Monday, 28 Nov 2022

Hyperventilation around the workplace overhaul feels like a curtain raiser for Labors next thought crime cutting emissions | Katharine Murphy

Hyperventilation around the workplace overhaul feels like a curtain raiser for Labors next thought crime cutting emissions | Katharine Murphy


Hyperventilation around the workplace overhaul feels like a curtain raiser for Labors next thought crime  cutting emissions | Katharine Murphy

All governments have seasons. In just under six months, the seasons of the Albanese government have been victory, transition, honeymoon, events.

The latest Guardian Essential poll tells us voter reception of the prime minister remains broadly where Labor would want it to be - 73% of respondents are either positive (45%) or neutral (28%). So, for now, the tolerance and goodwill persists. But there's been a noticeable transition in atmosphere over the past fortnight. The shift suggests the government is bearing down on its next season: the summer of rent seekers.

After several months of playing nice, various interest groups are out testing their vocal cords on industrial relations regulation. Some of the same players also look to be limbering up ahead of the critical next phase of climate policy, which is rebooting the mechanism for driving emissions reduction in heavy industry.

In case you've missed the recent foot stamping, employer organisations are unhappy the government is attempting to deliver on its pre-election promise to get wages moving again. The government is proposing to overhaul some of the industrial relations practices that have helped deliver stagnant wages for workers at a time when many corporations have recorded very high profits. Judging by the tone of much of the stakeholder debate, business groups seem to think it's OK to entertain a theoretical discussion about the desirability of lifting wages as long as nobody attempts to do anything structural to deliver that outcome.

The self-interest on display here is blindingly obvious. But a lot of the pearl clutching has been amplified uncritically by news organisations. I'm not sure why business objections have gained quasi-national interest status in some quarters, given calling out rent-seeking is a core function of journalism.

Also confusing: some of the commentary about the perils of multi-employer bargaining appears to assume nothing has changed in the labour market since the 1980s; that trade unions are the crouching tigers of the economy, ready to pounce on unsuspecting employers with their exorbitant industry-wide wage claims, and that will fuel a wage-price spiral, and we'll cartwheel towards End Times. Perhaps we could all take a breath? Since 1992, the proportion of employees who are trade union members has fallen from 40% to 14%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

There really is no interest like self-interest. Fun fact. Employer groups as a rule aren't great champions of higher wages for their workers. Have you noticed? There's always a better time to think about a wage rise. Next week. Next year. The 12th of never. Another fun fact. Strangely, while wages have flatlined it's been considered perfectly acceptable for the profit share to rise. As far as I know, no business group has threatened to run an advertising campaign raging against rising profits, just about the prospect of rising wages.

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