Cowra meatworks sackings show inadequacy of the law

The shambles over the sacking and apparent ‘unsacking’ of 29 meat workers at an abattoir in Cowra shows the risks of rushing through ideologically driven laws without bothering to give adequate attention to how those laws will work in practice.

The new power of employers to be able to sack people for ‘operational reasons’ was a contentious issue when the legislation went through the Senate. The Democrats tried to amend the legislation to make it clear that such a termination had to be because the employer no longer wished the job to be done by anyone – by using the term ‘redundancy’ which has a well established legal meaning – yet the Government refused to consider the amendment, this leaving open the prospect of a much wider interpretation of ‘operational reasons’.

While the ‘unsacking’ at Cowra may have averted greater political embarrassment for the federal government, the issue of how the law can be applied is not settled. It is impossible to pronounce on the adequacy of protections in a law when a court has yet to determine the scope of that law.

Even though I don’t agree at all with the policy direction of the government’s radical workplace relations changes, the least they could do is try to ensure there is legal certainty for employers and employees, rather than leave it to the law of the jungle to determine what rights people have.

Research released today by Adelaide academic Prof Barbara Pocock suggests that poverty amongst low paid workers is increasing and also becoming more entrenched.

It seems likely this trend will get worse as the new workplace relations laws work their way into operation. Lower wages, less job security, much higher housing costs and higher levels of private debt are a worrying combination which is hitting more people, particularly the younger ones who are less likely to have equity in housing as some protection.

It seems reasonable to link this with the trend over recent years for the wealth gap between the haves and have nots in Australia to be growing larger.

One of the arguments used by conservatives for lower wages is that it provides more jobs and thus more chances for people to get into the workforce, which then gives them a ‘step up’ into higher paid jobs. Whilst this is undoubtedly true for some, it is also clear that more and more people are tending to remain at the low income level indefinitely.

This report in The Guardian also highlights how this is becoming a growing problem. It also outlines a new book by US author Anya Kamenetz called ‘Generation Debt’. Quoting from the PR website for the book:

Why were college students nationwide graduating with an average of nearly $20,000 in student loans? Why were her friends thousands of dollars in credit-card debt? Why did so many jobs for people under thirty-five involve a plastic name badge, last only short-term, and not include benefits? With record deficits and threats to Social Security, what kind of future was shaping up for our nation’s kids?

Whilst our social security and health systems in Australia are not (yet) as pernicious as those in the USA, there are undoubtedly still valid parallels that could be drawn.

– More on the working poor in this article.

– This article details the facts in another example of how the new laws are being used on employees with minimal bargaining power.

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39 Comments

  1. Andrew – on reading this you seem even more irrelevant. Save yourself and join the Greens

  2. Thanks for that insight Peter, it’s very helpful.

    Unclear legislation, job insecurity, inadequate pay rates, excessive personal debt, growing poverty – they’re all so irrelevant.

    I don’t know why I couldn’t see this before, but thank you for pointing it out to me.

  3. Not sure why you’d think your comment is particulalry relevant peter – it adds nothing to the discussion.

    My son is a store manager for an Australia wide company. He told me he attended a forum a few days ago which was run to explain the new legislation, how it will work, how it will impact on the company and what it will allow them to do.

    He said he was quite suprised at how easy it would be to sack people, now. He also said he didn’t think the government had thought through a lot of what’s in there.

    I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert, but I do know a lot of people are worried – and from what my son said, rightly so it seems.

  4. For the workers

    Without getting too Marxist here, it could well be that we have dialectical conflicts amongst the left in Australia leading to the synthesis of unity around Aboriginal Australia, This could become a major force in Australian politics to replace the vaccuum left in the wake of the A.L.P.’s policy demise since Hawke’s “concensus” model. This may again create a bigger national dialectic leading to the synthesis of an Australian republic that includes Aboriginal sovereignty and workers rights into the constitution and restructures things accordingly.
    Then the working class would truly evolve to tribal communism as Marx predicted. – just a thought.

  5. If you replace or adjust the wages from union rubbish to peace work like in the old days you will get people being paid for what they do. Abattoirs were the first the be effected by them as they are the first to come into the spot light now. Having been in the postion that you can not sack somebody even if they steal from you are lazy orjust plain do not rock up to work i can see the country certainly needed to do something towards fixing that. What we will find in a few years will be people respecting good jobs and not taking a sicky at the bosses expence just because they can.
    People will see it as a honour to work and have a good job and treat it as a priverlige again like they used to.
    A good worker will always be respected. If your boss wants to get rid of you it mat well be your attitude. Every boss just wants to get the job done.
    Respect is earned. Some people will be paid more as well Have you ever considered that.Labour are a waek pasthetic lot who by the way were the main cause of the closing of abattoirs Australia wide to push the live exports. How very clever speaking of jobs they just made it so tuff we found it easier to ship our jobs off overeas.

  6. Well Andrew is a polie and consequently his head is placed on the block to be kicked. Good to see you can link poverty to IR policies of the toadish torries. Unfortuntately it takes an increase in violent crime before torries see the error of their social policies.

  7. Peter, your own comments will be more relevant if they are courteous and they address the content of the post. Andrew has supplied a lot of information here, including references to research. A dissenting view is welcome, so why not make it an informed – and therefore relevant – one? In my views, Andrew’s views as expressed here are among the most coherent of any politician who has yet spoken to the issue.

  8. Peter Labour got it wrong with their unions years ago and its got to be fixed.Let me tell you there is not much money in running an abattoir. You would not ask 29 people to come to some other agreement unless you had to. Its hard enough to get staff for plants now so you can bet the guys back is up against the wall. If everybody agrees to take a small amount less it might keep everybody in work. Its actually worked in other industries when the boss has been doing it hard the staff have all chipped in to save the business there for saving their jobs as well.The Alternative of course is for the plant to close like so many others in this country. That in return effects more families and country towns.
    Its not always easy being the boss and many dont even break even some weeks in the year. I feel sorry for this plant owner. It will be interesting to see if that plant even exsists in a year or two. Then nobody will have work and we will have more on support.I dont see how that helps either. Whoever called the media would not be still working for me I tell you that much. Those Abattoir people really struggle and it should have been discussed without national attention. Loyalty starts with everybody. Labour wont get up on this. If they are smart they wont touch it because then the whole background for meat plants will come out. Then again Jack Lake might run with it which explains why Beazlyes in trouble.
    Kery Packers company and partners and others have been inporting labour from overseas for years because there is a shortage ofpeople who actuallywant to work in this country in case nobody has noticed.lakes Creek for example the largest plant operates on about 120 per cent staff turn over. There are enourmous problems throughout this industry thnks to labour and its unions so hopefully this is thebegining to straighten the mess out. The owners of these places need to be considered as well. They need staff and they can operate under inreasonable laws.

  9. The problem as I see it and of course I am no expert and it is just my opinion is that there are those that believe that if a business cannot support a worker at a high wage level, pay for their sick days, their holidays, thier super and thier future then it is not a viable business.

    Its ridiculous. We are competing with overseas markets and so prices come down, how are employers supposed to support thier staff to the level that they demand when, if they raise their costs to cover the expenses, they loose the business – its not reasonable. Something has to give.

    So what do we do, do we close all the small business down and call them failures and put everybody on welfare and/or do we allow ourselves to be dominated and controlled by big corporations/business. Does anybody really think that when big business has taken over and have control they will give people a pay rise and more rights?

    If employees can leave a job without having to give a specific excuse and provide 3 warnings and without having to ensure that the position is filled by another then the employer should be able to sack an employee. Equal rights and obligations.

  10. re blog 8.im not a unionist.and im glad i dont work for you if i did i would have bitch slapped buy now.tell me what makes the manager more important than the ppl who acctualy do the job.i only respect a boss that respects me.
    iv been the boss. and the worker.been 2ic in a big parts company.also had my own earthmoving biz.

    this is the same legislation that howard had in the 80s didnt work then wont work now.

  11. Jolanda: Saying that employers and employees should have “equal rights and obligations” ignores the differences in power and capability that these two groups have.

    In a way, it’s like saying that drivers and pedestrians should have “equal rights and obligations”, or that adults and toddlers should have “equal rights and obligations”. These attitudes are extreme-leftist twaddle, and a Liberal party supporter should be ashamed for engaging in such muddy thinking.

  12. What difference in Power red crab? It was the employee that had the power and capabilities as they could change jobs as they pleased and pretty do whatever they wanted without having to consider the employer……..!

    The employer pays the employee for thier work and their time. There is no Power thing, there is an agreed exchange.

    If a business opened up down the road and offered an employers entire staff a huge payrise to work for them, how many would do you think would turn it down?

    What is this Power you are talking about?….

    Of course pedestrians and drivers should have equal rights and obligations as they are both humans. But common sense will tell you that the road is for cars, the footpath is for people and that they therefore have different responsbilities.

    I do think that toddlers should have equal rights than adults. They are both human beings. However I dont think that a toddler can have the same obligations at that tender young age, it’s just common sense.

    We are all equal but an employer is the one that owns or runs the business and the worker is the one that works for it and for which they get paid -thats common sense. If the workers dont like that set up they should start their own business and become the employer!

  13. i have that effect re 13 well sead

    in my experiance its very rare for a boss that owns a company to iltreate there workers its usually some minor boss in a big company trying to get browny points.in the end it usually backfires and there are seen for who they realy are.

  14. Well for the last 8 years i’ve been working under the same conditions these new laws hae brought in….

    I have had no assurance for all that time that I wouldn’t be summarily sacked at any tick of the clock for any or no reason.

    Unfortunately under Labor the IR laws went too far in some areas. EG; to have to warn a thief 3 times before you can even attempt tp sack them was ridiculous. (BTW I have worked for a large company which ran a very large warehouse that had these problems)

    Mind you many companies are run by idiots that follow trends and only think of the bottom line. The company I currently work for has outsourced to India and got it’s butt kicked because of it the other day. :-)

    At a time when other companies in our industry are rethinking this step XXXXX is just starting to enter into it. Some people never learn. Many companies go ’round in circles… I have no doubt this trend in my industry will be one of those. Sometimes it just takes longer for some to learn lessons.

    As for the IR laws, I suspect the Government will amend or change the parts that aren’t working or are unpopular, before the next election… otherwise they risk losing it big time.

  15. I tend to agree wth Geoff – expericen has taught me one thing there is no right or wrong in such matters. The holy grail is not out there.

    Issues swing and processess to deal wiht them are relevant to the time. Its a bit like the centralsied / decentralsied argument for organisations. At one point in time a centralsied model is obviously more cost efficinet and corodinated – but as time goes ion it becomes self sustaining and rigid and everyone “out there” is crying for flexibility and a say.

    A smart management consultant comes along and says decentralise – devolve accountability – get closer to your customers – tailor services to meet needs – guess what it works a treat for a few years and then anohetr smart consultatn comes along as says this modle is costing you a fortune. Your totally uncoordinated, thers waste and inefficnecy occuring everywheer, you needd to coordiante better and cetrallise – and so it goes. The push / pull. Each is right at the point in time.

    I feel the IR situation is somewhat similar. Forgetting all thsoe with manic ideological reasons to support their prferred position – sadly it seem sSenator AB is one of these – there is a time and palce for tough loose IR laws.

    There is no doubt that an overtly centralsied system works well for big buisness / Unions as control is simple. Similarly a deregualted system works well for small employersv who are much more prone to market forces and the need to get the chops on the table each week.

    Each will work OK for some time and then become self serving and will need change. There is little doubt employers were being very savagely harmed by some (note some) of the practices that becasme entrenced throught the centralied IR system. There is also no doubt that the new system will lead to some peole exploiting it and some (note some) will suffer.

    Theer will always be users and exploiters irrespectvei of any system. Even the proponents and opponenets are using and exploitiung right now – to try to put ther position. As with most things in life, most will be OK as unitl we get some new world order under the auspices of John Tracey – employers need people and employees need to work.

  16. Re: Barbara Pocock’s research about poverty amongst the low paid reminds me of a book I read a couple of years “Nickel and dimed” written by a US journalist another Barbara (Ehrenreich) who went and worked in minimum wage jobs for a year. Very insightful and distressing story about trying to get by in a deregulated labour market.
    http://www.henryholt.com/holt/nickelanddimed.htm

    Around the same time I saw Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and saw what happens to low skilled, poorly resourced families and their kids. If there’s swings and roundabouts in the US, I think they are well overdue for a reversal.

    ******************************************
    ““new world order under the auspices of John Tracey””
    “this would just be a transitionary phase”

    I’m remembering John Nobody :-)

  17. I agree that the old IR laws were not sufficient an many areas. However, the new laws go too far in giving businesses the power to sack at whim with no reason and smashing the unions.

    The old unfair dismissal regime needed to be tightened to prevent frivolous claims whilst also protecting the rights of workers who have legitimate claims. This balance has not been achieved under the new laws.

    The new IR reforms have only been in for a couple of weeks and we have not see them bite hard enough yet. There is a lot of confusion in the business community about these new laws and they are complex.

    The Government, whilst trying to remove the complexity of dealing with unfair dismissals has instead left businesses and employees unsure of their rights. It is now very complex and the outcome of the gagged debate in the Senate and no due consideration of the Workchoices bill has lead to laws that are seriously flawed and too complex for small business and employees.

    The whole act needs to be scrapped. The IR Commission needs to be put back into its role as an independent arbiter on disputes and wage claims. The power to ban a legal strike rests with the Minister for Workplace Relations (this is a concentration of power and is anti-democratic.)

    There are so many facets of this legislation that is unfair to workers and gives no-one a sense of stability.

  18. Wow, Jolanda. Your world view is certainly different from mine.

    Many of my friends need their jobs in order to pay the rent or mortgage. If they are sacked, they run a very real risk of losing their house, not to mention the car, or the monetary demands of our so-called “free” primary and secondary education. Since work is kind of hard to come by, the threat of sacking gives their boss power over them.

    It would different for people who in a financial situation that allows them to take a break from employment, of for people who can walk right into another job. But many, many workers are not that fortunate.

    This power difference is OK – it’s part of life – but abuse of that power is not OK.

    By the way, do you really believe that an adult and child should have identical rights? What about freedom to choose their own friends (“But I like that piss-pot Mum! He’s loud and funny!”), or freedom to come and go as they please? Or are you just taking an extreme position for the sake of it?

  19. Alan Green I am talking about kids having equal rights to adults – not identical. The type of rights I am talking about are the same rights that all humans should all be entitled to and that is our basic human right to be heard and to be treated fairly. It is common sense that we all have different responsibilities, depending on many factors including our age, but our rights should be equal. Are you taking the extreme position for the sake of it?

    We all need work, even employers need work to be able to pay their mortgage and their employees. At the end of the day we are all workers, working for someone for money! Money doesn’t grow on trees! Not all employers and businesses are mega rich, many are just make a living and surviving -just like the employee and just like everybody else. If business goes down employers are not different to employees they too can loose their home and thier livelihood!

    Work is not always that hard to come across, its just that people seem to be so particular these days about what they want to do and where and for how much and for whom that they disadvantage themselves.

    If people cannot afford to loose their job then they should treat it with the respect that it deserves as it is providing them with a livelihood!

    We have employed young people in the past, but not any more we now do it ourselves! So many times they were hungover and could’t come to work. So many times they couldnt’ exercise their duties. They knew that they had rights so they didn’t care. If the employees dont have to do the right thing to keep their job, then often they dont bother? The power was with the employee, but not any more!

    Of course there should always be avenues for having malice and spite dealt with and addressed regardless whether it is the employer or the employee that is responsible.

  20. Peter Robertson comments do have relevance here, Andrew.

    Your comments show that you have no understanding how economies work, what causes poverty and the determination of labor rates.

    I would think it imperative that before anyone goes into politics they ought to have at least some knowledge of these issues.

    Andrew, pass a law to make us all millionaires. it can be done by your reckoning.

  21. pc police Jolanda has the basics correct. We can not have the Boss being ignored either. It is not fair that someone can just walk off a plant however we have to give three warnings even if the persons a theaf lazy or whatever. Fair is fair.
    Meat plants do it real hard pC and let me tell you they fall over backwards to keep staff.
    If the boss goes under then the plant closes.
    Look around you and see over the last twenty years the Meat Plants or Abattoirs who have closed pC.

  22. Stoush.net
    has a great quote from the SMH this morning.

    “If they don’t want to sign, they can leave,” he said. “It’s not about what’s fair, it’s [about] what’s right – right for the company.”

    Thanks Andre from Warriewood juice bar and thank you Mr Howard

  23. Jolanda says: “Work is not always that hard to come across”

    Which is true for some people. But – and here’s where we differ – people that have trouble finding work who need protecting, because their employers have inordinate power over them, and some employers choose to abuse that power.

    Nice to see that you believe that “there should always be avenues for having malice and spite dealt with and addressed”. What would you suggest?

  24. Alan. Yes there are employers who abuse their power, and there are employees who abuse their power.

    That is why there should be an easily accessible, independant and impartial manner of having issues, complaints and grievances addressed and dealt with.

    What we have now is a farce and that is what is missing at all levels.

  25. I dont think the Indusrtial Relations Commission is a farce at all. It works quite well – the laws are skewed but thats a differnet issue thanthe impartiality of the Commission.

  26. You know Ken I am sure the Industrial Relations Commission does run well and has some dedicated, impartial and wonderful people working there. But I am also pretty sure there are those within that system who can see how much the Laws and the culture are restricting them from administering a much fairer and better system and who feel that they cant do anything to change it. And, I am sure you will also agree, as with everything, there are those who should not have charge of some jobs.

    The main problem is that by the time an ordinary person gets to the Industrial Relations commission they have suffered so much anguish and despair.

    Policies and the Law are getting in the way of Fairness and Justice.

    Oh and Andrew whats with this comment thingy, are you pulling out the stick? I pressed yes because otherwise my post wouldn’t post but I have no idea what is says because there was no comment policy on my screen. Is this new, and if so why do you need a Comment Policy to be ticked in order to post on your blog. It just seems so controlling and childish. I think we have all been very civilised here given the topics that are being discused and the differences of opinion. We are adults. But of course it could just be me being paranoid and my computer deciding to play up at the same time!..

  27. “Andrew, pass a law to make us all millionaires. it can be done by your reckoning.”

    Good question!! Andrew perhaps you could demonstrate your knowledge of economics to explain why this would not work. And Andrew, what was your position on the minimum wage again??

  28. I don’t think it’s you being paranoid Jolanda.
    It’s a pain in the proverbial.
    BTW the policy can be seen if you click “comment policy”.

  29. Geoff. I did click it, what do you think I am, an idiot? It didn’t come up!

    Yeah I know that I am not paranoid and I truly understand how it is for those people that are stuck in the system feeling helpless to be able to change things or speak out without risking their job and their livelihood. Its scary and it makes life a drag. That is a big reason why there is so much stress leave in the public service and mental health issues in the Community. Many of these people suffer psychological distress as a result.

    Some try to become whistleblowers but they get cut down in front of everybody and not enough people try to help to make a difference.

    Thats all part of the culture that needs to be changed in order to change the direction of the cycle that we are on – as in too many ways we are going backwards and people are developing mental health issues and are being really mean and nasty to each other.

    That always leads to trouble and personally I think the majority would prefer peace and harmony as that leads to happiness.

  30. Sorry
    Off topic response to off topic comment

    No Jolanda I thought it odd and needed to have you nicely confirm you did it.

    Oh well, one out of 2 will do. BTW in case you missed it I actually agreed with you. :roll:

  31. Goeff, there was a reason why you found it odd. In case you missed it.

    Oh and by the way, in case you missed that too. I agreed with you too.

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