Reading the: ‘PVCA leads IR Legislation support for industry’ news release, at first sight it looks like a useful forum for print business owners to get their heads around the incoming IR rules but, on inspection there are echoes of 1970s style paranoia that wicked Unions and workers are up to something with their Labor mates in Canberra. Report by Andy McCourt. 

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        Back to the 1970s, or is that 1870s? Industry associations protest IR reforms

The PVCA is not alone. The AiG’s Innes Willox also penned a polemic including this gem that it will result in “…employers with an industrial gun to their head…” What rubbish! This is almost 2023 – not the 1970s. The PVCA and AiG need to get with the times and realise that, today, it’s about negotiations as equals – just as the NSW (Liberal) Government was recently able to with the rail workers’ CRU and arrive at an equitable solution that got the trains running and Opal cards working again.

In the PVCA news release, the ‘weasel words’ that belie an archaic and combative approach to worker jobs, wages and growth include: “PVCA has communicated concerns challenging the legislation.” Oh really? It’s legislation from a democratically elected government. The Australian electorate booted out a very sub-standard government, whose PM’s misuse of power continues to embarrass the nation and even some of his Liberal colleagues. It’s a Bill that has passed the Senate and will soon become Law – how is the PVCA going to ‘challenge’ it exactly?

Then we have, from the PVCA’s GM of IR Charles Watson: “The legislation in its current form is broad and lacks definition in parts…” The ‘Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill’ to give it its proper name, has been months in the making and submissions were canvassed from every strata of industry, amendments were made after consulting independent Senator David Pocock, The Greens and Australian Democrats amongst others. Where were you then?

Peak or not to peak?

Then we have the hubris of still claiming to be the ‘Peak’ industry body and the ‘Voice of the Industry.’ Membership of the PVCA last time it was published stands at around 520. It may have increased with the merger with TRMC. There are approximately 6,500 printing, packaging and Graphic Arts related business in Australia (source: ASIC), probably more when small owner-operated sign shops are included: ASGA estimates 8,000 to 10,000. 520 or perhaps 600 memberships of an association would tend to indicate it is not representative of  up to 95% of ‘the industry' businesses.

As for being the ‘Voice of the Industry’ – this slogan was purloined from occasional article writer, book author and MD of JDA Print Recruitment’s James Cryer, who had been using it long before the previous PVCA CEO usurped it. Even so, what has been ‘voiced?’ For most of 2022, next to nothing. At time of writing, the most recent news on the PVCA’s website is dated February 2022.

Another industry association, Visual Connections, publishes weekly newsletters, stages or co-stages frequent industry nights and plant tours with the LIA, sponsors apprenticeships and offers help to print companies affected by fire and drought. ASGA does much the same. The LIA is also very active in these areas, as seen last week at a gathering of several industry bodies – but absent was the PVCA bar one board member in his capacity as owner of Spot Press - John Georgantzakos.

And what has the PVCA done in recent times? Reduced its staffing levels to almost zero; closed all state branches, sold off member assets, lost or mislaid valuable records and books and has seen an exodus of members – especially in WA where one major printer told us “Why should I continue to be a member? We have no state representation and the building was sold.”

Of course, this could all change with the merger of the association with TRMC, a new board and more engagement with the missing 6,000 to 10,000 missing members who are part of ‘the industry.’

But starting off with a 1970s-style attack of a lawful Bill and implied return to ‘us and them’ employer-employee aggression is not a good start.

We asked the AMWU for their response:

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"It will also benefit employers"
    AMWU's Lorraine Cassin

AMWU Assistant National Secretary (Print and Packaging Membership Area) Lorraine Cassin says: “It’s a shame that the PVCA wants to water down the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill. Print workers desperately need sustained pay rises and job security. The cost of living is skyrocketing, interest rates are going up, and more and more businesses are moving workers onto endless fixed-term contracts.  

“The Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill will give print workers peace of mind and a better quality of life by establishing consistent and secure conditions across multiple workplaces in the sector. It will also benefit employers – workers will be better trained, providing a better-quality product and preventing existing businesses from being undercut by cheap labour.”

We also invited industry pundit James Cryer to have a say:

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"Boss-centric approach":
         James Cryer
   JDA Print Recruiting

“It’s Echoes of the 70s!

Just when we thought the dying embers of the ‘them-and-us’ IR mentality of the 1970s was well behind us, we wake up this morning to a Media Release from the ill-named ‘PVC  Association’. It could have been cut-and-pasted from an imaginary ‘The Bosses’ Handbook: tips on how to deal with those annoying worker Unions.’’

The press release’s theme is essentially to put fear in the minds of long-suffering bosses that the spectre of union-inspired wage increases is here again – and we’ll ‘all be ruined!’ It conveniently overlooks the fact that for the last two decades, rewards have flown disproportionately to capital (i.e., bosses) to the detriment of labour (i.e., workers). Workers at the coalface are also now experiencing soaring energy costs, household bills and mortgage repayments yet still the ‘voice’ from the PVC Association urges bosses to stand firm against the spectre of higher wages and the Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill.

Ross Gittins in his Sydney Morning Herald & Age article of 2nd November (worth a read – click link), nailed it perfectly – “Ambit claims and exaggerated rhetoric are standard fare in IR, but the cries of fear and outrage coming from various employer groups are over the top.”

Ross Gittins
 "Cries of fear and outrage":
      Ross Gittins, SMH

This could apply to today’s press release from the PVC Association. In it, Mr Watson claims that SME owners may have to spend: “at least 4.6 hours [that’s 4 hours and 36 minutes, to be precise!] every day for up to six months, away from their business ...’’. Where does such scaremongering and nonsensical data come from – where’s the proof?

Sadly, this kind of boss-centric approach is also a reminder that perhaps our ‘’peak body’’ is not really representative of our industry as a whole, but is still essentially a bosses’ own club, firmly anchored in yesteryear.  A broader, more all-encompassing approach which recognised that higher wages may even attract more new entrants may help give the association more credibility.

What would give the Association more credibility, however, is to get rid of that repugnant name which suggest a ‘Poly Vinyl Chloride Association.’ This name, seemingly introduced on a whim overnight by the previous CEO, is vastly inferior to the previous Printing Industries Association of Australia.

I’d also like to compliment them for using my slogan ‘Voice of the Industry’ – again ‘borrowed’ from JDA without permission."
 - James Cryer – JDA Print Recruiting

Finally, in the Herald/Age article by Ross Gittins, referenced by Cryer, he nails the essence of the puff and bluster emanating from employer groups thus:

“They say it would “create more complexity, more strikes and higher unemployment,” said one. It was “so fatally flawed” it would “emasculate enterprise bargaining”, according to another outfit. It was “seismic” in its impact, claimed a third.

Methinks they doth [protesteth overmuch] … I’d be amazed if they actually believe that stuff. They’re probably still adjusting to the shock of having the unions back in the government tent. They know they won’t be able to stop the bill being passed, so they want at least to be seen opposing it with all their voice.”

Well said, Mr Gittins.

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