Contributed by Jim Hayes
The Jobs Summit starts today. If we believe the flood of rhetoric, great things are going to happen, and Australia will be set on a new and wonderful consensus towards the promised land. Time to pull back to reality. Reality is not so simple.
Instead of a fairy tale, we live in a world and nation the3 spectre of inequality and injustice are real, a few take the perks and the rest are left out. Recent years have seen Australia infected by growing hardship for many. Wages have stagnated and gone backwards in real terms. The casualisation of work continues to grow. People on social security payments are falling further and further below the poverty line. Women are often the hardest hit. The conditions in which the First Australians live remains a national scandal.
These are the matters that cry out for attention.
As we read about the new consensus reached by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Business Council of Australia (BSA), the two peak bodies of the unions and private corporations, we should consider how this might address the needs of the day. Not that there is anything wrong with reaching an agreement per say. Doing this can bring worthwhile progress.
Head of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott says, this is an opportunity for Australia. But what does this mean?
Both sides have agreed that there should be “strong growth, high productivity, fair wage future.” There is agreement over closing the gender pay gap, making the industrial relation system simpler, fairer, and more accessible. They agreed on shifting away from single enterprise to multi-enterprise bargaining. There is even agreement on making it easier to import guest workers form overseas on decent wages and with a pathway towards permanent residency, and the expansion of skills training through investment in education.
This is mostly theatre for now, of course, and the true assessment depends on the details. Time will shine light on these.
But no public relations exercise is going to get around the differences that exist. Foremost is the growing gap between those on wages and social security and top-level shareholders and wealthiest few percent of the population. It is not going to get around the inequities in the taxation system that provides opportunities for large scale tax evasion and ignores fraud for the most privileged, which should be called theft from the Australian people.
There might be some division between the ABC and the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia over the industrial relations system, they are still united in the objectives to continue to pull down the wages share and increasing the pace of work. They seek an expansion of the casualisation of work.
It would be unfair and wrong to suggest the ACTU shares these objectives. They don’t. At the same time, it is not clear whether they see a way out of surrendering to them. Time will provide the answer to this as well.
The existence of this dilemma goes to prove that there exists a great divide that no amount of photo shoot opportunities and back slapping is going to take out of the picture. Dealing with it means coming to terms with what underlies the problems and doing something about it.
Rather than the problem being labour costs, it is about the failure to invest in building a healthy economy. Years of suppressing wages has not generated the needed investment despite record profits for the largest corporations, which proves that the cause lies somewhere else. Capital has been channelled off to other places.
The sources of this bonanza have been the suppression low wages, wage theft, and the growth of monopoly over the Australian economy, which has hit small business hard. The four big banks have a big stake in the ownership of most major corporations, and they are not even turning up to the summit. Years of neoliberal policy has helped this along the way. Murdoch’s media monopoly championed this all along the way and continues to do so.
If the jobs Summit is going to provide a genuine chance for Australia, it will take on the need to address the needs for stopping the drift towards insecure work, ensure everyone has an acceptable standard of living, there is greater equality, and that the problem of increasing monopoly over the economy is another matter needing to be addressed.
We will tell whether this summit is no more than another talkfest, whether it delivers for most, or whether it turns out to be another hoodwink, locking Australia into more of the same.