‘Workchoices’ – a constituent’s story

I have received a range of correspondence over recent months about the so-called ‘workchoices’ issue. This issue is shaping up as a crucial electoral issue – not just in regards to who ends up in government, but what the consequences of the various possible Senate outcomes might be.

There’s plenty of different aspects to it I could go into – and probably will a bit later – but I thought I’d mention a direct personal example I received from a Queensland constituent a week or two ago.

Hi I just thought I would let you know what has happened to me with regards the new workchoices legislation. I was sacked from my casual position for refusing to use a vacuum cleaner with a worn electrical cable.

I am taking the matter before the AIRC but the advice I have had from Workchoices is that it is illegal for me to use any electrical equipment that is in a dangerous condition but it is not illegal for my boss to sack me for refusing to use such equipment.

I have the support of my local Liberal MP and he will accompany me to a mediation meeting but the process and lack of support assistance and information available to workers is appalling.

The workplace was abusive, bulling and threats were made to get staff to perform.

No one other than the boss was allowed to have any ideas or suggestion and we had approximately a 150% staff turnover in the previous 12 months.

While I am delighted with the support of my Liberal member I feel workchoices is flawed legislation and we have only just begun to feel the effects of it on our workforce.

If you want to improve productivity then a happy supportive workforce is essential, treating people like work-units is counterproductive and does not make for an efficient and productive workforce.

To me this touches on one of the more important, but less tangible issues of the major law changes made by the Coalition government once they got control of the Senate – not just the specifics of what is and isn’t legal, but the impact it has on culture and attitudes in the workplace.

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34 Comments

  1. Andrew, it strikes me that there must be a lot more Aussie voters who are workers, those subjected to the Dickensian abuses of ‘WorkChoices’ than there are voters who are business owners who will exercise those easy get-out clauses on these workers- and their families.

    Kevin Rudd’s lean to the right isn’t going to help his cause much. He’s leaving voters with the choice of being royally screwed and vice-royally screwed.

    Rudd’s betting a quid each way- and it’s not going to serve him well. Unless Rudd gives his IR policies a serious re-think- and quickly- all he’s going to accomplish is increasing the swing to the Greens to previously unseen levels.

    Regardless, I do think that Labor will win government, but not without a lot of preference allocations from the minor parties who will be taking Labor votes.

  2. It’s clear that neither of the main parties care about the workers of this nation. Kevin Rudd’s address to the National Press Club confirmed his preference for business over workers:

    “The only time industrial action will be legally permitted is if it is taken in pursuit of a collective enterprise agreement during a bargaining period.”

    The “Labor” Party should change their name.

  3. I’m surprised that anyone still thinks that politicians from the two majors announce their true intentions before an election.

    Howard told us he’d keep interest rates low and take care of the little people. Now more people understand he has nothing to do with interest rates and had no intention of taking care of little people.

    Why the hell would anyone expect Kevin Rudd to be any different on that score? He says what he has to say to get elected, and if he does we’ll find out what he actually intends after that. Standard procedure these days.

    A friend recently had her work conditions changed. Less hours in exchange for a higher staff discount. She had no choice in the matter. Now she’s having trouble paying the rent but hey, she can buy more shoes from her employer. Bargain.

    Combine this sort of nonsense with the ridiculous requirements of Centrelink and there are an awful lot of unhappy little people about.

    When Howard accused Keating of not caring about the little people, Keating asked “Just what is their average height?”

    At the time it was funny, but Howard may have been talking about height after all.

  4. CU

    What sort of question is that?

    I was a Liberal voter until I realised a number of the Federal representatives in Qld proved themselves to be a bunch of tossers unable and unwilling to represent their constituents.

    They forgot who put them where they are. I suppose they can also thank Mark Latham.

  5. I hope (with your constituent’s permission) that this is well publicised – front page of the papers stuff. People need to know, and really relate to the issues, and the consequences for all of us, through Work Choices.

    I’m glad that the worker is being supported, but can this Liberal Member help everyone in Australia who is badly treated? Better to ditch WorkChoices (and Howard).

  6. Deb, I always get permission of the constituent before posting something like this here. Sometimes a personal experience can provide a better framework for discussing something than general rhetorical assertions (as the thread on a Centrelink case showed)

    CU, I see you’re as on topic and constructive as usual. I would have thought it was obvious that if I didn’t think I’d do a better job representing Queensland in the Senate than a Green Party person (or a Family First person, or Pauline Hanson, a Liberal or Labor person, or anyone else of the many who are trying to win the seat I currently hold), then I wouldn’t nominate again come election time. I’m not perfect, but I think I do a better and more independent and effective job than any of them – that’s why I’m putting my hand up again. However, ultimately it’s obviously a judgement for others to make, not me.

  7. Thanks for posting this Andrew, we really do need to see what effect this awful legislation is REALLY having on people. The Howard government keeps telling us this sort of thing is not happening, but it is.

    Thumbs down to the Liberal MP who voted for this legislation, but is now pretending to help.

    Why let the employer do this in the first place, everyone outside the Liberal Party could see this was going to happen!

  8. Andrew.

    Via this link; perhaps we should ask readers what issues will be in the top ten during the next federal election campaign?
    Workchoices is clearly going to be in the top five considering the focusing from the major parties.
    Mr Rudd has made mistakes thanks to having new faces within his office and the tests will come as from the federal Budget to be handed down on May 8.
    It is good to see the concerns of another constituent being posted to this site and judging by a considerable amount of responses via news, feedback links, there is clearly, growing opposition to the Workchoices legislation. Even the ACTU’s campaign against the I/R changes is winning support but that’s understandable.
    We know that Queensland is going to be a battlefield for the government and there must be a balance in our industrial relations system. Noting that the Opposition Leader has to win approval from the national conference, his test will also come during the Budget sittings.
    I would support some protection being given to workers who are employed by a company with less than 40 staff.
    I am aware of a person who is working 10 hours a day and not even a break. Is that fair?
    The case that you provided above-clearly shows that amendments should be made and; wasn’t the government suppose to introduce further amendments in the first session or two of this year’s sittings which would further restrict entitlements?

    We know that the election campaign is going to be very interesting and the Queensland Greens are desperate to win its first seat in the Senate. I also note its candidate which was made public, I think, last week.
    Whilst your record speaks for itself, your speeches/positions across a number of issues is worthy of additional comment.
    However, we know that you are in battle to retain your seat.

  9. coconaut says:
    April 21st, 2007 at 10:44 am
    Poor guy.

    Thanks for the sentiment Coconaut But I am actually VERY LUCKY!

    If my boss had had half a brain he would have waited 24 hours and sacked me for “Operational reasons” or because I wore the wrong coloured shirt or any one of a million made up reasons.

    I was lucky because he was dumb enough to say “Use it or leave!”

    I am also lucky, extremely lucky, that I did not need the job to survive. If I needed the income to pay a mortgage and feed my kids then I would have had a much tougher choice.

    The week before the cleaner was being used by a bright and healthy 20 year old who knew the cord was damaged but was to scared to say anything incase he was sacked, he was sacked anyway for some other reason.

    SO in closing my name is Doug Steley and my email is silverimage@powerup.com.au

    The matter is going to the AIRC on Tuesday the 24th of April 07 and I will post the outcomes here.

    If anyone wishes to contact me I am more than willing to hear from them and my thanks to Senator Bartlett for his support.

    The shop in question was at Maroochydore.

  10. Must be a shortage of electrical cord somewhere,perhaps not around the employers neck.Bright boy that employer hope he is skulking somewhere at the publicity.GRRRRRR.How does he make a profit!?Just been boning up on the Snowy Mountain problem of a lack of water up ahead for electricity generation,even if winter is approaching,and the problem of water supply in the Murray now.Rough ride ahead I think for Victoria and Southern N.S.W. I think even industrial relations via court rooms will need a shake up soon if doom sets in.Apologising and admitting you have been a bastard employer could be a cheaper option all round ,as the decline of value sets in across the nation.Victorian conditions will effect Queensland.And Beattie should be tested legally for his statements about the unskilled from elsewhere,after-all this case here is Queenslanders!I would be considered lowly skilled,and yet,if the effects of Snowy electricity havent gone through econometric extrapolation and become public before today,it sort of proves,they hang around waiting for someone to clear their path.If electricity falters via the Vic.Grid the Victorian animal will be limping badly,the lowly skilled will be the first wave,the second wave will make Queenslanders paranoid.Thankfully people who do simple jobs responsible only really ask for a bit of respect,and whatever is considered fair as payment.When a decline happens in Victoria,road rage against southerners will be met with stronger resistance from southerners,and Beattie hasnt addressed the unfairness of being attacked for having non-Queensland number plates astutely.Rough ride ahead.

  11. Andrew

    It’s the link at #8.

    I stand by my comments in that thread. I don’t believe it to be rhetoric. However, I won’t go on about it because it’s off topic.

  12. Everyone:

    So in addition to WorkChoices inflicting more red-tape and lower productivity on business, inflicting workplace hazards and disruption of normal family life on workers, driving so many of our best and brightest workers overseas thereby exacerbating the skills shortage …… WorkChoices also rewards and encourages lazy, stupid, ignorant, bullying, imcompetent managers.

    Great!

    We needed modernization and reform of our industrial relations system and what did we get?

    Loopy ideological ratbaggery that will drive quite a few businesses to the wall …. “It seemed like an absolutely brilliant idea at the time”. Yeah?

  13. Managers are paid good money to MANAGE! That includes managing bad staff. If all staff were perfect we would not need managers.

    As Graham points out I fail to see why our government needs to help out managers who cannot cope with staff problems.

    If you are a manager and cannot cope find another job We are told there are plenty available out there!

  14. I think only workers,and only workers have to find their solutions,The ALP are show ponies with an embarassing need for publicity and… power comes first.Justice even, pay justice will be relegated to a back seat,the way forward is to make the representatives feel as unionists they cannot sell out the workforce for the sake of Labor power security.And individual workplaces have to be friendly places where bosses accept the intelligence of those in the workplace.Really gambling for a better pay result may include paying the bosses union fees,and sending him down to Melbourne as a representative,if,it matches a business trip he had in mind.Thinking creatively and reversing roles,just takes the harshness off the employer employee relations.

  15. I agree with most of what has been said here, but I don’t think it’s fair to pass off other people’s experiences or knowledge (anecdotes or otherwise) as “general rhetorical assertions” – whether they are presented by Donna, Feral, myself or others.

    An anecdote is a story – whether it is told by the fellow who was fired for refusing to use a dangerous vacuum cleaner – or told by anyone else.

    This kind of rotten occurrence is taking place everywhere we go now. It is seen across every government portfolio with various policies working together on an interactive basis to damage the ordinary person.

    I have little faith in Rudd to change this problem, and I don’t think the Greens will get up in Queensland.

  16. I am happy to report after lengthy discussions and Mediation in the AIRC today ( the details of which are confidential) I have my old job back and I return to work next week.

    I continue to think I was lucky in the circumstances of the case and that I am old enough, skilled enough, financially secure enough and enough of a bloody minded bastard to argue the point with an employer.

    I continue to think Workchoices does not work for the majority of Australians.

    Many thanks for all the comments and support shown here I needed them and they helped me immensely.

    Thanks cheers

    Doug

    Now I can get on with winning better condition for Australian service veterans.

    “If you don’t fight you lose!”

  17. Congrats Doug and good on you for fighting for your rights – good to see the AIRC being of value.

    Donna and Coral, when I was talking about “general rhetorical assertions”, I wasn’t referring to anyting either of you had said. I was actually thinking of someone like me – as in letting someone describe their personal experience of what had happened to them, whether it be due to Work’choices’ or welfare ‘choices’, can have more impact and value than general rhetorical assertions by me that particular workplace or welfare laws or policies are bad.

  18. Doug Staley[22], Andrew Bartlett[23] and Everyone:

    One of the good things about Australian workers used to be their readiness to talk back to the boss – it didn’t necessarily make for sweetness and harmony but it was an excellent rapid feedback and early warning system. Millions of dollars in costly repairs, replacements, downtime and customer anger were saved by someone having the cheek to tell the boss “Listen, if you don’t get that part over there fixed right now, you won’t have a bloody machine tomorrow”.

    Now all that commitment has gone …. much of it through casualization …. and now BerkChoices has killed off the rest. Just do what you’re told, get your money and don’t give a stuff about the job.

    “Clever Country”? Hardly.

  19. Doug , good on you for standing up and as an abused veterans son, thanks for your sentiments on our vets. Even at our local markets, no appliance is allowed to be sold or presented without a complianced safety tag which an electrician does on site for you for a very small fee.Check the chord that is. it is mandatory. I can’t help feel for Doug still, he has to go back to a workplace that is going to be hostile. Whether it’s showing on his bosses face or not.Thats a lot of stress he’s been under.The worst thing about matters like that is that bosses that treat people like that usually sleep like babies and have no conscience or stress over matters like that inflicted.Personally i’d be looking for another job quietly in a hurry.I’ve been in that situation before.It was very uncomfortable.I suppose it is mostly about demand and supply but i don’t think it is fair when a workplace and owners making more than anyone would need in a lifetime, can’t return it back by decent wages and conditions to the slaves.What hurts more in this land of advancing fair is that it is legal.

  20. With you on that one Graham Bell. Most of the real improvements for both business and workers I’ve seen over the years have come from the bottom up.

    And the little innovations that lead to gradual improvement always worked better than the big ones that just annoyed everybody. Workchoices is a pretty good example of that on a large scale.

  21. .
    when this so called boom finaly slows and those that have used workers to emass huge amounts of money will be able to disgard there workers as they like .
    if the govt didnot want unions to become strong againe why instigate a situation that made them strong in the first place.

  22. There are plenty of excellent points being made here.

    Andrew:

    Sorry for the misunderstanding.

    We also have the same kind of rubbish going on in neighbourhoods and on the social scene. We have even encountered it in the primary school.

    This is because people don’t back one another when there is trouble, and some people are more interested in making money or avoiding a lawsuit than doing the right thing.

    There is no unity inside or outside the workplace.

    The laws don’t support good manners or looking after your mates. (BTW according to news reports, citizens of Beijing are currently being re-educated about good manners.)

    Changes need to be made to the entire social spectrum so that there is a fair go available for honest people, with people who do the wrong thing receiving the kick in the guts that will teach them something better.

    I’m tired of living in a society which “thrives” on blaming victims instead of dealing with troublemakers. I blame a large part of this on the proponents of Me Syndrome.

    Perhaps a yellow stripe ought to be added to the Australian flag.

  23. And now the bad news again

    I got my job back, it lasted one day before I was given a list of 32 new duties I was required to perform. 2 of them had been discussed and agreed to at mediation 30 of them were totally new. 12 of them I am unable to do at all because of a disability that my employer is aware of.

    I have been in touch with the AIRC and they have basically told me that the matter is closed as a settlement was agreed to. It does not matter to them that it was not kept just that it was agreed to.

    I got a letter form Joe Hockey telling me it is a Queensland IR problem Queensland IR said it was untill Hockey and the Workchoices laws of 2006 overrode the state laws.

    I now have confirmation from hockey that a worker sacked for refusing to endanger their life and the lives of others does NOT have protection under federal workchoices legislation.

    I am taking the matter to the state anti-discrimination council but it still stinks that Howard and his mob think it is OK to endanger workers to get the economy going.

  24. Doug Steley:

    Good on you for trying to fight them.

    You have received a “payback” from the employers for complaining about them.

    Now you’d think that everyone would receive a Group Certificate at the end of the year, wouldn’t you? That this would be a legal requirement of the government?

    Well yesterday I phoned Centrelink to find out why THEY hadn’t sent me one, and was told they don’t send them out any more unless you specifically request one.

    The Group Certificate usually comes with another sheet, which is a checklist to help you decide whether or not you will need to lodge an Income Tax Return.

    Now there could be people getting fined by the Taxation Department for failing to submit an Income Tax Return, due to information control.

    Added to that, we are expected to give a reasonably accurate estimate of our income for the year for the purposes of Family Payment, while they don’t hold up their end of the deal by providing the information WE need.

    Information Control is one of the most powerful tools used by destructive cults. It is now used by the government to fine the poor, cut off their payments and deprive them of an accurate amount of child support – while leaving more money in the hands of the rich.

    John Howard has also been patting himself on the back for making the assets test on pensions more lenient. But the assets limit only appears to have gone up by $500 this year. That’s less than 0.3%. What a joke!!!

  25. Sorry guys, that’s 0.31% – with the price of food rising at somewhere between 12% and 15% per annum.

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