The Australian way of life is premised on a basic set of assumptions: decent pay, working conditions and job security, a fair say for working women and men in our workplaces and parliaments, and a fair say in the nation’s civic life. In 2017, the Australian way is fraying. Globalisation and technological disruption, declining manufacturing and the collapse of mass unionism paired with decentralised wage determination, have combined to challenge its core ethos. Full-time jobs are declining in favour of part-time, casualised and precarious contract work. Wage theft and workplace exploitation is rife. Company profits grow apace yet annual wages growth is at record low rates, underpinning levels of inequality not seen since the 1940s. There is abundant evidence that the fruits of 26 years of continuous, record national economic growth have not been shared equally. The erosion of the Australian way is not just bad for working people but bad for the national economy and bad for our democracy, and at odds with the national interest. To address the big challenges facing our country we need to fashion a new politics of the common good.
In this second John Curtin Research Centre policy essay Nick Dyrenfurth makes the case for employee representation on company boards. This vital reform to our corporate governance, he argues, is necessary to rebuild a pro-worker, pro-business economy: fostering workplace cooperation, boosting productivity, and tackling rising inequality and stagnating real wages. No less than the future of the Australian way is at stake.