Census confirms painful mortgage trend… Scare campaign on unionism… Work/life balance gets harder… House, Price Attack on market… Daylight saving to get longer… FTA with Indonesia… Rein in clear



Census shows mortgage repayments through the roof

Australian households are paying almost 50% more in mortgage repayments than they were five years ago, according to population and housing data from the 2006 census released today.

The census, which collects a wide amount of information about the Australian population, found that the median monthly mortgage repayment for an Australian household in 2006 was $1300, a huge increase on the $867 median repayment recorded in the 2001 census. Median weekly rents have also gone up from $145 in 2001 to $190 in 2006.

The unsurprising result is a decline in the number of people who own their own home. The number of home owners has declined from 39.7% in 2001 to 32.6% in 2005, and the number of people in the process of paying off their home increasing from 26.5% to 32.2%.

There is some good news in the census figures, however. We’re wealthier and more technologically savvy. Median household weekly incomes have increased from $782 in 2001 to $1027 in 2006, and it appears broadband has taken a firm hold in Australia’s capital cities.

Across Australia, 58% of households have an internet connection, of which 37% have broadband and 20% dial-up. The ACT is the most connected state, with 71% of its households having internet and 50% broadband. Tasmania is the least up to speed, with just 52% having an internet connection and 27% broadband.

Significantly, just 28.6% of households in rural and regional areas have broadband, well behind the national capital city average of 42.3%.

For more on the population and housing census data, click here.

– Mike Preston


Government targets SMEs with union scare campaign

Labor’s failure to set out the detail of its industrial relations policy has left the door open for a planned Government scare campaign that seeks to exploit SME fears about union involvement in the workplace.

The Government is planning to target small businesses with an advertising campaign that plays up Labor’s connections with unions, The Australian reports today.

Whether unions pose a real threat to small business is an open question. Apart the construction, manufacturing and automotive industries, unions have never had a strong presence in the SME sector because they generally focus their resources on organising in larger businesses.

It is unclear whether this would change under a Labor government, VECCI workplace relations adviser Peter Vitale says, because the broad brush industrial relations policy it has released is open to a number of different interpretations.

Vitale says Labor’s position on pattern or industry wide bargaining is a case in point. IR spokeswoman Julia Gillard says a Labor government would not allow pattern bargaining, but Labor’s policy document opens the door for “multi-employer collective bargaining for low paid workers”.

“In the past, pattern bargaining has allowed unions in the construction industry to come up with an agreement with pay rises and conditions that may not be appropriate to an SME in that industry, make a hundred copies of the same agreement, serve it on 100 employers and to tell them they better sign,” Vitale says. “Perhaps that wouldn’t happen under Labor, but we really need to see the detail to be sure if that’s the case.”

Vitale says Labor’s promise to introduce “good faith bargaining” also needs fleshing out to reassure businesses that it won’t involve heavy handed intervention by third party mediators, as it has in some other countries.

Labor Shadow Minister for the Service Economy, Small Business and Independent Contractors, Craig Emerson, says concerns about union involvement are not at the top of the list when he talks to SME owners about IR.

“Small business owners don’t have experience of unions bashing down the door. The reality is unions rarely have a presence in SMEs because it’s just not an efficient use of their resources to visit workplaces just to recruit one or two employees,” Emerson says.

Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia chief executive Tony Steven says although most SME owners would never have seen a union official in their workplace, many are predisposed against them.

“Small business owners do tend to be individualistic by nature, and so they could be more sensitive to talk of union involvement,” Steven says. “In a small workplace, the relationship between employers and employees is very personal and small business owners would be sensitive to the suggestion that unions could get involved.”

The effectiveness of political advertising is also something being considered by the nation’s peak industry groups at the moment, with The Australian Financial Review reporting that some business group members have been reluctant to kick in the money required to fund a proposed campaign on industrial relations. The advertising campaign will cost between $6 million and $10 million.

– Mike Preston


Long hours just one big headache

Entrepreneurs usually state that the reasons they start their own business is for flexibility and independence.

But new research shows that the opposite is the case. Employers had the worst work-life outcomes, which can lead to poorer health, more stress and dissatisfaction with close personal relationships.

Barbara Pocock, head of the Centre for Work & Life at the University of South Australia, polled 1435 male and female Australians. The results show that long work hours have a negative affect on health, friendship and community involvement.

She says that researchers expected that employers might have better work-life balance as they have more control. But in fact male and female employers usually work very long hours (50 hours or more a week) so it was not really surprising that they had such bad outcomes.

“I think the self employed need to be very realistic about how they control their time, how they contain the long hours they work, because long hours are associated with less social interaction and we know that happy people have good social contacts and relationships,” she says.

Employers should also keep an eye on part-time mums. While those who work less than 15 hours a week had good outcomes, women who work three days a week or more tend to be the most dissatisfied.

They are expected to work almost a full time job but then there is an expectation they do a lot on the home front because they are “part time.”

Employers should be mindful that if they grant requests for less work, they will get better outcomes from people because their staff will be happier and less stressed.

– Amanda Gome


Price Attack and House franchise for sale

Pharmacy and health and beauty products retailer Australian Pharmaceutical Industries has received informal offers for its franchised Price Attack and House brands, and is considering selling.

API has about 139 franchised hair care Price Attack stores, and about 100 franchised House homewares stores. “In the past six months, we have had informal offers for the House and Price Attack brands,” API managing director Stephen Roche said in an update of its financial results released yesterday.

“We are now evaluating if the sale of either or both brands is in the best interests of shareholders,” he said.

API’s retail division, which includes Priceline health and beauty stores, and Priceline Pharmacy, performed weaker than expected for the three months to 30 April.

But Roche said the Priceline Pharmacy franchise recorded like-for-like front-of-store growth of 14%, year-on-year. There are plans to increase the pace of new store rollout. API is now considering a target of 350 to 400 Priceline Pharmacy stores by 2011, up from 117 now.

API said it expected earnings before interest, tax and depreciation (EBITD) before significant items of $36.4 million for the second half of the 2006-07 financial year. EBITD after significant items would be $30.2 million for the half.

It is due to report its full-year results on Thursday.

– Jacqui Walker


Extended daylight saving

Daylight saving will be extended by four weeks across south east Australia according to a report in The Australian newspaper. The governments of NSW, SA, Victoria and the ACT are believed to have agreed to six months of daylight saving, in line with Tasmania.

The changes will begin next year. Daylight saving will start on the first Sunday of October, rather than the last. And it will end on the first Sunday in April instead of the last in March.


Indonesia FTA talks

The Australian Government is confident that a free trade agreement with Indonesia will proceed. Trade Minister Warren Truss has said a feasibility study could start this year. Two-way trade with Indonesia totaled $10.4 billion in 2006 and Australia wants to cut tariffs on products such as luxury cars and citrus.


ASIC crackdown

ASIC plans to crack down on business people who continue to manage companies after being banned. There will be a nationwide campaign to make sure that company officers who have been disqualified from running corporations are not covertly involved in management. Those found could face criminal charges.


Rein in the clear… for now

The employment services business owned by Therese Rein, WorkDirections Australia, has been cleared of deliberately underpaying workers by the Office of Workplace Services.

The OWS investigation found that although 107 staff had been underpaid it was not deliberate and had been voluntarily rectified by the business before being uncovered.

But the probity of the employment arrangements used by Rein’s businesses will continue to be an issue in the lead up to the election. The OWS says it will now check the records of wide sample of employees of WorkDirections and “associated business” which it says will take several months.

– Mike Preston


Economy roundup

Sales of existing homes in the US fell to their lowest level in 14 years after experiencing a 0.3% drop in May. Existing home sales in the distressed have now fallen 10.1% in the year to May.

At 12.30pm the S&P/ASX 200 is down 0.8% to 6256.2 and the Australian dollar is trading at US84.43c, down on yesterday’s US84.64c close.



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