The definitive “IR “how to” guide

Has anybody else who has read Mark Bahnisch’s Online Opinion article today about Kevin Rudd’s IR reforms been instantly reminded of the Monty Python sketch about how to rid the world of all known diseases?

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Don Arthur
Don Arthur
13 years ago

Now that I’ve read the sketch I think I’m going to be reminded of it constantly.

hc
hc
13 years ago

I guess Mark considers this type of statement ‘analysis’:

‘In truth, the best ideas for the workplace are also simple ones – keep the system simple, and make sure were tapping all the talent we need to. Equity and justice are in fact a key component of both objectives, as Ill seek to argue. And a straightforward and flexible framework will also contribute both to maximising productivity and to maximising the chances of designing a system that will have broad and long term support’.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

As Ive argued in New Matilda, the government could very usefully reach out to employers to enlist their support in calling a halt to a bidding war for labour in favour of entrenching conditions that matter more to employees than oversized pay rises – such as autonomy, work-life balance and job satisfaction.

Letter from employer to boss;

Dear boss:
I love you I honestly love you. Just letting you know that BHP offered me a job off the map somewhere for 3 times I get now. But I turned them down simply because I don’t want them to start a bidding war. Heavens to mergatroid boss, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than getting such a huge pay rise. Think what it would do to your firm having to go out and find someone else at a higher wage. It would be simply immoral of me to do that you. And who needs the extra money anyway.

By the way, thanks so much for installing the additional water cooler and letting us have that extra 3-minute toilet break each day. It sure did a lot to our entrenched conditions, work life balance and job satisfaction. That alone is worth more than that unseemly pay rise BHP was offering.

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

Personally, I love the conclusion:

Its probably a tad utopian to expect that workplace regulation will cease to be an arena of major political conflict. But everyone would benefit from a more settled and flexible framework, and a major focus of the new governments efforts should be getting this right.

Pure gold. I can just imagine what mark I’d have got for public policy with that, back in the day!

STT
STT
13 years ago

Great sketch. I can’t wait until I hear Kevin Rudd use the expression ‘jolly well’.

Mark Bahnisch seems to be reinventing hmself as quite the amateur economist these days. He blathers on about interest rates at every opportunity, although his analysis of monetary policy is limited to a simplistic ‘social justice’ framework (with occasional Gittins-isms about tax cuts being bad).

And he has repeatedly cited that New Matilda article in posts on LP, and clearly thinks it’s something pretty special. Unfortunately, it’s complete nonsense, and testament to the dangers of thinking that because you are qualified in one area you can make informed comment on anything that takes your fancy.

Quite the ego, is young Mark.

Helen
13 years ago

Unlike ourselves, who are paragons of self-effacement ;-/

Ken Lovell
13 years ago

… outside ones own area of professional or academic expertise.

Which raises the question: within which professional or academic discipline can IR be placed? STT seems to suggest the answer is economics, which I reject out of hand. The idea that labour is no more than a commodity in a market is patently absurd to all but the most ideologically blinkered.

As one who has practised and more recently taught IR for decades I’m inclined to think it is not capable of constituting a discrete profession or discipline. The important issues are basically ideological in nature although their practical manifestations require a knowledge of law, psychology, economics, sociology and other disciplines to comprehend fully.

Since nobody I know has mastered all those fields sufficiently, commentary on IR will tend to reflect the writer’s own background. Nothing wrong with that, and out of the welter of opinions people will ultimately make political decisions, which is as it should be.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

Which raises the question: within which professional or academic discipline can IR be placed? STT seems to suggest the answer is economics, which I reject out of hand.

Well it’s been in the hands of the lawyers for most of Federation, so why not simply hand it over to the medical faculty if you think economists can’t deal with it? Or how about dentistry?

The idea that labour is no more than a commodity in a market is patently absurd to all but the most ideologically blinkered.

You’re right, labor is not a commodity and only non-economists or people that want to make astonishing claims say that. Labour is a service. Nothing extraordinary about it. It behaves in the same way as the other two factors of production behave on a demand and supply/curve: in other other words demand is downward sloping.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

Fine, Ken.

How about you criticise the suggestions I made, which you characterise as “vague and simplistic”?

1. Industry awards providing a general framework to underpin bargaining and which are genuine minima;

2. Awards which eschew specific mandates for classifications and pay grades but rather indicate which skills and training might attract rewards;

3. A system designed to promote flexibility which avoids the complexity of ITEAs and “enterprise flexibility clauses”;

4. Prioritising enterprise level bargaining whether or not unions are involved;

5. Returning the setting of the overall federal minimum wage to the AIRC rather than leaving the FPC in place for three years;

6. A return to the principle of “work value” in addressing gender equity in pay but not in the previous prescriptive form – in other words, picking up on the persuasive role currently played by EOWA but including this within the IR system and giving it more force;

7. Looking again at the issue of disincentives to work in the tax/welfare mix;

8. Facilitating freedom of association and bargaining through the return of “good faith bargaining:;

9. Engaging business in promoting better work practices;

10. An approach to wage restraint which isn’t just hot air.

That’s ten concrete points I’ve distilled from the article. I think you may have been focussing on the style at the expense of the substance – it’s an op/ed style piece, dude! I’d be more than happy to debate any of these suggestions further, and I could have written much more in support of each of them – but I was trying to indicate some general directions and principles. I don’t happen to think that agreeing on the basis of a long term set of principles for workplace regulation is an impossible task – and I think it would be a desirable outcome. Of course, I’m glossing over the degree of conflict and dissensus that would still be there – as with previous principles adopted in the 60s and 70s by the predecessors of the AIRC, for instance, though I tried to allude to this.

I’m not sure that what I wrote is any more general than something hc might right – in advocating individual negotiations and in favour of a “free” labour market. I don’t happen to hold that view, and I don’t see why stating in general terms that there ought to be a balance between equity and efficiency is any more blameworthy than a wide reaching position in favour of a liberal approach.

In short, I could have written a 5000 word policy paper, but I was writing an op/ed!

IR is actually a field I’ve done a fair bit of work in – having worked as an IR consultant to employers and organisations and being involved in the 2000 amendments to the Queensland IR act. I did my honours degree in IR at Griffith in 98. I’ve also worked for a federal government agency (under the Libs) in a cognate field. I’m able to argue the nitty gritty of workplace regulation, but I agree with Ken L that when you get to principles, there’s no neutral technical standpoint but a range of broad orientations which are basically ideological.

My aim in all this was to stimulate some debate. Since the debate appears to be about dissing what I wrote, obviously I didn’t achieve my aim, and I’ll take responsibility for that as an author. But I just don’t agree that what I was suggesting was “vague and simplistic”.

Nor, though I’m happy to admit that I’m not an economist, do I believe that non-economists shouldn’t have a view on economic matters – which are currently central to political debate. I’m happy to admit the gaps in my technical knowledge, which is why I take care to cite and quote those who are economists! But I think we’ve come to a very sorry pass if people can’t express an opinion on monetary or fiscal policy without the comeback – “what would you know? you’re not an economist”.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

An approach to wage restraint which isnt just hot air.

Why should any individual feel restrained to obtaining the highest wage possible, mark. It’s an unreal expectation you are placing on people. It’s also a selfish expectation as no one ought to be constrained from maximizing their income.

Ken Lovell
13 years ago

Im in no sense suggesting that bloggers should avoid writing outside their area of specialist expertise.

Yes I understand that KP. I was querying whether anyone could legitimately claim to have ‘specialist expertise’ in IR as a discrete profession or discipline and if so, who and on what basis?

JC the price of labour behaves as you’ve described in a free market. However IR is more than labour economics, the market is far from free and issues like power and human behaviour must be addressed to engage in any kind of worthwhile theory-building.

melaleuca
13 years ago

“As Ive argued in New Matilda, the government could very usefully reach out to employers to enlist their support in calling a halt to a bidding war for labour in favour of entrenching conditions that matter more to employees than oversized pay rises – such as autonomy, work-life balance and job satisfaction.”

Federal Government employees in a number of Departments including DVA and Comcare have voted in recent years for an INCREASE IN WORK HOURS in return for a small pay rise. I’m not aware of any evidence of a major counter trend in private enterprise and Mark Bahnisch fails to furnish any.

Generalisations are even worse if they easily refuted by empirical facts.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

However IR is more than labour economics, the market is far from free and issues like power and human behaviour must be addressed to engage in any kind of worthwhile theory-building.

You’re arguing we can ignore price, demand and supply when it comes to the labor markets, ken?

I think you’re confusing the role of the government with that of the role of HR depts. Surely you’re not suggesting the federal government take on the role of HR? Surely not.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

Melaleuca, check the latest ABS stats on working hours. The trend is away from longer working hours for full time employees. That’s a generalisation based on statistical research on the workforce as a whole, not one based on an anecdotal account of two government departments.

I can provide you with more if you’re genuinely interested, but if you’re just going to be snarky, frankly I’ve got better things to do with my weekend.

/goes to fridge for beer

Ken Lovell
13 years ago

Youre arguing we can ignore price, demand and supply when it comes to the labor markets, ken?

No Jc, and I’m surprised you thought I was. Nor do I recall saying anything about ‘HR’ or the role of any government.

Do you believe IR is an area in which anyone has specialist expertise? If so, how would you define ‘IR’ and who do you think can claim to have specialist expertise in it?

melaleuca
13 years ago

“I can provide you with more if youre genuinely interested, but if youre just going to be snarky, frankly Ive got better things to do with my weekend.”

My comment wasn’t snarky. You’ve surmised one possible cause for the stats you cite. Conjecture doesn’t equal empirical evidence. On the other hand my evidence is two empirical “case studies”.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

Well Ken, that’s easy as it depends on what you’re talkiing about and what sort of labor market system you have.

Tell me the set up you want to discuss and I’ll tell you expertise you need.

Jc
Jc
13 years ago

And KenL

Seeing we’re moving away from a more market responsive system, I would argue that unions are in fact right to make their demands. Inflation has eaten away at members wages so they have a right to claim to be made whole and anyone now suggesting restraint is being unrealistic. The government after all ran on a policy against a slightly more market responsive labor market setting. Labor ran on the “fairness” platform. Well firms have seen solid profits so it’s unacceptable under labor’s plan for workers not to be made whole for loss of real wages. If one can’t get the government to hand out higher wage increaes when we’re at a 33 year low in unemployment levels, when can they expect bigger increases? Should firms pocket the difference?

Nice little pickle we’re getting ourlselves into if unions get their demands. The RBA will then think the claims are too high as the inflation rate is currently hitting the top of the ceiling and interest rates rise again.

melaleuca
13 years ago

Irrespective of what I’ve said above, I’m all in favour of the federal Government legislating for things like paid Maternity Leave. As I understand it, Australia and the US are the only two western countries without compulsory paid Maternity Leave. It is a social good regardless of its impact on inflation and wage demands.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

You might like to do a cross-tab of the ABS stats with the other ABS series on preferred working hours of employees, Melaleuca, or with other statistical data which examines that issue – then you’d get an answer without having to surmise anything – but it sounds too much like work to me on a Saturday night so I’m going back to the fridge for another James Squier Golden Ale. Enjoy your weekend!

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

What’s with the time stamp at Troppo? I’d just like to confirm that I was drinking beer at 6.25pm on Saturday not at 10.25 on Friday morning!

Patrick
Patrick
13 years ago

conditions that matter more to employees than oversized pay rises – such as autonomy, work-life balance and job satisfaction.

Personally, all these are very important to me – with a young family, how could they not? But my employer is well aware that if my pay slips too far below what someone else could offer me then I’m off, and if sacrificing work-life balance or whatever was the price I would pay then so be it.

Basically, all that fluff is great, and workers really do value it, but salaries are the bottom line.

The important issues are basically ideological in nature although their practical manifestations require a knowledge of law, psychology, economics, sociology and other disciplines to comprehend fully

Speak for yourself. I would have thought that the important issues were economic in nature – how to employ the most people, etc. Different ideological perspectives might give you different important issues, but they are all fundamentally economic issues. Law is merely about the means to those ends once ascertained; psychology largely similarly; sociology to the extent that it is not covered by economics is largely for those who care.

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

Fair enough, Ken – maybe it isn’t susceptible of effective treatment in an op/ed style article. Rest assured that the very much longer version will be coming out around the time the second tranche of Forward With Fairness hits Parliament. So everyone can complain then about how boring, over long, and overly academic it is!

;)

Mark Bahnisch
13 years ago

Yep!

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback. I’ll have to rethink how I get the sort of message across I want to in a shorter piece of writing.