Writing about issues that are generally perceived as affecting the workforce in a negative way is a minefield. Especially if you are one of the minority that may benefit from the sweeping industrial changes planned by the Howard Government, which is enjoying an unparalleled position of power and influence due to the last election results.
To be honest the announcement of the proposed industrial reform was a bit of a shock to me. The majority of Australians work for someone else, and if I understand the basic political machine the majority of votes is what gets politicians elected. Maybe I'm wrong.
I tend to prefer the comedic quip to the serious expose. I probably would have wondered quietly to my blog if John Howard was attempting to put an end to Peter Costello's leadership aspirations by ensuring the demise of any re-election hopes in the future. Or doing a bit on where John Howard's reason ate its lunch, and what it thought of the reform plans when it got back to the office. Maybe pointing out that he probably has more carte blanche with Kim Beasley trying out again in the opposition hot seat than with his power over the Parliment, and may have nothing to worry about anyway.
But hate mail doesn't sit well in my in-box.
Then Johnno popped the question and I actually started to give it some serious consideration.
So you clicked the "read more" link. Then perhaps I had better explain my use of the word, "serious". I didn't start researching the media outlets, government websites, union websites and blogs who write about politics regularly. I just realised that my thoughts on the issue could be way out of whack. Sitting there reading The Open Mind over my lunch break I started to dissect the thoughts I had had when the initiative was announced.
When the news broke I registered surprise mainly. Running a small company I am far more used to the plethora of rules and regulations to which I must adhere should I wish to give someone a job. Then there are the even more complex rules and regulations to keep them in the job, and finally the maze of rules and regulations that I must follow if I need to let them go for reasons that encompass everything from dismissal for certain types of conduct to not having enough work to keep them on, to the staff member leaving of their own accord and ensuring that all the legalities of termination pay and length of notice are properly completed etc. And that's just for starters. Changes to the federal award under which we operate, personal perspective on what the words in paragraph three section six actually mean in plain English and so on and so forth, and all the interpretations therein can be a full time job of interaction between management and staff in itself. But I begrudge none of it. Not because I believe in the system per se, but because Dad and I have a relationship with our staff that makes being at work actually rather pleasant.
We have had our bad apples but in general we are a good team.
We have no Union representative. If the staff wanted one it would be fine by me, but so far there has been no need of one in their eyes. It is generally discussed when a new employee starts who is used to a Union influence, but with a general lack of enthusiasm from the other employees it fades away. Even the bad apples, and I should point out here that my opinion of these few people is one side of the story only, have not sought Union help at the time of leaving us, nor have we suffered legal battles for unfair dismissal or any other part of our relationship with the staff.
My thoughts on Unions? I think during the depression they were an absolute necessity. They stopped people from starving. They allowed the man in the street the dignity of representation against draconian bosses that would let a family suffer deprivation rather than giving up one cent of profit. And lets face the fact that without employees there is no business. Unions have a place still, but to my mind their power has increased in some cases to the point that any family who has outlayed millions of dollars in plant and equipment, bankrolled the company to see it through the hard times and so on has little effective power left to make a decision that won't be overruled by people who do not have their house deeds propping up the overdraft.
I'm going down for that one aren't I?
In a nutshell we are a small company attempting to run on a charter of the Aussie sense of a fair go. You want the job and your qualified or at least have some experience, you got it. It's a dirty and sometimes dangerous industry so we provide the clothing and accoutrement's that you need. For example, there is no need to keep receipts for washing the King Gees or buying the prescription safety goggles for the tax return. We've got it covered. Used up your sick pay but actually sick? We can wear that. Moving house, short a loan repayment, need the day off for personal reasons? Sure. Lets talk and see if we can't work it in on a day that suits us both. And so on.
We get burned once in a while. Some people like to take advantage. Some have left owing us prepaid entitlements and telling us that if we were that fucking gullible then we can just wear it. I've had a few occasions where I've had to step in between some of the boys intent on killing each other. I've grown accustomed to giving counselling, helping in personal lives and getting the ship back on course, but with all that I have had little need to become accustomed to dismissing employees for any reason. In the last five years I have fired one person after more than twelve months of warnings and attempts at reconciliation. In the end it was the other employees who were most voluble regarding his dismissal. He was an interuption in their otherwise comfortable time at work. I admit that I've also lost it a few times after seeing physical posturing replace discussion between two or more staff, and on two occasions had to protect myself from physical attack which is a shame, but any member of staff who wants to hit someone over some imagined slight or injustice will have to deal with me, and all industrial relations go out the window when the fists are clenched. But all in all we run a happy little company, work with and alongside the boys, and when the times are good they share in the wealth. They're not driving Ferrari's, but they get what we can give.
So sweeping industrial reform seemed to me to be something that others would have to worry about. But then I realised that the idea of these reforms had the potential to undermine the mutual trust that exists between us. Would the staff see the changes as our opportunity to throw off our masks and put our hidden schemes for slave labour into effect?
To quote Johnno;
"What I have observed from both sides of the spectrum is that the employer usually gets the union and workers it deserves. I've seen examples of appalling conduct from both sides and have been disillusioned several times. In saying that, I've also worked in organisations where the union/employer relationship has worked rather well. The "pay them peanuts and you get monkeys" philosophy seems to apply which I have also seen".
Now I wonder how those good relationships will be affected by the perceived gaining of power by those of us sitting on my side of the fence.
Those fears will have to wait for an answer when whichever parts of the reforms become legislation. I'll let you know.