archive: July 2019

31 July 2019

Given Victoria’s worsening recycling and landfill crisis, this plan seems like a winner: “A Parliamentary Budget Office analysis shows that the proposed plastics recycling plant would cost $52 million to establish but would bring a net gain of $166 million over the decade to 2029-30. The Victorian Greens commissioned the analysis for the project, which would employ 130 people in ongoing positions and process waste for councils and businesses. … The plant could be built on vacant government land over two years”. The Greens’s proposal addresses both the immediate crisis and long-term planning, as Tim Read explains: “The State Government must act now to set up a temporary storage facility to prevent our recycling going to landfill, while they sort out this mess. We then need immediate investment in a second recycling facility using the unspent landfill levy to ensure that all of Victoria’s recyclables can be processed and not stockpiled or dumped in landfill. The revenue from this facility could go back into the Sustainability Fund for further investment.”

The owners of a failed restaurant have argued award wages were to blame — rather than their vomitous novelty food concept, racist marketing, failure to plan for the seasonal business cycle, or their extravagant million dollar renovation. JR Hennessy identifies their PR campaign — and especially the argument that hospitality staff are “drastically overpaid for the value they produce for a business” — as a “canar[y] in the coalmine for a recession; subjecting us to the psychodrama of small business owners as they contend with the reality that their prospective customers don’t have much walking around money at the moment”, and “a pushback against the recent focus on systemic underpayment of wages in the industry”: “At the end of the day, it’s very easy to poke fun at the Sash founders for identifying ‘having to pay staff’ as the central failure of their three-month sushi pizza fever dream. But in their whinge we can see the germ of an argument coalescing among restauranteurs the nation over against a punitive response to wage theft. We shouldn’t let them make it.”

26 July 2019

The Government’s so-called Ensuring Integrity Bill is back on parliament’s agenda, with its sponsors still pushing the lie that it will bring regulation of unions into line with regulation of corporations. Christian Porter made this bizarre claim [$] about giving bosses the power to seek the disqualification of union officials: “That’s one potentiality but it’s no different from the rules that allow shareholders of organisations to (take) certain actions against the corporation they are a shareholder of.” Here’s a key difference — bosses are not members of unions! They should have no power to meddle in the internal affairs of unions. A scathing report by the International Centre for Trade Union Rights observed this would allow bosses to have union leaders disqualified for even “minor or technical failures such as late lodgement of a union’s financial reports with the regulator”. If equal laws were applied to corporations, unions could have CEOs removed for late lodgements of paperwork — which would certainly be fun, but is (rightly) not an option. The bill is designed to tie unions up in so much red tape that they can’t properly represent their members.

Gerry Hanssen — an aggressively anti-union Liberal Party member and construction boss — has been fined for blocking a safety inspection [$]. Only a week after a worker was killed by falling from height on a Hanssen project, the CFMEU was sent photos of the site that provided a “reasonable basis” for concerns about “open penetrations and unsecured covers over penetrations, as well as workers had not been provided with fall prevention equipment”, and they attempted to inspect the site. The judge found that Hanssen was “blinded by hatred” when he blocked a legitimate safety inspection: “The Court does regard the contraventions for the reasons already given as being of considerable seriousness and significance particularly given the fatality that occurred and that these steps of attempted entry were to assist in preventing any future or similar tragedy. [Hanssen] was blinded by his hatred of the [union] in preventing the taking of logical, rational and reasonable steps of entry and inspection that would have protected and assisted his employees.”

25 July 2019

Osmond Chiu, now a research fellow at Per Capita, argues that restoring public trust in government is urgent if we are to have any hope of addressing inequality and climate crisis: “It is of little surprise the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found only 42% of Australians trust government. … The extent of distrust limits the scope for the government action needed. … Rebuilding trust must not only encompass the usual suggestions of campaign finance reform, but a broader democratisation to ensure people have a direct say in public institutions and in their workplaces. … None of this can be done while progressives look inwards or avoid electoral politics. We must not be the tribute band who play the greatest hits to an ever-dwindling audience who turn up regardless. To succeed, we need to break down silos between movements and engage more broadly in the community, outside existing political networks. With time running out, rather than despair, the only option for progressives is to work with where people are at, with more focus and determination than ever before.”

Dr Joanna Howe: “In the face of all this evidence, it was particularly galling to hear this week that the hospitality industry’s peak body has rejected the claim that there is a culture of underpayment in Australian cafes and restaurants. … The extent of the underpayments and the duplicitous nature in which many of these occur (cash-in-hand payments, failure to record overtime, a culture of half-pay, falsified pay slips and so on) means it is simply not credible to argue this wage theft is attributable to an innocent mistake by employers. … [W]e would not accept poor food safety standards because of an argument that these standards were too complex. In fact, we expect cafe and restaurant owners to properly research food safety standards and to apply them robustly in their businesses. The same approach should be applied to employers with respect to labour standards.”

24 July 2019

Attorney-General Christian Porter appears not to know the difference between a fine (a criminal penalty imposed by a court) and a so-called “contrition payment” (a voluntary payment made to avoid being sued by the Fair Work Ombudsman). He also appears intent on restricting any criminal wage theft offence: “I’m open-minded to submissions that there should be further penalties there, inclusive of potentially criminal penalties reserved for repetitious breaches.” Consider this scenario: instead of depositing $3000 takings in the bank at the end of their shift, an employee brings it home and deposits it into their piggy bank. When caught, they point out their behaviour was not “repetitious”. Would they be charged with theft anyway? Of course. Now consider an employer who advertises a fixed term position over a few weeks, the employee earns $3000 in wages, but the boss tells them to piss off and refuses to pay. This is not repetitious, but it is deliberate. Why should it not be criminal wage theft?

22 July 2019

Christian Porter is preparing to respond to demands for the criminalisation of wage theft, but to define it ‘carefully’ [$] so that it doesn’t actually capture most crooked businesses: “As to the proposition that there could be further penalties for underpayment, including at the very, upper reaches, criminal penalties, I think that is a debate and discussion worth having, and I am open-minded to it. But those types of penalties would have to realistically be reserved for the most serious instances of underpayment. I think, generally speaking, they would be indicated by many counts, so repetitive underpayment, or, indeed, people who have a history of doing this type of thing previously. … [I]f you were to take the step of having criminal penalties for serious, repetitious instances of underpayment, how would you define those?” The question should not be whether it is repetitious — it should be whether it is deliberate.

20 July 2019

An update on the restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris: “Barely has the fire been put out before some of the richest people in France rush to help rebuild it. From François-Henri Pinault, the ultimate owner of Gucci, comes €100m (£90m). Not to be outdone, the Arnault family at Louis Vuitton put up €200m. More of the wealthy join the bidding, as if a Damien Hirst is going under the hammer. Within just three days, France’s billionaire class has coughed up nearly €600m. Or so their press releases state. … Weeks go by, then months, and Notre Dame sees nothing from the billionaires. The promises of mid-April seem to have been forgotten by mid-June. ‘The big donors haven’t paid. Not a cent,’ a senior official at the cathedral tells journalists. … Meanwhile, the salaries of 150 workers on site have to be paid. The 300 or so tonnes of lead in the church roof pose a toxic threat that must be cleaned up before the rebuilding can happen. And pregnant women and children living nearby are undergoing blood tests for possible poisoning. But funding such dirty, unglamorous, essential work is not for the luxury-goods billionaires. As the Notre Dame official said last month, they don’t want their money ‘just to pay employees’ salaries’. Heaven forfend! Not when one could endow to future generations the Gucci Basilica or a Moët Hennessy gift shop”. Tax them into oblivion.

19 July 2019

Matt T Huber: “The radical climate movement has long coalesced around the slogan ‘system change, not climate change.’ The movement has a good understanding that capitalism is the main barrier to solving the climate crisis. Yet sometimes the notion of ‘system change’ is vague on how systems change. The dilemma of the climate crisis is not as simple as just replacing one system with another — it requires a confrontation with some of the wealthiest and most powerful sectors of capital in world history. … For the environmental movement to expand beyond the professional class and establish a working-class base for itself, it cannot rely on austerity, shaming, and individualistic solutions as its pillars. … Winning this struggle will begin by emphasizing the need for ‘less’ and ‘sacrifice’ should only be borne by the rich and corporations; the rest of us have so much to gain.”