Sunday, 8 March 2015

Industrial Relations and Conservatism

The second Monday in March is called Labour Day here in Victoria and it marks the first time in the world that the 8 hour day was introduced. In 1856 stonemasons were quite busy in the Colony of Victoria, building a University, a Treasury building and Parliament House. Since they were in such demand they went on strike and demanded an 8 hour day, instead of a 12 hour day. As they were in such demand they won very quickly and the 8 hour day became law for stonemasons. Why 8 hours? 8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours sleep. Over the next fifty years the 8 hour day spread to all workers in Victoria, across Australia and around the world. So I thought today would be a good time to write about Industrial Relations.

Industrial Relations is about how management and workers come to an agreement about pay and working conditions. In many places that is undertaken by Unions, management and by the Government and it relates to entire industries. All Transport workers, all teachers, all stonemasons. But a Traditional Conservative approach to Industrial Relations would be different. Firstly we regard each business as distinct, as its own economic unit. Secondly we believe that workers and management are both vital to the success of a business. Without the business then there are no jobs and without the workers there is no business. They are mutually dependent upon each other.

Furthermore we believe in Free Enterprise, in healthy competition between businesses in regards to such things as the pricing, quality and quantity of goods and services. However we do not regard the often adversarial attitude between Unions and management to be either healthy or beneficial. Instead the financial status of each business should be ascertained and all wages and other financial conditions should be decided based on the financial ability of the business to pay. Today the ability of the business to pay is rarely considered.

What Traditional Conservatives want is too, as best as possible, protect the interests of both owners and workers. We want competent businesses to remain ongoing concerns and we want workers to enjoy working in a stable economic environment. Workers should expect a safe working environment, decency and dignity in the work place and a living wage. Owners and management should expect to be allowed to manage their business within reasonable constraints. In each Industry there would need to be "model" work agreements, that provided the basic non-negotiable items regarding safety and other issues of concern to well being and decency. But if a business is highly profitable, then the workers should be rewarded for that, not only certain levels of the company, but all workers. But if a business is not profitable than there should be an option for the workers to take a pay cut in return for keeping their jobs.

So what would stop an employer from exploiting this to cut workers wages? Each business is regarded as being its own economic unit and the financial status of each business would be known to all involved in any negotiations. Furthermore the owner or management are as involved in this as the workers, if the workers cannot be paid then neither would anyone else be. Remember mutually dependent. The owner takes the bigger risk and if all goes well gains the greatest reward. But that should never be at the expense of their workers. They should protect their workers just like any other asset.

25% either way would be reasonable, up to 25% as a bonus in good times and up to a maximum of 25% pay cut in bad times. Both management and workers would have to agree to a pay cut and that would include everyone who works for the business, including the owner or shareholders. Unions could still play a part in these negotiations as this not about destroying or usurping the place of Unions. It is the class warfare that is so large a part of current Industrial Relations that we object too.

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