Introducing SerfChoices: Australias New Industrial Relations Laws

This article has been archived and comments closed because the original Workchoices legislation has been axed.

Kevin 07 and Julia Gillard say they’ve scrapped Workchoices – but overall their plan looks like WorkChoices 2.0 or WorkChoices Lite

The Government is proud to unveil its new industrial relations program – SerfChoices. You may have seen the ads for it already: smiling peasants plough the fields while soothing mandolin music plays.

You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find peasants with full sets of teeth for those ads, this being the Middle Ages and all. Or ones that remembered how to smile. But I digress.

SerfChoices features exciting changes to the way your lord handles your employment. In the past, there were many ways you and your lord negotiated. Some lords liked to beat their serfs with maces; some cudgels; some preferred the rack. The Government is pleased to announce there will now be one standard method for beating peasants with large sticks, making it a simpler and fairer system.

SerfChoices also changes the way you, the peasant, negotiate your weekly payment of turnips.

In the past, you negotiated your turnip ration in the presence of your lord and the Government’s official torturer, Dagmar the Terrible. The Government is pleased to announce it has eliminated third parties such as Dagmar. Now your lord will beat and torture you directly as you beg for scraps. Once negotiated, your contract will be cast in iron. You can’t get much more cast-iron than manacles.


SerfChoices guarantees that many of your employment conditions remain unchanged. As a peasant, you’re not entitled to holidays, so there’s no change there. Your medical benefits remain intact – when you pass out in the fields from exhaustion, you will be left until you recover or the wolves take you.

The Government has made it illegal for your lord not to beat you because of race, colour, sex or age. Everyone will be given the same number of beatings, making it a better system for all.

The maximum number of working hours a day will be fixed at 23. One hour is permitted for sleeping, smoking noxious weed from the West Indies, and turnip consumption. Casual peasants will earn a quarter of a turnip and a piece of weevil-infested bread for each hour they work over 23.

Your protection from unfair dismissal will depend on your individual bargaining power – that is, whether or not you can talk your lord out of shooting you with his crossbow. Yet another way the Government is rewarding individual talent.

Thanks to SerfChoices, Sunday will no longer be a day of worship, but of work. Your lord is your living god – you may worship him whenever you please. Collective bargaining – otherwise known as peasant rebellions – will be treated in the usual manner, with the king’s horses using the dissenters for speed bumps until they drop their demands.

Over time you may notice that your daily turnip ration goes down. That’s because peasants in Upper Saxony and Timbuktu are willing to work for less. SerfChoices will allow us to build foundations for a stronger, more prosperous kingdom. If we don’t act now, soon there’ll be no turnips for your children and your children’s children. And no one wants that.

This humourous take on Australias New Industrial Relations Laws was originally written by Charles Purcell in the Sydney Morning Herald “Heckler” reader submitted content section: Introducing SerfChoices – New work laws offer a brave olde worlde

13 thoughts on “Introducing SerfChoices: Australias New Industrial Relations Laws”

  1. Good entry Neerav. The more we can do to raise public discontent with the proposed IR changes the better. I’d like to think that it might even undo the current government but as we have seen in past elections, the Howard government has been reelected time and again despite some shocking escapades.

  2. IN THE two months since the new workplace laws began, thousands of workers have signed contracts stripping them of their annual leave loading, penalty rates and shift allowances

    A survey by the Office of the Employment Advocate … showed that of 6263 agreements lodged since the legislation took effect, 64 per cent removed leave loadings and 63 per cent cut penalty rates

    – excerpt from SMH article Goodbye to perks as work laws bite

  3. Under the NSW Shop Employees Award, workers in Spotlight stores were entitled to a 17.5% holiday loading. Under the Spotlight Australian Workplace Agreement, they receive no holiday loading. Like overtime, penalty rates, public holiday rates, meal and uniform allowances, it is a condition they lose in return for the measly 2¢ an hour [pay increase] that Labor has seized on to dramatise the way workers can be screwed under the government’s radical reshaping of the industrial relations system.

    But there is no point questioning John Howard about any of this. He obfuscates. (The perfect word. The Macquarie Dictionary says it means “to confuse or stupefy”.)

    excerpt from “Obfuscating on thin ice: Kim Beazley becomes the worker’s friend as the PM and his treasurer confuse and stupefy over industrial reforms.”

  4. If you’re wondering what the long term effects of Australia’s new industrial relations regime and orwellian “Fair Pay” Commission will be … reading the article below from Associated Press in America will confirm your worst fears:

    The Republican-controlled Senate smothered a proposed election-year increase in the minimum wage Wednesday, rejecting Democratic claims that it was past time to boost the $5.15 [$AUS 6.95] hourly pay floor that has been in effect for nearly a decade.

    “Americans believe that no one who works hard for a living should have to live in poverty. A job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. He said a worker paid $5.15 an hour would earn $10,700 [$AUS 14,445] a year, “almost $6,000 [$AUS 8100] below the poverty line for a family of three.”

    excerpt from GOP [Republican]-Run Senate Kills Minimum Wage Increase

  5. Unions are banking on growing community support for its campaign against the federal government’s workplace changes as a leading economic forecaster warned the changes would do little to boost productivity.

    The government continues to defend the IR changes as necessary for Australia’s economic health.

    But respected economic forecaster BIS Shrapnel said enterprise bargaining, rather than individual contracts or Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), were far better at boosting productivity

    – Unions eye more support for IR protests June 26, 2006

  6. “Businesses behaving badly: new IR reforms could trigger more workplace violence, says UWS researcher”

    An excerpt follows:

    It might be about more jobs and increased productivity, but Australia’s sweeping industrial relations reforms could also create lots of unhappy workers and lead to more violence in the workplace, according to a University of Western Sydney expert.

    Mr Vaughan Bowie, from the School of Social Sciences, is co-editor of a new book, ‘Workplace violence: issues, trends, strategies’.

    Mr Bowie believes organisations adopting the modern-day mantra of ‘profit before people’ are largely to blame for creating an unhealthy workplace culture, and warns the office dynamic could get worse as a result of the new IR changes.

    “If staff are not treated with respect by their organisation, they may respond by bullying colleagues and clients, who are easier, much more accessible targets to vent their anger on compared to faceless management structures,” says Mr Bowie.

    “The changes brought on by the new IR laws could see increasing numbers of workplaces ‘behaving badly’, creating opportunities for bullying to flourish as workers without any real bargaining power face the prospect of reduced pay and conditions.”

    Read more at the UWS press release

  7. I just discovered a Blog about industrial relations & the workplace at the SMH website. It’s called The Anvil

    Recent interesting posts include:
    – Human Resources – Friend or Foe?
    – Is there really a brave new world, or is the Work Choices debate getting out of hand?
    – No unions, no problems

  8. Children as young as 14 are signing contracts for AWA’s under the Federal Government’s industrial relations laws, according to the ACTU.

    Figures from the Ofice of the Employment Advocate show that there were 598 AWA individual contracts for children under the age of 15 from July last year until May 2006. There were another 7779 individual contracts for children aged 15 to 18.

    The ACTU is concerned that industrial relations reforms that were introduced in March this year are detrimental to these workers. “The Office of the Employment advocate has admitted that 40% of AWA contracts registered under the new laws get rid of rest breaks…” ACTU president Sharan Burrow says.

    – excerpt from SMH article “Child Contracts”

    At first blush, the $27.36 pay rise granted today by the Fair Pay Commission in its first wage decision seems huge … But if you view it over the 18 months since the last time there was a general wage rise – the last increase granted by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission – that makes it a pretty standard increase.

    – excerpt from SMH article “A pretty standard increase”

  9. Have you noticed the way business people keep talking about “risk” and “risk management” these days?

    It’s clear that much of the increased “flexibility” John Howard’s Work Choices changes have given employers can be equally interpreted as helping them shift risks onto their workers. The risk of unfair dismissal, the risk of delay in finding another job, the risk of being required to work at family-unfriendly hours and much else.

    And here, I suspect, is the killer: the next time the economy turns down we’ll see that the greater freedom Work Choices affords employers will permit them to shift the risk of recession – to some extent, at least – from business profits to workers’ wages.

    excerpt from Ross Gittins article in the SMH “Employers shifting risk to employees”

  10. The new workplace laws have cut wages, stripped overtime penalties and removed award protections for workers, according to … Professor David Peetz, of Griffith Business School … The study showed nearly 20,000 workers a month had permanently lost their award coverage after signing Australian workplace agreements and other non-union agreements, which can remove formerly protected conditions such as overtime, penalty rates and rest breaks.

    excerpt from SMH article Women are hardest hit by workplace laws

  11. Tomorrow, WorkChoices will have been in operation for a year. The Victorian Government has just released new research examining the evidence that does exist on its impact.

    Survey evidence suggests that the gender pay gap has widened considerably, and particularly in the private sector. Women and casual employees (often overlapping categories) are the biggest losers under WorkChoices.

    The general thrust of the report is to emphasise the negative impact of WorkChoices on those already disadvantaged in the labour market, and to suggest that the legislation is doing what it was designed to do – restraining wages growth in a tight labour market and enabling corporate profits to continue to soar.

    -EXcerpt from article WorkChoices is electoral poison: new study

  12. John Howard, you should be so ashamed of yourself for what you have done to the little worker. Just last week the company i work for did away with leave loading for their newer workers. That is to say, she has been employed full time for at least eighteen months. Workers who have recently been employed are on lower wages than the older workers. In the last three years my pay has gone up about $1.50. Not being skilled AWAs are a joke and my boss who thinks shes born to rule would laugh her ass off at the request.

  13. A new study of the Federal Government’s WorkChoices laws show low-skilled employees, like childcare workers or shop assistants, are earning less on Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) than those on collective arrangements.

    On average those on AWAs, according to the report, are earning $100 a week less.
    – excerpt from ABC News article WorkChoices study fires up political debate

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