Some time ago Robert Gottliebson wrote in BRW magazine “Teach your children not to think of themselves as working for employers but as working for clients.”
Last week’s BRW feature story was entitled Me Inc. [Subscription Required].
I have a lot of support for the concept of people regarding themselves as self-employed. I think many workers would like to embrace the felxibility theoretically available under an Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA).
However I’m concerned about some fundamental princples of fairness here.

  1. Being self employed requires a great deal of self-motivation, understanding of the law as it relates to running a business, ability to budget and manage cash flow and ability to market your product or services. That’s just for starters. Then there’s the stress of when there is no income, or when the client doesn’t pay on time. It has its highs, but it can also be the pits.
  2. An agreement is only a real agreement when both parties have real power in the negotiation. Part of the push for AWA’s is to break down the collective negotiating power of the unions and pit a powerful employer against an often powerless employee. Sure unions are often bloody minded and argue for stupid provisions. In many cases this bloody mindedness seems insurmountable. I don’t know how to overcome this problem, but denying people basic rights doesn’t sound like a good answer.
  3. A typical AWA is not an agreement at all. Take a look at this one from the Department of Prime Minster and Cabinet. It’s full of “you” (being the employee) and “we” (being the employer). That’s not an agreement between equals. That’s one sided.

I fully support the notion of anyone who wants flexibility in work being able to set up their own business. However, for those who don’t have the skills or the inclination, no-one should be forced into working into a so called “self-employed” relationship just to benefit employers.