Keep an eye out over the next few days for the union movement’s positive plan to ensuring millions of workers can get a pay rise.
Unions will be at the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit this Thursday and Friday. This is an opportunity for workers to change the script that has seen wage growth frozen or going backwards for a decade.
Every worker has felt the impact of our slow wage growth throughout Australia. Those who are working in our childcare centres, aged care facilities, hospitals and schools are especially feeling the brunt, but low wage growth impacts us all.
Mining worker and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union member Darryl Piper showed how wage crisis had played out at his own workplace.
“The last 18 years we’ve only had a 1.7 per cent increase in pay, but the labour hire on site are on 20 per cent less than we are and casualised – no sick leave, no annual leave,” he said.
Key challenges for the jobs summit? Fixing real wage growth & good jobs in essential sectors like childcare, aged care, cleaning, nursing, teaching.— Australia Institute (@TheAusInstitute) August 27, 2022
Real wages have gone back to 2012 levels. If nothing changes they risk going back to 2008 levels#Insiders pic.twitter.com/UF805F5Gyj
Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus explained that the situation simply cannot continue.
“We have not seen real pay increases for ten whole years now. There’s been plenty of time for employers to get people pay increases, but they have not,” she said.
The Job and Skills Summit is where workers in unions will come to the table alongside big business lobby groups, community organisations and the government to discuss our abysmal wage growth problem.
We do not expect to fix everything overnight, but the Summit is a big start in addressing difficulties millions of workers face every day.
Our working lives have transformed massively over the pandemic and even more so over the past few decades since Australia’s work laws were created thirty years ago. It’s time for our laws to keep up with what it means to work in 2022.
Profits are up but who are they going to?
Workers have put in a great deal of effort into their jobs and its showing. Productivity has risen at an impressive rate and will be an important point of discussion at the Summit.
It will be an important part of the discussion at the Summit, especially as high productivity has not automatically guaranteed anywhere near similar rates of wage growth.
Productivity is not the solution to our problem – real wages have lagged behind productivity growth. Those gains have largely gone to profits. That’s because our bargaining system is broken, workers left behind #Insiders pic.twitter.com/QMO6rhcYnh— Australia Institute (@TheAusInstitute) August 27, 2022
Sally McManus explained that this is all the more reason to be sceptical of how the word productivity is used, especially when it comes from CEOs or corporate executives.
“Sometimes when employers say we want to talk about productivity, what they mean is working harder for less,” she said.
The gains that have been made in productivity have mostly gone to profits that line the multi-million dollar pay packets of CEOs and overseas hedge funds, rather than providing workers with the income needed to keep up with rising prices.
Fixing the bargaining system is the best way forward
There is a way we can achieve decent wage growth for all workers and that is through collective bargaining.
But our collective bargaining laws are out of date and fail to address how different our jobs are from what they used to be when the system was first set up more than 30 years ago.
ANZ workplace representative and Finance Sector Union member Christ Barron pointed out that the current system supports an unfair power balance.
“Companies have the power to delay bargaining as long as they want and we have no power to compel to bargain…[they’re] able to sidestep the system, which means it’s as good as non-existent,” he said.
At the moment, if you work somewhere with only a handful of colleagues, it can make negotiating for better wages almost impossible due to the lack of numbers.
One example of this occurring in Australia is in our aged care facilities. Many aged care workers have one employer but work across multiple facilities owned by the same company.
It makes sense that they should be able to come together and negotiate an agreement with better pay and conditions. With multi-employer bargaining, we could make it happen.
Multi-employer bargaining would allow workers from across an industry or sector to act together with the purpose of achieving a better outcome for all.
Other countries like Germany and New Zealand have shown us how effective it would be. They have enjoyed reduced inequality, employment boosts and reduced unemployment as a result.
“Multi-employer bargaining” – which the Govt is seriously interested in – exists in all the Nordic countries, Germany & New Zealand. The OECD has found it 1) reduced inequality 2) boosts employment 3) reduces unemployment #Insiders pic.twitter.com/YDRq606I3r— Australia Institute (@TheAusInstitute) August 27, 2022
For workers to make the best of bargaining, the system must be both simple and fair. The way the system functions now means workers are locked out of being able to negotiate for decent wages. Only 14 percent of workers are even covered by an agreement.
What makes enterprise bargaining so effective for workers is the same thing that will strengthen it: collective action.
That means building organised workplaces where workers in unions stand with each other. It’s why union members earn, on average, $250 more per week than non-union members.