Category Archives: Engineering Services: metal workers- fitters, mechanics, boilermakers, electricians, techicians, TA’s, labourers

Australia’s Penal Powers for the 21st Century

White Australia was born as a penal colony. And throughout its history since there have been plenty of laws that fine, impose financial damages and lock up both the original inhabitants of the land and the working people of all nations who came here to make a living. Those laws swing into play whenever landowners and employers needed a government instrument to protect their profit making and wealth accumulation from the collective action of aboriginal communities and their supporters, and also combinations of workers whether members of unions or not.  (For more on this read Jack Hutson’s From Penal Colony to Penal Powers.)

This story (click here) describes how Labor’s Fair Work Act of 2009 replicates that history so that it systematically prevents workers from exercising their collective power in the twenty first century.

Some of us who have been around for a long time know very well that there is NO END to the hypocrisy of employers when it comes to the exercise of their power. Employers like Bluescope Steel, in their own right and through their associations like the AIGroup, AMMA, and the Business Council of Australia, constantly whinge about the role of outside third parties in industrial relations.For them, “outside third party interference”means unions, especially those that coordinate effective worker action across industries, and a Fair Work Commission with genuine democratic powers to ensure that workers human rights to organize and take collective action are protected.

But, they made sure, when they negotiated the Fair Work Act to replace Howard’s Workchoices in 2008-9, they kept and re-energized that extra third party power that would punish workers for exercising the only power they have – collective industrial action. And, what is more, new ALP negotiators and certain (not all) union leaders let them have it.

What we see here, as we have seen in other disputes, is the PENAL PROVISIONS OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY.

The penal provisions of the 20th century were neutralized in big disputes through the 1960’s that culminated with the national strike when Tramway Union official Clarrie O’Shea was jailed for refusing to pay fines imposed by the courts because union members were taking industrial action in defiance of the so-called “bans clauses” of the day.

The industrial strategy that led to that great union and democratic victory was ten years in the making.

The Australian workers of the twenty first century need a strategy that defeats the penal powers of the twenty first century. It is all about a deeper meaning of democracy than the very limited form that too many of us are sort of comfortable with these days.

Electing a genuine reforming Labor government backed up by the Greens and genuine pro worker and democratic independents to get rid of these undemocratic industrial laws will make a difference.But this was never on the radar in recent Federal elections.

So, that will not happen unless it is part of a conscious strategy that creates a massive and independent movement of workers that makes it impossible for Labor and Green politicians to dodge their responsibilities.

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Where does a diesel mechanic, including field service, a fitter, an electrician, a driver, a yardie, a trade assistant sit in the Australian income leagues tables?

Don Sutherland 27/3/16

I decided to take a close look because early last week the Australian Tax Office (ATO) released to the general public the latest stats on the incomes and income tax paid of Australians. (Click here , and look for Tables 14 and 16)

For example, we learned just how little tax was being paid by some of Australia’s highest income earners.  For example, click here.

Remember, we are talking about “incomes”, not wealth. (We know that some people can report very low incomes but somehow or other be very wealthy.)

The incomes information is in a very big table that divides income levels into 100 “percentiles” – that is, the bottom 1% of income earners, then those between the 1-2%, all the way through, percent by percent, to those earning at the very top, between 99-100%.

And, the ATO tells us how many individuals, both men and women, there are for each percentile, and where particular occupations sit. From this it’s possible to work out reasonably well what the average income is and what the median – the middle point – is in the income league table.

I have been guided by the work of Greg Jericho, a journalist who writes for The Guardian (the Australian on line edition) and the ABC program, The Drum. If you are interested, click here to take a look at Greg’s latest work. Or, follow this link: http://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2016/mar/24/the-budget-is-coming-so-standby-for-talk-of-ordinary-australians-who-are-these-people

Jericho shows the increase in incomes across all 100 percentiles compared to the previous report.

Among other things, Jericho supports the idea that since the 2007 global economic crisis the rich are paying themselves (earning?) a lot more than they are paying those who they employ. For example, he says:

“But the average income of those in the 90th is 34.9% more than in the 80th; and the average income of the 100th percentile is a jaw dropping 481% larger at $698,574

My go at Greg’s work starts here and then goes on to look at the typical engineering service / metal worker  occupations. It is interesting, also, to see how any individuals there are at each percentile, but that is not the purpose of this commentary.

Avge Tax Income Oz 040416a

So, what about the typical engineering services / metal worker?

Here in this graph is my go at a snapshot for some of the typical occupations in the industry.

EnginServs workers avge taxable income 040416

Remember!  The numbers 30, 40, 50 etc are selected  percentiles only, and each is the average at that percentile for both men and women.

Also, these are the stats for 2013-14, at the beginning of the fall in incomes associated with the fall in mine site production. These numbers also reflect very long working hours for the blue collar jobs. The current numbers (ie early 2016) would tend to be somewhat less, especially for fitters and diesel mechanics.

Anyone can compare their own actual annual income with the graph. I suspect some would be higher than the number for their occupation, and some probably less.

It is worth reflecting on the gender pay gap that prevails in the industry.

Just in case you are interested, you can also see the average taxable income of the senior executives of the type that “manage” engineering service work from their corporate boxes.

We do not know at this time what this means for the members of company Boards and owners. Secret squirrels’ business?