16 September 2019

Victoria Police are accused of sabotaging the inquest into the death of Tanya Day, by sending an underprepared witness to frustrate the coroner’s efforts: “‘This witness was asked at my direction to come to court,’ [coroner Caitlin] English said, interrupting a painful cross-examination from Peter Morrissey SC who was trying, at the instruction of Day’s family, to get some responses from police to the failures that led to their mother’s death. ‘Unfortunately she’s not able to cover quite a lot of the territory that I was hoping for.’ Morrissey was indignant. ‘The witness has been put here specifically because she doesn’t know,’ he said. Earlier he said the witness, superintendent Sussan Thomas, had been appointed as a ‘decoy’. It was not Thomas’s fault, he said. Thomas, who was in charge of the Aboriginal and youth portfolios in Victoria Police’s priority communities division, had been dumped in it. … The first coronial directions hearing was heard [on 6 December 2018]. Lawyers for Ms Day’s family had been requesting Victoria Police nominate a senior person to give evidence on policies, procedures and training for six months. The inquest itself began three weeks ago. Yet Thomas was only notified two days before the inquest was scheduled to conclude. Her 14-page statement was only received at 9.51am on Friday, the final day.”

Queensland building contractor Enco continues to block the CFMEU’s legitimate access to its sites. Union safety inspectors had arrived to investigate tip-offs about safety, which the company claimed was not possible on the racist grounds that its employees are too stupid to “manage their own safety” because “the Islander culture does not have self-preservation”. Despite a manager’s assertion that “The CFMEU are never coming on this site, it’s that simple”, the inspection eventually went ahead: “After union officials gained entry to Enco, Queensland government workplace inspectors issued eight enforcement notices, which require the business to make safety improvements, and issued one $3,600 fine for a failure to maintain a complete register of chemicals.” The dispute has been ongoing for months — trumped-up charges of trespass were thrown out because “police have taken the side of the business owner from the outset”, gave evidence that was “demonstrably untrue”, and ignored the union’s right of entry. The police were ordered to pay the union $85,000 in costs [$], which are “understood to be the largest awarded against the Queensland Police Force in the Magistrate’s Court”.

13 September 2019

Godfrey Moase develops a series of quantum physics analogies to understand the nature of Australian working life; for example, Schrödinger’s worker: “Subatomic particles are capable of existing in multiple states at once. Likewise, people now find themselves simultaneously in multiple states, and they experience daily life as the sum of these states. … On more than one occasion in my union work, I have listened to what it is like to work in labour hire. These arrangements mean being an employee of the host employer when it suits them, and not their employee when it does not. A labour-hire worker might be regarded as an employee for the purposes of taking direction and getting the job done, but not an employee when it comes to what pay and workplace rights go with the job. The daily reality is commonly getting paid less — between $5 to $10 per hour — for the same work in the same workplace as directly engaged workers. Even a direct casual worker exists simultaneously as employee/non-employee: at work today when required, and gone tomorrow when not. The same pattern repeats through other forms of insecure work, from individual contracting to the gig economy. Insecure work, therefore, can be viewed as any engagement in which a worker experiences the sum total of being both an employee and a non-employee at the same time — it is the superposition principle extended to the employment relationship itself.”

11 September 2019

A hopeful story about organising in the so-called gig economy from Jack Shenker’s Now We Have Your Attention: “organised resistance by digitally outsourced workers has erupted repeatedly on the streets of major cities in recent years, usually beginning in the back alley spots where delivery riders are encouraged by their apps to congregate and then fanning out rapidly through WhatsApp networks, word of mouth and some technological trickery. In 2016, for example, an announcement by Deliveroo that it would soon be unilaterally altering its rider payment structure prompted a six-day ‘strike’ in which riders acted en masse to make themselves unavailable for orders. Colleagues from Deliveroo’s rivals, Uber Eats, swiftly followed suit, and began taking advantage of a promotional offer within the app that granted new customers £5 off their first order. By repeatedly creating new accounts and ordering low-value meals to be delivered to the picket line, the strikers amassed both a mountain of free food at Uber’s expense and a steady stream of fellow riders, who would turn up with the order only to be met by a sea of radicalised peers cheering their arrival and chanting ‘Log out, log out!’” (There is a long excerpt from the book in The Guardian.)

10 September 2019

Mungo McCallum: “The Greens reckon that Peter Dutton is a sadist — that he positively enjoys inflicting cruelty on his defenceless victims. But this is probably unfair to the potato-headed potentate. Dutton is certainly heartless, but his cruelty, while undoubtedly real, is more of an inevitable consequence of his demeanour than a deliberate agenda. What the Home Affairs minister really enjoys is power — what George Orwell once described as the image of a boot stamping down on a human face. He exults in trampling his opponents, leaving them defeated and demoralised. He gets his kicks not so much from tormenting them, but from crushing them into impotent misery. Thus the brutality of his treatment of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers from Biloela is almost incidental. What matters is his demonstration of supremacy — his ability to override all the normal standards of decent behaviour just because he can.”

Fair Work Commission deputy president Gerard Boyce is under fire for partisan social media comments about the Labor Party and the trade union movement. He was one of six members with employer backgrounds appointed to fill a single vacancy [$] when the polls showed the Coalition was unlikely to win the next election. Boyce has a long career representing militant bosses; when he worked for the mining industry he complained that WorkChoices didn’t go far enough. He is now deciding whether it is legitimate for BHP to set up a subsidiary company, create a new EBA with 16 employees — with a margin of just one vote — that would cut wages by up to 40% and strip hard-won working conditions, and then transfer hundreds of employees into the new company. It is unlikely there will be any consequences: former Peter Reith staffer and now FWC senior deputy president Jonathan Hamberger cleared himself of bias for retweeting Michaelia Cash’s anti-union propaganda while continuing to hear cases involving the same union.

6 September 2019

A worker was sacked by BP after sharing a Downfall parody meme about the state of enterprise bargaining with his colleagues. The sacking was upheld by Fair Work Commission deputy president Melanie Binet — a Michaelia Cash appointee and former Freehills colleague, who earlier this year had a decision overturned due to “lack of empathy towards an employee who missed a deadline, because his two-month old son had been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening heart condition”. Binet compared the Downfall meme to other cases where workers had shouted that their managers were Nazis, and ruled that “when viewed in context … a reasonable person would consider the Hitler video inappropriate and offensive”. The AWU is now considering an appeal, because “anyone with a smartphone and a sense of humour can tell you, Hitler Downfall parody videos are not about comparing anyone to actual Nazis.” Indeed — I am not comparing Deputy President Binet to actual Nazis in this Downfall parody meme about her terrible Downfall parody meme decision.

5 September 2019

Four Extinction Rebellion protestors charged with disrupting Brisbane traffic will try to set a new legal precedent; Emma Dorge explained: “I’m pleading not guilty on the basis of the extraordinary emergency defence… We’re in the midst of a crisis and that’s the climate crisis, we believe we’ve essentially been forced to break the law to avert a far more catastrophic outcome.” The Queensland benchbook (a guide for judges on how to instruct a jury) sets out the test: “a person in an emergency cannot always weigh up and deliberate about what action is best to take. [They] must act quickly and do the best he can. If you consider that an ordinary person with ordinary powers of self control could not reasonably have been expected to act differently, or if the prosecution has not satisfied you beyond reasonable doubt of the contrary, you must acquit.” That hurdle will be tough to clear. But before even reaching that point, the court must be satisfied that the accused was acting “under the stress of an extraordinary emergency” — and if the protestors can get a ruling that climate change is legally recognised as an extraordinary emergency, that will be significant regardless of the final outcome of the case.

4 September 2019

The merger of United Voice and the National Union of Workers to form an innovative new super-union — to be called the United Workers Union (UWU) — has been approved by an overwhelming 95% of members. Responding to the result, the NUW’s Tim Kennedy said, “We represent workers at the sharp end of social and economic inequality, in areas such as education, logistics, cleaning, building services, health and aged care. We represent the workers who manufacture and distribute the food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals we all rely on. Our combined 150,000 members share a strong history of taking up the fight for all working people. They have voted for a transformative new union that will put workers at the centre of our economic and political system.” Employers are concerned that the new union will use “co-ordinated industrial ­action … to leverage their greater power in a more strategic manner as a means to promote change to business and government policy”. Bring it on.

The President of Victoria’s Court of Appeal has questioned the validity of some forensic evidence, suggesting that our courts are wrongfully convicting people: “There have been a string of wrongful convictions across the world. The benefit of better DNA testing has shown that very many people convicted on the basis of ‘crook science’, for example, bite mark analysis, were innocent. This seems to me to be a matter of profound concern.” The deputy director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine shares these concerns, saying that significant American reports (such as a 2016 report by the President’s scientific advisory council) had been rejected by Victoria Police: “They are very resistant to change. When it comes to fingerprints, they are most often right. But it is the other stuff — like analysing foot marks, tool marks, ballistics, there is no real evidence-based science around what they are doing. It is purely opinion based on ‘I’ve done a thousand of these, you should believe me’.” This warrants a thorough review of the rules of evidence and police investigative practices.