Workplace rights good for the economy

Leading American economists say better workplace rights should be an integral part of any economic recovery package.

Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States has not only seen a sea change in American foreign and economic policy. The new administration has also moved to reverse 30 years of relentless union bashing in the United States with the appointment of a Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, a solid union supporter.

Obama is also supporting the Employee Free Choice Act that aims to restore some balance between employers and employees, which is currently heavily weighted towards business.

The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is supported by a swag of leading American economists including several Nobel Laureates. They say the strengthening of workers’ rights is critical to rebuilding the American economy.

‘An important reason for the shift from broadly-shared prosperity to growing inequality is the erosion of workers’ ability to form unions and bargain collectively. As economists we believe it is a critically important step in rebuilding our economy and strengthening our democracy by enhancing the voice of working people in the workplace,’ they said in a joint statement.

If the Act becomes law it will be a radical challenge to current employer attitudes.

‘Staying union free is a full-time commitment,’ says the training manual of the massive retailer Wal Mart – a position that is typical of US big business.

Lyn Hopper, NUM and NSWNA Councillor, Manly Hospital

‘The new IR laws put us back on an even playing field. Unions have been fighting since the early 1800s to stop bosses bullying workers, and awards do that. They ensure minimum wages and conditions. A lot of workers, including nurses, were adversely affected by WorkChoices, especially the casual, non-professional workforce that is predominantly from a non-English speaking background and is least able to defend and assert its rights. AiNs in nursing homes were at great risk under WorkChoices because a lot of employers don’t care about their employees, as long as they’re making a profit. The new IR laws will protect the most vulnerable.’