archive: October 2019

31 October 2019

The Interim Report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has put neoliberalism (aka the Hawke-Keating Legacy) in the dock: “[T]he ‘marketisation and individualisation’ of aged care … has been occurring since the 1980s. In particular, Governments have placed their focus on ‘consumer-driven’ care, the provision of care in people’s homes, increasing competition within the aged care market, and reducing ‘unnecessary’ regulation.” This “has generally been accepted” by review after review that has failed to solve the problems, but now: “It is time for a reality check. … The structure of the current system has been framed around the idea of a ‘market’ for aged care services where older people are described as ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ who are able to choose between competitively marketed services. But many older people are not in a position to meaningfully negotiate prices, services or care standards with aged care providers. The notion that most care is ‘consumer-directed’ is just not true. Despite appearances, despite rhetoric, there is little choice with aged care. It is a myth that aged care is an effective consumer-driven market. … It is clear that a fundamental overhaul of the design, objectives, regulation and funding of aged care in Australia is required. This will be the central purpose of our Final Report”.

30 October 2019

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has lodged a misleading submission [$] opposing the creation of a criminal offence of wage theft. “It may sound far-fetched but if underpaying someone becomes a criminal offence, then so too could the misuse of sick leave (an activity which surveys suggest almost one in five employees engage in every year) as a form of ‘time theft’,” ACCI claims. The trouble is, as I have pointed out before, making false sick leave claims is already a crime. So is lodging false time sheets: for example, this truck driver is currently facing up to 120 years’ jail — ten years for each of 12 false time sheets he allegedly submitted. Why can’t he sign an undertaking and make a token contrition payment to buy his way out of trouble? If ACCI’s concern for equality is genuine, it would be arguing that bosses should also face ten years in the slammer for every false timesheet they create.

28 October 2019

Sean Kelly: “Labor will always scare voters. It represents change, and therefore risk. The fear can be minimised, but it can never be erased. For Labor to triumph, that fear must be overpowered by excitement. And that is a hard ask — partly because you won’t excite voters by just giving them what they say they want in focus groups. This might sound trite, but voters expect Labor to fight, even when they’re not completely on board with the cause. The party should have learned that in 2010, when it backed down on emissions trading, and bled support. Before this year’s election, I thought Labor’s platform fairly left-wing. In certain respects, like tax, it was brave. But what if it wasn’t left-wing enough? Labor tried to have it each way on Adani. It would think about gender quotas on boards. On the central moral issues of our time — climate and refugees — it copied its opponents. If Labor is willing to admit it did not have a sufficiently inspiring vision last time, does it really think the answer lies in being just a little more innocuous? … There are many ways to lose a battle, but the only surefire method is not turning up.”

25 October 2019

UN climate scientists believe a concerted effort to revegetate land and improve soil quality could “convert enough carbon into biomass to stabilize emissions of CO₂, the biggest greenhouse gas, for 15-20 years, giving the world time to adopt carbon-neutral technologies.” Rene Castro Salazar, assistant director general at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said, “With political will and investment of about $300 billion, it is doable.” This sounds like an incredibly large number, but when put in perspective it is a pittance. Bloomberg notes it is equivalent to “the world’s military spending every 60 days” — two months of peace would pay for 20 years of climate action! Even if we insist only the wealthiest countries cover this cost, the combined GDP of the G8 nations is about $40 trillion per year, so the whole of the $300 billion amounts to just 0.75%. That could be covered by one year of slightly lower economic growth in those countries. If non-G8 wealthy countries pitched in, the impact would barely be felt. And this is a 20 year project — on that time frame, the cost approaches zero.

When a tech consultancy boss realised his work hours were preventing him from having quality time with his daughters, he decided to trial shorter working hours for himself and his employees — moving from 8-hour to 5-hour days [$]. It worked well for a while, with no loss of productivity, but then he decided to shift back to longer hours, because: “Everyone’s outside life got so much better, at the expense of their passion for the work.” Of course, it didn’t occur to him to consider whether the harsh new working conditions he imposed might be making work life miserable: “small talk during work hours is discouraged. Social media is banned. Phones are kept in backpacks.” Perhaps the lessons to be drawn here are that shorter work hours significantly improve people’s lives, while dehumanising restrictions in the workplace reduce people’s passion for their work…

Matt Halton recently appeared on Floodcast to discuss his recent essay for Overland about the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. He notes that a project aimed at removing Marx from the curriculum can not be taken seriously: “If there is indeed such a thing as Western Civilisation, with all its attendant signifiers, then [Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte] is right at the centre of it — pulling everyone from Caesar to Napoleon, Hamlet to Dracula, into its ideological orbit, exposing the hidden parallels of history even as it mercilessly deconstructs the idea that the West has a unified legacy.” In an amusing gambit, Halton then uses Ramsay himself to illustrate the continuing significance of Marx’s gothic imagery in understanding the world: “Ramsay is long gone, but through the medium of his money he still bends the world to his will, brushing aside the concerns of perennially underpaid and overworked researchers in blind, vindictive pursuit of his foundation’s obsolete agenda, wrapping his rotting hands around the neck of modern thought and trying to drag it down with him into the stinking grave of a past that never was. ‘The tradition of all dead generations,’ writes Marx, ‘weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’”

24 October 2019

Ben McLeay on surviving shit jobs — It is the Sacred Right of Night Fill to Throw Shit Around as Much as They Want or Need: “The brief, shining moments of happiness that could be eked out came in two forms: Fucking Off, and Fucking Around. Fucking Off is a universal phenomenon, although each job permits it to different extents. In some, Fucking Off can only be achieved by doing a less arduous task much slower than required, giving yourself some time to rest. In contrast, any white-collar job that allows access to a computer and the internet can by itself be anywhere between 50% and 100% Fucking Off. … Fucking Around means doing something you are ostensibly not allowed to do but know that you can get away with, either by subterfuge or by the willing blind eye of the powers that be. It could be anything from riding pallet jacks across the floor to ‘sampling’ approximately 4 kilograms of deli meats per week, to using the produce knife to slice pomegranates perfectly in half samurai-style as they are thrown at you in the loading dock’s security camera blindspot. Fucking Around is the gift we give ourselves to offset the shittiness of our lot.” (See also, Kassandra Vee on the correctness of hating your job.)

22 October 2019

If you want to know how wage theft became a business model, you need to consider the role of business advisers — including the big corporate law firms that represent the pillars of industry. New requirements in the industrial award that covers paralegals and junior lawyers will require basic record-keeping of hours worked [$], to make the annualised salary scam harder to get away with. Law firms typically require employees to record their time in 6-minute increments, so you might expect this to be a simple fix… but no: “Several senior partners privately dismissed the effect of the changes, however, predicting no graduate lawyer was going to complain about unpaid hours because they will be grateful for the job.” In other words, they are deliberately exploiting vulnerable junior employees. Is there any wonder the businesses they advise take a similarly cavalier approach to wage theft? Linda White, assistant secretary of the Australian Services Union, has put these firms on notice: “The law’s okay for everyone else except lawyers?If I was a senior partner in a law firm I wouldn’t sit back and think no one’s going to enforce it. The winds of change are around. People can get organised and if you push them far enough they will get organised. They are not without power.” Junior legal staff should join the ASU immediately.

21 October 2019

Australia’s newspapers have launched a coordinated advertising and lobbying campaign in support of press freedom — a limp effort that will have no significant impact. Crikey’s Bernard Keane is calling on journalists to instead take industrial actionworking to rule — to exert real pressure: “There’s one tactic that will alarm and enrage federal politicians who are eager to deter, and punish, unauthorised leaks: stop reporting authorised leaks. For every unauthorised leak, or act of whistleblowing, that exposes misconduct and failure within government … there’s an authorised leak designed to serve the government. This can include national security information far more damaging than what prompts AFP raids. … Imagine politicians not being able to leak against their enemies — internal or in the opposition. Imagine them being told by a journalist ‘I can’t run that, you’re always insisting leaking damages national security and the ability of government to receive frank and fearless advice, so I best ignore it’.” Imagine…

In The Age, Michael Walker summarises a paper he delivered at the ILO’s 6th Regulating for Decent Work conference: “I looked at thousands of instances of worker-generated content in the online forum, which was established in 2014 and has over 5 million posts, and also interviewed Uber drivers in Australia. It emerged that online chatter is not just a stepping-stone to real action, such as Uber strikes, but also provides the opportunity for workers to better their situation in a less dramatic fashion by sharing information and experiences, including how to work the system and earn more. … Those working in a situation where there is no union present should check out online forums and share their experiences with other workers, as these forums not only provide support and advice, but also the opportunity to improve working conditions and earning potential. Unions, for their part, should embrace digital technology as a way to strengthen worker voice, either through co-operating with forums that already exist, or creating new online platforms to assist workers and support decent working conditions.”