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Food for Thought 4

Life at work these days

Refresh Australia logoFirst Byte

We need to question the structures of a workplace relations system that allows for the denial of the dignity of the human person at work by regarding them as factory robots to be managed via mere statistics.

Recently a 16 year old worker at a national call centre hit the news headlines. He revealed that under work conditions at the call centre staff were required to stay in ‘ready’ mode and cope with only a 12 seconds break in between calls; 12 seconds in which to recompose themselves and set up computer screens for the next caller. They were expected to do all tasks related to any call during that call and were not to leave their desks more than 4 times a day.

There is no room for negotiation or complaint in such a scenario. (The young worker was sacked after revealing he intended to write a complaint to the management.) No room either for union support for workers on AWAs still under a long ‘probation’ period and therefore not eligible for consideration of a claim for unfair dismissal. There is also no room for the development of teams, company loyalty, simple comradeship or even the ‘resolve and commitment’ demanded of the workers for the job. The only options left to workers in such a workplace are to put up with petty tyranny or to walk out the door.

WorkChoicesByte on WorkChoices

Last week the first report of a major piece of longitudinal research into WorkChoices described key results since the introduction of the legislation. In a balanced academic way it shows that low skilled (and therefore generally low paid) workers are, on average, $100 per week worse off on AWAs.

The Government’s response was quick, with well worn yet effective tactics designed to stop the message: create a fracas by smearing the personal reputations of the key academic researchers and the commercial reputation of the research centre, lie, and attempt to politicise the public service by claiming that Bureau of Statistics (ABS) research backed the Prime Minister’s statement that wages have increased under AWAs.

These tactics worked, yet again. The waters have been thoroughly muddied and the ensuing fracas has focused the limelight on the personal attacks and personalities and away from the substance of the research and the issue. This research project required stringent peer review from 77 other academics as well as substantial ethics consideration and agreement by the Minister for Education, Science and Training before being given the go ahead and substantial government funding from the Australian Research Council. Additional funding was also received from Unions, a fact the government claimed sullies the value of the research and the academics, but these days the business of research is funded by a range of bodies including Business Councils, NGOs, Churches, Governments and Unions.

Meanwhile the ABS announced that they have done no research into AWAs and the academics have threatened to sue Joe Hockey for defamation.

Happy workerOne last byte

At least one major retailer has now turned its back on AWAs and the WorkChoices environment and has turned instead to the relevant Union to negotiate a new collective agreement for its workers. In the industrial turmoil of the past year and a half and the confusion and administrative work the legislation has created, this company may have come to the realisation that happy workers with fair and decent pay and conditions are more productive workers. I would hazard a guess and say they probably don’t need statistics to see that a happier collective creates a more positive work environment conducive to bettering customer service and a company’s bottom line. The dignity of the human person cannot be quantified yet counts for quality of work and life.


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