Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Women hurt most by Howard’s IR laws

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A study by Griffith Business School reported that the new workplace laws have cut wages, stripped overtime penalties and removed award protections for workers. Professor David Peetz analysed workplace data following the introduction of the new laws and found real wages for full-time adults fell by 1.1 per cent in the six months to August.

He described this as a “remarkable occurrence during the tightest labour market in 30 years”. Hockey, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations argued that the research was flawed and that “In fact, all the evidence that we have suggests that overall, wages continue to do well under the Howard Government, that real wages continue to increase,” Hockey is living in an imaginary world where he is cushioned by his MPs salary. His life is a long way removed from the realities of life for ordinary workers.

Reduced wages and more job insecurity are impacting on all workers but especially on women. As house prices, rental costs, childcare and petrol prices increase women workers are struggling to make ends meet. Workers daily experiences reflect the brutality of the capitalist system, where people are treated as commodities with no thought of how making more profit by reducing wages and conditions impacts on an individual or their family.

A recent example is of a women being terminated at 4.30 on the last date of 3 month trial with absolutely no notice! There was no penalty to the employer for acting in this way. These laws leave casual workers without any rights. Peetz’s research found that in the hospitality and retail sectors, where women represent 60% of the work force, workers are the hardest hit. In these areas hourly earnings growth rates are barely half the rates of elsewhere in the two quarters since the laws were introduced. “Workers in both industries are reliant on penalty rates for night and weekend work, and these are susceptible to change under Work Choices”.

Despite this harsh situation for women the ACTU is unwilling to offer any real solution except to wait for a Labor Victory. This is despite the fact that they know that nearly 20,000 workers a month had permanently lost their award coverage after signing individual contracts and other non-union agreements. These agreements can remove previously protected conditions such as overtime, penalty rates and rest breaks. The rate at which these conditions had been removed had increased substantially since the introduction of the new workplace laws.

The union movement must engage in a serious campaign to defeat these laws. This must includes industrial action and a genuine attempt to recruit casual and low paid workers into unions. Efforts must be made to allow the most oppressed members of the workforce to engage in union activity and get all the benefits of having a union behind them.

By Samantha Ashby


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