In Australia, the term “industrial relations” is essentially a euphemism for shitfights between employees and employers, usually with the involvement of unions. The landscape here seems to be about halfway between the US (where it seems as if you can be “let go” with no warning for no reason) and France (where it seems you could set fire to your boss’ office and they still couldn’t sack you without causing rioting in the streets).
The current federal government has been moving the country further and further towards the US model over the last ten years. The motto seems to be “employers can do whatever they want, whenever they want.” From a certain perspective this makes sense – if employers can’t run companies the way they want, the companies may grind to a halt and collapse. Then everybody loses. There are many instances in the past of heavy-handed unions strangling industries so that the end result is higher costs for everyone and companies ultimately being killed off by faster moving competitors who weren’t similarly encumbered.
This approach of “the boss knows best” tends to fall down when the boss is an evil, scheming, malicious and/or criminal bastard. There are plenty of examples of companies being destroyed and ordinary people bearing the cost due to straight out criminal behaviour by bosses (Enron and Tyco in the US, Bond Corp and Qintex in Australia). That’s the problem with ideologies – fighting against the one you oppose tends to blind you to the failings of your own.
To me, it’s quite amusing to see the government pushing their own ideology to an extreme because they seem utterly blind to how much they are fucking up. This government hates unions. The influence of and membership in unions has been declining steadily for at least 20 years. So what does the government do? It institutes such scary-ass industrial relations laws that people are beating down the office doors of unions in their rush to sign up. It’s such a colossal blunder, it reminds me of the grand plan pushed by US Neocons – let’s eradicate Muslim extremism by invading a Muslim country!
The environment being created essentially allows a boss to say to a worker “Your job no longer exists. However, we invite you to apply for this newly created position. It happens to be identical to your old position but the salary is 25% lower and there’s no overtime pay. If you don’t like it you’re out the door. Today.” For some crazy reason, this complete lack of security freaks some people out.
I have actually chosen to work under pretty much that exact setup for quite a few years. As a contractor I have to negotiate my rates and conditions on a regular basis and there is no guaranteed future. The difference between me and the majority of workers is that I’m in a highly specialised industry with high pay rates and I tend to have the upper hand in negotiations. Pretty much the complete opposite of the position low-skill workers find themselves in.
My advice to people who find themselves in this precarious situation is not to be scared: embrace the situation! Contracts work two ways and employment contracts are no different. Aggressively pursue what you want from an employer. If the current one isn’t giving what you want, find one who is. There are no secure jobs any more. Thinking you have no choices means you will be sitting there with the sword of Damocles hanging over your head until the day when it inevitably drops. It requires a whole new way of thinking for most people.
With that in mind, I’m going to submit a plan to the government for some vocational training for school students to get them ready for this brave new industrial world. Essentially, the training would involve dumping a class of kids into a pit and giving them each a cricket bat. Then I tell them that last one standing gets a thousand bucks. After most of them have been beaten unconscious and the victor rises for their reward I say this to them:
“I’ve changed the terms of the agreement. Here’s a week’s worth of two minute noodles. Come back and do the same thing next week if you want to eat again.”
It’s exactly the same as what they’ll face in the workforce.