Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Saying "no" to John Howard

John Howard's industrial relations reforms have been greeted by the largest protests in Australian history. 175,000 marched in Melbourne, according to The Age, with 100 schools and many factories forced to close as workers simply downed tools and walked off the job, despite being threatened with fines or the sack.

Howard was dismissive, claiming that all this will be forgotten when the law is passed, but his plans have exposed a vein of real anger in Australia. Australians know what these changes mean, because they have seen the consequences in New Zealand: the 1990 Employment Contracts Act led to the widespread abolition of overtime, penal rates and job security; a decade's stagnation in wages (leading to a decline in the overall wage-share of the economy in favour of corporate profits); and pay cuts of up to 25% for the most vulnerable workers. It was a very real cause of the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand today, and Australian workers have no desire to see that gap closed by a decline in their own living standards. Fortunately, they seem to want to fight. If John Howard does not listen, this protest will be repeated - and repeated, and repeated - until he does.


It would be rather ironic if the wage and salary gap between Australia and New Zealand was closed not by upping NZ wages but by cutting the Ozzie ones. I'm sure this would make Dr Brashville and the KeyStone Cop quite happy. But in the longer term this convergence in labour market deregulation between Aus and NZ would make a mockery of the claim Aus has better living standards and higher wages, and even make people think twice before emigrating.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 11/16/2005 11:23:00 AM