Driving Reform Vehicles

By Phillips, Ken | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Driving Reform Vehicles


Phillips, Ken, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


What's A Job?

As part of its third term agenda, the Howard Government has turned its attention to work reform in the car manufacturing industry. Its view is that poor industrial relations processes and cultures are holding back the industry from achieving world-best competitive standards.

The first stage of the Government's process was investigative. The Productivity Commission undertook a study and released a report in mid-2002. Surprisingly, the Federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations made a submission critical of the industry for failing to create genuine enterprise-focused employment arrangements. Normally, government departments are mute on such issues.

The Productivity Commission report states that workplace relations, although better than in the past, are the big area needing reform and that external pressure must be created to change managerial complacency. The government has flagged that it may use the proposed $2.8 billion five-year taxpayer subsidy to the industry as leverage for reform. Apparently, the reform environment is beginning to look serious.

Certainly that's the way the union movement view the situation and they commissioned the Sydney Universitybased Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training (ACIRRT) to produce a critique of the Productivity Commission and DEWR views. Over the last ten years, ACIRRT has become well known for operating as the intellectual wing of the Australian labour movement, giving the movement's arguments the stamp of `independent, academic' credibility.

A lot is at stake. The Australian car manufacturing industry exports 30 per cent of its production through four major multi-national manufacturers and some 200 companies in the complex supply chain. It is one of the last domains of entrenched union membership in manufacturing.

The traditional structure of the Australian car industry is one built on deep `co-operation' between unions and management. It's the old Ansett model of running a firm. The idea is that unions will deliver a compliant workforce, and management can concentrate on the technical and marketing aspects of product and service. The approach works well in a protected economy, but becomes strained when competition takes hold.

This is what is occurring with car manufacturing-particularly with companies in the supply chain. Australian unions are unable to create workplace change fast enough or of the scale needed to enable businesses to survive. …

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