Grace Collier, union official turned employer-side industrial relations consultant, had a column in yesterday’s edition of The Australian. I found it quite offensive. Here’s a snippet:

HAVING a union presence in your business is like having a bear in your lounge room.

 You may think you have a good relationship with it, but it is a wild animal and one day it may be big, strong and of a mind to tear down your walls and eat your children.

Eat your children? Really? Can you imagine a newspaper printing that sort of comment by a union official about an employer representative in an op-ed? Perhaps I’m being too hyper-literal, but I can’t imagine a similar comment being dismissed as mere analogy if the roles were reversed.

She then turned to attacking Fair Work Australia:

It is true industrial relations outcomes are determined less by what the rules are than who the umpire is and right now the union’s umpire is on the field

The union’s umpire? Really?

The President of Fair Work Australia, Justice Giudice, was appointed as President of FWA’s predecessor, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, on 17 September 1997. You may recall that the Howard Government was in office at the time. Peter Reith was Minister for Workplace Relations, a man not noted for his union sympathies. FWA has two Vice Presidents, both of whom were appointed to the AIRC by the Howard Government, one in 2002 and one in 2006. Some of the other Deputy Presidents and Commissioners have union backgrounds, but I hardly think this is an institution that deserves sneering dismissal as “the union’s umpire”.

Continuing the theme of dodgy factual claims, Collier adds:

Since 1992, governments have left the productivity agenda to industry partners to achieve and the outcomes have been pathetic.

Pathetic? Really? In the 1990s, our rate of labour productivity growth outpaced the US and the rest of the OECD. It was more than double the average rate recorded in the 1980s. In the 2000s, a decade in which the various incarnations of the Coalition’s Workplace Relations Act were in effect until 1 July 2009, our rate of productivity growth fell below that of the US, but remained above the rest of the OECD.

Average annual growth in labour productivity (percentage points)

[Source: Treasury 2009 using data from The Conference Board]

I examine the facts about industrial relations and productivity growth in greater detail in this new ACTU Working Australia paper, though facts don’t seem to play much of a role in this debate.

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