With particular emphasis on moronic in my title, our esteemed Australian government brought in WorkChoices legislation in March 2006. It is an oxymoron because there are not really any choices in the updated Workplace Relations Act. In fact, it took a lot of choice and money away from many workers – mostly from workers who could ill afford it.
This is how the government describe it to employers on their website:
"The national workplace relations system
provides more choice and flexibility for employers in the workplace.
The system offers better ways to reward effort, increase wages and
balance work and family life."
And this how they describe to employees:
"The national workplace relations system
provides more choice and flexibility for employees in the workplace.
The system offers better ways to balance work and family life and
receive greater rewards and incentives."
Interestingly, especially for employees, this is not how it works. A study has just been released Not fair, No choice – The impact of WorkChoices on twenty South Australian workers and their households (PDF file). It clearly outlines the negative impact WorkChoices has had on their work.
Two excerpts in regards to sole parents because I could so easily be in their situation:
"Shannon is also a sole parent with children 8 and 11 years old. She had shifted from one country town to another in mid-2006 in order to obtain work as a permanent full-time bar manager on an individual contract. She worked a split shift Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, commencing at 10am, with a break between 1pm and 5.30pm, then working until close of business. On Saturday she worked 5.30pm until close. On Sunday she worked four hours in the morning. She was paid $15.97 per hour.
These extended hours were of concern to Shannon, but she needed the work. She used the midday break to do work at home and the hours at least enabled her to be with her children before and after school:
Shannon’s employer demanded flexibility on her part to cover the varying closing hours of the establishment, but was not similarly considerate of her caring responsibilities. Shannon regularly worked until 2 or 3am and between 15-20 hours beyond her contracted 38 hours each week. She was not paid for these additional hours; nor did she receive time off in lieu:
When her boss went on holiday, Shannon was asked to increase her hours from 10am-1pm to 10am-2pm. In spite of this increase eating into her limited mid-day break in which she had to travel 11km each way to her home to do necessary work for the family, she agreed. On his return her request to return to her normal hours was refused. She received no pay for this extra hour. Shannon eventually objected to the working hours demanded of her, leading to her dismissal. She has no remedy under WorkChoices for her unfair dismissal (discussed in later section)…." (p. 23)
"For sole parent Ruby the intersection of WorkChoices with ‘welfare to work’ requirements generated additional anxiety regarding her finding part-time work that matched her caring responsibilities. She felt pressured to accept work that did not meet her needs. Ruby experienced a contradiction between government advertisements supportive of family and the threat of loss of ‘pension’ if suitable work was not accepted:…" (p. 59)
If you have been affected by WorkChoices you are able to participate in a confidential interview. See page 72 of the report for further information.
I remember at my workplace when this legislation came into effect I recommended to the team that they should all join the union. I’ve been a union member since I started at my workplace in 1994 and have been lucky enough not to have really needed them but I hope they would be helpful if I did. Everyone was quite apathetic about it and I don’t think anyone did join. We have been pretty lucky here in that we are not directly affected by this legislation because we have an Enterprise Agreement which the unions help get for us by the way.
I will watch with interest what happens if/when the Labor government win the federal election later this year as they say:
"Only Labor’s IR policies are fair for families, and only Labor will
stand up for working families, restore basic rights for employees, and
ensure workplace laws are fair, balanced and productive."