Workforce issues are as important to unions as to the people we represent. Whether its penalty rates, consultation with employees, or further restrictions on our already limited capacity to bargain, employers can always be relied on to want more and give less.
But this employer preoccupation with cheap and docile labour is actually damaging - it lowers training, skills, and safety standards, causes high unemployment amongst particular social groups, and of course means those wage-earners not only have less to spend but are more reluctant to spend it.
Remember that the Harvester Judgement of 1907 – the wages standard until at least Keating’s Industrial Relations Act of 1988 - arose because McKay sought to avoid the Excise Tariff by arguing that his workers received a "fair and reasonable" wage. As today, McKay sought not merely to continue to avoid paying fair and reasonable wages but to benefit (through reduced excise on imported harvesters) from his dishonest claim that they were.
Training integrated with workplace experience and a demonstrated commitment by the employer to providing a career for committed employees would in RTBU WA's opinion benefit all members by improving the quality and productivity of the work, the level of satisfaction of supervisors, and the commitment of the lower-level employees.
While much is said and written about the labour shortages of the mining industry, be aware:
Indeed, even the AiG agrees that the only real solution to Australia’s “productivity problem "…includes increasing the pace of innovation, developing greater workforce skills and raising managerial performance". As many problems arise from poor management performance (common), inadequate training and such workplace issues as poor rostering, a union can do much to help resolve the issues and improve the atmosphere.
Yet management is not listening, even if it was up to improving. Working smarter requires employee participation. Ernst & Young found when they surveyed 2,100 Australian employees in seven industries in their ‘Productivity Plus’ study that those workers knew how to work 20% smarter (not to be confused with 20% harder), but obviously management was not interested in knowing. To seriously consult with the workforce, as one Business Spectator commentator so correctly put it, “reverses all conventional management practices”.
Summarising, it is clear that there are some but only some specific skills shortages, that market forces will not produce an economic let alone a socially acceptable match, that the quality of training will deteriorate if left to competitive forces, and that unions are a participant that wants to maintain skills while management often just does not care. Government that fails to have an active role, especially if it fails to insist on high standards of training by the private sector, is abdicating important responsibilities.
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