Issue 3, 9-22 September 2013
Blind workers fight job cuts at Vision Australia
Photo: Mark Phillips/ACTU
Where’s the vision in this decision? Ike, a seeing eye dog, joined dozens of protesters at a rally in Melbourne recently against a decision by Vision Australia to axe 73 jobs. Full story page 3
Is this a ‘Patrick’s of the Outback’? by MARTIN WATTERS
A BITTER dispute is taking shape in Queensland’s coalfields. At its heart is Glencore Xstrata’s push for lesser conditions at the historic Collinsville coalmine. The Swiss-based multinational is gunning for WorkChoices-style individual arrangements or a lesser collective agreement for the 400 mineworkers at Collinsville. The company claims publicly that it has no such plans and just wants an agreement that is “flexible and without restrictions”. Its actions however reveal management is anything but laidback in trying to get workers to take less. Collinsville mineworkers and the union representing them – the Construction, Forestry,
Mining & Energy Union – have vowed to stand up to the multinational, and the town’s mining community are rallying behind them. Glencore already owned the Collinsville mine. But amid the backdrop of cost-cutting across the industry, the company recently announced it was taking over from contractor Thiess as mine operator. In union meetings, Collinsville mineworkers made it clear they rejected a return to WorkChoices, and the conditions fought for and won would not be given up. So while it sought individual agreements the company then attempted to reclassify the 100-year mine as a new project, and bring in a Continued page 4
9-22 September 2013
Australia Votes 2013
Strap yourselves in for a wild ride
WIN is a win is a win, but Tony Abbott hasn’t done nearly as well as he thought he would, and certainly not as well as his spruikers in the media would have had us all believe he was going to do. That Labor held on as well as it did in western Sydney, Queensland and Western Australia undermines much of what had come to be accepted as conventional wisdom. The result in the Senate also looks, um, challenging, for Mr Abbott and his plans to abolish a price on carbon and/or go to a double dissolution. Don’t get me wrong: this is a bad result for Labor, but it speaks to the structural, cultural and ideological weaknesses that are eating away at the base of both major parties. Voters disaffected with Labor’s divisions and nonsense did not turn unreservedly to Mr Abbott but lodged their protest elsewhere. Kevin Rudd is widely being credited with having “saved the furniture” for Labor and that is probably true, but it is more complicated than that. Having put his foot through much of the furniture in the wake of his loss of the leadership to Julia Gillard – that is, having played his part in undermining her prime ministership – you can only wonder how different things might have been for her and Labor had he chosen not to do so. Wherever such speculations lead, the fact is Labor has to stop looking for Messiahs and people who can “run against the party”. Kevin Rudd’s failure at this election has put paid to that particular strategy. This is not to say structural reform is not necessary – it desperately is – just to say that the single, charismatic leader method of delivering that change is unlikely to work. After endless reports that outline the reasons for a diminishing primary vote, Labor finally has to implement the changes that are constantly recommended, by democratising pre-selection and policy procedures and reinventing internal structures – the factions – to better reflect the reality of the voters they purport to represent. But back to our new prime minister.
Leaders normally get their honeymoon period after they win office, but Mr Abbott has had his for the last three years as the media have either actively campaigned for him or refused to properly hold him to account. And although much of the media will have his back as he begins to implement his stillopaque plans for office, it should be obvious that the population in general is not exactly relaxed and comfortable with either the media cheersquadding or with Mr Abbott himself. Incumbency is often seen as the spak-filla that covers all the cracks in otherwise divided parties, but that certainly didn’t work for Labor, and it is just as unlikely to work for this new government.
ONY Abbott is a brittle personality who will struggle with the sort of negotiations that the new Senate is going to demand, and recourse to a double dissolution is unlikely to offer him the clean solution that his preelection rhetoric suggested it would. His authority is buoyed by a big win, but much will depend on Malcolm Turnbull’s willingness to play nice. No doubt Turnbull will for a while, but as the recent campaign has shown, he has a well-established personal brand within the broader electorate and he will be watching carefully for any Abbott stumbles. More importantly, Tony Abbott himself exists on the philosophical faultlines of the conservative parties themselves. Economically, he is not nearly as dry as many of the power brokers within his party would like, and on matters as various as industrial relations and paid parental leave he is likely to come under pressure. He ran a disciplined campaign, but the fact that people even talk in those terms about him shows just how vulnerable he is to brain snap. Tony Abbott is a divisive figure inside and outside his party and the idea that he will be the agent of stability and unity that the electorate is allegedly craving is comical. We have entered interesting times, times in which both major parties are struggling to find answers to satisfy a still fractious electorate.
by TIM DUNLOP Political commentator
Tony Abbott is a divisive figure inside and outside his party and the idea that he will be an agent of stablility and unity that the electorate is allegedly craving is comical
GET IN TOUCH
Want to know more or get involved? Contact our newsdesk by email at email@example.com or phone (03) 9664 7266. Or get in touch by Facebook (facebook.com/ThisWorkingLife) or Twitter (twitter/thisworkinglife). Editor: Mark Phillips. Responsibility for election comment is taken by Dave Oliver, Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, 365 Queen Street, Melbourne 3000.
9-22 September 2013
Where’s the vision in this decision? ask blind workers “It’s just nice to think there’s a job there and I feel very angry about this, angry, disgusted and upset, because I don’t want to lose my job because I will never get another one. I want to fight to the bitter end.” - Gena Kacowicz
Refusing to be silenced: Vision Australia workers (from left) Gena Kacowicz, Michael Doherty and Simon Giddings. Photo: Mark Phillips
by MARK PHILLIPS
SAVE BLIND WORKERS’ JOBS Add your name to the community petition. Take action at:
BLIND workers employed by the charitable Vision Australia say they have become the latest victims of a corporate culture that puts profits before people. Seventy-three blind and vision-impaired employees of Vision Australia Enterprises warehouses in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will be made redundant following an announcement last month to shut the business down because it was losing money. Some workers have been employed there for decades, and will find it almost impossible to gain a job elsewhere. They often have other disabilities on top of being blind. The workers are employed in assembly line jobs like packaging, labelling, assembling, logistics and distribution for companies that contract its services. Supported employment in the warehouses has allowed the workers to plan their futures. But their union is warning that if the decision is not reversed, staff will not be able to afford their mortgages, pay their rent, provide for their children, or keep themselves functioning as independent members of their community. It
will also close an avenue for employment for future generations of blind people. Martin Stewart from the Blind Workers’ Union says Vision Australia, which with 50,000 clients is Australia’s largest provider of services to the blind, has lost its sense of direction by putting business interests ahead of the wellbeing of the workers. He said the enterprise has always made losses, but was never set up as a profit-making exercise. Instead, its mission was to provide manual employment for blind workers so they did not rely totally on benefits or welfare. “It’s now being run by corporate people, rather than people with proper understanding [of the blind] – they’ve got dollar signs in their eyes. “They’ve brought a corporate style of attitude where they don’t regard this as a core service, they regard it as a business that is losing money, and they began to call any losses debts, when in fact it’s charitable expenditure. “Yes, it loses money, but it’s necessary expenditure if you regard that as part of your Continued next page
Continued from previous page natural service as a charity.” The workers at the Melbourne warehouse in the inner city suburb of Kensington include Gena Kacowicz, who has worked for Vision Australia since 1985, when it was still known as the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. She said the workers and their union were determined to force Vision Australia to reverse its decision. “This job makes me want to get up in the morning, because I know I have got something to do and somewhere to go,” she said. “It’s just nice to think there’s a job there and I feel very angry about this, angry, disgusted and upset, because I don’t want to lose my job because I will never get another one. I want to fight to the bitter end.” Simon Giddings, a fully-blind father of three young children, said that even though the wages were below the minimum for “open” employment, the money he earned from his job was “the difference between getting fed and not getting fed”. He said he would also struggle to find other low-skilled work. “The reality is that our more stringent health and safety laws have had the effect that cautious employers in the litigious society we Continued from page 1 ‘greenfield’ agreement with lesser conditions. But Glencore failed to convince the Fair Work Commission that this was a genuine greenfield, so it settled for plan B: shutting the mine indefinitely and locking out workers. The union sees it as a clear-cut issue: if one company takes over from another as operator any existing agreement and workplace conditions are transferred along with the rest of the business, as per the law. One concern for the union is that Glencore could exploit a legal loophole and keep the mine closed until it can be reclassified as a new greenfield project. While the mine is closed workers, are also concerned the company will continue to hunt down a replacement workforce. These suspicions are backed by recent reports of the company approaching mineworkers from outside Collinsville. Locals have heard reports the company intends to drive the new workforce to and from the mine in a bus with blacked-out windows. Current CEO Ivan Glasenberg – ranked fifth in Australia’s rich list – recently raised eyebrows for giving corporate mate Mick Davis a golden handshake of $110 million in Glencore’s recent
9-22 September 2013 have don’t employ blind people in manual labour any more. If you’re sighted, you’ve got road digging, cleaning, other manual labour, but for blind people, there’s nothing else. “Not everyone has computer skills, and most of the people here would not be suited to working in a call centre.” For many of the workers, their employment at Vision Australia Enterprises is much more than a job – it is a lifeline to the outside world. Michael Doherty, 50, is totally deaf-blind and communicates by touch. If he loses his job, he will be almost completely socially isolated. In a media release, the Chief Executive Officer of Vision Australia Ron Hooton, said the decision to close Vision Australia Enterprises followed an internal review of the business, which has made substantial losses over a number of years. He described the decision as sad but unavoidable, and said the closure would take place over three months. Up to 12 staff may be redeployed. The Blind Workers’ Union and United Voice Queensland are planning a series of public events to highlight their situation. They are also seeking 1500 signatures for a change.org petition to the House of Representatives. takeover of Xstrata. He later said he’d paid $8.8 billion too much in the deal. Amid such corporate largesse it’s difficult for Bowen Basin mineworkers to accept Glencore’s ruthless cost-cutting drive. “This is not the corporate behaviour of a modern Australian employer, this is a return to the dark ages of industrial relations, of trying to intimidate workers into accepting less, cynically timed with a possible Abbott Government that will turn a blind eye to such behaviour,” said Stephen Smyth, the President of the CFMEU’s Queensland mining and energy division. “Mineworkers across the Bowen Basin should be concerned that this a sign of things to come post-election with multinationals continuing the push for a return to WorkChoices-style contracts.” As one of Australia’s oldest continually operating coalmines, Collinsville has been a pioneering trade union town for almost 100 years. As Glencore management attempt to find a new workforce, locals report scouts boasting this history “was about to come to an end”. But as locals will tell you, generations of Collinsville miners have worked at the mine, during the lean years and the boom, while mining companies have come and gone. And the locals are ready for a fight.
LET’S SPREAD IT AROUND Join the campaign to make the mining boom work for all Australians. Take action at:
www. letsspreaditaround. com.au
9-22 September 2013
Equal Pay Day 2013
The talk every mother and daughter should have
I No mother wants to tell her daughter that she is worth a million dollars less over her lifetime than a boy. But that is the reality for the typical working woman in Australia, writes Ged Kearney
T’S probably not the first thing you consider when they put that tiny baby girl in your arms at the hospital. Or when she dons her first school uniform and you take her to school and she looks so nervous about being accepted. Or when she tells you what she wants to be when she grows up and all the reasons why. Or when she first excitedly enters the workforce. No mother wants to tell her daughter that she is worth a million dollars less over her lifetime than a boy. No one sits down and does the sums with her. How could you interrupt her dreams to tell her that when she graduates, she’ll get up to 15% less than the boys? And then, if she is lucky enough to have her own baby one day that will drop her earning over the next 10-20 years to just 62% of her brothers and she’ll probably never catch up. She’ll always have less. And when she retires her superannuation will be just 64% of a man’s even though she will probably live longer. This little girl could grow up, work hard all her life, probably spend years caring for others, including children and maybe even you in your old age, and end up without
enough money to support herself. No one wants to break that news. We are filled with hope for our girls as much as for our boys. Most of us truly believe that if she works hard, if she earns her stripes and contributes to the world then why shouldn’t she have an equal chance? But she doesn’t. And every mother should have this talk with her daughter. Get her ready because one day, somewhere in the future, she’ll be out on her own and an employer will look at her and think I can get away with this and they will offer her less money than she’s worth – just for being a woman. And she’ll never know she’s getting paid less than the guys because no one will talk about it. So it’s up to you to set her straight. She needs to know the rules of the game because there is another sinister ploy at work here. So subtle it must be in the air we breathe, the TV we watch and the turn of phrase we use, by the time girls reach the workforce many are convinced they are worth less. Women are much more likely to be offered lower pay and to accept it. They are much Continued next page
9-22 September 2013
Generations apart, similar stories
Continued from previous page more likely to step aside and let the guys get the promotion, the bonuses and the training. They are apologetic to employers when they get pregnant and they often sign away their rights. But worst of all women don’t call it. We experience discrimination but we don’t say, “Hang on a minute. Why should I sign a new contract just because I’m pregnant when it says I will work and earn less for four years? What if I’m ready to go full-time in a year or two?” Or, “Why do I work in a female dominated industry but all the bosses are men? Why is it so much more difficult for women to get the top job?” The truth is that it’s unfashionable to stand up for your rights. That’s the biggest con. Women have been convinced that it’s unattractive to argue for a promotion or insist that you are still a valuable employee even though you might have kids and need a day off now and again. We need to have that conversation with ourselves and with our girls. So here’s some sisterly advice. Graduates getting 15% less than the boys, shouldn’t accept the first offer if they know they’re worth more. Research the going rate for your skill level, then negotiate with the employer by outlining your abilities and commitment. You are worth it. Maternity and parenthood is the time in a woman’s life when she gets just 62% of a man’s wage. When negotiating a changing work schedule so you can look after kids, don’t
be apologetic. If your employer tries to demote you or slash your conditions calmly explain that while you now do have extra responsibilities you are still a committed employee and your abilities have not changed. And research shows that even if a woman doesn’t have kids she is still likely to earn on average just 69% of a man’s wage. This highlights how important it is that we teach our girls and ourselves to stand up and be strong. Identify your skills, value them and make sure you ask for that promotion and apply for training. Importantly identify discrimination and call it, report it, because it’s illegal. Retirement is when the impact of the decisions you made in your past become crystal clear. Many marriages don’t last and yet it’s during that maternity and parenthood stage women lose their financial independence. Then when a break up occurs they find they don’t have anything to fall back on while the guys have been earning tens of thousands in superannuation. Stay financially independent. Keep putting money in your super. As a union leader, I can’t end this without adding the following: union members have a different experience to non-members. The latest data shows female employees who are union members get $209 more a week than nonmembers, more for part-time workers. That’s because sometimes it hard to fight alone, that’s why we need to stick together. Ged Kearney is President of the ACTU
Jennifer Cassidy is a 65-year-old retiree who learned the hard way what it was like to end up without super and financial stability after the breakout of her marriage. Camille Hughes is 26-years-old, works at a local council and has a three-year-old, Hunter. She said it’s hard to be constantly bypassed for opportunities just because you’re a mum. Brianna Dahlstrom is an 18-years-old singer in The Sweethearts, a soul band. She said it was unfair to miss out on pay and opportunity just for being a woman and hopes for equality.
9-22 September 2013
Chasing down your unpaid super is no easy task by RIGHTS WATCH
Being paid correctly, including receiving any superannuation you are entitled to, is your right
GOT A PROBLEM AT WORK? You’ve come to the right place. Share your workplace issues with our other readers and get free advice from the Australian Unions helpline if you have a problem with your pay, entitlements, health and safety or anything else at work. Phone 1300 4 UNION (1300 486 466).
ABDUL asks: I am 21 and have been working casually for nearly two years in a retail coffee store as a barista (I was 19 when I commenced). I have found out that my employer has contributed virtually no superannuation on my behalf. When I approached him today he stated that super was based on the number of hours I worked per week and I hadn’t worked enough hours. I understood this only applied to workers under 18 who had to work at least 30 hours per week. All workers who are over 18 are entitled to employer superannuation contributions if they’re paid $450 or more (before tax) in a month. It doesn’t matter whether you’re full time, part time or casual. If people are under 18 they must be paid more than $450 a month gross plus work more than 30 hours per week to be entitled to super contributions. You don’t mention how much you earn per month, but assuming you meet the income requirement, your boss should’ve been paying money into a superannuation fund on your behalf at least every three months. This should’ve been at a rate of at least 9% of your ordinary time earnings (before tax) up until 1 July this year – after which it increased to 9.25 %. This contribution by your boss is on top of your wages, not deducted from them.
You can make a claim for any unpaid superannuation you’re entitled to through the Australian Taxation Office on 13 1020. They will ask for: Your contact details and whether you give the ATO permission to use your name when contacting your employer Your employer’s contact details (including the address of the business.) Your employer’s ABN (if you don’t know this, check your last pay slip. If it’s not there it might appear on their website. If you still have no luck, try this website. The date you started work with them. How much you’re owed. Whether you were offered a choice of fund (your employer should’ve offered you a standard choice form) Check whether any choice of fund request you made was actioned by your boss. Checked with your super fund whether or not any payments have been made I know the idea of making a complaint against your boss can be quite intimidating. There are also protections in place though should your employer disadvantage you in any way for chasing up what you’re owed. Why don’t you call the Australian Unions team? They can explain to you in more detail what protections are in place as well as advise you on anything else which might be worrying you about your workplace.
Hair colour is a do-or-dye issue SHANNON asks: Hi, I work part-time behind a service counter. I have been warned by my manager that if I choose to dye my hair unnatural colours or more than one colour, that I will be fired. Is this legal? Hi Shannon. Work places are allowed to have policies in place with regard to uniform and appearance as long as they aren’t discriminatory. For example, a restaurant might require its front-of-house staff to wear black and white or to have no facial piercings. Of course the opposite can sometimes apply as well – many inner city venues have staff who have full sleeve tattoos, multiple piercings etc. As long as the dress code is clear, no one is being asked to wear anything offensive or that compromises their health and safety at work,
and everyone is treated the same, there usually isn’t a problem. The question is are you the only person at your workplace with unnaturally coloured hair who is being singled out like this? In other words, is your boss using your hair colour as an excuse to bully you, when there other people working alongside you with equally bright hair who have no problems? If this is the case, then it’s not okay. Start keeping a diary of what’s going on. If you find your health is beginning to suffer because of the bullying you’re experiencing then see your doctor. If you’re a union member let them know what’s going on. If you’re not why don’t you give the Australian Unions team a call? Good luck with everything.