Essential Report

Do people really want job security?

Feb 10, 2012

ACTU President Ged Kearney gives the low down on the ACTU’s secure work inquiry.

There was a time when you had a job for life. The same one or two employers for 30 plus years. You had entitlements, the occasional pay rise, a chance for promotion and, if nothing else, security.

In the 21st century all that has changed. Gen Y workers like flexibility, choosing casual or part time work over the anchor that is a full time job. Other workers want to balance career and family life and are pleased to have the option of casual or contract work, with higher rates but without entitlements.

Casual workers now make up almost one quarter of Australian employees – one of the highest rates in the OECD. And contract work is steadily rising in all kinds of industries.

But what happens when you are working in an ongoing role but with no prospect of becoming a permanent worker? When banks are reluctant to lend to you and long term planning for a future becomes uncertain?

These are some of many aspects which the ACTU’s national inquiry is examining through its hearings into insecure work. Chaired by former deputy PM Brian Howe and comprising members from the highest level of labour law, academia and the union movement, the national hearings are examining the economic and social implications of insecure or fixed term employment as well as suggesting future policy directions.

You can find out more about the inquiry here.

“Workers have told us that insecure work makes it harder for them to manage the household finances, to spend time with their family and friends, and to plan for the future,” said ACTU president Ged Kearney.

“ The job of our new inquiry is to shine a light on the plight of insecure workers in Australia, and work out what government, employers and unions should be doing to help them.”

Ged asks here on the Punch – “are you feeling insecure?

Approaching its task the panel is very much aware of the importance of flexible or non-standard work practices to both employers and employees.  On the one hand, Australia must continue to maximise its economic productivity yet there are still issues of fairness and responsibility to be taken into account.

Employers argue that many workers actually want casual work arrangements. But the ACTU says that there must be security — such as avenues for challenging unfair dismissal and long-term casuals being given the right to convert to permanent work after a set period of time.

Casual workers are telling the ACTU their stories of insecure work, highlighting the need for these sorts of protections.

The dynamism of the modern labour market presents very significant challenges for people who much more frequently change their work status – moving between jobs, between education or caring and work, from unemployment to employment or from employment to retirement.

Disturbingly, one submission gave evidence about the link between casual workers and homelessness.

With 500 submissions received  — 450 of which came from individual workers — the inquiry will prepare a report to present to the Federal Government by April.  The first hearings were held in Brisbane on February 13.



What’s wrong with our cities?

Feb 10, 2012

Property Council of Australia CEO Peter Verwer looks at the challenges of planning long-term within a short-term political cycle

Despite the postcard pics and tourism ads, Australia is overwhelmingly an urban nation.

Three quarters of us live in cities and more than 80 per cent of our GDP is generated within their boundaries. We love our cities but we are also frustrated by them. We curse our transport congestion, high rental costs, long hospital waiting lists, lack of child care places and aged care facilities. As the population grows and ages, our cities are carrying the majority of the burden.

So will that ever change?

The Property Council of Australia believes it’s time to stop the ad hoc approach to building our cities and come up with a long term strategy which is inclusive of the community and agreed to by all tiers of government on all sides.

The ultimate problem is the short term decision making by governments with three or four year terms when what every city needs is bi-partisan commitment to 20 year plans.

The PCA joined with a number of industry groups in 2010 to call for a national approach to urban developments and have been working to see this realised ever since. You can read their joint statement here.

Despite dozens of reports, inquiries and academic studies, governments in Australia have dropped the ball when it comes to urban policy. Pressured by interest groups and pressured by community polling, decisions are made without much forethought.

An example of this is the NSW Government’s decision to open up rural areas for urban expansion — against all the advice from urban policy experts.

Peter Verwer, CEO of the PCA, believes now is the time to make urban policy the next revolution to save our cities.

“ We need to better understand that cities and productivity are indivisible,” he says.

“Well designed and managed cities can help Australia grow faster while maintaining a low rate of inflation.”

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Ross Gittins recently wrote on why cities are important on a social, financial and evolutionary basis.

That’s why the Property Council – representing those who build and manage the big projects – wants the Federal Government to recognise the importance of our cities by linking funding to a state’s commitment to these long-term plans.

The PCA believes Australia needs to work out what infrastructure we will need, and how we will pay for it.

“We need our residential areas to be connected to services and jobs, says Peter Verwer. “And we can’t forget that our cities are places to live – not just a collection of buildings and roads. Reforming the way our cities work will not only improve the quality of life of the people who live in them – it will boost productivity, stimulate jobs growth, and increase our prosperity.”

Capitalism – can we move from greed to need?

Feb 10, 2012

Social Business Australia’s Melina Morrison on the International Year of the Co-Op.

For some of us, the concept of a co-operative brings back memories of the university bar or shop. A farmers market on a weekend or a small winery may also spring to mind.

But co-ops are a booming business. In Australia last year, co-operative businesses generated some $15 billion in turnover and across the globe the top 300 co-ops turned over $1.6 trillion, equivalent to the economy of Canada.

It’s a little known fact but banks and listed companies are actually legally required to maximise benefits for shareholders — a legal obligation to think of the bottom line only.

Coops are another model altogether. You may not realise it but some of the largest companies in Australia and internationally are based on the co-op model – companies like Rabobank, Sunkist, KPMG and Associated Press. The difference is, all these companies are set up to serve a purpose beyond simply making a profit by adopting so-called Co-Op Capitalism.

So how do co-ops gauge success? And as the global economy faces stresses what role could co-ops play in stabilising economies?

Answering those questions is Melina Morrison from Social Business Australia.

“We are the businesses that deliver services and products through a socially responsible business structure,” says Morrison.

“ In 2012, co-operatives, credit unions, mutuals and member owned businesses will be putting the building blocks in place to grow the sector.”

Now, a growing global movement towards cooperatives may offer an appealing alternative.

Listen to Dame Pauline Green talking about the scale and scope of co-operative businesses on The Drum.

Co-ops are making growth happen by making 2012 the “UN International Year of Co-operatives” which will bring co-operatives across the globe together to campaign for a ‘better’ business model.

The drive for profits has never been clearer than with recent actions by the big four banks to increase interest rates independently of the Reserve Bank board’s decision to keep the cash rate on hold. ANZ and Westpac also announced job cuts and taking jobs offshore to cut costs while slashing jobs and increasing home loan rates.

But if your bank happens to be a customer owned financial institution, the experience is vastly different.

Bankmecu, a co-operative bank, did not put up its rates. Find out about their business model here.

These financial institutions run their business on a co-operative model, putting profit back into the business to protect employees and to serve their customers.

Trends: The Fingerhut effect

Feb 10, 2012

EMC Director Peter Lewis on framing the economic debate

Home Ground Advantage

Long-time American pollster Vic Fingerhut has been advising progressive politicians since the 1960s and he has a reassuring message  – it’s OK to stand up for what you believe in – and it might even win you elections.

That such a message should be a revelation is a sad indication of where left of centre politics has gone in Australia – but it may also be reassuring that in this we are not alone.

Over more than three decades Fingerhut, who has been advising EMC since the 2007 federal election campaign – has been researching campaigns for unions and progressive parties in the USA, Canada, Britain and Germany – polling people on their perceptions of issues and the differences between major parties

And what he has discovered is a sort of immutable truth – there are some issues that belong to the Right and others that belong to the Left and it’s not about policy either. It’s about language and the way you frame an issue.

As a general rule where the issue is about managing the economy or handling terrorism or keeping taxes low, Republicans and conservatives have a marked advantage, with more than two thirds of voters perceiving they are superior on the issue.

But bring people into the equation, particularly working people, and the numbers swing around. By merely adding the words ‘for working people’ to the question ‘who is better at managing the economy?’, Democrats pick up 30 percentage points.

Likewise change the proposition ‘keeping taxes down’ to ‘fighting for fairer taxes for working people’ and the issue goes from being a negative for the left to a positive.

It’s early days, but the trends seem to translate into Australian politics as well. And if they do they add a new dimension to the ‘accepted wisdom’ that Labor needs to be stronger on the economy.

As Fingerhut observes, merely going out and engaging in an economic argument – even when you have better arguments than your conservative opponents – does nothing more than shift the debate onto their turf.

In other words, becoming a daily commentator on the current account deficit, employment figures and interest rates might get media, but if you do not draw the connection between economic indicators and people’s lives you are not advancing your cause.

At the moment the Labor Government is stuck in the least advantageous  ‘economic management’ frame – by signing up to a budget surplus they have taken a conscious decision to fight on the Opposition’s turf.

A better place to be would be on the jobs front – not just the decade-low unemployment figures – but a narrative that actually translates government activity to job creation.

While conservative commentators hate it – support for industries like manufacturing are big vote-winners, when linked to a coherent government plan to support industries in the long-term as the impact of a rising Australian dollar sheets home.

Better still focus industrial relations – a key indicator of the way an economy operates for, in Vic’s words, regular working people – and the innate recognition that given the chance, the Liberals would bring back some form of WorkChoices.

So let’s put Vic’s theory to the test.

On the simple question who is better at managing the economy? Labor is getting smashed – although there are large number of uncommitted, proof that the Liberals are under-performing on their home turf.

Q. Which party do you trust most to manage the Australian economy, Labor or the Liberals?




No difference

Don’t know

+17% Liberal





But give the question the Vic treatment – admittedly around the performance of the Treasurers – and Labor enjoys a 19 per cent point turnaround.

Q. Who would you trust most to manage economy in the interests of workers and families




No difference

Don’t know

+2% Labor






This sort of analysis is we in the trade call ‘framing’, talking about your policies and political brand in the most advantageous way; reinforcing what people think about you, not trying to make them change their minds.

As you can see bringing working people into the economic frame is no magic bullet, especially for this government, but it does shift nearly one in five voters, which when you are in the fight for your very survival is nothing to be taken lightly.


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