Thursday, February 02, 2012

Wages tribunal attacks community services in the name of "equality"

Why not pay everyone exactly the same wage? That's where the logic (or illogic) leads.

The Federal government has promised funding to help pay the bigger wages bill but that will get mired in the bureaucracy. There is no doubt some organizations will have to put off staff to make ends meet

ALMOST 150,000 community sector workers, mostly women, have been awarded a pay rise by the industrial umpire in a landmark test case. Fair Work Australia granted an equal remuneration order sought by several unions, including the Australian Services Union, which was supported by the Federal Government.

The industrial workplace relations tribunal said the pay increases should be phased in over eight years rather than six. The pay boosts will range from 19 to 41 per cent, equating to wage rises of between $6324 and $24,346.

Australia Services Union (ASU) Sally McManus welcomed the decision as a huge win, not just for the community sector, but for equal pay in Australia. “We’re happy, in fact we’re ecstatic,” she said. “We’re hoping this decision will go towards putting a dent in the 18 per cent pay gap between men and women in Australia.”

The ASU said they were disappointed the pay increase will be phased in over eight years rather than the six years originally sought.

The Fair Work decision comes after the Federal Government appealed to the industrial tribunal in November for pay rises in the community sector which would be backed by a $2 billion funding commitment.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at the time community sector workers, who are mostly women, were underpaid and it was time they got equal pay for their work.

About 120,000 of the sector’s 150,000 workers are women and employees mostly work in social services, welfare and the caring professions.

Big employers in the area include Mission Australia, Amnesty International, Oxfam, The Catholic Church and Greenpeace.

Ms McManus said they will now be calling on the state governments to join in and support the pay rises.

The majority of the full bench of Fair Work Australia said they decided any equal remuneration order made should be based on the wages in the modern award. "The proposals in the joint submission are consistent with that requirement," FWA said.

"Importantly, the percentage additions to the modern award wages, as varied from time to time in annual wage reviews, will provide an ongoing remedy for the part gender has played in inhibiting wages growth in the SACS (social, community and disability services) industry."

The increases at each wage level and the further four per cent loading will be introduced in nine instalments annually on December 1 between 2012 and 2020.

FWA vice president Graeme Watson disagreed with his colleagues, saying the wage claim did not stand up to scrutiny.

During the hearing, the Victorian Government made a submission warning of potential cuts to jobs and services if the wage rise cost more than $200 million over four years.


New drug gives hope to hepatitis C sufferers

A DRUG set to cure thousands of Australians with hepatitis has been hailed as the most exciting development in the field in years.

Victrelis has been approved by medicines watchdog the Therapeutic Goods Administration and is awaiting listing on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Hepatitis Victoria chief executive Helen McNeill said the drug would boost the cure rate for the most common strain of hepatitis C from 50 to 80 per cent.

"Fifty-five per cent of people have the genotype 1 strain, and it often responds very poorly to treatment," Ms McNeill said. "The chance of increasing the opportunity of a cure using this new drug is very exciting. It is the biggest breakthrough in years."

More than 55,000 Victorians have hepatitis C, the leading cause of liver transplants.


Hospital system a 'dog's breakfast'

A Hobart GP has told a parliamentary inquiry health budget cuts are decimating the system. Dr Graeme Alexander has told a Legislative Council committee that Tasmania is a dog's breakfast. The committee is examining the impact of the health system's $100 million budget cut this financial year.

The Claremont GP says Tasmania was already winning the wooden spoon in all areas of health care before the cuts and GPs are now in a precarious position.

Dr Alexander says he has patients with gallstones who he knows will probably never receive surgery. "Equally I have patients with hernias who will probably never be operated on." "The only way they will, is if they get a serious complication."

Dr Alexander says the only lifeboat for a sinking system is a federal takeover of health.

The inquiry heard yesterday that patients were going back to Emergency Departments because they are being discharged too early.

Neroli Ellis from the Nursing Federation said bed shortages are already impacting on patients, with many being re-admitted to the Emergency Department because they are discharged too early. "Anecdotally, nurses tell us people are coming back on rebounds."

"So they're coming back into Emergency that should not have been discharged as early as they were, or they may not have been able to cope at home etc, that they are coming back in."

Ms Ellis says elective surgery patients are also presenting to the emergency department at the Launceston General Hospital. "They're now seeing 35 to 40 per cent of their theatre lists on emergencies which truly has increased quite dramatically."

"So they're not true emergencies, however, because they're waiting so long on the elective list now they're becoming emergencies."


No vote at all is better than a win for the No

It is always a good time to remove racially discriminatory provisions from the constitution. Except when such a sensible act might be defeated at a referendum for failing to obtain an overall majority and a majority of votes in a majority of states and there are unintended consequences.

Mark Leibler, co-chair of the expert panel whose report Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution was handed to the Prime Minister last week, clearly understands this. According to a report in The Weekend Australian Leibler has acknowledged that the suitable time to put a referendum proposal is when there are "the best prospects of success".

I was a keen supporter of the constitutional proposal on Aborigines, which was put to the electorate on May 27, 1967. It enjoyed the support of Harold Holt's Coalition government along with the Labor opposition led by Gough Whitlam, the Democratic Labor Party and independents.

The question was clear. Australians were asked if they agreed the provisions that barred Aborigines from being counted in the census and prevented the Commonwealth from making laws with respect to Aborigines should be deleted from the constitution. The total "for" vote was a record 91 per cent.

In May 1967 Holt presided over a popular government, having achieved a huge victory the previous year. Even so, the additional proposal put to the people in May 1967 was comprehensively defeated. Australians were also asked whether they supported breaking the "nexus" between the House of Representatives and the Senate, which would have made it possible to increase the number of MPs in the lower house without adding to the number of senators.

Only 40 per cent of electors supported the idea. There were two problems. The proposal was complex - many voters did not know what "nexus" meant. And it could easily be represented as giving more powers to politicians.

All the members of the House of Representatives supported the proposal to break the nexus. Opposition was led by 10 senators - most notably the DLP's Vince Gair and Frank McManus along with disaffected Tasmanian Liberal Reg Wright. The "no" case had scant money. However, as George Williams and David Hume point out in People Power, "the No campaign was vigorous and astonishingly effective".

Today it is common to say that no referendum proposal has a chance of succeeding unless it enjoys bipartisan support. The lesson from 1967 is that the backing of the Coalition and Labor will not necessarily deliver a "yes" outcome.

The next, and last, time the Australian electorate agreed to amend the constitution occurred in May 1977 when Malcolm Fraser's government, with Labor's backing, obtained support for three out of its four proposals. In 1977 Fraser too was a popular prime minister - almost midway between his record victories in January 1975 and January 1977.

Labor's sole postwar referendum success took place in September 1946 and gave the Commonwealth power to make laws with respect to social security benefits. Bob Hawke was the ALP's most successful prime minister. Yet, in the 1980s, he lost all six referendum proposals.

Leibler's cause is a noble one. He believes the time has come to remove the remaining race-based provisions in the constitution - namely, Section 25 and Section 51 (xxvi). However, he respects the founding fathers and recognises Australia is "one of the most peaceful and democratic nations in the world".

The problem is one of timing and complexity. At the moment, opinion polls are consistently reporting that the Coalition is leading Labor about 55 per cent to 45 per cent. In such a political climate, it is highly unlikely any government could initiate a successful referendum amendment. The expert panel with Leibler and Patrick Dodson as co-chairs is a representative group, on which the Liberal Party is represented. It is not clear how the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his colleagues will respond when they consider the report.

The potential problems turn not on what is proposed to be deleted from the constitution but what might be added. The panel proposes that the constitution should contain provisions aimed at securing the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. At any referendum, this could raise the complex question of who is an indigenous person entitled to such advancement.

In his decision in Eatock v Bolt last year, Federal Court Justice Mordy Bromberg felt the need to address Aboriginal identity when discussing a group he referred to as "fair-skinned Aboriginal people". Justice Bromberg accepted that the term Aboriginal Australian applied to "a person of mixed heritage but with some Aboriginal descent, who identifies as an Aboriginal person and has communal recognition as such". However, he did not rule out the possibility "that a person with less than the three attributes of the three-part test should not be recognised as an Aboriginal person". This is the kind of debate that Australia does not need right now.

Already some Aborigines, whose priorities do not focus on constitutional change, are being criticised for not going along with the panel's proposals. For example, on the ABC TV program The Drum last Thursday, leftist activist Antony Loewenstein attacked Warren Mundine as a "Murdoch pet who hates everything about mainstream society". This is mere abuse posing as analysis.

This sort of line of attack against critics, or any allegations labelling Australians as racist if the proposal is rejected for being too complex, would be counter-productive. The 1967 referendum on Aborigines worked because the political timing was correct, the proposal was straightforward and the extremes of left and right were relatively silent.



Paul said...

You know, when I first trained Hep C was called Non a-Non B Hepatitis and was rare as rare (hence no name). Now every recreational needle using, tattooed, chronically "depressed" sweary forty-something woman seems to have it.

Anonymous said...

A NO win would set back socialists for at least a generation. That is the reason that the referendum will not go forward, as it shouldn't.
If you believe in equality you don't legislate it, you change attitudes so that it is accepted as normal.
We are NOT racist in Australia any more than ANY other country in the world. We will give ANY individual a fair go, all as we ask for is a fair go in return. For the politicians to espouse to give ANY ethnic /religious group an advantage is not the Australian way and is as resented as would be queue jumper during a petrol strike.