Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Unions oppose workplace changes

Unions are opposing the Coalition’s proposals for casual work, the creation of a new “part-time flexi” role, and a high bar set for wage theft penalties. The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ concerns include the proposed “part-time flexi” role allowing part-time workers in accommodation, food and retail to take on up to 16 hours a week of extra shifts without being paid extra for overtime. ACTU secretary Sally McManus said Labor and the crossbench should prevent the passage of the reforms through the Senate unless changes were made, including granting the industrial tribunal powers to force businesses to make some casuals permanent. McManus said she welcomed any laws that would address wage theft, but that the bar the Morrison government proposed was too high. “It is unlikely any employer will ever be caught and it will wipe out stronger and better laws in Queensland, Victoria and the ACT,” she said. The Coalition proposal would see companies face penalties of up to $5.55 million and individuals up to $1.11 million and/or four years imprisonment, provided a “national system employer dishonestly engages in a deliberate systematic pattern of underpaying one or more of their employees”.

Labor is set to back the Morrison government plan to pass laws this week to allow the mining union to split from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining And Energy Union. Labor’s shadow cabinet met on Monday night and discussed the issue ahead of caucus today. The legislation is aimed at construction heavyweight John Setka and his allies, who have prompted division in the union internally, as well as ructions within Labor. The legislation, to be introduced on Wednesday, would allow demergers to take place, after a five-year period, provided members of the union division were entitled to vote.

All state border restrictions across Australia are close to being lifted, after Queensland and Western Australia on Monday further eased rules on visitors from interstate. WA will reopen borders to NSW and Victoria from today, the first time in nearly nine months that travellers from both states can go west without quarantine or an exemption. The decision came after no locally acquired cases were detected after a Sydney quarantine hotel cleaner caught the virus. From Friday, travellers from South Australia no longer require exemptions to enter WA, although they still need to quarantine for 14 days. Queensland announced it would reopen borders to SA from 12 December, provided there was no more community transmission this week.

Economists have dismissed concerns over New South Wales and Victoria having their credit ratings downgraded for the first time in decades, arguing that record low interest rates make the decision largely irrelevant. Standard & Poor’s downgraded Victoria two notches from a AAA rating to AA over debt concerns following the state’s prolonged lockdown. NSW dropped one notch from AAA to AA+ over stimulus spending concerns. ANZ Bank rates strategist Heyden Dimes said the states should be able to handle downgrades because “those low interest rates are here to stay”, noting that the Reserve Bank of Australia is ready to buy bonds.

What’s really behind China’s break-up with Australia?
This year we’ve seen relations between Australia and China plummet. But the story of Australia’s increasing friction with China goes back much further than the recent storm over a tweet. Today, Jonathan Pearlman on how serious the current situation is, and whether there’s a solution to the tension.

“The report still shocked in revealing the scale of possible judicial contamination: 1011 convictions have potentially been tainted. Most are peripheral, but 124 are not. Two convictions have already been quashed. Scores of killers and drug barons will now be dreaming of release or retrial. Critically, the royal commission recommended the establishment of a special investigator to explore prosecutions against police over the Gobbo scandal.”

THE NATION REVIEWED

“The reason I decided not to pick fruit again is that the ‘lug’ rate, the payment received for each box of cherries, had not increased in 20 years. This reflects the fact that the return is set by the orchard owner (often large investors) without oversight or involvement by a union, state regulator or the Fair Work Commission. Almost no one among the 100 plus workers in the orchards I worked in averaged the minimum wage for the total time they worked. It was true that on days when all the stars aligned – weather, bountiful trees, healthy fruit – it was possible to earn more than this. But that was not the norm.”

“many of our politicians now set themselves apart. They claim to be outside the ‘Canberra bubble’ – to listen to and understand issues and the aspirations of voters – but in reality, they immerse themselves in it. They act as if they are beyond reproach. But in practice they adhere to a double standard. By regulation, legislation and various other means, they set and enforce standards of behaviour for others, for business, and right across our society, for truth, transparency and accountability.”

“The country posted record maximum, mean and minimum temperatures in November and average rainfall was the second-lowest for the month in the past 14 years, the Bureau of Meteorology said … Andrew Dyer, principal flood analyst with Insurance Australia Group (IAG), said the outlook was now revealing ‘some of the strongest wet signals we’ve seen in about 10 years’ despite the hot, dry November.”

“Freedom of Information documents have, however, revealed that gas giants such as Shell, Santos, Woodside and Chevron, some of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, are some of the Bureau of Meteorology’s biggest ‘customers’. In the 2018/2019 financial year, total revenue from these companies was $4.6 million. That kind of money buys a lot of influence … Under the leadership of chief executive Andrew Johnson, climate research has come to a grinding halt.”

“This involvement that Tarrant had in organizations that were openly Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and white nationalists, as well as the fact that he had spent years building up this arsenal of weapons, I think really do raise important questions about how proactively security agencies up until Christchurch were taking the threat of far-right violent extremism.”

“The Trans-Siberian is as storied a railway as any in the world, the 9,289 kilometres of its route between Moscow and Vladivostok both a stark physical reality and a mystique-laden gestalt shaped by a bloody and romantic history, incomparable landscapes, thousands of artistic interpretations and the journeys of innumerable souls. For those who work on the trains, there’s something more – a kind of gravity that draws them in, or a haunting in the oldest sense of the word, the roots of which go back to frequenting a place, to going or bringing home.”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.