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VOLUME 19, ISSUE 1 – BARRETT

WHY THE AUSTRALASIAN TRADITION OF LABOUR DEFENCE IS A BARRIER TO A UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME

By Jonathan Barrett

The principle of work protection or labour defence has traditionally informed welfare policy in Australasia. By promoting full employment and ensuring employees earn a living wage, government could foster economic security for the unionised workingman and his family. Nordic-style social insurance schemes, which were designed to shelter citizens from market uncertainties, were, in the main, unnecessary. In this patriarchal set up, protected and adequately paid workers could support their families, but could also afford to pay income tax and thereby contribute to the support of superannuated workers. Despite the dominance of neoliberalism, vestiges of labour defence, which privileges the status of employment over a broader conception of inclusive citizenship, continue to inform welfare. Responses to global mega trends, including technologically induced job retrenchment, may require a change in cultural attitudes to work and welfare. This article, which has a specific jurisdictional focus on New Zealand but has wider relevance, argues the tradition of labour defence presents a barrier to inclusive, citizenship-based welfare. In particular, cultural attitudes may militate against a universal basic income, which many believe will become a necessity in the face of potential mass retrenchment caused by robotics.

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