ACTU secretary Sally McManus has launched the national unions’ pre-election Change the Rules campaign with the ambition to be the largest campaign the organisation has run since 2007’s WorkChoices effort. McManus describes Change the Rules as a campaign to demand an overhaul of Australia’s workplace relations system, saying that too many Australians face insecure work and mass corporate exploitation.
Despite flashy advertising, advocating to “bring fairness back to Australia”, the union’s bid to turn back the clocks and lumber business with new regulations is not the answer to help people secure work, it’s a recipe for economic disaster. Proposed policy suggestions would cost thousands of people the very employment and livelihoods the union claims it wants to protect. Research conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs shows that the ACTU’s proposed 7.2 per cent hike in the minimum wage would destroy 115,000 jobs, particularly negatively affecting poor, underemployed, low skilled and young people.
Of course, the campaign isn’t about secure work and stopping exploitation, it’s about the trade union movement’s bid to increase its own membership after years of decline and irrelevancy to new workers. The unionised workforce today represents less than nine per cent of the private sector, the lowest numbers since records began, and has been on a continual decline since 2012 when overall membership was stable at 19.5 per cent. This decline in union membership is occurring simultaneously with the ACTU’s movement further away from its core business of representing workers and, instead, acting as a movement that is more concerned with activism.
The problem the ACTU faces is that workers, particularly of a younger generation, are simply not interested by a group who think it is morally acceptable to break the law, practise relentless public political manipulation for the Labor Party and continue to attack the very services and organisations which younger Australian’s are so attracted to work for and use, such as Uber, Airbnb, and Deliveroo. If the ACTU was honest with its campaign for reform, it wouldn’t be advocating for more regulations on top of our excessive industrial relations legislative goliath, but advocating for policies that promote economic growth, such as business tax cuts, and cutting unnecessary regulation that halts business investment. The ACTU, however, seeks the opposite of this — a more regulated, less flexible economy and higher taxes on business, justified in their mind by a series of grievances not supported by the facts.
The union’s continued accusations that Australian businesses do not pay their fair share of tax, is simply wrong. Australia has the third highest dependency on corporate tax in the OECD, as a share of total tax revenue and our companies continue to have one of the lowest rates of tax evasion in the world. Further, contrary to claims about employment conditions, Australia continues to maintain a strong social safety net with strict rules for employers over working conditions and hours. We have the second-highest real hourly minimum wage in the developed world and among some of the lowest rates of wealth inequality, ranking higher than Germany, Canada, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, and New Zealand.
This disdain the ACTU has shown for new industry, enterprise and innovation simply disregards the reality of the modern workforce. Playing into the politics of class divide and envy, the Change the Rules campaign will do nothing more than try to pit workers against business in a 1970s-style bid to stem the tide of the huge growth in the sharing economy; a new economy which thrives on workplace collaboration, flexibility and rewards for those that innovate and deliver for their customers.
Stifling our private sector, which employs 10.8 million Australians, by eroding the nation’s competitiveness and ability to innovate isn’t going to help attract the investment needed to create jobs and drive higher incomes, it is simply going to stop it and drive business elsewhere.
Clark Cooley is President of the University of Tasmania Liberal Students. He tweets at @ClarkCooley.
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