Wednesday, August 24, 2022

My beef with QR code menus and other digital stomach turners

I quite agree with Helen Pitt's rant below. I walk out of a restaurant if they refuse to take my order in person. Doing things on the net is usually murderous. I am using the net right now but I am using a process that I am very familiar with. Doing any unfamiliar task on the net is to subject yourself to great frustrations, without any guarantee of eventual success.

I of course sound like an old cumudgeon in saying all that and perhaps I am, given that I am pushing 80, but I wrote my first computer program in 1967 so I am not unfamiliar with computers. It is just that some tasks are not really fit to be computerized. The programs I wrote were to do statistical analysis and computers are brilliant for that. But for dealing with government departments? Not so much

Permit me if you will a moment to share my beef about a dining trend: the QR code menu.

It’s the COVID-19 hangover that annoys me most. I’ve seen it in restaurants all over Sydney – most of them high-end – which like everyone in the hospitality game may be struggling to return to post-pandemic profitability; but this is not the way to do it.

I understand why the QR code gained traction during these past few years because of the need to minimise points of contact between patrons and restaurant professionals. Yes, I get that a paperless restaurant provides a more sanitary alternative to physical menus, and means waiters don’t need to touch potentially germ-laden credit cards. But for me, ordering from a digital waiter is dehumanising and disconnecting.

Not only do I not like ordering this way, but I am appalled that after you use the app to order, it asks for a tip. Really?! They should be giving ME a discount for moonlighting as my own waiter.

Surely I’m not the only one to feel that the joy of restaurant dining comes from the personal touches: the interaction with the waitperson who can recite the menu like a piece of poetry, or the sommelier who can explain the slope of a valley where a wine comes from and why it goes with a particular dish.

I still get misty-eyed at the memory of some of the best meals of my life in France and California, and it has not just been the food, wine and setting, but the wait staff that have made them special. I’m happy to tip for the part people play in creating the ambience. But to tip an app? That’s a bit rich.

Not only that, I can’t help but hear myself as a parent insisting the phone, like any screen, should not be a dining table utensil. I find it loathsome in my home, so why should I feel differently at a dining establishment? Not to mention elderly people who don’t have a mobile phone or know how to use it, or others who simply refuse to use it for such purposes.

As we know too well, technology often lets you down. Often the app doesn’t work, or you are asked for a PIN that has to be entered and re-entered on your phone and has you going around in digital circles. Surely getting up and walking to the bar and ordering from a real bar tender is quicker in this case.

I’m equally miffed by self-checkouts at supermarkets, especially during COVID-19 lockdowns when a trip to the grocery store was as close as it got to a fun outing. I’ll still queue up in a long line at my local Woollies to have a real-life exchange (and say hi to Di and Deidre) rather than the impersonal checking of every item yourself, which invariably doesn’t work and requires a staff member to come help anyway.

Any mental health expert will tell you it is these small but meaningful daily exchanges with people in real life in your own community that help as much as authentic honest intimate relationships with family and friends, fulfilling work and an optimistic outlook.

As for other digital discourtesies, don’t get me started with Uber. Have you noticed it defaults to not just rating your trip and driver, but adding a tip? This is deceitful carpetbagging and enough to make me want to go back to using taxis and tipping if I have a good experience.

I’m also finding the latest update to Google maps most frustrating. Perhaps it is a user fail but I’ve found myself lost so often lately because of incorrect directions. It’s enough to make me retreat to the reliable old Gregorys’ I still keep sentimentally in the back seat of the car.

And have you tried to book an airline ticket other than online lately? It’s enough to make me waltz to the local shopping centre and walk into a Flight Centre just to talk to a real-life travel agent (those who still have jobs) and pay them handsomely to sit on the telephone to the airline for me.

As for online banking – now we have banking apps I wonder what must have happened to the legions of bank managers. They already take their own form of compulsory tipping in the ridiculous fees they charge to keep our money.

I lost interest in Wordle a few months back because, despite joining an online community to humble-brag results with, it wasn’t real. It was a digital creation. I’d rather return to an old-school crossword or paper quiz where you can ask your coffee companion, or waiter or barista at your local cafe for input in real life.

Try asking that of a QR code.


From firing to hiring: universities now on hunt for staff

The nation’s top universities are promising to fill hundreds of jobs cut during Covid-19, after spending the last year letting staff go while boosting expenditure on ­advertising and consultants by millions of dollars.

The University of NSW, the University of Sydney and Monash University in Melbourne told The Australian they planned to rehire staff after “better than expected” financial results last year.

The Australian examined the financial results and staff cuts at seven universities across the country amid warnings from Education Minister Jason Clare that universities could “do better” in the way they treated staff.

The increased spending on ­advertising and consultants last year, while staff budgets were cut, also comes amid questions about teaching quality at many universities, with The Weekend Australian revealing on Saturday that half of the nation’s student teachers are dropping out of university courses.

Higher education bosses have defended spending decisions and bumper surpluses experienced by many institutions in 2021, and University of Sydney vice-chancellor Mark Scott says a renewed push to bump up staffing numbers will improve teaching and ­research.

“Unlike a business, we don’t seek profits or pay out shareholders – all our surplus is reinvested back into the university to support teaching and research, ­including the recruitment of more academic and professional staff,” he said. “Our work has a positive effect across the whole country by addressing the biggest challenges, equipping students from diverse backgrounds with knowledge and skills, and creating new opportunities and jobs.”

Sydney University recorded a surplus of more than $1bn while the University of Melbourne ­recorded a surplus of more than $500m. Monash, UNSW and the University of Queensland reported surpluses of more than $300m.

The University of Western Australia posted an operating ­result of about $203m in total comprehensive income and Curtin University reported a $113m ­result.

The National Tertiary Education Union estimated 40,000 jobs were lost in public tertiary education in the 12 months to May last year. President Alison Barnes said investment in staff in NSW universities had fallen by 10 per cent since 2008 and the rate of ­casualisation was at about 70 per cent across the sector.

“We need university management to step up to the plate and deal with systemic problems that their business models have ­created,” Dr Barnes said.

Mr Clare identified casualisation and the treatment of staff as an issue, arguing that “the way that universities work with their staff is one of the things I want the Universities Accord to look at”.

He said the sector “can do better”, particularly when it came to high rates of casualisation and staff underpayments.

UNSW led the charge on staff cuts last year, with figures revealing 726 fewer full-time-equivalent jobs when compared to the previous year.

At the University of Sydney, the number of academic staff fell from 3743 to 3514 due to voluntary redundancies. Monash’s full-time-equivalent employee numbers fell from 8017 to 7719, while Melbourne University saw 210 staff leave through voluntary redundancies and 168 via involuntary ­redundancies.

However, most universities said they would now begin rehiring staff thanks to their better than expected 2021 financial results.

UNSW said it was aiming to ­increase investment in staff in 2022 by 16 per cent. Monash said its staffing numbers had grown by 4.5 per cent compared to last year and were “projected to slowly grow further by the end of this year”. The University of Sydney said it was “actively recruiting new staff in areas where there is demand and will continue to ­invest in our staff going forward”.

But Frank Larkins, a former deputy vice-chancellor of research at Melbourne University, said universities would likely struggle to refill jobs. “The challenge will be whether universities can rehire high-quality people to cover the breadth of their curriculums,” he said. “University employment is an international profession, and the US and UK have also reported shortfalls, so there’s competition.”


The High Court of Australia has changed the game on contract work

On the eve of the Jobs Summit, enterprises and individuals wanting to work under a contract relationship are starting to understand that a High Court ruling earlier this year has dramatically changed the rules.

Subject to one simple rule – that there is a detailed contract – enterprises and individuals can decide whether they want tasks undertaken via a contractual relationship or whether they want employment and an award.

The old complex tests as to whether a relationship between an individual and an enterprise is employment or contracting have been thrown out the window by the High Court. Working under a contact or under employment awards becomes a choice for individuals and enterprises. Contracting is set to boom.

But the unions and the new government had planned an attack on the contracting economy – often branded gig economy – so are furious because the High Court ruling will be extremely difficult to change by legislation. The looming Jobs Summit can make union-led pronouncements but the High Court has set clear rules.

For the last four or five decades, to determine whether a person was an independent contractor or an employee courts have used what is known as the multifactorial test – a basket of behavioural indicators only one of which is the written contract.

Those indicators include a consideration of whether a person could work for another company, which party provided the necessary equipment, and the multitude of other tests.

These multifactorial tests have been used by unions and lawyers for decades to run cases to declare that a contractor is an employee. The Australian Taxation Office embraced a similar policy.

The lawyers and unions were able to effectively retrospectively examine behaviour and enterprises were often forced into employment relationships because contracting was too hard.

The High Court has ruled that the lower courts have misunderstood the situation and that it has always had the view that the written contract is supreme. The High Court cited a 1983 Privy Council ruling – an Australian payroll tax dispute – in support of its interpretation.

In the nation changing case, a 22-year-old British backpacker who had travelled to Australia on a working holiday visa obtained a white card, which enabled him to work on construction sites. He contacted with Perth labour hire company Personnel Contracting stating that he was prepared to do any construction work, and was available to start work immediately. He worked under the supervision and direction of builders, Hanssen, who had contracted with the labour hire company. The backpacker signed a very detailed contract with Personnel Contracting setting out his obligations, rights, warranties and entitlements as a contractor. In turn the labour hire company set out its rights and responsibilities.

The CFMEU claimed that Personnel Contracting was paying labourers 25 percent below the required award rate. Personnel Contracting said that it was operating under independent contracting rules. As such, the workers were independent contractors, not employees and therefore the award rates did not apply.

Using the multifactorial test, lower courts led by the Federal Court ruled that the backpacker was an employee and the awards applied.

Personnel Contracting appealed to the High Court which agreed with the lower courts that he was an employee in terms of his on the job actions but said the multifactorial test “is apt to generate considerable uncertainty, both for parties and for the courts”.

“It is the task of the courts to promote certainty with respect to a relationship of such fundamental importance,” the court found.

The High Court therefore declared in this case that the terms of the relationship were “comprehensively committed to a written contract … there is no reason why the legal rights and obligations so established should not be decisive of the character of the relationship”.

Elaborating, the court declared that “where there is a written contract between the parties whose relationship is in issue, a court is confined, in determining the nature of that relationship, to a consideration of the terms, express or implied, of that contract in the light of the circumstances surrounding the making of it; and it is not entitled to consider also the manner in which the parties subsequently acted in pursuance of such contract”.

These simple words are a massive win for individuals, business, and the economy because it brings certainty and clarity to what is a commercial contract.

Enterprises and the self-employed need to make sure they have proper commercial contracts when undertaking work. Sham contracts will not hold up.

Smarter businesses will use the contracting system to gain flexibility rather than to cut payments.

Following the High Court ruling, a worker with Caelli Constructions and drivers at Avert Logistics were declared to be an independent contractors. A decision that Deliveroo drivers were employees has been overturned. The game has changed.


The alarming precedents set by Chairman Dan

In her media realise dated August 17 and headed ‘Applications Open for Premier’s Spirit of Democracy Tour’, Minister Natalie Hutchins states:

‘The Premier’s Spirit of Democracy tour is an amazing opportunity for young critical thinkers to learn about the origins of Australian democracy.’

Forget about inviting students to learn about how ‘classical Greek thinkers’ have contributed to Australia’s democracy. It’s obvious that if anyone needs to be educated about democracy it’s Premier Daniel Andrews (aka Chairman Dan).

Last Friday’s example of refusing to answer questions about the real cost of the multi-billion-dollar suburban rail loop is only the most recent example. Chairman Dan arguably has form when it comes to acting as El Supremo and denying citizens’ expectations regarding transparency and honesty.

Since the arrival of the China virus nearly three years ago, Victorians have suffered under a despotic regime where fundamental and long-cherished freedoms and liberties were ignored or completely trashed.

By giving a master class in the dark arts of self-serving Machiavellian politics, Australia watched a government perfectly illustrate the maxim ‘power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Closing Parliament, stopping duly elected MPs from entering the building, throwing recalcitrant ministers under the bus, acting as a one-man Cabinet, refusing to take the blame when hundreds died in aged care facilities, and the ongoing theatre surrounding the infamous red-shirts rort – there was no end to Labor’s subterfuge and misdeeds.

Worse still, while one of the central tenets of Western liberal democracies like Victoria (unlike totalitarian communist China and Russia), is the right to freedom, Covid saw police authority supercharged as an instrument to enforce political orders that directly infringed on liberty.

A pregnant woman suffered a home invasion for daring to express opposition to inflexible and cruel lockdowns, demonstrators were fired upon with pepper balls and smothered in tear gas by police, citizens were fined for sitting in the open air in parks, and teachers were summarily sacked for not taking the jab.

Much like East Berlin under communist control where citizens suffered privation and hardship, Victoria’s health system has collapsed. Patients are finding themselves denied much-needed medical treatment, ambulances sit banked up outside emergency departments, and the failure of the state’s triple-zero system is leading to multiple deaths.

Victoria is now the antipodean Venezuela where government debt has skyrocketed, small businesses crushed, and the only solution – like Stalin’s five-year plan – is to announce grandiose, multi-billion dollar infrastructure plans that will bankrupt the state.

Instead of being the ‘education state’, Victorian students have missed months of schooling while suffering a teacher shortage because of draconian jab regulations that have also led to teachers and students suffering record anxiety and stress.

Like in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, where propaganda ensures compliance, Chairman Dan is a master media performer. Like Big Brother’s slogans ‘war is peace’, ‘freedom is slavery’, and ‘ignorance is strength’ Chairman Dan appears to enforce language control and groupthink by arguing ‘staying apart, keeps us together’.

At a time when Melbourne was the most locked-down city in the world, curfews were enforced, and citizens denied freedom of movement – Chairman Dan painted himself as a stern but caring figure.

In daily media appearances, the Premier described the China virus as a deadly and sinister beast and assured citizens that only he had the power to safeguard Victorian. Like one’s favourite uncle, Chairman Dan tried to come across as compassionate and deeply concerned.

Ignored were those Victorians trapped over the border or the people denied the right to attend dying relatives and funerals. Instead of displaying Christian charity and concern for the acute suffering around him, Chairman Dan hid behind ‘the science’.

Any probing media questions or requests for information were met with the rejoinder, ‘that’s irrelevant’ or ‘my only job is to safeguard Victorians against this deadly infection’. Questions about government duplicity were replied to with some variation of, ‘It’s subject to an inquiry, I can’t answer.’

While Scott Morrison is rightly being criticised for ignoring Westminster parliamentary conventions and traditions, the reality is that Chairman Dan is also arguably guilty of trouncing the institutions and safeguards underlying our democratic system.

Family businesses have been bankrupted, friends and neighbours pressured to dob one another into the police, Victoria’s social fabric damaged, and people’s trust in government lost.

Chairman Dan is a typical ALP, socialist-left, union apparatchik who has never had a real job and is thus incapable of knowing the value of real money and what constitutes honest, hard work.

A politician much practised in the maxim ‘the ends justify the means’ where self-interest and political subterfuge is the order of the day. Instead of Victorian students studying the ancient Athenian contribution to democracy, what they should be studying is Chairman Dan whose behaviour mimics that of a third-world despot.




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