Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reduce Sunday penalty rates, says Productivity Commission

By increasing the number of businesses that open on Sunday, this could INCREASE the pay going to workers overall.  But, because of the unions, Turnbull is unlikely to move on this until after the next election

Sunday penalty rates for cafe, restaurant, entertainment and retail workers should be lowered to the same level as Saturday penalty rates, the Productivity Commission into Australia's workplace relations system has recommended.

But penalty rates for public holidays should remain in place, and the minimum wage should not be  abolished.

It comes just days before Christmas when retail and hospitality workers are facing one of their busiest weeks of the year.
The report recommends Sunday penalty rates for cafe, restaurant, entertainment and retail workers should be lowered to the same level as Saturday penalty rates.

The report recommends Sunday penalty rates for cafe, restaurant, entertainment and retail workers should be lowered to the same level as Saturday penalty rates. Photo: Rob Banks

The Productivity Commission was asked by the former Abbott government to review Australia's workplace relations framework to see what effect it was having on levels of unemployment, productivity, and competitiveness.

The commission's draft report, released in August, upset the Labor Party, the Greens and the union movement for recommending changes to Sunday penalty rates.

But it also upset the conservative side of politics for not recommending more radical changes to the minimum wage.

Now the Productivity Commission's final report - released on Monday - shows it has refused to assuage either side of politics on those points of controversy.

The report says the minimum wage system is working well and does not need to be changed.

It says penalty rates for shift work and overtime should stay in place, too.

However, it has recommended that Sunday penalty rates for workers in the hospitality and retail industries should be reduced to match lower time-and-a-half rates paid on Saturdays, which will reduce their overall pay.

The recommendation does not extend to emergency workers.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said the recommendation to reduce Sunday penalty rates was something the Fair Work Commission could adopt if it wanted to, but it had nothing to do with the Turnbull government.

"The government has no plans to change penalty rates," Senator Cash said on Monday.

"Penalty rates are set by the independent Fair Work Commission, just as interest rates are set by another independent body [the Reserve Bank]."

Senator Cash also said the Turnbull government would read the report and take any recommendations to the next election to seek a mandate for reform.

"I don't intend to play the political rule-in, rule-out game. The government is focussed on having a mature conversation with the Australian people about the recommendations in this report," she said.

But Labor's employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor has criticised aspects of the report, and Senator Cash's refusal to say which recommendations the government wants to adopt.

He said the report was "Malcolm Turnbull's gift that no worker wants for Christmas".

"If Malcolm Turnbull and this government does not want to support cutting penalty rates, then they can reject the recommendation of the Productivity Commission today," he said.

"But the Minister has chosen not to do that."

The final report includes a new recommendation in relation to the transfer of business.

One of the long-standing issues on the transfer of business is that often when a company buys out another company, there is a disincentive to bring on employees from the company that it is buying, Ms Cash said.

The Productivity Commission acknowledges it wants to look at ways to provide these companies with an incentive to take on those employees so they are not left without a job.

The inquiry report was handed to the Turnbull government on 30 November.

The report says social trends and community norms have shifted so much in recent years that Australians now expect to be able to shop, go to a pharmacy, and eat at cafes and restaurants on weekends.

It says Sunday working is now inherent in jobs in particular parts of the services sector - cafes, hospitality, entertainment, restaurant and retail industries - and Sunday penalty rates that are not part of overtime or shift work should be set at Saturday rates.

It says weekend penalty rates should be more equal across the hospitality, entertainment, retail, restaurants and cafe industries - but without the expectation of a single rate across all of them.

It says the Fair Work Commission should introduce new regulated penalty rates in one step, but with one year's advance notice.


Unions may be losing membership but get their way anyhow

When my sister started teaching in 1976, she asked her high school civics class to name the then prime minister. Half of the students answered Bob Hawke, even though he was, at that stage, the president of the ACTU. He did not become PM until 1983. (Mind you, maybe those students really did know a thing or two.)

My guess is that if you asked high school students today to name the president (or secretary) of the ACTU, very few would be able even to hazard a guess. That goes for most adults as well. The decline in the power of the ACTU has been precipitous. No one really cares what its leaders think or say, although, bizarrely, Malcolm Turnbull invited the ACTU secretary — Dave Oliver, if you were wondering — to some kind of mini-summit to discuss reform. Bear in mind that 15 per cent of the workforce now belongs to a trade union. I’m not sure who was representing the other 85 per cent.

But while the ACTU is essentially irrelevant — does anyone take any notice of the bleatings from Oliver and Ged Kearney (ACTU president, just in case you didn’t know)? — the same cannot be said of certain unions.

These unions, many representing public sector workers, operate to rip off the public by exerting political power. It doesn’t really matter to them that there is low unionisation at large; their concerns are much more parochial and selfish. If they can achieve their ends without strike action, so much the better. Workers don’t really want to be losing pay to secure large pay rises and generous conditions.

We see this particularly at the state level where the unions representing ambos, firefighters, police, nurses and teachers, in particular, draw on the public’s general sympathy for the roles these workers fulfil to extract above-market concessions from governments in terms of pay and conditions.

While it helps if Labor is in power, the unions have figured out that, as long as they can keep the public on-side and disguise the true nature of their extremely generous pay and conditions, there is really not too much downside to the Tories (to use Anthony Albanese’s pejorative term for the Coalition) having an occasional turn in power. In any case, undermining Coalition governments is so much fun.

Take Victoria. The behaviour of the Ambulance Employees Association when the Coalition was in power was nothing short of disgraceful. Ambulances — public property — were defaced to give prominence to their industrial campaign. There was never any intention on the part of the AEA to settle the dispute with the government. The workers were on a promise from Labor and part of the deal was the ambos would contribute to the defeat of the Napthine government.

Unsurprisingly, the deal has paid off handsomely for the union and the ambos. No sooner had Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union-controlled Premier Daniel Andrews settled himself behind the big desk than the entire board of Ambulance Victoria was sacked and an extraordinarily generous new agreement was settled with the union.

In addition to a $3000 “sign-on” bonus — just a freebie, courtesy of taxpayers — the ambos secured a pay rise of 12 per cent across two years. This is at a time private sector pay rises are averaging about 2 per cent a year.

Other new allowances and changes to classifications have further inflated the ambos’ remuneration. The AEA got everything it wanted; it just required a bit of patience and having compliant politicians do their bidding.

Securing the unswerving allegiance of Labor politicians is central. This is why the unions will fight tooth and nail to ensure their dominance in terms of preselecting parliamentary candidates. Of course, union donations to the Labor Party, particularly to certain members of parliament, always focus the minds of the recipients.

While Labor pretends there are competitive selections for lower house seats, in Victoria and some other states the unions have full monopoly rights to nominate upper house members. This is why these upper houses look like retirement villages for ex-union officials whose careers in the main have been completely without distinction.

Of course it is vital for the unions to shore up their power at the federal level as well and to insist on policies enshrined in legislation that are favourable to them. We see this in terms of the extraordinarily high and rising proportion of federal Labor politicians who have been trade union officials, which is surely strange in view of the declining extent of unionisation.

Even when Labor is not in power, there is still scope for the favours to be doled out: witness Labor’s Senate blocking tactics in relation to the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission; the establishment of the Registered Organisations Commission to strengthen regulation of unions (and employer associations); and reforming the governance of industry super funds to include independent directors.

The fact the Greens are now part of the conspiracy on the public helps. The trade unions have strategically handed over funds and support to the Greens to the extent their position in respect of all union-related matters is now indistinguishable from Labor.

But here’s the real kicker: with very few exceptions, the election of Coalition governments at the state and federal levels makes not a jot of difference to the ability of the unions to get their way. In Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, the Coalition oppositions now stand for nothing apart from getting into power. They have no intention of upsetting the trade unions.

Falling numbers of union members — who cares? When you have all the politicians on your case and there are plenty of sources of income other than members’ dues, there’s barely a care in the world for most officials. And a royal commission on trade unions — just keep calling it a political witch-hunt.


Christmas carol ban is out of tune with society

Victoria’s public schools are the frontline in the war on Christmas.  In an extraordinary decision of the Andrews government, Education Minister James Merlino issued a diktat to state government schools that has the effect of banning Christmas carols.

You may need to read that sentence one more time.  In an attempt to secularise public schools, a directive was issued last month to the principal of every Victorian public school. These new rules restrict the way in which teachers, parents and volunteers talk about religious ideas in our state schools. The most shocking aspect of the rules is that the teaching and singing of traditional Christmas carols will now be banished from the classroom.

“Praise music”, defined as “any type of music that glorifies God or a particular religious figure or deity” will be banned from music classes beginning in January. This is the last year parents will be allowed to volunteer their lunchtimes to teach kids Christmas carols for the end-of-year concert.

Most children aren’t even aware there’s a religious dimension to Christmas carols. It’s Christmas, and singing carols is just what people do. Silent Night has taken on its own significance beyond anything that may be characterised by some government bureaucrat as “praise music”. Christmas carols now form a unique genre of music, and removing them from schools has the same effect banning any other genre of music would have; it ignores an important part of the complex tapestry of musical history.

In fact, the motivation behind a ban on Christmas carols today is remarkably similar to that which parents and teachers of children growing up in the 1950s and 60s shared in relation to rock ’n’ roll. Sixty years ago, older generations worried Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry would lead a generation to juvenile delinquency. Today, the concern is that Christmas carols may lead to alarming ideas about religion and the meaning of Christmas. Christmas carols are the new subversive influence on youth that parents and teachers should be concerned about — a nonsense idea ironically given life by the fact the elite are attempting to ban them.

Of course, the government hasn’t banned all Christmas carols, just those that refer to God. So while drab, contemporary Christmas songs such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will be spared, the traditional carols — those that drip with a rich Christmas spirit — such as Once in Royal David’s City, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and O Come, All Ye Faithful are verboten in Victorian public schools.

But it’s far bigger than all that. This is a cultural turning point. The Victorian government isn’t just banning Christmas carols; this is an attempt to strip away the meaning of Christmas. It’s an overt attack on one of the most significant events in the Christian calendar.

The decision goes to the heart of good education. Christmas, and all the ceremony and custom associated with it, has been a significant religious and cultural ritual for 1700 years. A ban on these traditions is a denial of our history. Suppressing aspects of the Christmas celebration denies a cultural heritage that has formed the basis of Western civilisation and that underpins our understanding of life and liberty.

A well-rounded education should include lessons on Christianity and its contribution to who we are today. We can’t expect the next generation to defend the values of Western civilisation if they don’t know what they are.

The inflammatory decision of the Andrews government to ban Christmas carols in Victoria’s public schools must be reversed immediately. Former Victorian attorney-general Robert Clark is to be congratulated for taking a stand on the issue. In parliament Clark called on the government to “withdraw this appalling edict and make clear that students at government schools are entitled to learn, sing and enjoy Christmas carols as they have for generations”. In the meantime, and while I’m still able to say it — merry Christmas!


Virulently anti-Israel programs on Australia's ABC

A series of programs on ABC Radio National, produced by a long-standing anti-Israel activist, has undermined the objectivity of the national broadcaster and exposed serious failings in its editorial process. The programs may also have put the ABC in breach of its statutory obligation of ‘maintaining independence and integrity’, and its Code of Practice requiring ‘impartiality’ in current affairs.

The programs, Jerusalem: a divine crime scene, and An unholy mix – Jerusalem, religion and archaeology, produced by former Greens Marrickville Councillor Cathy Peters, presented the views of a parade of veteran anti-Israel propagandists, whose unstated purpose was to discredit the historical connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish people, and to level an array of unchallenged and inaccurate accusations against Israel in the guise of expert analysis.

An editor’s note published online described Peters as a member of the NSW Greens, an executive member of the Coalition For Justice and Peace in Palestine and a member of Jews Against the Occupation. What the ABC failed to disclose is that Peters is also a fierce proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. She was the instigator of the 2010 Marrickville Council motion urging the Council to consider boycotting all goods made in any part of Israel, as well as Israeli artists, athletes and academics. The motion, which also called on state and federal governments to adopt BDS, provoked a surge of protest and derision, especially from ratepayers unimpressed that the Council was being used as a vehicle to prosecute a pet international cause of a few Councillors.

None of this background was disclosed by the ABC. The Code of Practice requires the ABC ‘to equip audiences to make up their own minds’ about news and current affairs issues, but Peters’ audience was not given vital information about her partisan record on the issues about which she was supposedly ‘reporting’.

Further, the requirement of ‘independence’ and ‘integrity’ in the ABC Act does not merely mean independence from the influence of the government of the day and political parties, as important as that is. It also means independence from the personal opinions, agendas and private activism of program producers and journalists contracted or employed by the ABC itself. Peters’ use of her position on Marrickville Council to push an anti-Israel agenda was rejected by rate-payers. The use of the national broadcaster for the same purpose is as objectionable.

Given her background in the anti-Israel movement, it was unsurprising that the two programs were as blatantly inaccurate and one-sided as they were, featuring a panel of speakers all coming from a relentlessly one-eyed anti-Israel perspective. One panellist, Ross Burns, the former Australian Ambassador to Israel, has previously served on the board of the Palestinian lobby group, Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.

Sara Irving, described as a historian and a writer, has filed over 200 stories for the virulently anti-Israel Electronic Intifada website.

Jeff Halper, the Israeli professor, ostensibly chosen to present an Israeli perspective, calls for the eradication of a Jewish national home through a ‘one-state solution’ to the conflict, and has made the bizarre claim that Israel has developed a ‘spectral dust’ it can spray over wide areas of land, every grain of which is a sensor, programmed with a person’s DNA to track, locate and kill that individual.

Shawan Jabarin was presented as a human rights activist from a Palestinian NGO. The audience was not told that he has also had a long association with a Palestinian terrorist organisation. In 2007, a court found that Jabarin is a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ figure: ‘in part of his activities, he is the director of a human rights organization, and in another part he is an activist in a terrorist organization which does not shy away from acts of murder and attempted murder which… deny the most basic of all human rights – the right to life.’

The former Jerusalem city councillor, Meir Margalit, provided perhaps the most extreme turn of all, in likening archaeological digs which seek to understand, preserve and honour the history of Jerusalem, to the acts of wholesale archaeological destruction and grotesque vandalism committed by Isis.

The opinions of the panellists were punctuated by recordings supposedly presenting Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. The audience heard a gentle-sounding Palestinian poet reciting incantations of longing and pain. The ostensible Israeli perspective was presented in the form of thick American accents repeatedly speaking of God and King David. As if those are the only, or predominant, voices on either side.

Ignored was the vast body of historical, poetic and literary works from the empires of antiquity to Josephus to Amoz Oz, that capture the essence of the long and deep Jewish bond to Jerusalem. Instead of presenting Israel and Israelis in all their rich diversity and complexity, Peters portrayed them as a caricature, precisely as BDS leaders would have everyone see them – American interlopers, settlers with pistols and prayer shawls.

There were also straight-out factual errors. Listeners were told ‘if you’re not Jewish in Jerusalem you don’t have the right to vote.’ In fact, all citizens of Israel (Jewish and Arab) have the right to vote and enjoy identical civic rights. With the end of the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem following Israel’s military victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, Jerusalem’s Arab residents were granted permanent residency status entitling them to vote in municipal elections and were offered full Israeli citizenship. Some 12 per cent have taken up Israeli citizenship while the remainder are evidently deterred by nationalistic considerations and long-standing threats and accusations of treason by the Palestinian leadership.

While Peters is free to hold her views, no matter how offensive or misguided they may be, the ABC’s listeners are entitled to question why the broadcaster trusted an activist with a record of fanatical anti-Israel campaigning to produce current affairs content directly relating to Israel, and without disclosing the full extent of her biases to the audience.

At best, the ABC may have naively believed that Peters could set aside her extreme views and produce sensible, balanced content. At worst, those in charge of the ABC’s news and current affairs programming ignored their statutory and Code obligations and indulged Peters’ agenda by commissioning the programs knowing exactly what they would be getting, without requiring even a semblance of balance, impartiality or accuracy.


Another grossly defective Jeep

See previous reports here and here.

A man has vented his frustration after shelling out $54,000 on a new Jeep only to have it completely break down two years later.

Zach Winch, from Ipswich, Queensland, is so upset with the laundry list of mechanical problems that have plagued his Jeep since he bought it in August 2013 that he made a video warning other Australians to avoid making his same mistake.

‘Do yourself a favour Australia, don’t hold back – buy yourself another vehicle,’ Zach said while standing in front his bright red Jeep with a sign reading ‘broken’ hanging from the number plate.

Zach lists the 19 mechanical problems that have plagued his 2013 Jeep in the short two years he has owned the car

Within the two years since he bought the car, Zach said the car has had 19 different faults ranging from transmission rebuild and replacement, traction control, overheating and losing power while driving.

‘To add to that we’ve had to make countless trips to and from service centres and overall in its short two year life span it’s spent more than seven months off the road,’ he said.

‘When Jeep owners say it’s a Jeep thing you wouldn't understand – they’re 100 percent correct – you wouldn't understand how hard it is to keep a jeep on the road running the way it’s supposed too,’ Zach said.

Zach’s frustration comes just months after Melbourne man Teg Sethi made a hilarious mock music video about his 2013 model Jeep Grand Cherokee that he claimed was a ‘lemon.’


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