Accord Mark VII
In the seventh manifestation of the misnamed Prices and Incomes Accord between the federal Labor government and the ACTU, the peak union body has agreed to forgo national wage claims for three years, or even longer if high unemployment persists. All it gets in return is Keating's promise that long-term unemployed males over the age of 60 will be given the option of going onto the aged pension early.
This is the worst of a string of rotten deals struck under the Accord. It is also a clear signal by the ACTU — delivered dutifully just before the federal elections — that it will help a re-elected Keating government in making workers pay even more for record unemployment.
Any real wage increases in this period will have to be won through "enterprise bargains", which involve trading off jobs and conditions in return for pay rises. So, ironically, the more "successful" the shift to enterprise bargaining is, the more likely it is that unemployment will remain high, ruling out national wage claims.
There is a special provision for low-paid workers who are unable to strike enterprise bargains with their employers — they may get a maximum of $8 a week extra after July 1, upon application to the Industrial Relations Commission. But any further rises are contingent on 500,000 new jobs being created in the next three years.
Accord Mark VII accepts and actively promotes the New Right's fallacious argument that high unemployment is a result of high wage levels. This argument is completely refuted by the experience of the 1980s, when the Accord delivered a 10% shift to profits in the share of national income. Real unit labour costs declined by more than 10%, and private sector wages in Australia are now lower than in all but four of the 24 OECD countries. The Accord has also brought industrial action to a 33-year record low, dramatically reduced the proportion of workers receiving award wages and working full time and eroded the "social wage".
But all this wage cutting under the Accord has not guaranteed jobs. On the contrary, unemployment is now at a level not seen in Australia since the 1930s Depression. More than 1 million people are officially unemployed (the real number might be nearly twice this) and most economists do not predict a significant improvement for years to come.
Participation in the Accord is proving suicidal for the union movement — unionisation rates have fallen from 51% to 41% over the decade, and the Accord has stopped the union movement in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania from seriously fighting vicious anti-union laws introduced by Coalition governments. How much more sacrifice must the great majority make in the name of protecting corporate profits and competitiveness?