No Ticket, No Start---No More!

Why the Accord has Failed: Discussant I

Barrie Purvis

In the words of Oscar Wilde, 'on an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one's mind, it becomes a pleasure'; and as Ogden Nash undoubtedly would have said had he been here, 'The Accord is a Fraud'.

The Accord has defrauded both the trade union movement in whose name it was made and the public in whose name the Labor Party in government purports to act. The Accord has defrauded employees who are compelled, in order to pursue their chosen vocation, to belong to a union as well as others who choose to do so, but who, as Des Moore has pointed out, do not support the Labor Party with which the union covering their occupation is affiliated.

The Accord has as one of its objectives the intention to defraud more highly skilled, better paid workers out of the relative advantage that their skill and intrinsic worth gives them in the market-place by deliberately attempting, albeit vainly, to raise lower wage rates at the expense higher ones on the assumption and with the intention that a compression of differentials will occur and remain. Hitherto it has been an axiom of the Industrial Relations Club that historic relativities tend to reassert themselves, and it is not necessarily wrong because it has been an axiom of the Industrial Relations Club.

The ACTU well knows the force of this long-held article of faith but it piously pretends to make a noble concession on behalf of its hapless constituency (who are told nothing of this until it is a fait accompli) by way of a commitment to accept absorption within the existing over-award payments to the more meritorious employees of what are called supplementary payments---which are added to minimum award rates and intended to provide a new high level of minimum payments for those who are paid at or about award levels only. This is both a fraud on those whom it is intended to advantage disproportionately and on the public at large. For so long as (a) it is universally unacceptable to do violence to the natural (i.e. the market) relative value of labour, and (b) unions are, or are perceived to be, capable of exerting irresistible or unacceptable pressure upon employers, there will be a steady reversion to the pre-existing relativities in wages by means of additional payments to the hitherto more highly paid.

The ACTU and the Government can and will then disclaim responsibility for that result and attempt to divert public attention away from the cause and extent of this by selectively attacking the atypical elements---the remuneration of judges, politicians, senior statutory offices and private sector managements---for failing to share the wage restraint burden so nobly and exclusively borne by a majority of the workforce. All this has been done and demanded in the name of the Accord and its derivatives which I will mention in order to enable its authors to retain and exercise their power. One can feel some qualified sympathy for the left wing of the union movement which vociferously and savagely opposes both the Government and the ACTU leadership for their continuing sell-out of their respective electorates. As Des Moore for other reasons has said, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that 'a confidence trick has been perpetrated on the Australian community'.

The Accord should be seen not in isolation nor simply for itself; but as an important element in an overall long important elements also feature. Since the original deal between the trade unions and the Labor Party in opposition was hatched for mutual but differing benefits, we have seen the emergence of several revised versions, and in addition, a manifesto entitled 'Australia Reconstructed' which was cobbled together by Kelty-led ideologues in the ACTU after. and allegedly as a result of, one of their not infrequent arduous visits to locations overseas.

John Stone has aptly dubbed this ideological hotchpotch 'Australian Retarded'. Its sequel bears the prosaic title 'ACTU Blueprint for Changing Awards and Agreements' and forms the pivot around which the ACTU's formula for its future control of industry revolves. Someone said to me recently that 'it wouldn't qualify for the order of the White Elephant', but I stuck up for it: I said I thought it would.

If it wasn't so insidious, it could be dismissed with derision but we are being confronted by a program for social engineering which is not qualitatively different from that of the national socialists in Europe in the 1930s. Certainly the recent television coverage of a near-hysterical performance by Kelty before a mass meeting of union officials was, for those of us old enough to remember, chillingly reminiscent of that era. Almost any accord between trade unions and any government should, in my view, be suspect from the prima facie standpoint of both unionists and the public, particularly if there is a bilateral commitment involved as in Australia.

This country has always suffered rather than benefited from the organic relationship between the union movement and the Labor Party. A large proportion of the workforce does not vote for the Labor Party. Less than half are union members, many involuntarily and unwillingly; yet they are required to fund, via unions they do not choose to belong to, a political party they neither belong to nor vote for.

The Accord wheelers and dealers found, in the inimitable terminology of the Industrial Relations Club, 'a form of words', that can mean more or less than it seems and mean different things to different interests. In other words, it was hedged with sufficient ambiguity to enable both sides to deceive their respective constituencies and, when found out, to cry 'foul' against the other side.

For the past and present members of the Industrial Relations Club, who, on both sides, were involved in the cobbling together of the Accord, a form of words was sanctioned and blessed by inclusion in the 1983 National Wage Decision of the Arbitration Commission, then led by the Club's grand master, John Moore. Since then, the ACTU has, brick by brick, built a wall around the Commission to such an extent that the unions can now argue that its capacity to reject their arguments about the major philosophical and conceptual issues is limited by its unwillingness to eat its own words and flee the trap that it has been led into.

The ACTU has elevated this kind of entrapment into an art form and its influence in pursuance of the Accord and in the other Kelty grand designs for our future subjugation is increasingly dedicated to achieving total control of the country by a central government in hock to a centralised union movement, with both supporting the ultimate concept of a single centralised arbitration system to do their joint bidding. The first steps have already been taken in legislation to enable members of State and Commonwealth Arbitration tribunals to sit in each others jurisdictions and, on Kelty's recommendation, in the appointment of ex-ACTU legal officer, now Mr Justice Boulton, to be the next president of the Victorian Industrial Relations Commission while retaining his current commission as a Deputy President of the Commonwealth Commission. To a captive press this is wholly unexceptional and not a word of concern has been nor, I suspect, will be printed about it. In the context of the Kelty Plan, small unions servicing discrete memberships, anxious to preserve their identity and special interests, are to be willy-nilly denied recognition and thus abolished and the ACTU will intrude its own views in arbitration cases, even in direct opposition to its own affiliated unions representing the employees concerned. As part of the price it is required to pay the unions for delivering up their constituents' compliance with the Accord, the Government is required not merely to participate in cases before the Commission and provide information and objective comment, as it always has, but to act as a party principal, siding with, and at times taking the running on the side of, the unions. Prior to the Accord, the Federal Government entered the lists as a friend of the Tribunal, one might say, to assist with authoritative statistical data and to explain government policy in broad terms. Now it is wheeled in as a field gun in the unions' armoury.

These claims are said to be sanctioned by, and to be strictly in accordance with, the socalled supplementary payments principle of the current wage fixing principles laid down in March 1987. On the face of it, this accords with the ostensible personal Kelty objective of enhancing both the relative and absolute positions of the lowest skilled and the lowest paid. The result could compress, or at worst eliminate, margins for skill and the understood and accepted wage differentials in the natural hierarchy of remuneration of every wage and salary regime.

However, as the ACTU well knows, managements, faced with the inevitable dissatisfaction resulting from an inequity and from their own sense of the unfairness of the outcome, together with the need to attract and retain good employees, will either move to redress the balance or pre-empt it by unilateral adjustments before, or coincidental with, such an award of the Commission. While in this way the appropriate hierarchy of relative remuneration will be maintained, the lower paid will remain relatively worse off, business costs will go through the roof, and our goods and services will become uncompetitive in the market here and overseas.

Under any kind of trade union administration and any type of Labor government, that would be a recipe for economic and social disaster. However, under the pragmatic state corporatism of a nominal socialist government whose real objective is to govern at any cost it is only not only the Socialist Left that feels and asserts that it is defrauded but the whole workforce which for various and differing reasons is frauded by the influence of an unrepresentative, non-responsible and unelected de facto arm of government---the ACTU---which wants to exert great influence over all industrial tribunals Federal and State, over statutory authorities of all kinds, over the public services, and even over any private sector businesses.

The Accord, central to the erection of this malign edifice of influence and to the ACI'Udominated thrust for the so-called restructuring industry, will, if successful, so curtail industry's scope and capacity to respond to commercial imperatives that many of the better elements will be driven off-shore while those remaining will barely be able to change their minds---let alone their product-mix, their capital raising, their markets, their management, their staffing, labour force size and composition, profit margins and dividend policy---without union approval.

This is not some extra-terrestrial scenario out of science fiction. The foundations are all laid in the Accord and its progeny. In the name of restructuring, or structural efficiency as it is called now, the unions have set off down the path to a bloodless coup, a takeover without a shot being fired. Some employers' organisations have already thrown in the towel and are busy making moey out of it by running expensive training courses to teach business how to live with it and like it. The Metal Industry is said, by its nominal representatives, to be well down the track in this exercise. The can't explain what it is more efficient to have ten classifications into which to slot their employees rather than 250 under the existing award or by what criteria someone will judge such changes to be worth a wage rise across the board.

Historically and preferably, industrial awards reflect and provide minimum terms and conditions of employment, with compensation for the environment in which work is performed. However, it is now being confidently demanded by the Accord partners that business shall, in effect, be required to adapt itself to constraints of their determination and conform and comply, regardless of the perceptions of its own commercial needs and intentions. If allowed to develop unchecked, this corporate state socialism---or more correctly New Fascism---will be capable, as in Argentina, of exerting a significant influence on capital markets, on the selection of industries and enterprises to receive capital funding and on the allocation of capital within approved parameters by means of the burgeoning volume of union-dominated superannuation funds. The New Fascism will vigorously defend and attempt to retain the industrial arbitration system which proves the Accord with the official mechanism for translating its ideology into enforceable action.

It's a bit like a sewerage treatment plant: raw material is fed in, filtered and sanitised and emerges as a deceptively bland and apparently wholesome product. It is as Denis Prior has said in a recent publication, 'a uniquely Australian system designed to organise distribute and legalise the profits of industrial blackmail'. He defined the Accord as 'a form of wage agreement which can be broken only by the strongest unions'.

Des Moore's paper has made a valuable contribution to the debate on this important subject.

Why HR Nicholls?

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