Flat White

The desecration of the Australian worker

23 February 2017

3:16 PM

23 February 2017

3:16 PM

Today’s disastrous decision by the Fair Work Commission underscores an attack that has been waged on the Australian worker by decades of concerted attacks on wages, conditions and dignity by politicians of all stripes.

The Australian political system has so far staved off the very extreme reactions felt by other post-industrial economies largely through the preservation of the grand bargain between the elite and the working and middle class: that hard work is rewarded by a fair wage and that government prioritises Australian jobs for Australian workers.

It used to be the case that Australian political conservatives respected and upheld the value of weekend work. It used to be the case that if a dad doing it tough could find himself a job, he could be sure that while he may never get rich, he’d have enough to support his kids.

In this country, this has been industrial philosophy since federation and the Harvester Judgement. It formed the basis of a suite of Commonwealth policy during Australian Settlement. It was the working man’s agreement with his boss that he would help build the country but expect fair treatment in return. This philosophy repelled the most virulent elements of twentieth century Marxism, especially when it was exported around the world by the USSR.


When Australia was under threat from international communists, it was the trade union movement that kicked them out of our country. Working Australians don’t want something for nothing, they never have. In this country we look after our own, and we do it through cooperation between enterprising, patriotic business and by the sweat and toil of working women and men.

Part of this Settlement was the idea that weekends meant something. They still do mean something. This is why you can’t get a hold of the Fair Work commission on a Saturday. It’s why you can’t call up the Department of Education on a Saturday.

Some of us go to church on a Sunday. Some watch our kids, nieces or nephews play sport on a Saturday morning. Some of us hurry the kids into the car for a drive, perhaps to see Nan and Pop. So much of the lives of our fellow ordinary Australians are taken up by work during these special times; but life is also what happens when we’re not at work.

Penalty rates are modest imposts on Australian business. But the expectation that you are paid a little bit more while the country’s white collar workers are largely enjoying their weekend is all that our weekend workers expect. Fair wages for fair work that keep people off welfare, that preserve the important Australian agreement around the value of a Sunday and that nod the head to the dignity of drawing a paycheque and not depending on anyone but yourself.

Mitchell Goff is a trade unionist and member of the Australian Labor Party

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