13 August 2019

Rich school, poor school: “An ABC News investigation has revealed for the first time the gaping divide that separates the capital expenditure of Australia’s richest and poorest schools. It is based on school finance figures from the My School website… The investigation, which encompasses more than 8,500 schools teaching 96 per cent of students, reveals: Half of the $22 billion spent on capital projects in Australian schools between 2013 and 2017 was spent in just 10 per cent of schools. These schools teach fewer than 30 per cent of students and are the country’s richest… They also reaped 28 per cent (or $2.4 billion) of the $8.6 billion in capital spending funded by government. … Over the past decade, public funding to private schools has risen nearly twice as fast as public funding to public schools”. It’s worth scrolling through the ABC’s data visualisation to see the scale of the problem.

10 August 2019

The University of Sydney’s Stephen Clibborn on the need for properly resourced workplace inspectors: “Without allocating significant additional resources to enforcing laws, we won’t catch more non-compliant businesses nor encourage them to comply, rendering new laws as hollow as our minimum wage standards. Robust on paper but impotent in practice. … The [Fair Work] Ombudsman’s revenue from government remains lower than a decade ago, even with the government’s trumpeted additional $10 million, and yet it carries the newly added expenses of the Registered Organisations Commission. It employs about 185 inspectors to police every workplace in Australia. Still, resourcing need not be limited to the Ombudsman. Unions used to be a significant part of the enforcement solution, contributing to ensuring the integrity of our employment laws. However, their membership has declined and the government continues legislative efforts to marginalise unions rather than co-opting them to aid employment law enforcement.” Until the government is prepared to take wage theft seriously, the best thing workers can do is join their union.

9 August 2019

Brigid Delaney reflects on her experience moving from a highly paid job to subsistence on Newstart: “[O]ne of the worst things about being poor, and by extension being on Newstart — is the lack of freedom. Not just the lack of freedom to travel, or enjoy socialising with your friends, but the mental freedom. As soon as you get on Newstart, your mind isn’t free. It’s anxious and busy working out how to survive. It’s doing tiny sums with tiny bits of money. It’s going right down to the decimal point. To have money is to be free, to have that space in your head freed up for other things: thinking, dreaming, enjoying your life, planning for your future, surrendering under the canopy of palms to the four-hand massage and thinking of nothing, because you don’t have a care in the world. We take it for granted and do not appreciate that others have their headspace shrunk by poverty and the necessities of survival. In this respect the failure to increase Newstart is not merely a policy failure — nor is it just a moral failure — but an epic failure of imagination.”

7 August 2019

The High Court today upheld the sacking of Michaela Banerji, an Immigration Department employee who was fired for tweeting criticism of the department from an anonymous account. While this outcome is not surprising — the Court was always going to give the government a great deal of leeway in how it regulates the public service — the detail of the judges’ reasoning is nevertheless revealing. The majority held that the Government and its public service is entitled to a “good reputation”, even where that reputation can only be maintained by the suppression of legitimate criticism! Banerji is another reminder that the Constitution was designed to create a free trade zone between the States, and can not be relied upon for any significant protection of substantive rights. But it’s important to note that this decision does not mandate harsh restrictions on public service freedom of speech — it just pushes the issue back to the Executive branch. The CPSU’s Nadine Flood rightly complained that “people working in commonwealth agencies should be allowed normal rights as citizens rather than facing Orwellian censorship because of where they work” — the APS Code of Conduct needs to be changed, but that must be achieved through a change of government and union action.

6 August 2019

Meagan Day on the (defunct) US Labor Party’s call for a workers’ sabbatical: “Imagine that: you work for six years and you are promised a whole paid year off to do whatever you want, with your job still waiting for you afterwards. What would people do with this time? … The sabbatical should be for leisure, pleasure, and curiosity. It should be for travel, ceramics classes, and making graphic novel adaptations of eleventh-century Icelandic sagas that nobody asked for. It should be a time when, after six years of putting in hours to make our world run smoothly, each person gets to explore and enjoy that world for themselves. The capitalists won’t like it, but they didn’t like the weekend either. The weekend was won by a powerful movement of working people asserting that the time of their lives should belong to them, not to those who would wring them dry for profit. The demand for a sabbatical would have to be won the same way.” This is an expanded, universalised version of long-service leave, and the portable LSL system being rolled out by some governments for particularly precarious industries provides a feasible model.

Alyssa Battistoni: “The really controversial thing, though, wasn’t joining the union but organizing it. … Many people were happy to sign a membership card and a petition from time to time but didn’t want to go to more meetings or talk to colleagues about the union: they were already busy, so busy. They supported the union, they said, but they wanted it to leave them alone. … The relationality of organizing is maybe the hardest thing to understand before you’ve done it. But it is the most important. This is not because people are governed by emotions instead of reason, though they sometimes are. It’s because the entire problem of collective action is that it’s rational to act collectively where it’s not to act alone. And you build the collective piece by piece. … If the secret to winning isn’t really a secret — you just keep organizing and organizing and organizing so that along with all the losses and setbacks some victories start to pile up — then maybe the question of how to win is just a question of how to keep doing it, after you win and after you lose.”

As Melbourne’s train workers prepare to take low-level industrial action next week — they will be wearing casual clothes, won’t be checking tickets, and won’t make unscheduled changes to train services — the Financial Review profiles the secretary of their union, Luba Grigorovitch [$], and recalls their last major industrial campaign: “Four years ago, for the first time since Jeff Kennett ruled Victoria, the militant transport workers’ union brought chaos to Melbourne through weeks of rolling strikes, with Grigorovitch, then 30, as its public face. The action was not popular: Premier Daniel Andrews slammed the union’s ‘unjustifiable strong-arm tactics’;  then lord mayor Robert Doyle deemed it ‘selfish’, and said it was costing the city $10 million a day. The Herald Sun‘s James Campbell dismissed Grigorovitch’s ‘essentially pointless grandstanding’. Thing is: the strike worked. At a time when average Victorian wages were growing at 2.5 per cent, the RTBU netted pay rises of 4.4 per cent a year with a sign-on bonus and the retention of generous conditions.”

3 August 2019

Scott Morrison: “[T]he harder (people) work, the more they earn, the more they keep of what they earn.” Emma Dawson: “This is, of course, absolute, unmitigated nonsense. … That the prime minister of Australia believes that high-income earners work harder than the ordinary Australians who do the essential, undervalued work that keeps society together exposes a deep class prejudice… The average salary of an aged care worker in Australia is just $40,605. They are minimum wage earners, and their tax cut from Morrison’s package will be less than $400. Apparently, they don’t deserve any more, because they don’t work hard enough. This isn’t a slip of the tongue by the PM; it reflects the values of the government he leads. … The immense social value of the work done by those who care for our elderly loved ones, who teach our kids, who nurse us when we are sick, who keep us safe and pick up the pieces when we are hurt, is discounted in the government’s world view, where material wealth is the only measure of a person’s value. … [T]he only thing that this government believes deserving of reward, is making lots and lots of money — and keeping as much of it as you can to yourself.“

A business columnist’s complaint about “pilfering” by employees, which he says includes “robbing of time” through “the taking of extra breaks” and “the chucking of sickies”, highlights the disparity between the criminal laws that are applied to workers for ‘time theft’, and the civil laws that are applied to employers for ‘wage theft’. In egregious cases, workers go to jail for timesheet fraud — whereas bosses who systematically steal wages by keeping two sets of books are only taken to civil court. Workers can be convicted of a crime for taking a few days of fake sick leave each year — but bosses who sack cancer patients rather than give them their legal sick leave entitlements only face a civil case. Workers can be prosecuted for lying on a CV — but bosses can not be prosecuted for lying in a job ad. There are two legal systems in this country: one rule for us, another for them. Criminalising wage theft is just a small step towards balancing the scales of justice.

2 August 2019

The Morrison government’s so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill, in reality just another union-busting exercise, has passed the lower house and will be considered by the Senate in October [$]. The parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has considered the bill three times, has reiterated its criticism. This Government-dominated committee (made up of five Coalition MPs, three Labor, and one Green) is concerned the proposed law does not really address integrity issues. The provisions are not targeted at serious wrongdoing: “possible grounds for cancelation could include two or more relevantly minor breaches of industrial laws”; “cancellation of registration is not stated in the proposed legislation to be a measure of last resort”; “proposed grounds for disqualification are extremely broad … including contraventions that are less serious in nature. This would include taking unprotected industrial action.” Instead, the bill places restrictions on unions because of “concerns that they could have too much bargaining or campaigning power against employers”. The committee concludes the law is “likely to be incompatible with the right to freedom of association.” Remember — this committee is dominated by Government MPs.