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“Decent Work” – Nice If You Can Find It

Written by: Ned K. on 4 June 2023


The Fair Work Commission handed down its National Wage Case Decision last week.

The minimum wage was increased by 8% and Award wages increased by 5.75%. The increases apply from July 2023. The increases were a higher percentage than the usual pittance. 

The higher increase was due to the struggle of the workers for a living wage. With the escalating cost of living increases reflected in the official rate of around 7% and rising interest rates, real wages continue to decline. This has resulted in more working-class families not having enough income for food and a roof over their heads. The more astute sections of the capitalists realize that workers need enough income to be able to remain fit and healthy to front up to work each day. 

A few days before the Fair Work Commission announced its National Wage Case Decision, employers, including government departments were complaining about high absenteeism and difficulty in finding workers to fill vacant positions.

However even the astute capitalists will be compelled to "recover the increase in operating costs" when the 5.75% wage increase kicks in from July this year. With Award minimum wages rising by 5.75%, there will be demands by workers employed under Enterprise Agreements to maintain their above Award wage rate margins as well.

Work Intensification:

One of the main ways capitalists seek to "recover increased costs" from increased wages is through work intensification. This is of course not a new phenomenon.  Work-intensification has increased alarmingly in the 21st Century.  This was noted by progressive researcher John Buchanan at a Festival of Ideas session in the early 2000s in Adelaide called "Decent Work - Nice If You Can Find It". His research found that the biggest issue by far and across the board was work intensification and understaffing. John said that "quiet time" had been squeezed out of most workplaces. There was no time for workers to pass on skills to new or younger workers.

He said that while wage increases are essential to keep workers heads above water, the struggle against work intensification and decent work was equally important for workers. 

He said that from earliest times, decent work had been a struggle by those performing the work. Aristotle described work as the "essence of existence through thoughtful activity".

John contrasted Aristotle's description of "work" with the word "labor" and pointed out that the word "labor" means "hard activity, punitive".

Under capitalism, decent work is a rarity while "labor" as defined above is the norm. 

John Buchanan saw the issue of work intensification and the struggle for decent work as an opportunity to mobilize workers around the ideas of decency, dignity, time to work, time to recover. 

He added one more important insight on the issue of decent work and the struggle of workers against work intensification.  He said that while the struggle for real wage increases is constant under capitalism, governments had stripped away workers’ rights to organize.

He asked the audience the following question.

"Is it any wonder that there is a shortage of good rank and file union delegates and an abundance of unorganized workplaces?  Who would be a delegate today? What legal rights have they got under current laws? Very few. They are not even mentioned in name in the Act!"

This question is still relevant today. Decent work will only be achieved where workers organize and win the right to representation on the job. The development of a well-organized mass movement within the working class is a pre-condition to free workers and the whole society from the control of the capitalists and their extensive state machine of which the Fair Work Commission is a part.


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