Modia Minotaur

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

WorkChoices: The Bargaining Begins

I've just finished watching the press conference to launch the industrial relations changes on Sky News. Surprisingly low key? Absolutely deliberate. `This? The issue that nearly brought my government to its knees mere months ago?' Howard seemed to be saying `Pish-tush-pshaw!'. It takes a certain sort of bloke to dismiss the most serious threat his government has ever encountered with `The concerns - if they actually existed - were based on misapprehensions' Make no mistake - from this day forward, the slate will we wiped clean and the government will try as hard as they can to erase Mrs ACTU and her two sick children from history (yes, according to Howard, she was still fired for staying home from work to look after her sick children. Speaking of misapprehensions).

A linguist would have a field day. The Fair Wages Commission won't bring in bog standard US style minimum wages - it'll simply bring a `new rigour of analysis' to wage setting. Unfair dismissal laws won't have the rear torn out of them - they will be `better balanced' (and after all, they're `not some sort of Magna Carta'. Which is to say - once you fight for and win rights, don't expect to hold on to them for 400 years, kids!). Award protection will not be ripped to shreds, it will be made `more modern'. `Flexibility', `Workers Market' - oh boy, they were flying thick and fast. George Orwell would weep.

It was when it came to the questions that things actually started getting interesting. Repeatedly, Howard refused to guarantee that workers would not be worse off under the IR changes. It looks like we'll be hearing `my guarantee is my record' an awful lot in the future. Howard is taking a mighty gamble in saying that the way the success of the changes will be judged is whether the Australian economy improves. It doesn't take a fool to work out that even if you cut Australian wages in half, the owners of Chinese sweatshops won't have cause to break out a sweat themselves.

Family First senator Steven Fielding might note that it again appears the government have lost his Family Impact Statement in the mail. I bet they wouldn't have done that if it wasn't for Barnaby Joyce.

Oh, and those tedious Boeing workers who have been striking for 120 days? Howard's message to you? Get back to work, you bludgers. Yes, you'll be earning less, but it's perfectly within Boeing's rights to treat you like shit, and by pooncing around with placards you're just making fools of yourselves. QED.

To those working weekends and crappy hours? It's a bloody wonderful thing. In fact, Howard - bizarrely paraphrasing Chairman Mao (I hear he takes a picture of him to his hairdresser each month and says `I'll have one of those, thanks) - says he would like `a thousand arrangements to bloom' in regards the configuration of working hours. Clearly a keen scholar of the Cultural Revolution.

Finally, it appears Howard has been dipping into that other Little Red Book, the Latham Diaries, or at least keeping abreast of the saga surrounding such. Latham recently admitted on Lateline that one of Labor's great failings was to try and pick holes in the economic performance of a government that was managing an economy that was allowing people to do quite well for themselves rather than emphasising that it was the Hawke-Keating government that put in the groundwork (an approach he described, memorably, as `a bit of Barry Bulldust I'm afraid, Tony,'). Howard couldn't resist proclaiming to the high hills what a marvellous job Hawke and Keating had done of setting things up for him, and to bemoan to his nonexistent fringe the fact that the Opposition would never praise him for the same.

Which would at least acknowledge that they'll get in one day ...

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