HR Strategy

The summer of strikes sizzles on as energy workers in Australia walk off the job

One Australian millionaire claimed widespread unemployment would bring workers back from the picket line.
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Francis Scialabba

· 3 min read

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There’s an ongoing power struggle between employers and their workers, and it’s happening all over the world. Now, more workers in Australia are walking off the job, and a real estate mogul thinks he knows how to bring them back.

Where in the world? Australia is just one country that’s seen a rise in worker disputes since 2020. On September 8, about 500 Chevron employees went on strike in Western Australia over pay and working conditions, the New York Times reported. The strikes have continued since then and may continue into the coming week if they’re unable to come to an agreement with management, potentially destabilizing the region’s energy markets.

Simultaneously, rail workers in Melbourne threatened to go on strike later this month if negotiations over pay fail, according to the Guardian.

Satellite view. Workers around the world are fighting for better pay and benefits, and more have gone on strike since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the US alone, over 320,000 workers have hit the picket line so far in 2023, compared to 224,000 in 2022, CNBC reported.

Some have succeeded, with UPS drivers negotiating an average $170,000 compensation package in the next five years.

One Australian businessman believes he has an answer to the problems with workers: financial catastrophe. Tim Gurner, a millionaire property manager famous for his “millennials can’t afford houses because of avocado toast” bit, said at a recent event that “We need to see unemployment rise—unemployment has to jump 40%–50%” to remind workers of their place, the Washington Post reported. (He has since apologized for his “insensitive” comments.)

“We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around. There’s been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around,” Gurner said.

Strikes and calls for workers’ rights do appear more likely to happen when there are more jobs to fill and can be good for low-wage workers. “It tends to be cyclical that in a stronger economy that workers are more willing to walk off the job,” Harry Holzer, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, told Marketplace.

On the other hand, a high unemployment rate can indicate a struggling economy, not to mention have a negative impact on people’s health and the amount of money they spend in their local communities.

Too bad the solution isn’t as simple as cutting out avocado toast.

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