Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Europcar trying to suppress criticism of their practices

There have been multiple complaints against this firm, both in Australia and overseas. I would never hire from them

CURRENT affairs show Today Tonight is in legal hot water for the second time this month after a hire-car company claimed the program had falsely reported that it was ripping off customers by charging them for damage they had not caused.

Europcar has launched Supreme Court action against the Seven Network over a show that aired on January 5, which claimed the company was scamming drivers by leaving dents on cars for months and charging three or four different people for the same damage.

Today Tonight claimed "victims" in three states were charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for dents and scratches they had not caused.

According to a former employee, dubbed a whistleblower by the show, when a car came back with a minor scratch the customer would be charged more than $3000.

But Europcar said the claims had been "found to be baseless". Europcar is claiming the show maliciously published the false statements and is seeking damages.

Today Tonight's producer Craig McPherson said: "We are aware of the claim and we'll be defending it. Since the report we have received more complaints from Europcar customers, which we are investigating. We are preparing another story which Europcar is aware of."


Queensland's Year 7 move a waste: Dubious advantages and big costs

Katter's Australian Party has demanded the axing of plans to move year 7 into the high school system, saying Queensland should be “proud to do things differently” from other states.

This morning, party federal leader Bob Katter and state leader Aidan McLindon held a media conference at Beenleigh State School, where they attacked the state government's plan to bring Queensland into line with other states by moving year 7 out of the primary school system from 2015.

But Mr McLindon, the former Liberal National Party member who is fighting to hold onto his seat of Beaudesert at the coming state election, said the scrapping of the plans would save $620 million over four years.

He said he was concerned about the impact of the changes on rural and regional schools, along with the costs of building extra classrooms at numerous at-capacity high schools. “At this time right now it's a complete and utter waste of time,” he said.

Mr McLindon dismissed the government's argument that the change would bring Queensland into line with other states and ensure local students were not disadvantaged when the national curriculum was rolled out. “If people want to send their kids to a school in New South Wales, then they can, but the reality is it does not improve their education,” he said.

“We used to be a proud state to do things differently in Queensland. “It [moving year 7 into high school] forces the kids to grow up sooner. Let kids be kids.”

Premier Anna Bligh has previously said the year 7 class of 2015 would be the first full year to have attended the prep prior to year 1, and students would be ready and old enough for the change.

The move will be piloted in 20 schools from next year ahead of the 2015 state-wide rollout.

The government has budgeted $328.2 million towards work including construction of about 550 new classrooms and the refurbishment of 880, while $293.8 million will be spent over five years on teacher training and other measures to enable the move.

Mr McLindon said the money saved by scrapping the transition of year 7 into high school would fund Katter's Australian Party promises, including those yet to be made during the election campaign. He said the party was costing its promises “to the best of our ability”.

Mr McLindon was unsure of the cost of Mr Katter's idea, announced yesterday, to carve a canal through inland Queensland so mines could export iron ore through the Gulf of Carpentaria. “We've got to do the costings on that, but that's going to take a lot of federal funds as well,” he said.

Announcing the year 7 transition timeframe in June last year, Ms Bligh said the national curriculum would start with in the areas of maths, science and English.

“And what the curriculum generally will require is letting year 7 children have an opportunity to benefit from specialist teachers and from specialist learning facilities,” she said.

“So the science curriculum for year 7 children will be based on the assumption that these children have access to the sorts of facilities and teaching capacity that you find in dedicated science laboratories of Queensland high schools.”

The Liberal National Party has previously offered in-principle support for the change, but expressed concern over how it would be implemented and whether the costs had been underestimated.


Mothers bribed to leave hospital early after giving birth to free up beds

How times have changed. Within my recollection mothers would stay in hospital for a week after birth

GIFTS worth hundreds of dollars are being lavished on mums if they leave hospital early after giving birth. Nappies, house cleaning, shopping vouchers and spa visits are among offers from private hospitals to women who elect to go home earlier than scheduled.

St Vincent's Private in Melbourne offers a "family package", including nappies ($100), six hours' house cleaning ($180), frozen meals ($60), and a visit from a midwife.

A mother who recently gave birth at St Vincent's said she was surprised by the offer. "It was strange, and the way it was offered was very sneaky," she said.

"A pamphlet offers all these gifts for 'eligible people'; then later, you're told you need to leave early to be eligible. I would have expected they would encourage new mums to stay in hospital, where you get the support you need."

The Australian Medical Association said the baby boom had put pressure on hospitals, which were looking at innovative ways to free beds.

Some health experts are concerned it could encourage mothers to go home before they are ready, but hospitals said it was a way to provide extra support for women who chose to leave early, and was mostly used by women who had other children at home.

St Vincent's director of nursing Liz Turner said about 20 people a month took the offer. She denied it was a way to save costs or free beds. "It's usually women who are coming back for their second or third babies, who have had an uncomplicated pregnancy," she said. "It's a known fact a lot of people do rest better at home and it does help breastfeeding. We want to give women the best level of care we can."

At Epworth Freemasons, options include a day spa voucher and phone call from a midwife, lactation consultation or midwife visit, plus a $100 Coles/Myer voucher.

The Australian College of Midwives said support of mums, not a discharge date, was most important.

AMA Victoria vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis said practical support could be helpful to mothers who were medically and emotionally ready to leave hospital, but it should not be "coercive".

Mother of two Alicia Bellette, 34, who gave birth to Luke on December 30 at St Vincent's, was delighted with $200 worth of nappies and a midwife's visit. "It works really well. I've got a 3 1/2-year-old daughter and she was very eager for me to get home from hospital," said Mrs Bellette, who left on day three.

"The midwife came to the house the next day and was really supportive, and left her mobile number if we had any questions. I didn't feel like I missed out at all going home early."


Lazy and ignorant bureaucrats

To most of us, June 2009 seems quite a while ago. But not, apparently, to the public servants employed by Fair Work Australia. FWA is a creation of the Gillard Labor government and came into operation on January 1, 2010, assuming all the functions previously held by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Australian Industrial Registry.

In June 2009, Kathy Jackson (national secretary of the Health Services Union) referred allegations of financial irregularity in the union, when Craig Thomson ran the union, to the Industrial Registry.

Thomson had stepped down as the union's national secretary in 2007, when he was elected as Labor MP for the seat of Dobell on the central coast.

The public servants who worked for the Industrial Registry moved into FWA in January 2010. They have now been on the case, as to whether Thomson was involved in financial irregularities, for almost three years.

Surprising? Well, not really. In the early 1980s, I worked in the former commonwealth Department of Industrial Relations in Melbourne, in some of the areas which are now covered by FWA. This was my first, and only, public service job and it took some time to learn how to pace myself.

The essential problem was that nearly everything seemed to take forever. Early on, I was given the deed of preparing a draft ministerial reply for the federal minister. I completed the job before lunch - after all, the letter was only about 400 words. But I was told such a response was too prompt and the task should take at least a week.

It is not being suggested every department works at such a pace. But some do. The Thomson matter should be relatively easy to resolve. Trade unions are registered organisations. They have rules which are registered with FWA and are required to abide by these rules. In return, they obtain privileges.

For example, unions are protected from competition since potential competitors are denied registration and cannot enjoy the privileges enshrined in the Fair Work Act. With respect to Thomson, the questions are obvious. What did he spend the union's money on? Was such behaviour consistent with the HSU's rules? It is almost unbelievable such an inquiry could take close to three years to complete.

Bernadette O'Neill, in her capacity as FWA's acting general manager, said in December the Thomson case had "reached an advanced stage" and said FWA expected to "finalise its investigation in the new year". We shall see.

Apart from an apparent ambivalence to time, the other notable fact about life in the federal Industrial Relations Department was the lack of understanding of, or empathy towards, business. Especially small business.

Most of my colleagues had never worked in the private sector and none had ever experienced the responsibility of raising money to employ workers. Yet we were tasked with administrating the relationship between employers and employees at a time of economic downturn.

Looking from a distance three decades later, nothing much seems to have changed. Last Thursday, 7.30 interviewed Anna Augustine, general manager of Melbourne's Cafe Vue.

She spoke about the complexity of awards handed down by FWA and said the "repercussions of not meeting" award requirements "kept operators awake at night". It is my experience bureaucrats, in relatively secure employment, have difficulty understanding such concerns.

Then there is the Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, who is responsible for ensuring that awards determined by FWA are complied with. Wilson let it be known he was going to take an active stance against employers who were underpaying staff.

It turns out Wilson's own staff have given incorrect advice to employers, which has resulted in underpayments to employees.

Now, some small businesses have to compensate workers through no fault of their own. Ideally, any repayments should come out of the Fair Work Ombudsman's budget. But it won't happen. It is as if, to Wilson, only employers should be punished.

Last week, The Age reported that celebrity chef George Calombaris had said that penalty rates set by FWA were uneconomical. The following day, The Age's letters editor gave pride of place to Paul Bugeja. His advice was straightforward: "So, George if you don't want to pay penalties … don't trade on Sunday."

This reminded me of the mindset of my public service colleagues three decades ago. Workers who want to work weekends and customers who want to spend on weekends, including tourists, just did not matter.

The public servants and former union officials who preside at FWA and related bodies have the best intentions. It's just that they tend to look favourably on unions and with disfavour on business. What's more, as is not surprising for those in secure employment, time is of little moment. Which helps explain the Thomson delay.


1 comment:

Paul said...

I think the Thomson case will be driven off the road into a secluded field and abandoned, never to be spoken of again. Not unlike Gillard's dodgy days as an IR Lawyer.