The Abbott government is very keen to tell us all that the new Productivity Commission review into workplace relations is not, in any way, a bid to revive the Coalition's deeply unpopular WorkChoices laws. Which, of course, as they keep saying, are totally “dead and buried”.
And I am sure if there is one thing on which we can all agree, it's that if there is one man in this wide brown land whose word is gold, it is Prime Minister Tony Abbott. And so I am very confident that under no circumstances can we expect the government to seek to introduce any package of laws called “WorkChoices”.
And yet, I can't help but think of William Shakespeare's famous quote that a law that strips the wages and conditions of working people and restricts their ability to organise by shifting the balance of power further in favour of of their employers, by any other name, smells just as exploitative and detrimental to the interests of broad layers of working people.
Or something. I never paid that much attention in high school.
The government keeps insisting that not only is this not a return to WorkChoices, it is also “just a review” into areas such as penalty rates, the minimum wage, unfair dismissal laws and the role of unions in collective bargaining. True, these just happen to be all the areas covered by WorkChoices, but I am sure the commission will review all the facts with full impartiality and could really end up drawing any conclusions at all.
The Productivity Commission might conclude, for instance, that the minimum wage is too high and the lowest paid workers need to take a pay cut while simultaneously losing penalty rates, as members of the Abbott government have repeatedly suggested and as urged by the Liberal Party-connected Institute of Public Affairs think tank.
Or it might just as easily conclude that members of the government are a bunch of overpaid, over-privileged, out-of-touch pricks, out to do whatever their mates in the Business Council of Australia want. And if you want to look at whose salaries are too high, a great place to start is politicians — whose starting pay is almost six times the minimum wage — before moving on to the CEOs who earn more in bonuses on top of their carefully tax-minimised salaries than many low-paid workers earn in entire decades in shitty jobs.
It could really go either way. We'll just have to wait and see.
The government insists any proposed laws resulting from the review would be taken to the electorate at the next election. Leaving aside the fact that anything this mob say before an election about what they'll do after winning an election has proven less reliable than a junkie's claim they just need two dollars for the train, why would the Coalition want to revive the type of hated policies that led to its defeat in 2007?
The answer is partly that everything else the government has done is so desperately unpopular, what the hell is one more stinking, dead albatross hanging around its neck? Why not take a crack at unions and vulnerable low-paid workers too?
But most of all, the Coalition keeps coming back to these types of laws, no matter how unpopular, because, ultimately, it is what it really, truly, wholeheartedly believes. It's what it loves. It's its thing.
Like David Warner loves whacking cricket balls, the Coalition loves whacking low-paid workers. (They both love casual racism.)
The government is certainly not pushing such “reforms” because there is any factual basis to the claims that lowering the minimum wage and abolishing penalty rates would lead to more jobs. That claim has been repeatedly disproved.
Employers hire as few workers as needed to get the work done in order to keep labour costs as low as possible. If you let them pay workers less, the logical response is not to start hiring more workers they don't need — it is to pocket the difference.
In fact, if you were in charge of hiring people for a company and the law changed to pay workers less, and you spent that extra money on hiring more workers rather than turning over the extra cash to the owners, they'd sack you and hire some other bastard who had taken the time to actually go and fucking study Capitalism 101.
Whichever way these bastards try to spin it, if it looks like savage attacks on workers' rights, walks like savage attacks on workers' rights and talks like savage attacks on workers' rights, then it's fucking WorkChoices once again.