June 08, 2005 | Graham

Balance of power and unfair dismissal

There are a couple of assumptions underlying the unfair dismissal debate which deserve to be challenged. The first is that “unfair” is the appropriate adjective – this is always taken for granted by opponents and interviewers, and never explored by the government.
The second is that in small business in Australia the balance of bargaining power favours the employer.
I’ve spent most of my life running micro-businesses with wafer thin profit margins and limited capital bases – in those circumstances you often tolerate all sorts of behaviour because you cannot afford to lose key staff, even if those key staff are not performing. With the rise of the contractor and sub-contractor in a number of industries from construction to IT, many employers know just how hostage they are to staff. It’s probably one reason why unions don’t do as well as they used to – in many circumstances staff appreciate the situation and can drive a hard bargain without any help.
As a business owner I’d have to admit to being “sacked” by staff a few times. On one occasion we’d taken a young girl on and spent considerable time teaching her the ins and outs of property management. She’d promised to give us at least 2 years, yet six months later she was off back-packing. She didn’t have to give me any reasons for leaving, nor should she have to. She didn’t apologise for the expense in training her, and the cost in hiring someone new, and nor should she have to.
But if an employee can leave an employer on a whim, why shouldn’t an employer be able to sack an employee on a whim? An employee would regard it as unfair if they were forced to work for someone, so what is fair about putting the employer in the same situation?
The debate is being carried on as if industrial production still occurs in the shadow of Blakes’ “dark satanic mills”. But it doesn’t. The system has changed, and many of the enthusiastic beneficiaries of the new system are erstwhile Labor supporters who now vote for John Howard. As the son of a service station proprietor John Howard should understand this class well. It’s the same petit bourgeoisie of which he is a scion. In the 50 years since he counted war time petrol coupons on the family dinner table that class has swelled downwards, so that now there is very little old-style working class left at all.
Labor will miscue this debate if it follows the unions in strident opposition to the legislation.

Posted by Graham at 10:56 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham, if you really wanted to keep her for two years, couldn’t you have signed the young girl to some sort of legally-binding two-year contract at the start of her employment?
    Did she give you the requisite amount of notice?
    Unless the work she was doing was highly skilled work, surely it would not take that long to retrain someone. Did you ask her to help to retrain her replacement before she left? She wouldn’t have had to say “yes”, but if you explained the circumstances to her, she may well have been quite reasonable about it and compromised.

    Comment by Guy — June 9, 2005 @ 10:44 am

  2. Look at it from this point old son the employers are all sweetness and light while things are tight and employees are hard to get, but like most things there will come a down turn then we will see how much sweetness and light there is around from the employers,and listen to the crying from people who will be forced to work for less after all did not our great leader say he would stand on his record re wages,trouble is i,m not sure which set of lies he is refering to.

    Comment by John Ryan — June 10, 2005 @ 10:27 pm

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