Australians are working less and earning more
ACTU President Ged Kearney announced at the National Press Club the results of a poll of union members grandiosely labelled "The Census". And she also talked about it yesterday on The Punch. But far from being an impartial look at the Australian workplace, the ACTU's census is nothing but a narrow poll of self-selected participants.
The headlines shouted "Australian workers productive but stressed". The findings to emerge from The Census included that respondents were working longer, finding it difficult to get by on their income, delaying dental treatment and were contacted about work outside of work hours. An overwhelming majority supported unions campaigning for better pay and conditions of workers.
The Census survey methodology is instructive.
It was primarily an online survey, open between May and July 2011. A temporary website was used. The survey was promoted by unions to their members. The ACTU also promoted the survey through its website, blogs and social media.
The respondents totalled 42,085. They were eligible for three $1,000 prizes. The prizes' eligibility was restricted to respondents who were over 18 and - interestingly - were union members. The ACTU commissioned a parallel public poll of 1,000 Australians using "an online public pool of people". This allowed for comparisons between The Census and public poll results.
The overwhelming majority of Census respondents in employment, 92.9 per cent, were union members. This contrasts with union membership in the workforce now at an all-time low of 19.1 per cent. At least the public poll at 20 per cent is more representative of the Australian workforce.
This all means that caution must be applied in analysing the results of The Census. The ACTU report on The Census, "Voices from working Australia" acknowledges these limitations. Admitting that: "The Census results are intended to be a discrete study and do not constitute a random sample of either the trade union membership or the overall working population."
Ms Kearney used the announcement to express concern that the Reserve Bank and Productivity Commission by increasingly representing narrow corporate interests risk "not only becoming aloof from the concerns of working Australians, but losing the confidence of the broader community."
However, the institutions have a better fix on the issues of concern to Australians and their future well-being. The ACTU is in denial over the growing crisis in productivity. The unions equate productivity improvement with working harder. In contrast, most see productivity emerging from working smarter - not harder.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics paints a very different picture to the hand wringing of the ACTU.
According to the ABS, the average number of hours worked per week has decreased over the last three decades. The number has fallen from 35.7 hours per week in 1979 to 32.9 hours in 2009.
At the same time, household wealth has increased over the last decade, with the real income of low income households increasing by 41 per cent between 1997-98 and 2007-08. The increase for middle income households was 46 per cent.
The ABS has found that participation by Australians in sport and recreation has increased between 2000 and 2006. Attendance at cultural venues and sporting events has remained stable over the same period.
So according to the much more reputable data from the ABS, we're in fact working less, earning more and recreating more than ever before.
Australians overall are not as stressed and hard worked as the ACTU "Census" suggests. A reliance on narrow union dominated surveys supported by prize inducements is unlikely to provide any meaningful insights into the attitudes of the broad Australian community.
If the ACTU really wants to get an accurate picture of Australians' attitude to workplace issues, they should commission a genuine scientific survey conducted by a member of the Australian Market and Social Research Society.