Image borrowed from Mushroom and Rooster at The Pen.
The talk about the IR reforms continues. Rob Corr is doing an excellent job of tracking events and discussions, and Liam Hogan also has an interesting discussion on-going about one individual's shitty working hours.
The idea behind the IR reforms is, of course, that we employees can negotiate better terms with our employers. We can sit down and bang out an AWA which makes both of us happy. As employees, we can bargain away our holidays and sick leave for more pay, while our employers have to offer us good conditions because in today's labour market, we can go and get another job like that. We will have choice.
A few things about this idea strike me as extremely unrealistic.
As it happens, I'm crap at negotiating better pay or conditions for myself. I seize up, my heart bangs in my chest, I stutter and I find it extremely hard to elucidate why I am worthy of my employer's attentions. In short, I fall apart, and I tend to accept whatever is put to me.
Somewhere along the line, probably unwittingly absorbed from my blue collar parents and their hard-working ethos, I internalised the belief that I didn't deserve to have a job. Any employer who hired me was doing me a huge favour. I was competing with the best and the brightest, and I had to be prepared to take whatever was dished out to me. My Dad often says "you can always get work". He and my mother run two business and work EVERY day of the year.
Even now, if I complain about my job, my Dad says, "well, you know, work's like that".
As I've progressed in my career my self-belief has also grown. I've come to see the power relation between myself and my employers as being less lopsided. I work hard and I do a good job, I have skills that are in demand.
However. When it comes to laying the facts on the table, and standing up for myself, I'm hopeless. I know I'm not the only one.
Part of it, I think, is because of the patriarchal nature of our society. Our working environments and our economy privilege traditionally male modes of doing business, of competition, of negotiation.
Girls are, to an extent, still trained from our youngest days to be pleasing, to be non-confrontational, to be non-competitive. I'm not saying that women aren't or can't be any of these things, but social conditioning is a hard thing to break. Women are still supposed to be focussed on people liking us, on not making a fuss, on being Good Girls. Go on, have a good cry, we're encouraged. In fact, we're often told that we're being emotional or hysterical and that is part of the true nature of being female.
Boys, on the other hand, are pushed into competition and suppressing emotions, into being rational and calm and tough. These factors are prized in the economic realm.
This inculcation into heavily gendered roles damages both men and women, in many ways. But I think in our workplaces, women are especially disadvantaged. Especially older women, or unskilled women, or migrant women, or mothers, or carers of disabled family or aged parents.
The other notion that troubles me about the government's assumptions on work and choice is this idea that if you don't like the conditions in a job, get another job. If you don't like working 60 hours a week in that job, go to this job where you'll only work 40 hours a week.
But what if the jobs are all the same? What if all jobs in your field expect you to work 60 hours a week, to sacrifice your weekends and sick leave and your evenings?
And if you refuse to do those things you'll be penalised. You won't get raises or new positions. You won't get a positive reference.
We can see this happening in certain areas already. Many people I know who work in the corporate world work overtime with no recompense, and often go into the office on weekends and evenings are spent at the home computer. Anyone who leaves before 7pm is regarded as a slacker. People do it to get ahead, people do it to show committment to the company. And people do it because they're scared.
Yes, I know it's an employee's world right now. But it's still terrifying to face unemployment, to face losing your job, even if you know statistics are on your side.
And I think that unless every worker in Australia refuses to accept such terms, they'll continue, and will worsen in our Brave New IR World.