Monday, October 31, 2011

Striking the union

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has won. He played hardball with the unions and a flaccid Labor government was not there for the workers. The $5 million-a-year Irishman can now move forward and "modernise" the country's one-time flagship airline with cheap crew and service from Asia.

This is profoundly sad and negative for Australia - and the sort of compromised dividend one may expect of privatisation and outsourcing.

But I fear an even sadder prognosis long-term for the breaking of the unions which have been effectively vilified by the endlessly indignant dominance of the corporate powers. They bellow at how hard done-by they are when a union stands up for workers' rights or pay entitlements. Just as they up the bizarrely huge salaries of their executives. What is the CEO of crumbling Coles getting now? $15 million a year? With a staff dominated by students on casual hours?

The worker is being systematically devalued.
The idea is that the worker also must be de-powered.

Solidarity has been all the workers have had. The company of peers and the organisation of the working force of the union has been their stability, ensuring that they are able to have planned lives. Workers actually pay for this. Union dues are not cheap. But the union goes in to bat. The union defends workers against exploitation, standing up for their rights, achieving for them things like sick leave entitlements, holidays and wages which have some accord with cost of living increases. They have done this through strength of numbers and, sometimes, some very harrowing conflict. But they have never tried to destroy business - obviously, since they also wish to protect the source of their employment. Doh.

But companies always cry foul and other countries with bigger, stronger, ruthless corporate interests have broken the backs of unions. The word "union" is almost a dirty word in America. And it is becoming so here in Australia. Unions have been merging and fighting for their own existence.

Young, new workers, have not heard of unions and hence have no idea that their fair work conditions were negotiated for them by unions.

The contracts they sign these days have to reflect these rights, long ago fought for by the unions. But contracts remove that old thing, security of employment. Less and less does one see "permanent full-time employment". It is an option companies would rather not offer.

Gradually they have moved on to fairly inviting contracts which may pay more but will call upon certain added commitments to the company - unpaid overtime, perhaps. They present and couch the contracts in such a way that the new employee will feel special.
But that is a well-wrought illusion. The contracts don't have to be renewed, if the company so wishes. This keeps workers on their toes.

Without proper contracts, they can end up as casuals.
And casual work is the direction in which the workplace is headed. It is the dream workplace for the Alan Joyces of this world.
It is the perfect arrangement for big business. It is cheaper to have three casuals than one full-time permanent staffer.
A casual workforce is the corporate ideal. Cheap, cheap, cheap.
They may be paid more by the hour, but they don't know what hours they will get.

And, of course, looking at things like aircraft maintenance, outsourced casual workforce with low pay expectations, are much better for the bottom line.

Casuals only work when they are invited to work.
They may work one day a week or five, depending on demand. Maybe none.

They have no entitlements.
If casuals are sick, they are not working and hence not paid.
The company calls up another casual.
If a casual wants a holiday, a casual may take a holiday. Their time is their own. The company is not committed to them, so there is no holiday pay. Just another casual to fill the gap.

The phenomenon of the casual worker has been growing prodigiously - but quietly. Twentysix per cent of the workforce and rising.
Who is going to speak out for them? There is no organisation for them of which I know.

So, if you don't have a regular or predicable income, how do you get a loan, take out a mortgage, buy a home?

You don't.
Forget health insurance.

But looking ahead, as outsourcing takes over to ensure the company profits required for shareholder affluence and millionaire CEOs, we see a new generation of workers in this insecure condition. A new, growing underclass.

And, unless there is a big change in the way the financial world functions, these young people will not be buying their own homes. Indeed, they may have to have incomes subsidised by pensions to lift them off the poverty line. How would that work? They'd be better off on the dole.

The future looks messy.

I look at the babies of this new baby boom and wonder about what they will face as the workforce of tomorrow.

Renting properties rather than buying, being unable to forward plan their own lives for fear of losing casual shifts...

A culture of increasing socio-economic disparity is emerging - along with it a population growth of amotivated and unfulfilled people.

It is a bit scary.
But maybe, just maybe, some of tomorrow's workers will stand up for each other - and maybe even invent something called a union.

1 comment:

Becky Mclean said...

Outsourcing will benefit you and your outsourced employee. Like cutting down cost from your company. outsourcing in philippines is one good option.