archive: June 2021

30 June 2021

Herald Sun regurgitates ABCC’s bogus claims — union fined for legitimate safety concern

Regurgitating an ABCC press release, the Herald Sun claims “[t]he militant construction union has been fined $85,000 for delaying work on the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, after the CFMMEU made bogus safety claims.” The delay was 4 hours and 15 minutes — but if you read the court judgment, it was the ABCC who made bogus claims.

The court rejected the ABCC’s argument that “a Union shop steward had deliberately brought about the two stoppages ‘relying on a safety pretext’. Putting aside there had been no identification of what that pretext was or might have been even in the particulars, no such allegation had been pleaded or admitted.”

Despite the hearing being adjourned to allow it to bring its submissions into line with the facts, “[l]ike a battleship in full steam, the ABCC thus appears to have had had difficulty turning” — it maintained its bogus assertion that the safety concern was raised for “nefarious purposes”.

The judge was unimpressed: “there was nothing in the facts, admitted or agreed, as could justify such an assertion.” The ABCC’s arguments were “over-egged”, “entirely implausible”, “bordering on the improper”.

And the safety concern was real — after comparing photos of the first aid room to the relevant Worksafe standards, the judge found:

The ABCC’s submissions … conspicuously … omit any reference to what the Court might make as to the validity of [the union’s] (acknowledged in the agreed statement of facts) concern about a lack of a ramp to provide access to the first aid room.

The omission stands out as of consequence once regard is had to what is revealed by three photographs of the first aid room… When what those photographs reveal is contrasted with the guidance standards set out in Worksafe Victoria’s Compliance Code First aid in the workplace … the Court is drawn to the conclusion that [the union]’s concerns about the adequacy of the first aid room may have been far from baseless and misconceived. …

I take it to be a matter of common knowledge that any major construction site can be, absent a focussed attention on safety, an inherently a dangerous place to work.

The prospect of an injury on such as site that might require a person to be conveyed by stretcher to first aid may not be ‘imminent’ but it is self-evidently foreseeable that such a circumstance may emerge.

In that regard what is shown by the photograph of the exterior of the first aid room that is in evidence is there was no ramp and that access to or from that room by anyone on a stretcher would have been impossible or at least highly problematic. I am satisfied that any HSR on a major worksite would have a reasonable basis for concern in that regard. I am satisfied that [the union’s] concern, viewed objectively, was a reasonable one. …

[A]s Freud is reported to have observed ‘sometimes a cigar is just a cigar’. Similarly, sometimes a concern about safety is no more or less than that.

So if the ABCC was dodgy and the safety concern was real, why was the union fined? Well, because of a legal technicality.

As the judge explained, “Although I proceed on the basis that there was no ‘imminent risk’, if a serious incident had occurred and as a result of that neglect access to the first aid room had proved difficult the consequences might have seen this matter play out very differently.”

In other words, the CFMMEU was fined $85,000 for pressuring an employer over a legitimate safety concern before someone needed to be stretchered into the first aid room. The Fair Work Act is a dangerous joke.

28 June 2021

Morrison’s vaccine and quarantine failures mean we are going to keep having lockdowns, so we need to make the burden fair: “Lockdowns socialise the burden of public health responses. It means that the worker who may be bullied into putting themselves at risk by their employer can more easily say no, or is in fact mandated to say no. Paying people to stay at home is also part of socialising the burden. All places where the virus can readily spread, including all indoor non-essential venues such as retail outlets, gyms, hairdressers, restaurants and bars, must be closed. All workers who can, should be told to work from home and their workplaces closed. JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments should be restored to their previous levels, and paid pandemic leave made available to anyone who needs it while awaiting test results, quarantining, or unable to work because they have the virus. This is the opposite of the approach of the NSW government, which has emphasised individual responsibility and offered no support to those who lack the means of individually keeps themselves safe. These new measures privatise COVID responsibility to individuals with the least cost to business and the government. It’s the same logic and politics as criminalising the limo driver for the failures in the government’s public health measures. Individual responsibility in a pandemic just means the rich avoid the disease and the loss of profits while workers bear the burden of disease and suffering and economic loss.”

23 June 2021

Former SA Premier Jay Weatherill: “I firmly believe that the Australian Labor Party would be elected at the next federal election on a commitment to make Australia the best place in the world to be a parent, and the best place in the world to grow up. … [Such a platform could] remove the false dichotomy between social and economic policy, build a bridge across Labor’s disparate constituencies and unite and powerfully activate women. … For over a quarter of a century, the Left has been looking for a coherent economic narrative equal to its vision for an equal, empathetic, vibrant, diverse society… in the face of rising insecurity and anxiety we have not done enough to challenge the economic orthodoxy of our generation. The more we used the language of economics to argue for human-centred public policy, the more our electoral proposition appeared limited to a better version of the same product… this limited our capacity to deliver the critique of neoliberalism it deserved, nor did we develop an accessible and attractive alternate vision. The neoliberal agenda, which was once legitimised for its promise of a stronger economy, has produced low growth cycles, unevenly distributed, with rising levels of social dislocation — this is not a healthy picture of a modern society. But during the current pandemic, attitudes to the role of government have changed — people’s vision of government as the source of security has been renewed. People now want, and expect, governments to step up, be active and intervene in their interests.”

He proposes early childhood policy reform to drive this agenda — decommodifying childcare and transforming it from child-minding into an early learning system. Wouldn’t be a bad start.

Prof Tracey Warren and Prof Clare Lyonette confirm that we are not all in the pandemic together: “[H]ome-working was a strongly classed phenomenon. Around a half of workers in managerial and professional jobs reported that they were working from home all of the time in April 2020 (with an additional 24% saying they sometimes or often did so). The figures for working-class employees, however, tell a very different story. Only 10% of working-class women in semi-routine jobs (such as care-workers, retail assistants, hospital porters) or routine jobs (cleaners, waiting staff, bus drivers, bar staff, sewing machinists…) were always working from home (only 10% more reported doing it sometimes or often). While many of those who had to work fully from home already had a suitable home office set-up, far more had to make do with working at cramped tables or from sofas and beds. There were also deep class disparities in who had adequate computing facilities with reliable and fast broadband and printing and office supplies. As the summer months came to an end, inequalities in home-working conditions were intensified by stark variations in the workers’ abilities to afford to heat home work spaces over an extended period. … Class inequalities persisted in workers’ wages and household earnings, with working-class women faring the most poorly, taking home the lowest weekly wages in our employed sample. … Without widespread recognition and urgent government support, the traditional working-class backbone of the workforce will be stretched to the limit, with longer-term implications for the rest of society.”

The Guardian reports on new McKell Institute research: “The average Australian worker would be earning $254 more a week if wages growth had continued at the rate achieved under the last Labor government, according to a new analysis. The progressive thinktank, the McKell Institute, will release a report on Wednesday analysing the impact of a slowdown in average weekly ordinary time earnings since the Coalition gained power in September 2013. Wages grew 4.6% in the period 2007 to 2013, compared to 2.5% under the Coalition government. … The McKell Institute blames a suite of government policies for suppressing wages including public sector pay freezes, an increase in visas for temporary migrant workers, inaction on wage theft and the gig economy, and failing to press the Fair Work Commission for bigger minimum wage increases. … Wages were stagnating in Australia even before the Covid-19 recession. The budget forecasts wage growth of 1.5% in 2021-22, below inflation which is forecast to grow by 1.75%. … The McKell report noted the FWC had cut penalty rates in 2017 in the retail, hospitality, fast-food and pharmacy industries. Labor and the Greens attempted to overturn the cut through legislation, but it was opposed by the Coalition and crossbench. Despite the Morrison government promising to criminalise wage theft it withdrew new penalties for underpayment from its industrial relations reforms.” Coalition governments are bad for working people.

16 June 2021

Liam Mannix: “A confession: before COVID-19, I found it strange to see someone wearing a mask on Melbourne’s streets. It seemed like a symbol of fear in a peaceful place. It seemed … well, it seemed unnecessary. During the past 18 months, I have come to believe the mask-wearers were right, and I was both wrong and ignorant. … I’m not convinced the evidence supports wearing a mask outside to avoid COVID in a low prevalence situation — like Melbourne is currently in. But I do think we need to embrace a culture where face masks are worn by people who have cold and flu symptoms, to stop viruses from being passed on. Even better, we could wear masks when visiting hospitals and aged-care homes, to help protect the most vulnerable members of our community. … Consider our casual disregard for lives lost to the flu each year. Influenza and pneumonia killed 1790 people in Australia in 2009. In 2013, it was 2497 people and 3102 in 2018 — making it the 12th-most-likely cause of death in Australia in 2018 (!!!). Australia has not recorded a single death from influenza since July last year. Part of this, as my colleague Aisha Dow has reported, is because our borders are closed. But part of it, Professor MacIntyre says, is the infection-control measures we have added to our lives. Like masks.”

Greens candidate Celeste Liddle: “Children in criminal institutions is not proof that some kids are just ‘bad kids’ and need to be locked up. Instead, it is proof of multiple systemic failures and an inability of politicians to think beyond models of punishment. Imagine if instead of criminalising kids, we increased funding to social work organisations, youth centres and other organisations which provide outreach programs for those struggling? What if we ensured that instead of being out on the street, kids had a safe home and space they could go to, particularly when in a violent situation? What if we funded our public education sector with the money going into prisons and policing, so our schools had the capacity to expand support services, inclusive educational opportunities and specialist mentors/advisors? What if, quite simply, we engaged in some real work narrowing the gap between rich and poor in this country? Australia also needs to examine its overreliance on punishment via a proper truth-telling and treaty process. Perhaps through that, and the extension of proper respect to Indigenous communities, we will begin to see fewer Aboriginal kids locked up and a significantly less racist, more humane and more egalitarian society. While it’s not the complete answer, I believe that raising the age of criminality is an important stepping stone in undoing the damage the juvenile detention system has done to so many of our children.”

15 June 2021

The Victorian Trades Hall reports: “████████ is a █████ who works for █████ ████████ in ████████. … Was all that clear? No, not in the slightest. The truth of the story has obviously been altered to the point of no longer being recognisable — because in order for ████████ to get their wages or compensation, they had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). NDAs are often part of settlements made in negotiations during disputes between workers and employers. NDAs can stop workers from talking about everything from wage theft to unsafe work to discrimination; anything dodgy that the employer wants to keep from becoming public knowledge. Bosses love them, for obvious reasons. … Increasingly, NDAs are the first thing employers want to talk about during conciliation hearings.” Similar concerns have been raised about NDAs in the context of family violence — silencing victims prevents the underlying systemic problem being addressed, and puts other victims at continued risk.

11 June 2021

James Kirby [$]: “As a survey, the annual tax statistics are only a very vague guide to wealth in Australia. But as a window into how wealthy Australians do or don’t find themselves in the front line of taxpayers the survey is considerably more useful. … [W]e might not have assumed you can bring in a total income of more than $1m a year and declare a taxable income of less than $6000 tax per annum. In fact, there are 42 people noted in the report on such an arrangement… A quick read of the ATO personal tax tables would suggest if you made an income of $1m a year you might pay about $450,000 in tax, that is if you did nothing much to be tax effective [sic]. The survey indicates the wealthiest operate in a very different manner and we have a complex system with complex tax shelters which are available to anyone who goes looking for them. Due to our progressive, but uniquely arranged tax system, there is an extensive menu of tax effective strategies for dealing with income tax: Companies, trust, lending arrangements and other tax effective shelters that can be employed when people make serious money. … [T]he most revealing way to look at the survey is to compare its headline income numbers against home prices. This week we heard that there are 150 suburbs in Sydney with house prices over $1m. And yet the ‘average taxable income’ in Sydney suburbs with the most enviable residential properties is invariably less than $200,000. … Either the median real estate valuation is too high (which is unlikely) or the indicative taxable income levels are too low.”

9 June 2021

John Quiggin: “[N]ostalgia is not a reliable basis for political strategy, particularly not for progressive political strategy. Radical changes in the structure of the labour force, which were accelerated by the reforms of the Hawke-Keating era mean that it is no longer possible to win elections with a program appealing primarily to blue collar wage workers. Many of the occupations and industries that formerly supplied Labor’s core support have disappeared, or been largely eliminated through automation. … [W]hat kind of worker would represent the archetypal member of the [current] Labor base? The analysis above suggests a young woman, in a stereotypically female public sector occupation, requiring post-school education, but with an income well below the average for full-time workers. The archetypal Labor voter, if a concrete example is needed, would be a Gen Z Enrolled Nurse working in a major city hospital. This is not to suggest that Labor should abandon Fitzgibbon’s blue collar identity politics in favor of some other form of micro-targeting. Labor’s traditional policies of progressive income redistribution, and better public service provision, along with protection of the environment, have been highly successful in attracting support at the state level, and have come close to winning federally in the last two elections. There is no point in dumping them in pursuit of a non-existent ‘base’.”