Today on the tram home I had a flashback to a program my parents used to listen to on the radio about 30 years ago. It was called, The Science Report amazingly that show is still going to air with the same presenter. But I digress.
In this one report all those years ago I can remember a scientist of some description saying, all this new technology was coming. Robots would make more and more stuff and computers would get faster and faster. And when this all happens we will be living in a worker’s paradise. Dangerous work would be performed by robots or robotic arm like thingys and computers will take away the tedium of office work amongst other things. Workers would be able to get the same pay if not more for less hours work because productivity gains would be so great. And all the workers displaced by robots and computers would work in the hospitality industry. An industry that would be massive, as cashed up workers with heaps of free time would just be itching to spend their wages on recreational and leisure activities. Okay, that is a bit simplistic but you know what I mean. In short productivity increases were going to be good for all of us, workers and their families, shareholders an company owners.
Well we have the super fast computers and the robots. Productivity has increased. But workers are being expected to work longer hours and now there is increasing talk by several industry peaks most notably that retail sector that business can no longer be expected to pay workers any extra if they work on the week ends and in-turn miss out on family time and other social events held on weekends and public holidays.
How did we go from a world where productivity gains were going to make Australia a better place to one in which workers are more and more being required to be available 24/7 with no or little compensation and weekends and family time is a luxury afforded only to some. Where a worker earning $20 – $25 an hour, that’s $40,000.00 to $50,000.00 a year is repeatedly told by industry leaders and politicians, that they that are greedy and it is their fault the economy is failing. A world when according to 2013 ABS statistics about 22.7 % of Australian workers have no entitlement to paid holiday leave because they are casual or sub contractors.
Is it because companies and their share holders demand increased growth and profits every year. If a company does as well as last year but no better it is seen as a failure. This puts us in an insane situation in which workers will always need to work harder and do so for less money in order to satisfy the demand for increased growth. It is like shoveling coal into a steam train. The more you shovel the faster the train gets but you must shovel more and more coal, faster and faster in order to keep the train going faster and faster.
You would think continually keeping the train going ever faster would be impossible but NO, industry and our politicians have a solution. Make the coal shovellers work longer hours,cut their wages so more can be employed. Don’t worry that now the coal shovellers can’t afford their mortgages,this is all about the train, the train must forever be going faster. And the scary part is that the vast majority of us without question think that as long as the train keeps on going faster we will be better off. When in fact what has enabled the train to go faster is workers ,the average Joe and Joanne Blow being worse off.
So where did we go wrong? The scientists all those years ago talking about shorter working weeks assumed that industrialists and big business would share the gains of productivity with us ordinary folk but instead they got richer and called everyone else greedy.
When you hear politicians and big business saying all we need to do is work harder for less just ask yourself ; how come big business does not expect their CEO’s and top executives to make the same sacrifices as ordinary workers? In America, CEO wages have increased 725 percent from 1978 to 2008 that is 127 times faster than other workers.
Challenge the spin doctors that say ,if you look after big business it will look after you. Challenge those that say, all will be fine just as soon as we get rid of or reduce penalty rates, overtime payments and cut wage increases.
Ask yourself All will be fine for whom ?