Workers on AWAs earn less

Workplace study reveals workers on AWAs earn around $106 a week less.

A study of 8,343 workers found that workers on AWAs earn on average $106 a week less than those on collective agreements.

The study, Australia@Work – conducted by the University of Sydney’s Workplace Research Centre – also demolishes the federal government’s fiction that employers and employees sit down and negotiate mutually beneficial, mutually flexible agreements together.

Forty-six per cent of people on AWAs say they were given no opportunity to negotiate their conditions of employment with the trends getting worse.

Of the 177,000 people who moved onto AWAs this year, 56% said there was no negotiation.

Most of the growth in AWAs was among low-skilled workers in sectors like retail or labouring who were earning significantly less but working longer hours.

Majority just keeping their heads above water

While John Howard has bragged that ‘Australian workers have never had it so good’, the report outlines the economic stress most workers are enduring.

Fourteen per cent of Australian workers say they are struggling on their current income, describing it as ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’.
Thirty-seven per cent say they are just ‘coping’, while only 7.5% report ‘doing really well’.

The Workplace Research Centre’s study is consistent with initial research conducted by the by the government’s own agencies early in the life of the laws. The government quickly stopped analysing and publishing data about AWAs soon after.

Brigid van Wanrooy, the co-author of the new report, said her research showed it was unlikely the federal government’s fairness test would improve the fortunes of those on AWAs.

‘What the report undoubtedly confirms is that low-qualified workers achieve a better outcome for themselves when they do so collectively at the workplace,’ she said.

When the truth hurts, Hockey shoots the messenger

The response of the federal government to the report was overwhelmingly hostile and personal.

Joe Hockey accused the authors of being ‘former union officials who are parading as hacks’.

‘You have to look at their motives and sure enough you can identify what their real intentions are,’ he said.

Peter Costello also went for personal vilification saying the report was ‘contaminated’ and prepared by ‘union hacks’.

Independent commentators such as Sydney Morning Herald economist Ross Gittens were appalled at the government’s response.

‘The Australia@Work research project Hockey and Costello so unthinkingly trashed is a big deal. It’s a valuable and all-too-rare longitudinal study, tracking the work experience of more than 8,000 workers for five years at an estimated total cost of $2.4 million,’ he said.

Australia@Work – Key findings

The study – funded by the federal government’s Australian Research Council and Unions NSW – found that:

  • employees on AWAs earn less than those on common law contracts and collective agreements and are working longer hours;
  • employees whose pay and conditions are set by awards and collective bargaining work the shortest full-time hours;
  • the total number of employees on AWAs grew by 33% in the year after WorkChoices;
  • those on new AWAs are more likely to be young workers (36% are aged 16-24 years) and in low-skilled jobs (56%);
  • 46% of all workers on AWAs say they do not have the opportunity to negotiate pay with their employer;
  • more than half (52%) say that more and more is expected of them for the same amount of pay;
  • more than half (52%) of Australian workers say they are finding it difficult to get by, or just coping, on their current household income.