catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

The barbarians inside the gates

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The H R Nicholls Society came to town on the weekend and do you think anyone noticed? Where were the anti-terrorist defences when we need them?

I missed the festive dinners so I can’t answer for the behaviour of my colleagues when the wine flowed freely but the daytime sessions were conducted in the spirit of goodwill and bonhomie that you expect of desperate conspirators (aka fascists and troglodytes) dedicated to the end of civilisation as we know it and a return to the rude and barbarous industrial relations of the nineteenth century.

This is the program. The papers will be on the website in due coure.

The first bracket of papers on the Work Choices Act turned up some interesting differences in perspective. Sarah Ralph (Sparke Helmore) replaced her colleague John Wallace to give a legal eagle’s perspective on some of the complexities of the legislation, including some benefits for employers and some potential problems, especially related to a potential nexus with occupational health and safety issues.

John Buchanan is an academic and he spoke from the perspective of a “lapsed Marxist”, currently operating from a position of “conceptual minimalism” with an emphasis on evidence-based appraisal of likely outcomes, especially in four area of special concern. (1) skills development, (2) work/life balance, (3) productivity and (4) drawing the unemployed into the workforce. He sees sinister forces at work behind the intention and the likely impact of the changes.

Jeff Shaw QC canvassed the likely outcome of the constitutional challenge from the States with reference to some interesting history on previous cases related to the division of Commonwealth and State powers.

Gerard Boyce of the Mining and Metals Association and Gary Brack of Employers First (previously the Employers Federation) spoke about some alarming developments in NSW. It seems that the law and regulations on IR and also Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) are formulated with strong anti-business bias, supervised and enforced by regulatory agencies and tribunals with similar bias, and substantially shielded from appeal to courts where more credible decisions might be achieved. There is grave concern re OHS where the rules absurdly demand zero risk workplaces and employers, from the members of company boards down through the administration to the level of managers and supervisors, can apparently be liable for accidents caused by careless and disobedient employees who disregard operating instructions and OHS procedures.

On a more cheering note John Stone reflected on the formation of the Society in response to the prospect of IR reforms under Bob Hawke following a review and report by Hancock, Fitzgibbon and Polites. The contributions of Evans, Purvis and Costello came in for honourable mention. It may have been in this paper, anyway, sometime in the proceedings there was a short account of the part played by Charles Copeman at Robe River who changed the face of IR in Australia, by drawing a line in the sand, fortified by the realisation that the common law provided some defences and remedies that had never been explored in the IR context.

Peter Hendy of the Aust Council of Commerce and Industry ruminated on the changing roles of employer organisations since 1985, a tumultuous period and one of considerable re-alignment of forces as different industry groups moved in and out of coalition with others. Acronyms were dispensed like confetti which I suppose shortened the talk by a fair percentage. He also spoke with some insight on the stance adopted by the
Howard government, noting (a) the mandate provided by its rather modest post 1993 IR policy and (b) the need to conserve and not burn up poltical capital to no good effect prior to obtaining a (sort of) majority in the Senate. On the topic of the minimum wage, it seems that his association is committed to the status quo because it (and the Government) do not enjoy the luxury of taking a stance that is too far ahead of public opinion and economic “flat earthers”. So we have the challenge to “take the public with us” on this issue, in the interests of the slow, the untrained and the inexperienced.

Ray Evans sketched the significant role of various farmers organisations, starting with the live sheep export episode in 1978. During the wide combs dispute there was pressure to get sheep shorn in the vicnity of international airports, prompting the thought that the sheep could have been sprayed with white paint for the same visual effect. The National Farmers Federation emerged as the tower of strength in a number of landmark disputes.

On Sunday there was a session on the building industry. Brian Welch of the Master Builders Association in Victoria described the tactics used by the building union to hit up the taxpayers for many millions of dollars in the runup to the Commonwealth Games and to disrupt the industry generally between special occasions. John Lloyd, recently appointed Commissioner of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, spoke about the background to the formation of the Commission and gave some indications of its structure and proposed function.

Written by Admin

March 6, 2006 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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