Workchoices architect needs some real life experience
When I read Jamie Briggs’ most recent contribution to The Punch on industrial relations I wasn’t in the least bit surprised.
It was a predictable salvo in the hundred year war on industrial relations in this country. This war is the battle line between the two major political parties, driving the partisanship and iron discipline of our respective parties.
Labor has always believed that a fair go should apply, that workers need protection and that everybody deserves dignity at work. This belief is not driven by theories or politics but by more practical issues – of making sure a worker can live off their wages, that they have job security if they do a good job and that there’s an umpire to ensure fairness.
These practical issues are deeply woven into the ethos, culture and experience of the party.
These are issues I was confronted with when I worked for a minimum wage, when I was a union organiser and now that I’m a Labor MP. Last Sunday I watched Bridgestone workers play cricket against a team from the local newspaper. A barbecue was put on, as well as a jumping castle for the kids - it was a social day and even the bosses were welcome.
In April over six hundred Bridgestone workers face redundancy with all the pain, loss and uncertainty that losing your job brings. Redundancy is a bitter experience. When your friends work at a factory that closes, industrial relations isn’t about politics, it’s about people. When Labor and unions oppose WorkChoices it’s not about political gain, it’s to protect real people from real problems.
The great architect of WorkChoices Mr Briggs doesn’t understand this because he’s never had a real job in his adult life. A quick glance at his CV shows a happy progression from one political staffing role to another, until finally he was parachuted into federal parliament. Briggs doesn’t understand the modern workplace because he’s never been there. He’s never served a customer, driven a forklift or had to negotiate with a boss.
Briggs’ criticism of the unions and Sharon Burrow is textbook politics – if you don’t like the message then try to discredit the messenger. It’s a game any politician can play, but it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s a pity that Jamie Briggs didn’t have the guts to defend the Liberal party’s plans to cut penalty rates and foster job insecurity. His article was all about politics and not about the people who might be affected by such policies.
The Australian Defence Force currently runs a very successful exchange program for politicians. Last year I spent a week at the RAAF Base Edinburgh. It was a unique experience that will forever colour my views about the dedicated and professional people who protect our country. It’s a great program because for a short time we walk in the shoes of defence force personnel.
Perhaps we should create a similar exchange program so that inexperienced Liberal party politicians could serve a customer at a checkout, clean an office building or try living on the minimum wage.
The Liberals could get some experience of what its like to experience the real world where WorkChoices 2.0 would apply.
If Jamie Briggs wants to be taken seriously on industrial relations he should spend a week at Bridgestone – on the factory floor making tyres. He would learn a thing or two about what it’s really like to suffer job insecurity. He might even have the opportunity to join a union and belong at least for a short time to the organised working class. He might even make some friends, and that might mean he’s less likely to play politics with the working lives of Australians. A short time on the shop floor might do my friend and colleague the world of good.
To be fair I’m happy to go work in a small business for a week, so that I learn a little more about those who risk financial capital to build a business, make a product, employ people and make a profit.
Perhaps then the political discussion on industrial relations would be a little less partisan and a little more practical.
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