Time for ‘fresh thinking’ on Industrial Relations says Australian Industry Group. Same old thinking from the capitalists, we say.

Written by: Alex M. on 4 June 2020


The latest failure of capitalism triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the cause for concern for some but not others. For the ruling class here in Australia, this new crisis is viewed as a golden opportunity. An opportunity to continue cutting costs, by reducing wages and eroding working conditions, imposing more flexibility (read as precarious employment/casualisation) on the workforce and for sacking people. In other words, ramping up the practices whose ultimate aim is to lift profit rates.

Since the last recession, which was sparked by the GFC in 2008, global capitalism has been mired in low growth with accompanying low rates of profit.

The response to the GFC and ensuing recession from the ruling class and its economic gurus was to double down on what is now commonly known as neoliberalism. One of the central elements of neoliberalism is the ongoing attack on workers’ wages and conditions of employment, the drive to get workers to produce more for less in the way of wages and to reduce hard won job conditions.

Among the results of the attack on wages and working conditions since the GFC has been the rise of precarious employment and the so-called gig economy; increased levels of casual employment; and the increased use of various types of temporary employment such as the 457 Visa. What neoliberalism has failed to deliver in Australia and overseas is a return to the high profit rates that were a part of the long boom of post-World War 2 capitalism. So, despite the best efforts of the ruling classes here and overseas, global capitalism has not lifted itself out of the slump that has characterised the period since 2008. In fact, for countries such as Greece (especially in the last decade), economic depression is the best descriptor.

A mere twelve years after the GFC, with global capitalism continuing in the low growth, low profit rate doldrums, along comes the pandemic and tips it deeper into recession, or possibly depression, again. Neoliberalism, which was sold as the means to revive global capitalism, has failed to do so. To be sure, neoliberalism did and does have benefits for capitalists in the reduction of labour costs and the downgrading of working conditions, but it has not reversed the overall decline of global capitalism. “What to do then,” say the Australian ruling class, “now that we have another crisis? We need to reform Industrial Relations legislation in Australia. The Award system is too complex, and employers need a more simple, straightforward system.” The downturn in the Australian economy is a golden opportunity for ‘reform’ suggests the BCA and the Australian Industry Group.

And so we get things like this: "Now is not the time for tired old arguments about IR reform. What is needed is fresh thinking and a new approach, aimed at boosting productivity, growing jobs, encouraging investment and restoring economic growth…” which is a statement from a 19 May press release by the Australian Industry Group (AIG) Chief Executive, Innes Willox. 

The press release provides some examples of the ‘fresh thinking’ that Willox and the AIG suggests is necessary in these troubled times. The essential elements of the AIG’s IR ‘fresh thinking’ extend to: increasing the flexibility of the workforce; removing from Awards provisions concerning various leave and other entitlements that are already covered in legislation; simplifying the complexities associated with EBAs, complexities that supposedly have seen the decline of the number of EBAs entered into by employers; and clarifying the definition of casual work to make it easier for employers to employ casuals. These are some of the things that the AIG would like reformed in the current Australian IR laws.

What is immediately apparent is that the so-called fresh thinking is in fact the same old thinking, the same old attempts to drive down workers’ wages and conditions, the same old drive to make the working class pay for the latest crisis of capitalism. The bosses and their ideologues never tire of trying to increase the exploitation of those that actually produce the wealth of this and other countries. They never let an opportunity such as a recession or a depression pass them by without trying to attack the working class.

The same old thinking, the same old crises of capitalism will only be overcome by some profound new thinking, thinking which guides revolutionary practice aimed at bringing about an independent, socialist Australia.



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