Harvard Law School’s Mark Erlich and Terri Gerstein have published the results of their survey of US labour standards enforcement agencies — the equivalent of Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman. One tool they report as being particularly effective is not used by FWO: Connecticut’s Department of Labor can shut down a business until recalcitrant bosses turn over documents. It told the researchers, “If I went into a business and the workers told me they were getting paid cash, I would ask the employer for all the records. He wouldn’t send them to me and I would subpoena him. The turnaround on a basic wage and hour case was probably 3-6 months. Now they get me their records by the end of that day or the next business day. … Our average turnaround on a stop work order — and somebody did this study — was a day and a half.” By contrast, when FWO orders the production of documents, businesses have at least 14 days to comply, and they can drag out the process while continuing to trade. When FWO is abolished, its replacement agency must have the power to stop work while investigations are conducted.
archive: June 2019
The Victorian coroner has agreed to consider what role ‘systemic racism’ played in the death of Tanya Day — an Aboriginal woman who died in police custody following her arrest for falling asleep on a train. Her daughter, Apryl Watson, distilled the issue powerfully in a statement to the court: “I do believe that she would have been treated differently if she was white.” The coroner agreed to allow expert evidence on the concept of systemic racism, and to allow witnesses to be questioned about how it may have affected their decisions. Needless to say, Victoria Police resisted this move, even whinging that “to the extent she may have been discriminated against, the term ‘indirect discrimination on the basis of race’ was preferred to ‘systemic racism’.” Lawyer Tamar Hopkins of the Police Accountability Project was not surprised: “I don’t think that Victoria Police or any police forces around Australia have a real concept of what that means. Police generally consider racism to be that really bad apple, extreme, someone actually calling someone a racially derogatory term … whereas systemic racism goes far deeper.” The Victorian coroner may soon teach them a lesson.
John Quiggin rebukes those who use the purported terms of an employment contract to dismiss Israel Folau’s supporters: “That’s a cute debating point, but it’s not one that should be used by those of us concerned with protecting workers’ rights. The use of contractual terms to constrain what workers say and do outside working hours is a misuse of the power of employers and a danger to free speech on issues of all kinds. The fact that we don’t like Folau’s use of this freedom shouldn’t lead to a retreat from the principle that, within very broad limits, what we do and say in our own time is no business of the boss.”
The BlueGreen Alliance — which brings together big American unions like the United Steelworkers and the Service Employees International Union with significant environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Foundation — has launched its policy platform, called Solidarity for Climate Action. It aims to shift the discussion about the Green New Deal from high level statements of principle to more concrete policy objectives. It “addresses the dual crises of climate change and income inequality in a number of ways”, including by investing heavily in renewable energy, regulating supply chains to uphold high labour and environmental standards, and supporting community engagement and a just transition to a greener economy. This is a promising step forward.
Labor continues to sit on the fence about whether to pass the Coalition’s extreme flat-tax plan into law. For instance, The Guardian runs a headline stating ‘Labor says it will oppose Coalition’s ‘economically irresponsible’ tax cuts for wealthy’, and quotes Anthony Albanese saying “What we are doing is standing firm with regard to our position on stage three.” But when you scroll down a little way: “The Opposition has not said whether it will block the passage of the legislation if its votes are needed for it to come into effect.” So much for ‘standing firm’! Albo needs to put self-promoting dimwits Peter Khalil [$] and Joel Fitzgibbon back in their boxes — they want the party to betray its constituency by passing regressive tax scales for the foreseeable future. Even if Labor wins the next election, it would require an unlikely landslide in the Senate to have any hope of rolling back these changes. If Labor capitulates, they will be locked in for the long term.
Victorian firefighters now have a presumptive right to compensation for cancer caused by their exposure to dangerous carcinogens, after legislation was passed last week. The Cancer Council’s Nicola Quin explained the problem in 2015: “Research suggests that firefighters owned an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers related to their work and exposure to carcinogens. However, because of the nature of firefighting, proving causation is difficult; exposure is difficult to measure due to multiple firefighting events and uncertainty about the level and the intensity of carcinogens present. Because of the difficulties in proving causation, firefighters were rarely really successful in claiming compensation under the general compensation provisions.” The new scheme bypasses this problem — firefighters who can prove they have certain types of cancer and a qualifying period of service (depending on the type of cancer) will be automatically entitled to compensation. The new scheme covers both professional and volunteer firefighters.
Jeremy Poxon, Tash Heenan and Jon Piccini believe Australians can be persuaded to support bold policy: “We should remember that Australians are not shy when it comes to big ideas. After all, the country was a global model in voting rights for all, the eight hour day and social welfare reform prior to World War I. The twentieth century also saw a massive cultural transformation, driven by women’s, Indigenous and queer rights movements. The Green New Deal offers a way to face our modern crises together — a bold new path that leaves no one behind, and actually improves workers’ lives while we reckon with climate change. By (finally) addressing the needs of the millions of people denied decent jobs, we can begin to organise the kind of radical, worker-driven movement Australia was once famous for.” They argue it is important to get on the front foot in the communities that will be hardest hit by economic restructuring: “Without a strong, progressive voice to convince them otherwise, workers assume that action on climate change will further deny them opportunities.”
Greg Jericho on the latest jobs figures: “The percentage of jobs that are secondary still remains high — at 6.9% it is well above the 6.2% level of five years ago — a difference of around 100,000 more people working in a second job”. This rise in the number of second jobs is a symptom of underemployment, and there is a strong correlation between underemployment and low wages. Jim Stanford has analysed the results of a survey of Australia’s on-demand workforce: “Only about one in six gig workers … rely on a digital platform for the majority of their personal income. For most platform workers, gigs are a way to earn a few extra bucks — not a way to truly support themselves.” Simon Castles warns us not to euphemise away this reality: “[L]ike gig economy, the term side hustle hides more than it reveals. It puts a gloss on grim reality by making insecurity and desperation sound like freedom and empowerment. … The side hustle has emerged as a thing because finding secure full-time work has become harder… The least we can do in response is call it out for what it is using plain English. The side hustle is a second job. It is a third job. It is a fourth job.”
Tim Dunlop proposes the socialisation of Big Data: “If we actually recognised our use of digital devices and other data-rich interactions as the work that it is, as a labour we provide––let alone a resource that we extract from ourselves, our personal data––then we would be much more likely to demand that the wealth created by that resource and that labour be distributed more fairly. Data really should be publicly owned, part of our sovereign wealth; and the fortunes it helps generate should be distributed to all of us, most sensibly through some form of basic income.” This is worth considering, but runs into a practical objection. In their excellent book, The People’s Republic of Walmart, Leigh Phillips and Michael Rozworski are persuasive about the benefits of data for socialist planning, but can’t address the risk of incompetence or something more sinister, like China’s social credit system. They wonder, “Can we leap over the dichotomy of surveillance capitalism versus surveillance communism? Could a major goods distributor such as Amazon or a social network like Facebook be built as an international nonprofit cooperative, democratically controlled by a society independent of both the market and the state? We admit that these are difficult questions to which we don’t have answers. But we all need to start thinking about what the answers might be.”