Saturday, April 08, 2006

work laws in France and Oz

Don’t want to get too deeply embroiled in the economics of the situation, being thoroughly inexpert, but this rather different look at the current labor pains in France, courtesy of Jason Soon of Catallaxy, has got me thinking.

As to the situation here, the obvious difference is that, according to many, the labor market didn’t particularly need reforming, but the ideologues of the government, most notably Howard himself, were determined to introduce sweeping changes. The huge array of comments to Quiggin's brief post here gives an indication of the elite’s responses, both right and left, and it begins to look as if the government has misjudged public opinion on this.

The difficulty in all this is that I do see obvious problems for employers who aren’t able to rid themselves of dead wood, just as I see problems for workers whose job security is at the caprice of their employers. I don’t have any neat answers, but this government is clearly throwing its weight behind employers, with its eye on big-picture profitability and productivity at the expense of ordinary folks’ security. However, as one commentator put it, if the culture were changed in such a way that the stigma associated with being sacked was greatly reduced, as is apparently the case in the US, people would, theoretically, be able to switch about until they found their proper niche. Sounds to me like wishful thinking though. I mean, I’m sure there’s still plenty of stigma associated with being sacked in the US. Anyway, the issue in Australia, it seems to me, is the government’s war against collective bargaining and its obsession with sidelining trade unions. Of course, collective bargaining has in any case been seriously weakened by the increasing diversity of workplaces, but what hasn’t changed is the power imbalance, in which employers sack workers, not for capricious reasons, since their reasons usually seem rational to them, but for short-term (or even long-term) reasons to do solely with their interests. What I’d like to see, of course, is agreements which really are agreements. Current AWAs are shambolic agreements for obvious reasons. I’m probably being idealistic, but there should a more truly negotiated approach between employer and employee. They need each other after all.



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