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Welcome to the new economy: Brought to you by the Coalition Government

By Terence Mills

Punitive legislation to hobble and ultimately cripple the union movement has been a key strategy of both government and employer groups in recent times, and the fruits of these endeavours are now being harvested in the form of historically low wages growth together with the wholesale stripping of employment benefits that took decades to achieve.

Real wage growth has fallen into negative territory and stalled at an all-time low. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that workers’ take/home pay has failed to keep up with the cost of living. Negative real wage growth has occurred only twice since current records began two decades ago, and according to the bureau’s measure of average weekly earnings, the growth in wages is at its lowest level since World War Two. For the last four quarters, annual wages growth has been stuck at 1.9%, the lowest rate ever recorded. That is a significant wage reduction when inflation and population rises are taken into account.

Wages as a proportion of Australia’s total income – its gross domestic product – are now the lowest since records began in 1959.

In an article in Crikey this week, economist Alan Austin noted disturbing data on leave entitlements that were so hard won in the post war years that have now to a significant extent been rolled back: the ABS revealed that more than a quarter of Australia’s workers now have no leave entitlements.

Let’s just reflect on that: more than a quarter of Australia’s workers now have no leave entitlements.

More than 2,527,500 workers were found in August to have no holiday, long service or sick leave entitlements provided by their employer. This comprised 848,200 full-time workers and more than 1,679,300 casual and part-timers.

This escalation of workers without leave entitlements is disturbing for unions and other worker advocates – as well as for employees themselves – as this is yet another instance of trending disadvantage.

The number of workers with only part-time or casual jobs has ballooned recently. The percentage of part-time or casual workers remained steady through the last five Labor years, averaging 29.6%. For the final year, the mean was 29.9%. Through the Coalition period, this has risen significantly to average 31.1% over the past four years and 31.8% over the last full year.

These latest leave entitlements revelations bolster the conclusions drawn from almost all other indicators of the wellbeing of the majority of Australians – cost of living, disposable income, household debt, housing approvals, taxes, charges and others. These show the majority of Australians are progressively getting poorer.

Meanwhile, the very rich minority and the large corporations are enjoying strong trade volumes, high commodity prices, record corporate profits and increasing shareholder dividends, executive salaries and bonuses.

In the last few days, the Federal Court has upheld the right of the Fairwork Commission to reduce or eliminate penalty rates for low income workers without any need to compensate or offset that reduction with increases to the minimum wage despite the prime Minister having said in March when the cuts were announced originally that:

“… an element of modern awards was that any changes would not reduce the take-home pay of workers.

One option was to have the commission make a take-home pay order that whittles back penalty rates at the same time as annual minimum wage increases are awarded.

The employee’s overall pay packet increases and offsets the phased-in reduction in penalty rates,” Mr Turnbull said.

Turnbull has since, not unexpectedly, walked away from his initial inclinations.

Let’s not kid ourselves, these changes in employment entitlements and conditions are not the much heralded and ultra-cool Gig economy where everybody has half a dozen jobs and consider themselves as independent contractors and free spirits owned by nobody and able to turn their hand to any task. These are people who will never be able to buy a house because they won’t qualify for a mortgage loan: they will live all their lives in rental accommodation and will retire with virtually no superannuation and little with which to sustain themselves or to continue paying rent when they are too old to work – taking a holiday for these people will be akin to being unemployed as will a period of sick leave.

The relentless union bashing by successive coalition governments, the pandering to corporations including the current push to reduce company taxes – to be hammered home by the coalition in the next parliamentary sitting – together with our complacency have allowed this state of affairs to take hold and they haven’t finished with us yet.

I find this current state of affairs as an appalling legacy that we have unintentionally bequeathed to the next generation of working Australians.

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12 comments

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  1. Harquebus

    Growth, whether it is economic, jobs or wages requires surplus energy. Good luck obtaining that.

  2. Phil

    A very depressing insight into the real legacy of conservative rule but an insight we nonetheless need to be aware of. My local Conservative MP will be receiving from me yet another list of figures to add to her sad legacy. Donald Horne’ view needs updating – we are a third rate people governed by a fourth rate parliament.

  3. Wun Farlung

    One part of this issue is the variations of terminology used to describe jobs
    A friend who has been unemployed recently was employed in a ‘full time’ job (the employer’s advertised description)
    While discussing her new job it appears it is certainly full time- 5 days/week 8 hours/day but given that she has no entitlements, it is a casual position. What our politicians like to call full time equivalent jobs.
    I don’t hear the Malfunction or the Banshee stating permanent job numbers.
    I await the wash up from the internship/taxpayer subsidised slave scheme
    The devil is in the detail

  4. Neededagoodlaugh

    The ‘gig economy’ is just a flash marketing spin phrase for “piece work” – welcome back to the early 1900s folks…

  5. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    industrial awards have the legal status of court orders. failing to comply with an industrial award is failing to comply with a court order. failing to comply with a court order is contempt of court. contempt of court is a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment in some jurisdiction. an employer who fails to comply with an industrial award is in contempt of court. an unemployed person who is forced or compelled to take a job that offers terms and conditions that do not comply with an award are being coerced into breaking the law. thus, the lnp strategy of forcing people to take any job even those below an award is of dubious legality and is compelling them to be in contempt of court. thus is the liberal party

  6. Aortic

    Jobsen Growth is closely related to Warren Terrah and Wasp (weak as stale piss) Bumble. They are trotted out occasionally to either reassure or frighten us but when scrutinised mean as much as fairly floss. All fluff and no substance.

  7. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    the only good liberal is a dead one.

    eg adam smith

  8. OPPOSE THE MAJOUR PARTIES

    industrial awards have the legal status of court orders. failing to comply with an industrial award is failing to comply with a court order. failing to comply with a court order is contempt of court. contempt of court is a criminal offence punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment in some jurisdiction. an employer who fails to comply with an industrial award is in contempt of court. an unemployed person who is forced or compelled to take a job that offers terms and conditions that do not comply with an award are being coerced into breaking the law. thus, the lnp strategy of forcing people to take any job even those below an award is compelling them to be in contempt of court. thus is the liberal party

  9. Martin Jansen

    “The next Generation of Australian workers”..will be algorithms, AI, and robots. More info: https://archive.org/details/kr341

  10. Michael Taylor

    I think you’re right, Martin.

  11. Peregrine McCauley

    Whenever the working class reap the benefits of social progressive policies , they turn and vote the other way . They aspire to be the one percent , with all its trappings . Greedy low intelligent empathy less , single cell entities , that would be well at home upstairs . Alas there’s no room for them at the top , it’s already owned . They’re better off at the pub , regailing how John Howard was definitely our best prime minister ,and thank god Costello fixed the economy after Labor ruined it .

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