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Issue #1917      June 1, 2020


Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his address to the National Press Club last Tuesday to introduce JobMaker, the Coalition government’s plans for economic recovery. JobMaker is being compared with the Accord between the former Hawke Labor government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in the 1980s.

There are strong similarities between the two – in both language and content – the exception being that JobMaker includes employers as well as the government and ACTU. The language and underpinning ideology are very similar. The statement itself draws on Hawke’s talk of togetherness, co-operation, and consensus.


“ […] I can assure you of this, I will seek to bring people together to define and achieve the change we need to in all of these areas.” Morrison uses the word “together” 12 times.

“Now, on industrial relations. I’ve been genuinely heartened by the constructive approach of employers, employees, business groups and unions working together with the ACTU through this crisis to find practical solutions to keeping Australians in jobs.

“We now need to turn that into co-operation to create even more jobs, especially during this all important recovery phase.”

Morrison described present industrial relations as a system “that has to date retreated to tribalism, conflict and ideological posturing.” Morrison is selling the employer myth that workers and companies have common economic interests, and hence there is no need for conflict in the workplace. It is a message to trade unions to forget the class struggle and co-operate with employers.


“The first step is to get everyone back in the room. To bring people together. That’s our job. And in particular, that’s my job.”

This goes to the essence of the Accord, which was based on “co-operation with employers.”

“Now, beginning immediately, the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Attorney-General Christian Porter, will lead a new, time-bound, dedicated process bringing employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government to the table to chart a practical reform agenda, a job making agenda, for Australia’s industrial relations system.”

One of the first things that Bob Hawke did following his election as PM was to bring leading business figures, the ACTU Executive, and government ministers together at a National Economic Summit.

There will be five working groups bringing employer, trade union, and government representatives together. They will examine reform in the following areas: awards, enterprise agreements, casuals, and fixed-term employees (See Editorial), compliance and enforcement, and agreements for new enterprises. The aim is to have the process completed by September.

The PM emphasises the need for a “genuine good faith process.” But employers are in a strong bargaining position. They are hardly likely to make concessions in the present economic conditions with unemployment high and rising, and those with jobs uncertain about their future.

The government claims it has dropped the Ensuring Integrity Bill in response to the ACTU’s co-operation, while conveniently saving face with a bill it cannot get it through the Senate.


The Accord was a social contract between the Labor Party and Australian trade union movement that came into force when the Hawke Labor government was elected in March 1983. It was adopted during a period of severe economic crisis and high unemployment.

It was based on trade union co-operation with employers. The unions gave an undertaking not to make wage or other claims – the “no extra claims” provisions. In return, they were promised quarterly indexation of wages in line with price inflation. There was also a promise of certain social reforms, many of them already ALP policy, but not all of them were delivered. The Commission, not the government, was the final arbiter of wage rates. It did not deliver.

Never before in peacetime had the labour movement accepted, let alone proposed wage restraint for the purpose of increasing profits. But that is exactly what occurred under the Accord. Trade union leaders openly stated that that was the purpose – to increase profits to create jobs.

The theory was that wage restraint would lead to higher profits and that companies would then use those profits to make investments and thus create jobs. The first part worked, profit rose and real wages fell. However, the profits tended to be invested in labour-cutting technology or went offshore in pursuit of cheaper labour and an unregulated labour environment.

The Accord was disastrous for workers. Wages were tightly controlled, but prices and profits were not. Unions agreed to wage reductions, reduced hours on reduced pay, loss of conditions, etc. – all in the belief that it would save their jobs. Quite often they would find themselves out of work six months or a year later.

Inflation was not substantially reduced. The Arbitration Commission inserted “no strike” clauses in awards and enterprise agreements. The trade union movement and working class were ideologically disarmed as union officials suppressed struggle and adhered to the “no extra claims” provisions.

The level of industrial action declined. So did trade union membership, in part because workers could not see the point of joining a union that did not engage in struggle and fight for their rights.

Trade unions and workers made many sacrifices under a series of Accords.

Social peace, wage restraint, “no strike,” “no claim,” and other forms of co-operation are outright class collaboration. The interests of workers and capital are diametrically opposed. If wages increase, profits decline. If wages fall, then profits increase. Nothing in the world can eradicate this relationship between wages and profits under capitalism. It is the basis of the economic class struggle in the workplace.

Such co-operation should be distinguished from genuine negotiations between a union and employer as part of a struggle to make gains for workers.


If trade unions co-operate with employers, then it amounts to surrendering workers’ interests. Employers never let up in the class struggle, although they might tell trade unions not to be ideological or call for an end to conflict.

To give an example of the Accord in practice: the Australian Metal Workers Union in 1987 published a newsletter for members headed: “DO THE EMPLOYERS WANT CO-OPERATION?”

The bulletin goes on to ask: “WHY KEEP TRYING?”

Metalworkers had co-operated with employers. It said that in the past four years workers and their unions had:

  • Reduced strikes and other industrial action
  • Restrained wage claims to national wage increases
  • Not pursued other claims on conditions.

In return, it says Metal Industry Employers have:

  • Sacked tens of thousands of workers
  • Closed workplaces
  • Irresponsibly neglected to train enough workers
  • Continually attacked established award conditions, etc.

Under the title “MOORE BLOOD” the bulletin listed recent demands by employers – longer hours, the abolition of rostered days off, cuts to paid leave, etc.


“As we reset for growth, our JobMaker plan will be guided by principles that we as Liberals and Nationals have always believed in, [...] ” Translating the political spin, that means more of the same neoliberalism and relentless union-bashing.

“We must not borrow from generations in the future, from what we cannot return.” In other words, the budget deficit and government debt must be eradicated – without wasting time. Here come the cuts to social spending, but not to the $40 billion a year military budget which is quarantined.

Morrison repeats the now all-too-familiar “we must always ensure that there is the opportunity in Australia for those who have a go, to get a go.” It means that anyone who is poor or unemployed, it is their fault; they did not work or try hard enough and hence are undeserving of government benefits. We’ll no doubt hear it again when JobSeeker is rewound to $40 a day.

Morrison emphasises the need for measures that will boost investment such as deregulation and federation reform, a tax system to support jobs and investment (meaning corporate tax cuts), and skills training.

It seems from reading Morrison’s statement that his government and employers are gearing up for their own version of the Accord if they can get the ACTU on board. Employers will not agree to anything that hurts their interests. If consensus cannot be found in the five working groups, then the ACTU will be blamed, and the government will push ahead with its agenda, telling Senate cross-benchers they tried.


Just as in 1983, during a period of severe economic crisis and high unemployment, the government will maximise the opportunity to push forward with its agenda.

Labor in the 1980s embarked on a program of deregulation and privatisation – the early years of neoliberalism in Australia. The trade union movement mostly did not fight these harmful measures, but adjusted its policies to fall into line with the Labor Party.

The Morrison government intends to use the present economic crisis and debt arising from coronavirus packages as an excuse to bring in substantial industrial relations, taxation, and other regressive reforms.

Employers will do all they can to exploit the high level of unemployment and insecurity, and attempt to use the reserve pool of labour (in the millions) to pit the unemployed against workers with jobs.

We must learn from previous experiences the importance of the trade union movement being independent of any political party. Trade unions have their own internal democratic structures to determine policies and campaigns.

It is at times like these that trade unions are needed more than ever. It is vital that every worker joins their trade union and becomes active in it. At this point in time, the priority is to stand up for their members and lead the struggle for a post-pandemic economy in the interest of their members and families.

It is also time to restore workers’ trust in their unions where this has declined, and for members to be active, to fight back and reject the class collaboration the Morrison government wants.

Next article – Editorial – COURT RULES IN WORKERS’ FAVOUR!

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