WorkChoices a "can of worms"
10 September 2007
The only good thing about WorkChoices is that it will "galvanize people to relook at labour relations," says a visiting Harvard Professor.
Richard Freeman is in Australia to give the opening address at 2007 National Industrial Relations Conference. He will also speak at a public lecture at Sydney University on Thursday (13 September 6pm).
Professor Freeman calls WorkChoices "a can of worms" for the Prime Minister John Howard. "Why with such a successful economy and the unions doing no harm did the PM choose to open this can of worms and do so without any consensus evidence that this was a good way to go?"
Richard Freeman is an economics professor at Harvard and also directs the National Bureau of Economic Research labour studies program. The Bureau is a nonprofit economic research organisation.
In his lecture, WorkChoices: Reform or retrogression in labour relations? A view from the other side of the world, Professor Freeman says "even US conservatives" are "stunned" by the legislation.
"It tries to destroy collective action and reduce standards. It is too prescriptive in that it limits what workers, firms, and unions can bargain over. It does not fit a world where half of all workers are women and one third of new workers are college graduates.
"It is hard to see how a democratic society will accept such a tilt in labour law toward the powerful and wealthy, but I don't know the form the rejection will take," says Professor Freeman.
WorkChoices is set to be a huge issue at the upcoming federal election, with campaigns from business, government, the ACTU, and individual unions appearing on televisions screens and in newspapers. Even popular TV shows like McLeod's Daughters, and more recently Kath and Kim, are featuring WorkChoices in their storylines.
"Wages will fall and become more unequal. The kind of workplace reform that leads to greater productivity involves two things which this legal change completely ignores: greater worker participation in financial success of firms, through profit-sharing and share ownership; and greater involvement in decisions, which this law seems to gut in large part.
"And unions, just like John Howard, need to move into the 21st century. They need to develop a new model for delivering services to highly educated workers in the private sector and low paid workers in service sectors, many in small firms, but without collective bargaining," Professor Freeman adds.
"I speculate that Mr Howard is fighting ancient battles - the winter of discontent in England in the 1980s or something. This is not what it could have been - a labour law for the 21st century."
The public lecture by Professor Freeman, WorkChoices: Reform or retrogression in labour relations? A view from the other side of the world will be held at the Eastern Avenue Auditorium at 6.00pm on Thursday 13 September 2007. The lecture is free. For more information, contact Kristy Bergin on 9351 5626 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Clickherefor more information on Professor Freeman
Contact: Elizabeth Heath
Phone: 02 9351 3168