Thursday, December 28, 2017

Showdown over casual workforce as unions, bosses clash

As usual, unions want to restrict jobs to their members only.  There will be a leap in unemployment if they get their way

Unions will launch a national campaign to restrict rising casual employment across the workforce, pressing for significant changes to the federal workplace laws that will be fiercely resisted by the business community.

The bid has set up a showdown between unions and industry groups opposed to changing the flexible working arrangements of 2.5 million Australians.

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said unions would push federal Labor to commit to two key changes to the Fair Work Act: a new “proper” definition of casual work, and the option for casual workers to convert to permanent positions after six months of regular work with one employer.

Under the union claim, employers would not be able to reasonably refuse a request by a casual to convert to permanency, a proposal rejected by the Fair Work Commission in July.

“The issue of casualisation, the casualisation of jobs, is going to be a key focus of the whole trade union movement next year in 2018,” Ms McManus told The Australian.

“One of the key things we want to change for working ­people is turning around or reversing the casualisation of jobs.

“That goes to properly defining what a casual is, which is a real weakness in the Fair Work Act where there is no proper definition and there used to be.

“That’s allowed employers just to call people casuals even though they have been in ongoing employment for a long time.

“What we would want is the commonly understood and old definition of what casual employment is: if you have a reasonable expectation of ongoing work, you have been working regular shifts, you shouldn’t be defined as a casual, you should have all the rights of permanent employees.

“Secondly, changing the act to allow people who have been in these positions for a long time to be able to convert (to permanent positions).”

Employers attacked the union push, with the Australian Industry Group claiming the proposed changes “would be harmful for employees, businesses and the broader community”.

Stephen Smith, the group’s head of national workplace relations policy, said the ACTU bid to restrict casual employment was part of a broader union push to convince the public that the Fair Work Act was unfair on workers.

“The proposition is ridiculous,’’ Mr Smith said. “The Fair Work Act was im­plemented by the former Labor government. “It increased union power in more than 100 areas and markedly increased employee entitlements.

“Changes are needed to the act to increase flexibility, not to remove essential existing flexibility.

“Casual employment suits a very large number of people, who prefer this form of employment because it gives them the flexibility that they want or need.”

Retail trade, accommodation and food services account for about 38 per cent of casual workers across Australia.

Federal Labor has committed to examining the definition of casual work and to set an objective test for determining when a worker is casual.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Labor would have further talks with unions and ­employers, and take into account the commission’s decision on ­casual employment.

The commission put a casual- conversion clause in modern awards that allows casual employees engaged in regular patterns of work to request permanent positions after 12 months, but it said that employers should have the right to refuse the conversion requests.

Ms McManus said properly defining a casual would ensure “we don’t have situations where ­people end up being in casual work for 20 years”.

She said her preference was to have the definition become part of the national employment standards. “We prefer a universal ­application because some people fall out of the award system. “We would want this extended to everyone, so probably the best sol­ution is having it in the NES,” she said.

Ms McManus said she was confident Labor recognised that insecurity of work was “a high-order issue for working people and they are open to looking at ­solutions for that”. “I believe the issue of insecure work and wages not keeping up with the cost of living are universally felt,’’ she said. “If you are in casual work, or other forms of insecure work, the so-called gig economy, every single worker worries about it.

“Either you’re in it, or your kids are in it or you worry about being in it.”

She said workplace laws were not strong enough to combat the growth of insecure work. “There have been too many loopholes, too many ways for employers to get around ensuring people have rights and security at work,’’ she said.

“We believe it should be a high-order issue for all political parties but most obviously for the Labor Party to address.”

Mr Smith said the current standard definition of a casual employee was “an employee engaged and paid as a casual employee”.

“If an employee is engaged as a casual and paid a casual loading then they are a casual — regardless of the pattern of hours they work,’’ he said.

“If casual employment is to be defined in the Fair Work Act, it is vital that the standard definition be used. “Any change to this definition would disrupt a very large number of casual employment arrangements that suit the needs of the employees and businesses that they work for.”

Mr Smith said casual-conversion clauses were common in awards, with the employer having the right to refuse on reasonable business grounds.

“Few casuals are union members and this is perhaps the reason why unions are so focused on restricting this form of employment,’’ he said.


Teaching spoon-fed students how to really read

Writing below is Tegan Bennett Daylight, a Leftist lady with a love of literature, Australian literature particularly.  Her essay is very long-winded in the usual Leftist way so I have just picked out below some paragraphs that may summarize what she is driving at.  To be rather cliche about it, she seems to think that reading creative fiction broadens your horizons.  I think it does too but would choose quite different books to the ones she does.  Some of the books that have interested me are  listed here and here.  She refers to the novel "Monkey Grip" below.  It is about druggies, dropouts, single mothers and "arty" types. Not my scene

I’ve recently finished marking 40-odd exams, mostly written by people between the ages of 18 and 21. In them our students had to answer questions about aspects of literature, such as free indirect speech or genre. They also had to write an essay of 1,000 words, on the work of Helen Garner, Christos Tsiolkas, Judith Wright, Jack Davis or Tim Winton.

My students are, for the most part, education students who live in regional Australia. If they get their degree, they are bound for early childhood centres, preschools, primary schools, high schools. These are our new teachers.

If you have little to do with tertiary education you might not have noticed this: that there is a whole new cohort of young people attending university, people who might not have done so 30 or 40 years ago. Our economy has been transforming itself from blue to white collar for decades; an education that relies on the written word is newly necessary.

The first time I taught "Monkey Grip" in English One I was struck by two things. First, by how many of my students were offended by it. They found it too sexually explicit, too full of “profanity”, and they deplored Norah’s method of parenting: the shared household, the children exposed to drug taking and other radical behaviours.

The second thing that struck me was how difficult my students found the 10-page extract. They didn’t know who Helen Garner was, the 1970s were too far away to mean anything to them, and they couldn’t locate themselves in the story. They didn’t know who was speaking, and who she was speaking to. How old was she, where was she, what was happening?

Well, there is only one way to go on, as I tell students – and that is to go on. This is the first and greatest difficulty they face. There’s no reason for them to continue reading. There is so much else to read that is shorter, and not just aimed at them, but, in the case of their Facebook feed, tuned to their experience. Marketed to them. Why would they bother reading something that was neither for them nor about them?

But then there are moments like this one, early on in my English teaching, when my class were reading and struggling with Les Murray’s The Cows on Killing Day. I’d always loved this poem. In it the poet imagines the death by knife of an old cow, from the point of view of the herd. Murray uses a first person compound pronoun, all me, to speak in the cows’ collective voice:

All me come running. It’s like the Hot Part of the sky

that’s hard to look at, this that now happens behind wood

in the raw yard. A shining leaf, like off the bitter gum tree

is with the human. It works in the neck of me

and the terrible floods out, swamped and frothy.

I had a student who had already responded very positively to Helen Garner’s Against Embarrassment, a simple essay that makes a plea for unselfconscious pleasure in performance. Like many students would after her, she had read Garner’s essay in the light of her university enrolment; it made her determined to enjoy herself, to unselfconsciously engage in learning, to stop being critical of herself. She’d worked several years as a dairymaid after leaving school early, thinking she was “too stupid” for university. As we read The Cows on Killing Day aloud, her voice came ringing from the desks at the back of the class: “But this is exactly what it’s like!”

The Cows on Killing Day elicits a variety of reactions from my students, many of whom have been brought up on farms. I’ve had young people furious with me. They say, “I hate this poem. This shouldn’t be written about,” or, “No one likes it. But it’s a part of life.” I’ve also had city or mountains-bred students – there are a couple of them each year – who’ve never killed an animal in their life, and self-righteously feel that the poem is a paean to vegetarianism.

But this student, the ex-dairymaid, read the poem as it is meant to be read. Murray doesn’t ask for sympathy for the cow: his job is simply to use his art to show what it’s like. After this class, my student went from a pass for her first assignment to a distinction for her second. At the end of the semester she told me she’d decided to switch her teaching specialisation to English.

This is what my students have learned: how to read more than 200 words of a text at a time. How to write something about the way they feel. And, finally, how to notice that a text is doing something. Not to simply slump, bored, in front of a block of writing and hope that it goes away. How to notice that it is up to something. Perhaps, in the future, to read a little differently. To feel those ideas about literature, so angrily learned, change the way they see.


Bigotry is one thing, but let’s not attack free speech

The debate about religious freedom in the wake of the enactment of legislation for same-sex marriage is in many ways misconceived. The real issue is freedom of speech and this arises whether or not the statements made have a religious basis, even though the problem is likely to be largely one for religious bodies.

It seems unlikely there will be any long-term problem with the fabled baker who does not want to supply the wedding cake for a same-sex function. As it happens, this would amount to discrimination — that is, differential treatment — and so be unlawful conduct under the Sex Discrimination Act.

But the real problem for religious bodies is whether they can teach in schools and churches their belief that same-sex marriage is wrong. This is because all states and territories have anti-discrimination legislation that makes it unlawful to offend or insult various community groups, including effectively same-sex couples.

The broadest of these statutes is the Tasmanian legislation, which makes it unlawful to offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule a person on the basis of various attributes, including sexual orientation, marital status and relationship status, in circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated that the subject of the statements would be offended or otherwise affected.

This leaves it open to a same-sex couple to complain if, for example, a statement is made that children are better off in a family constituted by the traditional marriage of a different-sex couple. It would, of course, be equally open to a different-sex couple living together but not married to complain about the same statement.

It may be that such statements are based on a religious belief as to the role of traditional marriage but it is obvious that this is not the only basis on which they might be made. Some non-religious individuals might simply have a view that traditional marriage provides the best environment for children for social and economic reasons.

Many people would disagree with these opinions but the question is whether it should be unlawful to express them. Like most of its state and territory counterparts, the Tasmanian legislation considers an otherwise unlawful publication defensible if it is produced “in good faith” for a purpose in the public interest. It might be thought that this would protect statements made in the course of religious teaching in church services and schools, as well as non-religious publications produced during debates on social issues.

There are, however, two problems with this defence. The first is that the notion of good faith is a subjective one and it is impossible to be certain what view the court or tribunal hearing a complaint would take of this question. The second is that the defence has little utility for an individual who may succeed in making that case only after proceedings have gone on for years in tribunals and courts. In addition to the heavy legal costs of such an exercise, there is the enormous stress that litigation causes any normal person who is subjected to it across a long period.

The difficulty with all laws of this kind is that they inevitably stifle public debate on contentious issues in the community. Advocates of these laws suggest they are necessary to deal with “hate speech”. No one argues that incitements to violence against any section of the community should not be unlawful and such conduct has always been unlawful under the criminal law. But such “hate speech” is hardly the same as expressing opinions in the course of a robust political debate that some people may find offensive.

The same advocates argue that freedom of speech is not an absolute value. Quite right. It has always been subject to various qualifications including, for example, the law of defamation, the law of contempt and publications that endanger national security. But these are different from laws that are designed to protect a person’s feelings from being offended.

It must be said that neither of Australia’s main political parties has a serious commitment to freedom of speech. Many politicians on both sides do not seem to understand how easily public debate can be stifled by laws affecting freedom of speech and how easy it is for these laws to be expanded once they are on the statute books.

Much the same can be said of the community in general but its awareness of this issue may be raised during the next few years if complaints against religious bodies are actively pursued because of their teachings on the role of marriage in society.


Pardon me, Canberra, your hypocrisy is showing

Corrupt politicians

On November 30 the government announced the establishment of a royal commission into the financial services sector.

In a joint statement, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison said the inquiry would consider “the conduct of banks, insurers, financial services providers and superannuation funds (not including self-managed superannuation funds). This will be a sensible, efficient and focused inquiry into misconduct and practices falling below community standards and expectations.”

Did the Prime Minister and Treasurer shuffle about as they made this announcement? Did they seem shifty in their ill-fitting self-righteous clothing as they took to the moral high ground? Did they give a second’s thought to an independent investigation into parliamentary practices that fell well “below community standards and expectations”? Answer: not on your life.

The sins of the financial ser­vices industry are one thing but, unlike their political masters, business leaders are governed by many layers of regulation and civil processes that offer recourse through prosecution, individual claims and class actions for suspected or proven misconduct.

Yet should anything threaten the Canberra collective, it simply closes ranks. After all, with so many privileges and the prospect of superannuation benefits beyond most Australians’ dreams of avarice, this cartel is impregnable.

Take the citizenship crisis that began last July. It continues to shine an unwelcome light on politicians’ links to other countries. Australia’s Constitution expressly bans parliamentarians from being entitled to the rights or privileges of, or to be a subject or citizen of, a foreign power. Yet 10 per cent of the parliament has resigned or remains under suspicion for just that.

Meanwhile, Turnbull and Bill Shorten are locked in a standoff over which MPs whose citizenship is in doubt should be referred to the High Court. How dare they sit in judgment when they have tried to cover up the ineligibility of some colleagues, pushed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement and scoffed at each other’s “carelessness” in a calculated attempt to deceive the public.

It explains why Turnbull supporter and Liberal frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos has yet to be referred to the High Court. Born in NSW to Greek parents, he may not be registered as a Greek citizen but neither has he renounced that citizenship and therefore may be lawfully bound by the policies and rights conferred by the Greek government.

Shorten factional ally David Feeney claims he renounced his British entitlements in 2007, but neither he nor the British Home Office can find the papers. The same Feeney forgot to declare a $2.3 million house in his register of pecuniary interests. Yet Labor sheltered him.

This is the Canberra culture. Do as I say, not as I do.

Take our jetsetting Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. She claimed $1.2m in expenses last year, including a trip to Sydney for a film premiere and a day at the polo. She charged taxpayers $7000 for four trips to Adelaide that coincided with her older sister’s birthdays. The Herald Sun also found eight occasions when official business took her to the same city her beloved Eagles were playing away games. Nothing to see there.

Nor when Labor frontbencher Tony Burke was forced to declare two undisclosed separate stays worth thousands of dollars at Eddie Obeid’s luxury Perisher ski lodge in 2004 to 2006. Or when Burke took his family on a taxpayer-funded business class trip to Uluru during the 2012 school holidays, or used a family reunion entitlement to take four family members from Ballina back to Sydney during the 2010 school holidays. To be fair, he did repay $94 claimed as travel expenses to attend a Robbie Williams concert.

In a seven-year period, Burke claimed more than $4.6m, or almost $60,000 a month in expenses. He is now manager of opposition business. Go figure.

But even this “anything goes” culture has limits. When Labor senator Sam Dastyari allowed a Chinese government-linked company to pay off a $1600 travel debt, give him two bottles of Grange worth $1400 (disclosed as “two bottles of wine”) and meet a $40,000 legal bill, the obvious conflict finally became too much for him to remain on the frontbench and then in the Senate. That’s how low the bar is. No wonder Donald Trump’s “drain the swamp” resonates so strongly with the electorate.

If companies gave false profit guidance the way governments promise a return to budget surplus, boards and management would face serious Australian Securities & Investments Commissions charges. If a business claimed it could deliver a new broadband network for $26 billion when the ultimate cost was about three times that, then those responsible would be sued for negligence. But not in politics. Politicians take big bets using other people’s money. They take credit for successes while taxpayers underwrite their mistakes. This is a bad deal for taxpayers.

The financial services royal commission is a rank political exercise that serves to remind us of the double standards and questionable competence of those who have commissioned it.

It will make recommendations that politicians, who thrive on populism and headlines and, whose priority is tenure, will implement.

It’s the risk we run when our parliament consists of careerists whose real-world experience is limited to being a political staff member or a trade union official. It’s an unpredictable mix of ambition and dangerous ideology. It highlights a crisis in governance and a crying need to widen the gene pool of our elected representatives. What was once a noble pursuit of public service has being corrupted by mercenaries. If liberties have to be taken, the ends justify the means.

Political parties may compete for the spoils of office, but ideologically their differences are blurred, and when push comes to shove they have demonstrated where their loyalties really lie. And it’s not with the Australian people.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

"Many people would disagree with these opinions but the question is whether it should be unlawful to express them."

How, in Australia, did this ever become the question?