to an equation that has been overwhelmingly dictated by unions for the best part of a decade, an awful lot of jobs will end up being lost anyway.

And that’s one hell of a price to pay for gutlessness from the Liberal Party and the flat-Earth, scorched-Earth approach to getting what they want from the unions and the ALP.


Time To Call The Bluff Of Shrinking, Irrelevant Unions

REVELATIONS union membership has fallen to its lowest level ever — 11% in the private sector, and 15% of the total workforce — explodes the myth of union relevance; whatever past good unions rightly claim, the country — except for teachers, public servants and militant construction groups — has mostly moved on. Sound governance and labour market reform must not be derailed by a cabal spurned by almost nine in ten working Australians.

You have to wonder at what point the penny will drop for the ALP; the revelation earlier this week that union membership now covers less than two in ten working Australians is a potent and undeniable signal that the Trades Hall junta that funds the Labor Party and rules it with a dictatorial fist is no longer particularly relevant in mainstream Australia.

So far has union membership dropped that the unions have all but reached the status of a fringe group, or just a noisier minority than most of the rent seekers and beggars who trawl the corridors of power in Canberra seeking status, patronage and influence.

With just one in ten private sector workers electing to join a union overall — and marginally more than that when public sector employees are factored in — Australians have voted with their feet and their wallets in a stunning rebuff of organised labour, and one which renders void the loud and histrionic claims to continuing relevance in modern Australia.

It is figures like these that underline the utter bastardry of militant unions like the CFMEU in holding the entire construction sector to ransom: one of the key drivers of jobs growth and economic activity, the building and construction industry is effectively a petty fiefdom of lawless CFMEU thugs, and the end results of their handiwork are reflected everywhere in the form of delays, cost blowouts, higher prices, and lost productivity.

And it is figures like these that shine a light on the reasons the ALP has become so unrepresentative of — and irrelevant to — contemporary Australia; the outdated, stagnant industrial agenda of what passes for the union movement in this country nowadays does not reflect, increasingly, the lives of those who live in it.

Yet Labor remains 50% controlled by the union movement, and in practical terms this effectively means that provided unions vote as a bloc they can control any outcome within the ALP edifice; once again, the results of this can be seen everywhere, with union stooges comprising the vast majority of Labor caucuses in the states and federally, as well as populating the ranks of the ALP’s advisor pool at both levels of government.

It makes for a shallow gene pool indeed when it comes to policy vigour or (God forbid!) any originality of thought, for the one thing that can be said of all these union lemmings is that they all sing the same song from the same song sheet: there hasn’t been a new idea from any of them in the 32 years since Bob Hawke devised the Accord.

Solidarity Forever, indeed…

It is difficult to ascertain precisely what purpose — aside from brawling against conservative governments and trying to prevent them being elected, and creating industrial and social mayhem when they don’t get what they want from those conservative governments, that is — unions in Australia even serve these days.

Most of their staunchest defenders talk about “safety” in industrialised workplaces; and even on that count the claim is dubious, for even the most heavily unionised workforce contains ample underlings with ready tales of “safety breaches” being declared by shop stewards with the explicit purpose of forcing an employer to agree to something that’s usually completely unrelated to the supposed safety issue at hand.

But to the extent “safety” is a pretext for the existence of unions, a whole private industry, based on workplace expertise and tailored and specialised to fit specific industries (and probably even drawn in part at least from existing union ranks) is just waiting for whatever group of people is entrepreneurial enough to create it: making the presence of unions in their current form redundant on this particular count at a stroke.

Collective wage negotiations? The most spectacular industrial failure in Australian history can be laid at the feet of unions, with the wholesale closure of car manufacturing in this country to be complete in the next few years; unions — striking “enterprise” agreements with car manufacturers — priced themselves and their workers out of the market to the point the local industry was uncompetitive internationally.

It matters not whether car industries in other countries are subsidised by their governments or not: Australia’s was still the most unproductive of the lot, and especially when compared against the likes of Germany and the USA; these “enterprise” agreements were predicated solely on soaking up the quantum of government subsidies in pay increases, necessitating further subsidies that were eaten up in further pay rises, and the cycle — which continued — reaped its inevitable consequence.

Those agreements cannot be judged on the rates of “base pay” they delivered to members, as unions are fond of protesting, for those “base” rates, when augmented with loadings, allowances, penalties and other goodies, saw semi-skilled mechanical workers walking away with six-figure annual incomes, and reports of redundancies at General Motors at least running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per worker. Such arrangements benefit the few fortunate enough to be on the scene at the time, but they do nothing for sustainable jobs, nothing for sustainable industries, nothing for job growth, and pay scant attention to anything other than short-term expediency.

But even now, unions — purporting to strike collective, industry-wide pay and condition deals — have shown themselves adept at striking different deals with the managements of different companies in the same industry, and one example of it is the different arrangements that apply to the workforces of Qantas and Virgin: the same type of workers performing the same tasks, yet the Virgin workforce costs an awful lot less than its counterpart at Qantas. And why? Because the unions agreed.

There is no reason why the same principle cannot be applied at individual hospitals, or schools, or at the very least, to individual health and education regions, with staff delegates nominated by their peers to conduct enterprise negotiations with their managements.

Such examples shine a spotlight toward an alternative form of workplace bargaining that could offer unionists a way forward as part of a modern, contemporary workplace model. But the unions won’t have a bar of it, for these are the most conservative organisations in the country. They haven’t changed in decades. And not only do they not want to change, they stubbornly refuse to do so.

And it isn’t hard to see why.

The revelations being aired at the Royal Commission into the union movement have already seen numerous union identities referred to law enforcement agencies for prosecution and, on the law of averages, the Commission’s final report can be expected to add to that number exponentially: what is clear, before the report is even delivered, is that the organisational structure that sustains Australia’s unions is rotten to the core, and the decent men and women who work in the labour movement deserve far better than what their “leaders” are being shown to have done.

But those “leaders” are dependent not only on their citadels of power, but on having them as large and as bloated as possible: numbers, in the old solidarity spiel, are strength; and in their particular case they provide delegates at Labor conferences, clout to use against employers, numbers to wheel out across Australia’s industries and cities to bring them to a screeching halt if whatever the day’s demands are not acceded to, and muscle to intimidate, harass and/or bully opponents and holdouts into submission — or worse.

Now — presumably because a conservative government is responsible for it — we have unions campaigning heavily in the media against a free trade agreement with China that will create thousands of jobs (not least, for their own members), grow the economy, and which offers one way to attempt to ensure the unprecedented growth and prosperity Australia has enjoyed over the past 20-25 years continues.

Why? The only conclusion to draw is to “stick it” to the Turnbull government. Certainly, the campaign against the China free trade agreement being waged by the unions is baseless, and seemingly designed merely to frighten people.

In turn, this isn’t a useful or productive function of Australian unions either.

It does not matter — as a poll by Essential Media found this week — that 62% of Australians regard unions as “important;” the fact is that less than a quarter of that number put their money where their mouth is.

It’s like the 70% of people polls used to find would vote for Malcolm Turnbull if he became Prime Minister and, with no disrespect to Malcolm, I’m certain even he won’t be heartbroken when the Liberal Party’s vote (even after preferences) isn’t 70% at the next election or anything remotely approaching it.

Anyone can say they support something in theory. Words are just that. But action is what really talks, and when it comes to union membership in Australia there is less, and less, and less of it.

In today’s world, it doesn’t matter what laws you have, or whether there are unions or not, or what statutory safeguards are legislated to protect employees: if people are determined to act as shysters and swindlers and to rip people off, they are going to do it anyway. We are only talking about a small minority of people, but as the Left doesn’t comprehend, you can’t legislate away (or suppress with brute tactics) the base human nature of the recalcitrant.

But for the most part, people today realise there is a better way to deal between workers and employers than having the unions stick their (unwanted) noses into the process; the fact just 15% of the workforce even belongs to it is the proof.

It certainly isn’t a demonstration of the need for unions, or an endorsement of them.

And this brings us squarely to the present debate over penalty rates.

To his credit, Malcolm Turnbull has shown a disinclination to shun difficult, necessary reforms because they’re simply too hard as the Abbott government did; there is an emergent discussion on tax and welfare reform beginning to germinate as well, and taken in collective with the conversation about penalty rates it is to be hoped the reform process that stalled when the Howard government was defeated can be resumed.

Unions are readying to fight — as I continually point out — their fourth consecutive federal election campaign over WorkChoices; not only are they a decade behind the times on that front, but the scare tactics have been wheeled out so many times people are sick of hearing them and simply don’t believe them any more.

But WorkChoices — whether you agreed with it or disagreed with it — was introduced without being raised during an election campaign, was introduced without a mandate, and whilst I maintain it was a far more reasonable and moderate package than the nightmare scenarios repeatedly conjured up by Labor and the unions.

And WorkChoices was the charge of one Kevin Andrews to sell as the responsible Howard government minister: something he singularly failed to do, and by the time he was replaced with someone more adept at making the case for the reforms (ironically, in retrospect, by Joe Hockey), the Howard government was dead in the water. It had paid the price for its electoral heist with its political life. And it was probably the single greatest reason the ALP was able to defeat it.

But properly calibrated reform proposals — on tax, on  welfare, on penalty rates, on industrial relations more broadly, and on anything else for that matter — that are adequately explained and competently sold to the electorate are not impossible to realise, nor the right kind of change impossible to achieve.

Characteristically, the union movement will oppose all of this to a man.

But with their membership being revealed at little better than one in eight Australian workers for all the world to see, it’s patently clear that whilst the unions can make a lot of voice and wreak havoc with people’s lives, they act and speak for a small proportion of the Australian workforce only.

I think it’s time to call their bluff: intimidation and threats and bloody-minded bastardy might make useful weapons of fear, and the wholesale disruption (and often destruction) the unions like to unleash with their rent-a-crowd protests drawn from people who should be at work but are more interested in participating in legally protected trouble than in any defence of “principle” can hardly be entirely ignored.

But the Turnbull government, as it moves to salvage the opportunity to prosecute reforms the Liberal Party was elected to tackle, shouldn’t be deterred by it either. We all know the tactics. None of us finds them pleasant. But a tiny band of noisemakers should not and must not be allowed to continue to dictate outcomes to the almost nine in ten workers forced to involuntarily accept the results.

That a debate is taking place on penalty rates concurrently with the rising tide of Liberal support in opinion polls carries a salutary message to those who might be tempted to buckle before union thuggery and bluster.

And for the ALP, there has never been a better time to jettison its formal links to its union buddies, and to sever the bonds that hand control of that party to Trades Hall when it represents so few people in Australia at all.

It would make a pleasant coincidence of timing for such a change to concur with the inevitable departure of its “leader,” Bill Shorten, sooner rather than later.

Naturally, no-one should hold their breath.


Simple “Solutions” To The Penalty Rates Debate

WITH THE TURNBULL government set to attempt penalty rate reforms its predecessor squibbed at the first sign of hostility from Labor and the unions, the same paleolithic arguments are being trotted out by the same anti-business troglodytes to defend “workers’ rights” fashioned generations ago and which belong in the past. The availability of simple solutions might temper the “rigour” of a flat Earth approach to screwing small businesses.

I’m not going to say too much this morning, as yet another very heavy week beckons (although hopefully things will ease off a little once it is out of the way); I have been tracking the resurgent debate about legislating changes to penalty rates to take some of the burden off small businesses in sections of the economy that typically ceased trading at weekends — and especially on Sundays — and with yet more fatuous pro-union, anti-small business propaganda seeping from the Fairfax Media stable today, some comment is warranted.

One of the standout promotions made by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in his recent reshuffle, new Employment minister Michaelia Cash, sees a very capable young minister (and a female, for those obsessed with gender) take on a portfolio that was singularly botched under Tony Abbott.

Already decried by the Left in friendly media tomes as “shrill,” a “fanatic” and “talentless” — perversely enough, excellent pointers to her likely effectiveness in her new post, albeit an indictment on those in the Left purporting to support the advancement of women in politics — it does rather seem that if anyone in Liberal ranks is capable of dragging the archaic regime of penalty rates during reasonable working hours (in the modern sense) into the 21st century, Cash may be just the lady to do so.

She is said to idolise former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: it is to be fervently hoped she shows the same disciplined commitment to reasonable and necessary reform that that great leader exhibited in the United Kingdom during a substantial career in public life over more than 30 years.

Her first test — the Senate in its current anarchic and counter-democratic configuration notwithstanding — is fashioning a regime for work and pay in industries that to some degree didn’t exist in their current shape just 20 years ago.

A criticism that has been sporadically made of Australia’s unions throughout the lifespan of this column is that in the most literal sense of the word, they are the most conservative institutions in the country; the world has evolved around them and so has Australian society, but the unions — in all their ugly malevolence — have remained rooted in the past.

In fact, a credible argument exists that they have regressed to the 1970s, when industrial sabotage and the economic vandalism inherent in bringing industries and cities to a standstill to enforce their will were their stock tools of trade; the litany of lawless thuggery being uncovered through the trade union royal commission is a good pointer to what I am talking about; the string of referrals of the bastards responsible for it to law enforcement agencies to be charged and prosecuted is another.

I hope readers have perused the article I have linked this morning from The Age; if they haven’t, here it is again — and it all sounds very reasonable, subtly emotive, and seemingly sober until it is pointed out that until the early 1990s, Australian cities more or less closed by 6pm. On Sundays, they were ghost towns.

Certainly, the intervening period has seen a gradual liberalising of trade laws, and consumer demand for retail, recreation and hospitality services has grown quickly to fill the extended hours during which businesses in those verticals are permitted to operate and do operate.

But it is worth remembering that weekend penalty rates were originally fashioned, explicitly, to provide recompense for work during “unsociable” hours: and by “unsociable,” this was explicitly aimed at those who were unable to attend church on Sundays — and framed in the sense that “work” took place between 9am and 5pm from Monday to Friday, in an era when anything outside those hours was very much the exception.

How many of those clamouring for the retention of penalty rates in full — and not least unionists happy to see small family businesses forced to pay up to $80 per hour for casual staff on Sundays with neither reserve nor compunction — also run around wearing the proud badge of atheism on their sleeve?

How many of those who pocket those wages are happy to put their hand out for the entitlement, with an utter disregard (or contempt) for the church-based social structures that in large part are the reason they even exist?

And how many people on both sides of the penalty rate debate accept, at every time other than when this exact subject is in prospect, that modern lifestyles and work requirements have effectively rendered redundant the notion of a 40-hour week that runs during daylight hours on weekdays only?

As ever, there is more political posturing by power-mad unions driven by unreasoning hatred of businesses and political conservatives to these questions than there is any real concern for “workers’ rights.”

Happily, however, there are two very simple solutions to the question of penalty rates; if the unions, the ALP, and their pliant mouthpieces that are the Fairfax press and the ABC are determined to be intransigent on the question, then it’s one that can be easily resolved.

After all — as the Fairfax piece today posits rhetorically — why should retail, hospitality and entertainment workers be “singled out for wage cuts?”

One, businesses in those industries could be exempted from trade practice and competition laws governing price gouging, abuse of market power and racketeering, and given the discretion to increase the prices of their goods, services and other offerings by 150% at all times such a loading is payable to staff.

Maybe if the $80 per hour waiter is serving a $100 main meal that usually costs $40 — or if the $60 usher at the cinema is checking a $50 movie ticket that usually costs $20 — the average idiot taking his family out on “unsociable” Sundays, or at times outside the obsolete 9 to 5 weekday stereotype, or (shock, horror) on a Saturday night outing that happens to tick past midnight, will cheerily fork out knowing he’s protecting “workers’ rights” and happy to become a fully owned subsidiary in the unions’ campaign to destroy business and hit “the rich:” proving the point that people have too much money if they can pay, and that seeing to it that some of it is shanghaied in the name of “the worker” is an impost everyone will laughingly and civic-mindedly accept.

Does anyone believe that?

Or two, if this is such an irreconcilable problem (and remember, trade hours were only really liberalised over the last 20 years), maybe it would just be easier to abolish Sunday trading altogether, and to reinstitute curbs on after-hours trading as well: and to dispense with the problem at a stroke.

I don’t think people would accept that either.

People who are paid by the hour who are working more than eight hours at a time, or more than 40 hours per week, or between the hours of midnight and 6am deserve some kind of loading: I don’t suggest for a second that they don’t, and indeed these are the people for whom there may be a case to pay even more than they are receiving right now.

But the point here is that the entire concept of “unsociable hours” as currently enshrined is based on social norms and in terms of community standards that no longer exist — and the structures that govern who can earn what, and when, either need to be overhauled to reflect the movement of the times or the (praiseworthy, common sense, natural) liberalisation of trade that has enriched Australian society and expanded choice must regrettably be wound back.

In the end, knuckle-dragging troglodytes from the unions are less concerned with the “rights” of those they claim to represent than they are with the perpetuation of their own feather-bedded sinecures: and if their role in a modern society is so crucial, some explanation based in fact as to why the union movement continues to lose members in both real and absolute terms is long overdue.

Spare us the propaganda of this being a call to enslave workers and exploit them; the revolution may not start today, and in any case the vapid bullshit the unions and their chums advance to that effect is, by present-day standards, puerile, immature, and childish.

No-one is advocating anything less than fair recompense for fair work (and yes, I am mindful I’ve used the F word twice there).

The problem is that we now live in a 24 hour world which once operated, in the main, for just eight to ten hours per day; working on a Saturday or a Sunday is normal now, and so is the proliferation of evening jobs for students, second income seekers and the otherwise unemployable that was nowhere near as extensive two decades ago as it is today.

Hypocritically sticking with obsolete and antiquated definitional arguments to oppose reform to what constitutes “ordinary hours of work” is an indictment on unions and a betrayal of the people they masquerade — when it suits them, and when they’re not extorting business even further — as the champions of.

A more sensible discussion would be how a restructuring of pay scales might translate into extra shifts in a restaurant, or more frequent tours at a theme park, or some other formulation for increasing the overall amount of work on offer in exchange for some relief for small businesses from the punitive (and increasingly prohibitive) real costs of weekend penalty rates.

If the unions are so wedded to their flat Earth positions, there are alternatives. They might not be popular and they might be undesirable.

But in the end, if the cost of labour and the framework that defines it are the only ingredient of the industrial equation that refuses, forcibly, to evolve — despite the world around it having quite literally moved on — then perhaps the only solution is to shut the whole thing down.

Maybe the question unions should ask themselves is whether some quite reasonably paid work — for those, according to their own propaganda, who most need it — is better than no work at all.

The unions could quite feasibly play a constructive role in helping to fashion a modern and constructive solution to what not so long ago was an unforeseen consequence of the evolution of the way we work and live; it doesn’t have to rip anyone off, but it has to ensure the jobs they so viciously claim to safeguard are actually affordable to businesses to provide in the first place.

And that’s another thing — businesses are not charities. They exist to turn a profit. There is no entitlement to a job any more than there is an indissoluble obligation on the entrepreneur to remain in business to provide one. There may be competing and sometimes conflicting forces at work in the relationship between labour and capital, but the end destination of total intransigence* on the part of one side of that equation is the collapse of the relationship altogether.

Cash has her work cut out, and it is to be hoped she won’t flinch as the Abbott government did the instant Labor and the unions signalled they would block any change whatsoever in the Senate that involved fixing the outdated regime of penalty rates.

It was an abject and pathetic surrender. But then again, the Left in this country is so hostile to any outcome other than its own collective arse in the seat of power — for power’s sake alone — that meaningful reform on an economy-wide basis has, on the face of it, become virtually impossible.

The Employment minister will need to channel every fibre of the Thatcher spirit if she is to prevail, but for the sake of sustainable employment outcomes and to the long-term advantage of those who depend on them, it is critical that she does.


*…and by intransigence (or moves to avoid it) I don’t mean half-arsed “solutions” like the unions made — involving people working 14 minutes extra per week — to try to save the inefficient car manufacturing industry that was simply a black hole for the unions to suck government subsidies into through successively greedier “enterprise” agreements: and the fact such a disclaimer needs to be made at all in the context of any discussion around labour market flexibility merely illustrates just how intellectually bankrupt and cavalier the union movement really is about “workers’ rights” in Australia today.