Pendulum Swings

Every once in a while I get a surge of work that pushes my production to the limit and I need more staff. Normally these bursts last about three months and a short term hire is the way to go.
I always panic about finding the right people to fill these jobs, but luckily for me I own a printing company at a time when there are a lot more printing staff than there are positions. It is a buyer’s labour market.
 
One bloke who had a ten-colour told me once that fifteen years ago if he needed a printer, the printers would interview him. If the deal was up to scratch and the boss could meet their salary demands, they may deign to turn up, providing they did not receive a better offer in the meantime. 
Now? The last time he advertised he had six good operators apply and he told them when to start and what they were getting paid.
 
If you own a shop, you may be enjoying this moment in the sun where you can pick and choose when it comes to staff. But do not get too comfy.
 
This long gestating oversupply of labour has depressed the wages we pay our staff and it is eventually going to bite us in the backside.
 
The last person I hired for the short term contracts could not find full time printing work after he left me. In desperation he applied for a forklift driver’s job in a warehouse, thinking it would tide him over until he could use his trade again.
 
But then he realised he was earning $7 more an hour driving the fork than he was being paid as a qualified bindery operator. That is a lot of money, and an indictment on how far we have let our wages slip behind those being paid in other industries. And the result is qualified trades people leaving the industry.
 
So how are we going to address this problem of low wages forcing people out of the game? It looks like we are going to argue that we should cut wages more.
 
PIAA is on the attack over the Fair Work Commission, arguing that it is biased against employers. A matter of days later, the FWC cut the penalty rates of 700,000 wage earners by 25 per cent. I am not sure how much pro-employer you can get.
 
As an employer I should be cheering. If the FWC and the employer groups keep going, pretty soon I will be able to demand my staff work weekends with little if any OT. 
 
But I am not. Aside from the blatant unfairness of robbing the lowest paid workers in the country of a fair recompense for giving up their nights and weekends, if this scam was applied to our industry and wages forced lower again, who is going to man our factories? It would be a race to get out and get a good job, like driving a forklift.
 
Lorraine Cassin from the AMWU pulled PIAA up short and good for her. I get that PIAA and AMWU have to butt heads from time to time on individual industrial relations cases, and that is as it should be, but on these industry-wide issues what is required is so obvious they should be singing the same song. 
 
We need our industry to pay good wages to keep good staff, not participate in the employer group delusion that the road to corporate success is destroying the people who work for us.
 
Baden Kirgan is managing director of Jeffries Printing Services

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