Thursday, September 6, 2012

Industrial Disputes–Health and Education Sectors fuel jump in hours lost

Ending the run of economic data this week is the release by the ABS of the Industrial Disputes.

This is always a favourite among some sections of the media who hate unions and who instinctively believe a “flexible IR policy” will lead to increase productivity.

Today’s release saw in increase in the number of days lost (the usual measure used to determine how things are going)

A look at the past 27 years shows where we’re at:


But, OK, let’s (to show we’re being fair), get rid of the ‘horror’ of the 1980s and 1990s and just look at the past 10 years:


So definitely a spike. A spike that is also shown if your look at the annual figure:


We’re back to 2005 levels. I guess the only explanation is there was some incompetent government running the joint back then…

OK. Enough smarminess. There’s been an increase. Clearly the Fair Work Act is a shambles? Who are all these people striking?

The ABS notes:

The combined Education and training and Health care and social assistance industries accounted for 67,800 (67%) of the total number of working days lost in the June quarter 2012.

How does that look on a graph?


And given with health and education we’re talking state government employees it is probably right to ask what the hell are those state governments doing? The answer could range from “screwing over teachers and nurses” to “trying to run a fiscally responsible budget”. Either way the disputes aren’t occurring due to the Fair Work Act tipping the balance towards the unions.

Most likely the figure that will get touted a lot is that “The Coal mining industry had the highest number of working days lost per thousand employees (152.7) for the quarter.” And that’s true as far as it goes. But given the standard measure of industrial disputes is total days lost (the numbers showing days lost per 1000 employees only goes back to 2008) the chart above pretty clearly shows that coal mining disputes have not been the cause of the big spike.

If we look at total number of disputes over the past 10 years we see less of any sign of industrial disputes run riot.


An interesting one is to look at a comparison between the total number of employees involved in industrial action with the total number of disputes:


Again we see the number of employees involved is back to 2008 levels, and clearly we wouldn’t want it to go higher, but as you need to, when you look at this quarters figures, you need to ask why the figure is where it is, not just blame IR legislation because that fits your narrative.

Anyway. As usual most will read into these figures what they want to see. For mine, I think if you want to attack any government, you have to start with the state governments of QLD, Victoria and NSW.

But beyond that, if you’re going to get all in a tizz about days lost, it might be worth remembering that yesterday’s national accounts showed productivity grew at 3.4% over the past 12 months – almost double the 10 years average of 1.8% from 1997-2007 –  and an increase on the year on year growth in the March quarter of 2.9% and from the December 2011 quarter of 2.2%. So if you think IR policy is the key to increasing productivity, and the Fair Work Act is failing, address those figures first….


Glynn said...

Is it just me or is the Share This button broken?

Glynn said...

Ooops working now!