Science no Substitute for Common Sense

The Australian federal Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, brushed off the submission from 151 senior Australian academics, saying their arguments are no substitute for common sense.

Now isn’t that what I’ve always said?

Seventeen researchers in industrial relations and the labour market, from nine universities around Australia, claim the Government’s forthcoming changes to IR laws are bad for Australian workers and the broader economy.

Convener Professor Russell Lansbury, University of Sydney, said:

"On the basis of our considered analysis, the proposed changes will do nothing to address labour and skills shortages, or the productivity slow-down. They will, however, damage the fabric of Australian society by encouraging poorly paid jobs, with irregular hours, little security and a worsening work-family balance.

The focus of Federal Government policy is to give employers power over employees instead of promoting innovative solutions based on workplace partnerships."

If that’s not putting too fine a point on it, might we say?

The academics claim the IR changes will lead to overall job insecurity, with lower pay and fewer entitlements. Individual contracts possible leading to reduced productivity because of employee mistrust.

They also dispute any evidence that businesses think changes will have any major positive effect.

Let’s see the evidence, and let’s discuss it. I mean, the frustration that we’ve felt in participating in this debate is that the Government’s changes aren’t justified by research. They’re justified by what we’ve called the spin, speculation, and anecdote." said a spokesperson for the group.

Throsby was enlightened by the high tone of opposing expert opinion, that derided not particularly the argumentsbut rather the academics, with its signature character abuse.

Chris Berg, from conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs:

…this is the academic wing of the old industrial relations club. They are the status quo and they stand to lose from these reforms. They appear to be fighting the class wars of the, you know, first part of last century rather than dealing with the modern globalised economy."

Nice one Chris, well reasoned.

Professor Mark Wooden from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, labels his fellow academics’ findings as a motley collection of incoherent arguments.

Confidence inspiring, Mark.

And when Mark does get ‘technical’:

Well when they talk about the four critical labour market challenges facing Australia today, joblessness doesn’t get a guernsey. Now, maybe that’s because it’s all about shortages now, and we don’t have any people unemployed, but I think that’s clearly wrong. We’ve got at least half a million people measured as officially unemployed and we have a whole bunch more who aren’t in jobs, and one suspects that if there are a lot more jobs around, some of them at least would be employed."

That’s just the sort of muddy thinking you’d expect from me. Takes one to know one.

[Quotations source, AM program, ABC Radio National]